8,000 American flags planted to honor lives of veterans

By Caroline Haviland 

THE Rider University Veterans Association paid tribute to veterans on Nov. 4 at the Campus Mall by planting 8,000 flags, collectively shaped as the Rider “R,” at this year’s Veterans Day Plant-a-Flag event. 

Johnathan Bowker and Tyler Hobbs featured in an old issue of The Rider News.
Johnathan Bowker and Tyler Hobbs featured in an old issue of The Rider News. Caroline Haviland/ The Rider News

The tradition dates back to 2012 when two veterans, former Rider students Tyler Hobbs and Jonathan Bowker, initiated an annual ceremony to commemorate all the soldiers killed since October 2001, when the United States began military operations in Afghanistan. 

Each American flag placed on the Campus Mall represented a life lost. 

“Volunteers who partook in the tribute lined the flags up in rows resembling Arlington National Cemetery [one of two cemeteries in the United States National Cemetery System that are maintained by the United States Army],” said Thomas Reddington, former director of the Dr. Eugene Marsh Center for Veterans and Military Affairs. 

He served in the Marine Corps for 24 years as a west coast and east coast Marine. After his career in the armed forces, he came to Rider in 2012 as a political science major under the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33), which covers tuition or job training.

He was a part of the first group of veterans in 2012 who volunteered to help orchestrate the extensive event. 

“We wanted to line the flags perfectly straight to look like a cemetery, to have an impact on people on how many lives are lost … Go out there and look at them. Try to see if you can count them,” said Reddington.

He became director of the Center for Veterans and Military Affairs in 2017 and looked for ways to simplify the event, which took almost a week to complete at the time. 

“Originally people had to come at different times which made things complicated. … I got the idea to place the flags in the outline of the Rider R to cause less chaos,” Reddington said. “Anybody can go out there and things don’t have to be in any particular order.” 

The event morphed from solely a memorial for Afghanistan veterans to a tribute for all veterans, with a display of photos for Lt. Omar Vasquez and Lt. Daniel Hennessy, former members of the Rider community who died in the line of duty, on the sidewalk in front of the Student Recreation Center. 

“We did keep the memorial part and invited the Gold Star Families [individuals who lost family members in war]. I told them for as long as I am there, you won’t be forgotten. But I’m not there anymore,” Reddington said. 

The memorial for Rider alums who died in combat no longer takes place each year.

Matt Samson, the current director of the Dr. Eugene Marsh Center for Veterans and Military Affairs, worked with the student body to execute this year’s Plant-a-Flag event.

“We had about 13 members from the women’s basketball team and about 10 members from one of the fraternities … Our student employees, Terrence Bolton and Max Marchiano, helped recruit people to come in and organize the event…We couldn’t have done it without them. We really appreciate them both,” said Samson. 

The center holds a 9/11 ceremony each year and will present a permanent display in tribute to Lt. Hennessy and Lt. Vasquez in the Dr. Eugene Marsh Center for Veterans and Military Affairs Lounge during the 2024-25 school year. 

Reddington thanked Samson for the work he has been doing at the office since his departure from the university in 2022. 

“God bless [Matt],” Reddington said. “He continues to commemorate soldiers with this program that was started so many years ago.

“The whole purpose of this event is to penetrate the consciousness of the student body and make you think of the people out there making sacrifices for you.” 

A Veterans Day ceremony will be held on Nov. 9 at 11:30 a.m. on the Moore Library steps. 

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