Here's how Iowa State honored new grads, former student veterans who died in World War II

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

This story has been updated to correct the age of Donald T. Griswold Jr. at the time of his death.

Great and Gold Star — the names of two halls at Iowa State University and the sites of two different ceremonies this week, both honoring student veterans, be they graduating this year after their military service or having sacrificed everything eight decades ago.

In recognition of Veterans Day this week, the Iowa State Veterans Center hosted a celebration in the Memorial Union's Great Hall on Wednesday night to honor student veteran graduates who will receive their degrees next month.

Rita Case, the center's new director, said about 54 student veterans at Iowa State plan to graduate in December. Eight attended Wednesday's event with loved ones — the first such ceremony, with a dinner and guest speakers, which Case hoped to do again in the spring for the next set of graduates.

Case, a Navy veteran herself, said it's especially important to recognize student veteran graduates. As many student veterans tend to be older than most of their undergraduate peers, she said they also often have professional, family and other responsibilities to juggle with their college careers' typical challenges — on top of making the transition from military to their civilian life.

"It's truly a hard-earned accomplishment, and it should be recognized," she said.

Veterans Day event in Ames:Former U.S. Army major to speak at Ames Patriotic Council’s Veterans Day event

Yes, there's more freedom on a college campus than while serving in uniform, but sometimes that's the biggest challenge of the transition, according to some student veterans.

Matthew Upah, a Marine who served between 2013 and 2018, started college at Iowa State before his military service but came back to finish and earn a bachelor's degree in animal science.

"Coming back here and walking out of all the discipline" was the toughest challenge, Upah said.

Nobles Antwi, who served in the Navy for seven years, starting in 2012, explained that without the regimented life of the military, time management skills can be difficult to master while adapting to the structure of college life.

A student veteran has to learn to make their own schedule, and there's no unit around them for support, Antwi said.

While there may not be a unit around them, there are resources and people to connect with who can help.

Antwi, who'll graduate with a bachelor's degree in nutritional science in December, advised student veterans to reach out to the community — "You're not alone" — adding that he's enjoyed serving in the local community by helping cook dinners at the Veterans Center, which hosts dinners on Thursday nights at a church near campus.

Kessiah Taylor, a Marine who served for four years and is a single mom, said the biggest challenge for her was "trying to blend with civilians," because, for example, "the way we talk is different" — battle cries aren't usually expected replies in the civilian world.

But Taylor said it was important for her to get a college degree because she wanted to show her young son, Leo, that anything's achievable.

She said she had a year of college at the University of Northern Iowa, but she still has gone to school year-round to finish her four-year bachelor's degree in child, adult and family services in less time than that, having started at Iowa State in fall 2019.

GI Bill makes college accessible for thousands of veterans across Iowa

Generations of veterans and their family members from the era of U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have or will be able to use their earned Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to help pay for college or job training.

As of late September of this year, more than 2.6 million veterans and more than 514,000 dependents across the U.S. were eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and of them, more than 1.9 million veterans and more than 465,000 dependents had used their benefits since the program began in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In Iowa, out of more than 16,200 eligible post-9/11 veterans and more than 3,500 eligible dependents, more than 11,700 veterans and almost 3,200 dependents had used their benefits, according to the VA.

At Iowa State, as of mid-September this fall, there were 674 student veterans — 422 attending with benefits and 252 without, according to university data.

Not every Iowa State student who's served in the military has come home and been able to enjoy the benefits of their service, though.

Wednesday's graduation celebration included a seat at the table for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

"We call them comrades," Case said.

More, for subscribers, this week:How this Iowan helps female veterans find purpose when their service ends: 'No woman fights alone' 

As Iowa State celebrates veteran graduates, it also commemorates fallen former students

Across the hallway and two days earlier, in the Memorial Union's Gold Star Hall, the university also recognized former students who died serving in World War II.

The walls of Gold Star Hall are engraved with the names of nearly 600 Iowa State students who died serving in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia and the Global War on Terrorism.

Three fallen former students were honored Monday, with details of their lives published by the university:

Robert Abram Berwick of Knoxville studied chemistry from 1940 to 1943 before he joined the Navy in the fall of 1943. Berwick was 22 when he died on April 11, 1945, after a Japanese aircraft crashed into the boiler room of the USS Kidd 90 miles off the coast of Okinawa. A bomb exploded inside the ship, killing 37 others. He was buried at sea with his crewmates and posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. While he grew up in Knoxville, he had moved to Des Moines with his family in 1932.

Donald T. Griswold Jr. of Clarinda studied agronomy from 1936 to 1941 before he joined the Navy following his graduation in March of 1941. Born in Texas, his family moved to a farm near Clarinda when he was 5 years old. Griswold played football for Iowa State and learned to fly at Ames' airport after then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established programs in 1939 to train civilian pilots, as war spread elsewhere. Griswold died at the age of 24 when diving his plane to attack a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Midway; damaged by anti-aircraft fire, the plane crashed into the ocean. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

William Conrad Ostlund of Webster City studied agricultural business from 1936 to 1937. After severe side effects to exposure to poison ivy, Ostlund fell behind in his classes and transferred at the end of his freshman year to what's now Butler University, where he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1941. He joined the Navy in February 1942. He served on the USS Gudgeon, a submarine that, along with its 81-member crew, was never seen again after stopping for fuel at the Johnston atoll on April 7, 1944, and departing to its assigned patrol area northwest of the Mariana Islands. After nearly two months went by with no contact, all aboard were presumed dead, and the sub has never been found. Ostlund was 25 when the sub was last seen.

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.