Small American flags waved along the entrance to N.C. Central University as a saxophone player worked through his scales, softening a reed to reach the one and a half octaves in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
It was a few minutes before the start of a Veterans Day ceremony, but only a few people were dressed in military uniform.
There were plenty of suits, some jeans and T-shirt combos, but little else to indicate that this large crowd was familiar with the cut of dress blues or the weight of hard-earned medals. Suddenly, two by two, the people formed a crisp queue. Jaw lines raised to sharp angles and, step by step, they moved as one, synchronized behind the flag.
The audience clapped in appreciation and leaders took turns at the lectern lauding their service, especially the growing number of recent combat veteransthe largest group since the Vietnam War.
Across town, up a flight of stairs at The Carrack Modern Art, the smell of incense infused the air. Jeremy Berggren sat alone on a couch facing an altar with a single candle and one dozen red roses. A framed photo of Sitting Bull rested atop a wooden cabinet borrowed from his roommate.
Berggren is a veteran of the war in Iraq as well as a poet and artist. The altar was his idea, a community space where anyone could visit and add photos, names and notes to honor and recognize those who have served or are currently serving. Usually, Berggren feels restless on Veterans Day, unsure of his place as a veteran committed to peace and healing. Today, there is nowhere he’d rather be.