Many local folks know Waterloo held the first formal observance of a day dedicated to honoring the war dead in 1866, an annual rite that came to be known as Memorial Day.

Though other cities make the same claim, recognition from Congress of the United States in May 1966 read in part: “ … resolved that the Congress of the United States, in recognition of the patriotic tradition set in motion one hundred years ago in the Village of Waterloo, NY, does hereby officially recognize Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day.”

It is a day that honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

On this Memorial Day, I spoke with a fine young woman who has made the huge commitment to serve her country in the Army.

Aubrey O’Brien was born and raised in Waterloo. She graduated from Waterloo High School in 2018, where she was active in many things and played lacrosse, volleyball and basketball.

She says she knew around her sophomore year that she wanted a career in military service. That led her to Valley Forge Military College in Wayne, Pa.

Valley Forge is the only private military junior college in the country, an institution where the entire college student body is made up of military cadets from the United States and abroad. All are members of the Corps of Cadets. The school caters to all branches of the U.S. military through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, more commonly known as ROTC.

Women were first admitted to Valley Forge in 2005. A fun little side fact: The movie “Taps” was filmed there.

The college is one of only four in the nation that has an accelerated program, allowing Aubrey to become a commissioned officer of 2nd Lieutenant and receive an associate degree in two years rather than usual four.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, Aubrey, like other 2020 graduates, participated in a virtual graduation. Around mid-March, she like other students, had to resume her studies from home online.

On Thursday I was a guest of her family: Tammy and Jim, Aubrey’s mom and dad, and her brother, Colby. We watched/listened to her “pinning” ceremony (see accompanying photos).

An interesting part of the graduation ceremony, which took place over a couple of days, is the “Silver Dollar” Salute. It is a tradition in the Army where newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants present a silver dollar to the first enlisted soldier who salutes them. The coin symbolically acknowledges the receipt of respect due the new rank and position.

Both the gesture and the token are far from insignificant. The first salute is a symbolic, once-in-a-lifetime moment. “It is said that you have to buy your first salute and earn the rest.”

Because of her ceremony being virtual, things were a little different this year on the silver dollar front. Since she was not face to face with her senior military instructor, Aubrey will have to send the silver dollar to him.

Aubrey, 20, will continue her schooling at Syracuse University in the fall as a member of the junior class, continuing her work toward a bachelor’s degree. As part of her commitment, she has signed a 6-year contract with the New York Army National Guard.

She hopes to work in military intelligence. Her longtime goal is to attend law school and become a JAG. The Judge Advocate General’s Corps is the branch or specialty of a military concerned with military justice and military law.

Aubrey and her Valley Forge classmates are the future leaders of our military, those who chose a path fully aware that our country could be involved in a major conflict or war at any time. I am sure others will join me in wishing her much success and safety, while also thanking her for serving our nation in order for all of us to continue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we now know it.


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