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ROTC Patriot’s Day ceremony honors victims, veterans

Nicole Zook | Monday, September 12, 2005

The attitude at the Hesburgh Library reflecting pool was somber Friday morning as Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, faculty and staff and a handful of war veterans gathered to honor those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and those who have died in the following global war on terror.

The Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC branches jointly sponsored the fourth annual Patriot’s Day Ceremony as an “opportunity for the Notre Dame family and greater South Bend community to pay tribute to those innocent victims who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 93, and to remember those who continue to serve in the armed forces of our great nation to fight the war on terror,” tri-military commander Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Rachael Walters said.

Walters, a Saint Mary’s senior, served as master of ceremonies for the vigil, which all ROTC cadets from each branch and about 50 civilians attended. The ceremony included an invocation and benediction from ROTC Chaplain Father Peter Rocca, the playing of the national anthem, and words from guest speaker retired Lt. Col. Douglas Hemphill, who shared with the audience his thoughts on patriotism after serving in the Army.

“I believe we can’t just allow circumstances to define patriot, or patriotism, or anything else for that matter,” he said. “It is more basic and concrete than that.”

Hemphill said children are taught about good and evil, a distinction that blurs as they grow older.

“[As children] we wanted so much for truth and goodness to prevail that we almost accepted the idea that the world would simply evolve into a kinder and gentler place,” he said. “Some of us even dreamed we could transform evil through our own human actions. Sept. 11 and the events of the last four years contradict that dream. Certainly God can transform evil. I cannot. What I can do – what I have done – what you are doing – is to stand up to evil through patriotic service.”

Hemphill called the Notre Dame environment a nurturing place for service where the call to serve can be heard “especially clearly,” noting campus landmarks such as the Clarke Memorial Fountain, Holy Cross Cemetery – where several markers signify “the service of priests of the Holy Cross and Notre Dame community as military chaplains” – and the Basilica to prove his point.

“At Notre Dame, the idea of service presents itself to us every day. The words on the east entrance to our Basilica of the Sacred Heart call us to service – to ‘God, Country, Notre Dame,'” he said. “And hearing the words ‘God, Country, Notre Dame,’ it is difficult for any of us who wear a uniform not to think of a related call to service – to ‘Duty, Honor, Country.'”

Hemphill also spoke of war veterans, both those who “served to the point of the ultimate sacrifice” and those who “returned home to continue quietly serving society.” Several such veterans, including Ralph “Lefty” Guillette, were in attendance at the ceremony.

“[Ceremonies like this are important] to show that the youth we have, that are so often degraded and insulted, care about being patriots,” Guillette said. “Inside, we’re just as proud of this country as we were in my generation, the ‘Greatest Generation.'”

Hemphill spoke of the ‘Greatest Generation’ as well, and called the uniformed students in attendance to serve as their fathers and grandfathers did.

“What makes this commemoration so special is this: if you look around, I think you will see next to you the people who will become the Greatest Generation. Your membership in the ROTC programs imposes on you a call to service that I think most of you have already accepted,” Hemphill said. “It is as well a call to vigilance. It is a call to responsibility. It is a call to stand and protect.”

Giullette, who served in the Korean War and was wounded during one of two long tours in Vietnam – totaling 24 years in service – said he feels the Notre Dame cadets answered this call and will continue to remember why it is important to serve.

“We talk about ‘remember the Alamo,'” he said. “Now we’ve got to say, ‘remember 9/11.’ That’s the thing the military teaches you – how commitment and devotion … always stay with you, you’re born an American.”

Guillette, 75, said he understands the community atmosphere and spirit of service at Notre Dame – he is a student at the University.

“I am so proud to be a part of Notre Dame’s campus but even more proud to be a student at Notre Dame,” he said. “I look at Notre Dame like the Marine Corps – semper fi, always faithful. There’s no middle road for ND or the Marine Corps, you either love ’em or you hate ’em. You have to be a part of it to appreciate it.”

Guillette and several other veterans teared up at several points during the ceremony, most noticeably when two cadets played ‘Taps’ across the reflecting pool.

“We can go to ballgames and take our children to parks without fear because people died,” Guillette said. “If I was 20 years younger, I’d be proud to go to Iraq. OK, maybe 30 years younger.”