When Brian Hoose enrolled at HCC in 1974, the school didn't offer any services for veterans, he recalls.
"None whatsoever," said Hoose, who is 64 and lives in Westfield.
He had served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971 and was one of many soldiers returning to civilian life after the Vietnam War who started going to college.
Hoose, HCC class of '76, returned to campus Wednesday for a Veterans Day celebration and the All Veterans Resource Fair that followed. He said he's pleased to see how much things have changed for veterans on campus.
"Obviously," he said, "things are a whole lot better. It's important to make sure veterans who are coming in now can get services they can use. Before it was just a pat on the back and a parade, and that was it."
The Veterans Day event was held in the Courtyard, with a formal military color guard, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and opening remarks from student veteran Melissa Tartt, who served in the U.S. Navy as a fire controlman. She started her talk with familiar quote from John F. Kennedy, who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
"Were it not for people like us," added Tartt, "there might not be a country for us to be proud of. I'm very proud to be a U.S. veteran and very proud to know the veterans here on campus."
The guest speaker was Donald Andrejczyk, from the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
"When they join the service, they take an oath to defend our constitution," he said,"so they are protecting all our rights. When we look at the American flag, we should think about our military veterans and pray that they're safe and come home safely."
The All Veterans Resource Fair, HCC's first, brought together agencies that offer aid and assistance to U.S. military veterans. Representatives from the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, the U.S. Veterans Administration, the Springfield Vet Center, the Western Mass Food Bank and HCC New Directions and Veterans Services were on hand to provide information and answer questions about healthcare, housing, education, and financial support services.
Tartt said the fair was a great benefit to veterans who don't have to run around to different agencies and departments. "It's so much easier and less overwhelming," she said. "They get all the information in one place. It's much more conducive to our guys asking for the help that they need."
Hoose said he and his fellow student veterans in the 1970s began to advocate for services, and the college responded. Within six months, he said HCC had its first veterans services officer. They had an office for a new Veterans Club and were organizing veterans-faculty basketball games as fundraisers.
He'll be retiring soon from his job with the state Dept. of Developmental Services. He attended the resource fair to see what kind of benefits might be available to him as a veteran.
"It's always good to know what your options are," he said.
Photos: (Left) The color guard prepares to march at the HCC Veterans Day celebration Wednesday. (Right) HCC student and Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Lafleur talks to Don Andrejczyk, from the Holyoke Soldiers' Home at the HCC All Veterans Resource Fair.