Stanford students with military affiliations remember the fallen on Memorial Day

On the Farm, Memorial Day is a time for reflection, gatherings with friends and family, a visit to Memorial Auditorium where Stanford’s fallen are honored, and for some, a time to do “the Murph,” a rigorous workout named after a Medal of Honor recipient.

With the approach of Memorial Day, Stanford students with military affiliations are making plans – each in their own way – to mark the national holiday, which honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Students participate in the 2018 Murph.

During a Memorial Day event last year, Stanford students did “the Murph,” a rigorous workout – including pushups, pullups and squats – named in honor of a Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who died in Afghanistan in 2005. (Image credit: Nicki Falbo)

“Memorial Day is meant for reflecting and remembering the lives of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and I spend the day doing just that,” said Rachael Nicol, a junior majoring in psychology who served in the U.S. Army before joining Stanford as a transfer student.

“It’s a yearly opportunity to bring attention to their sacrifice and to ensure that they will never be forgotten.”

Like other veterans, Nicol visits the website “Honor the Fallen” to read stories about the men and women she wants to remember, including several “fallen brothers and sisters” who died in Afghanistan.

“Memorial Day is an incredibly meaningful day for me,” Nicol said.

Commemorating those who gave their lives

In recent interviews, Stanford students with military affiliations – veterans and an active duty officer – spoke about what Memorial Day means to them and what they do to commemorate those who gave their lives for the country.

“Certainly I reflect on the lives of those I served with who lost their lives in the line of duty – Naval Academy classmates, pilots I flew with and people who I never met but who pursued similar paths to my own,” said Steve Barber, a former U.S. Navy pilot who will graduate in June with an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Equally, I think of my friends who are still serving on active duty, standing the watch in dangerous places.”

Barber said he usually spends Memorial Day with friends from the military.

“Now that I’m a civilian, re-engaging with our shared language and camaraderie is something I value more than ever as a tangible connection to my past life,” he said.

Megan Selbach-Allen, a first-year doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, said she has marked the day in the past by doing the rigorous workout known as “the Murph,” and will probably do it again this year.

The workout, which consists of a 1-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and another 1-mile run, was named in honor of the late U.S. Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan. The workout is performed across the United States and around the world on Memorial Day.

At Stanford, the Murph will be part of a Saturday event commemorating Memorial Day, organized by the Stanford Law Veterans Organization.

“The workout is an opportunity to make oneself miserable for a little bit, and in the smallest way, remember and pay tribute to the pain and suffering of both the individuals who died and their families,” said Niko Eren, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and second-year student at Stanford Law School. “I have done the Murph every year since 2008, including the time I was with Turkish Navy SEALs and we did the workout at their compound.”

The event will also include a cookout and games of cornhole – a lawn game in which players take turns throwing beanbags at a raised platform with a hole in the far end.

“At the cookout, we remember what those who died gave their lives for,” Eren said. “We enjoy American food traditions – burgers, hot dogs and beer – and play friendly games. The cookout symbolizes a small sliver of what they fought and died for – freedom.”

For John Alsterda, a Navy reserve officer at the Office of Naval Research and a PhD student in mechanical engineering, Memorial Day is a time for Americans to honor those who sacrificed their lives to protect freedom, democracy and the country.

“We should thank them for the liberty and peace we enjoy today,” he said. “But also, we should contemplate our lives and the state of the world. How do the challenges we face in our lives compare to the experiences of our fallen? What is the state of the world, where is it heading, and what can we do to avoid the great conflicts of the past?”

Memorial Auditorium open to visitors on Memorial Day

On campus, there are several spaces and memorials that honor members of the Stanford community who gave their lives to their country.

Last year, the Stanford community mourned the deaths of two recent graduates serving in the military: Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis, an Air National Guard helicopter pilot and 2017 graduate of Stanford Law School; and Stewart A. McGurk, a Foreign Area Officer with the U.S. Army who earned a master’s degree in East Asian studies in 2017.

Jane Stanford, who co-founded the university with husband Leland Stanford, established Memorial Court in 1900 to honor the Stanford volunteers of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Their names are emblazoned on a large bronze plaque set in an ornate sandstone frame facing the grass courtyard.

Smaller bronze plaques in Memorial Court honor the first two Stanford casualties of World War I – a French professor and a Class of 1908 graduate.

In 1937, the university extended the tribute to Memorial Auditorium, where plaques honor Stanford war casualties, beginning with World War I and extending to the present. In 2016, the university added a Stanford Roll of Honor for alumni who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That same year, Stanford Law School rededicated a memorial plaque – and placed it in front of Crown Law Library – to honor students and graduates who served in World War II.

Memorial Auditorium will be open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Memorial Day.