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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Memorial Dedication Slated for Slain NIU Student, Army Vet Julianna Gehant

From my Northern Star column today :

We at home often don’t realize the full value of our returning veterans. While some of us know we should be there for them as they return to us after deployment, many of us don’t realize that they are equipped to help us, too. Their knowledge and presence are more important to us as a civilian population than we realize.

It’s been nearly seven weeks since NIU’s Veterans Club lost one of its own – 12-year Army veteran Julianna Gehant – on that dark February day that took the lives of five others on our campus.

At Julianna’s funeral service, Rev. James E. Kruse spoke of the decorated soldier’s life and the circumstances of her death. He speculated about Julianna: Was she the woman students heard calling for others to run from a shooter as he reloaded and prepared to strike again?

“I don’t know for certain, but she’s a hero in my mind,” Kruse said at the Holy Cross Church service.

This Friday, many of us will gather together at NIU’s Veterans Memorial to remember Julianna’s service to our country and her time as a Huskie. We will join in laying a dedication plaque and paying our respects to an individual who embodied what it meant to be a good citizen and student. And we will offer our support for our Veterans Club members still grieving their great loss. And we will learn from them as well. ...

The dedication ceremony for Julianna Gehant begins at 11 a.m. Friday at the NIU Veterans Memorial, on the corner of College Avenue and Castle Drive (across from Lowden Hall and next to the East Lagoon). The public is invited to attend, as are all students and faculty.

I hope to see you there.

For more details visit the NIU Veterans Club.<

gehant23[UPDATE April 4, 2008] I had the privilege to attend today's dedication service along with my husband. As you might sense from the photos below (and in the entire set at Flickr), the morning began with a chill in the air and overcast, gloomy skies. Gathered in the shadow of Altgeld Hall listening to the strums of a Kenny Chesney song Julianna's friend dedicated to her, many in the audience wept.

And then, for the first time that day, the sun began to reach out to touch our faces -- and, again as you'll see in the progression of the photos below -- the sky began to turn a breathtaking blue. The words to "Who You'd Be Today:"

Sunny days seem to hurt the most
gehant26Wear the pain like a heavy coat
I feel you everywhere I go

I see your smile, I see your face
I hear you laughing in the rain
Still can't believe you're gone


It ain't fair you died too young
Like a story that had just begun
The death tore the pages all away

God knows how I miss you
All the hell that I've been through
Just knowing no one could take your place
Sometimes I wonder who you'd be today

Would you see the world?
Would you chase your dreams?
Settle down with a family?
I wonder, what would you name your babies?

Some days the sky's so blue
I feel like I can talk to you
And I know it might sound crazy


Today, Today, Today
Today, Today, Today

Sunny days seem to hurt the most
I wear the pain like a heavy coat
The only thing that gives me hope
Is I know I'll see you again someday

From today's ceremony and the drive home as the sky turned blue:

gehant7 gehant8 gehant11 gehant12 gehant13 gehant14 gehant19 gehant22 gehant15 gehant25 gehant21 gehant27 rural1 rural5 rural6

WREX-TV Channel 13's coverage:

Friends and community members gather to pay tribute to one of the shooting victims at NIU. Seven weeks after the shootings on NIU's campus, students still mourn the loss of their classmates. One campus organization remembers a friend and army veteran.

Dozens of NIU Veterans Club members joined friends from Gehant's hometown of Mendota to reflect on the 32-year-old soldier who loved children, the army, and country music. Childhood friends of Gehant will always remember her smile and her positive spirit. Kristina Diemer says Julianna's commitment to the army inspired Diemer to pursue her dreams. ...

Gehant served in the US Army as an engineer for over twelve years before enrolling as an education major at NIU. During her service, she taught interior electrician courses, recruited future soldiers, and completed a mission in Kosovo.

gehant18Major Sergeant Clayton Slater tells 13 News, "Sergeant first class Gehant's significant engineer and instructor expertise represents a fine example of the 100 division's motto train them tough."

Friends say Julianna placed others above herself even moments before her death. Friend Jennifer Webster says, "Julie served others through the last moments of her life, warning others that the shooter was reloading, Julianna Gehant is a hero."

gehant20Even though J.D. Kammes lost his ballroom dance partner, Gehant's spirit pushes him to live each day with hope. Kammes says, "Sometimes it's just hard, some days I wake up and I am like what's the point. But then I think about her and she wouldn't want me to quit anything so that helps."

A plaque now sits at NIU's Veterans Memorial flag honoring Gehant's service to her country.

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