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ROTC commemorates Veterans Day

Claire Heininger | Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Col. William Brooks started for Frank Leahy’s first football team as a freshman in 1941, then pioneered the U.S. Army’s Airborne unit as one of its first members in 1942. The Navy kept Notre Dame financially afloat in the 1940s, and over 12,000 naval officers departed the peaceful shadow of the Golden Dome for the battlefields of World War II. Father William Corby famously granted absolution to the Irish Brigade before they marched in the Battle of Gettysburg. ROTC scholarships at Notre Dame outnumber those of any other voluntary ROTC program in the nation.

Clearly, Notre Dame has a strong military history – a rich, respected heritage that today’s Veterans Day ceremonies will strive to honor and reflect.

Retired Lt. Col. and Associate Graduate School Vice President Anthony Hyder summed up the relationship between Notre Dame and the military.

“What better place to commemorate Veterans Day than Notre Dame?” he said. “What better place to train military officers with outstanding moral and ethical values? When we look at Notre Dame’s long-term involvement with the national defense … the mutual respect is long-lasting.”

Retired Lt. Col. and assistant professor of business Douglass Hemphill offered similar praise. “[University President Emeritus] Father Hesburgh said it the best: These [ROTC] students are going to take responsibility for leading the young people who are the sons and daughters of our friends and neighbors,” Hemphill said. “Surely we prefer people who have been through the Notre Dame experience and have Notre Dame values.”

Hemphill’s own Notre Dame experience began in 1972, when the Army sent him to the University to earn a degree in International Relations and continued in 1986 when he returned to run the Army ROTC program.

“It was then that I had my first deep encounters with Notre Dame undergraduates,” said Hemphill, who served from 1966-1991, including two years in Vietnam. “I fell in love with the school … It’s a terrific place.”

To honor veterans such as Hyder and Hemphill, over 100 members of the University’s Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC units held their annual overnight vigil at the Clarke Memorial Fountain. The vigil began at 4 p.m. Monday and concludes at 5 p.m. today with a commemorative ceremony featuring Father Hesburgh as the guest speaker.

“The Veterans Day vigil is such a small sign of what the ROTC cadets and the Notre Dame community can do to remember those who have gone before us,” Lynn Wojszynski said as she distributed commemorative ribbons and fliers a few feet away from where her fellow cadets somberly stood guard on each of the fountain’s four sides.

As a senior Air Force ROTC member and commander of Arnold Air Security, which organized and sponsored the retreat, Wojszynski was scheduled to stand guard on back-to-back shifts from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday night. She encouraged Notre Dame students to honor veterans because “they have given their lives to keep this country free.”

Major Mark Lyon, marine officer and instructor of the Naval ROTC program, commended his cadets for their participation in the ceremony.

“We have all of the cadets and midshipmen out to commemorate the veterans who have served and sacrificed – so we can honor them in our community,” he said.

Hemphill said he admired the event because “the ceremony at Stonehenge is an absolutely fine thing … It doesn’t memorialize anything but the spirit, bravery and sacrifice of a lot of people who have given their lives so we can be free.”

“The fact that Father Hesburgh is able to speak there is one of the greatest gifts we have,” he added. “It is a great mark of respect.”

In addition to the ROTC vigil, several St. Joseph County Veterans Day ceremonies will be held off campus as well. The largest celebration will take place at the future site of the Military Honor Park Museum, which is currently being constructed near the main entrance of the South Bend Regional Airport.

Bill Flaugher, president of the St. Joseph County Veterans Commanders Council who served in Korea from 1950-1954, said he expected the ceremony to draw veterans from all over the Michiana area.

“In this great country, Veterans Day is something that people can forget easily,” Flaugher said. “It means a lot to those who are still in hospitals and institutions … We’re trying to spread what these men and women are all about – each other and family and God and country.”

The ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., will include retired Lt. Cmdr. Robert Miller and Congressman Chris Chocola as speakers and will recognize veterans from all branches of the military.

While veterans do not seek out recognition, they appreciate the community’s gratitude, Hemphill said.

“I don’t know of any veteran who asks for anything,” he said. “I know a lot who would just appreciate a thanks, but that’s not what they’re going around looking for.”

“Until Sept. 11, it was easy to get lulled into thinking of Veterans Day as just another day off,” he added. “Now there is a far more immediate understanding of the fact that there are real threats out there … Veterans are people who have said over the past 200 years that [the United States] is something worth protecting, worth defending, worth standing up for.”

Hyder agreed that Americans are very fortunate to live in a country where members of the military are so passionate and patriotic about their cause. “How lucky we are to live in a country where people volunteer to put their lives on the line for fellow citizens,” he said. “That is why we need to commemorate them on campus.”

“There are two things about Notre Dame that make me very proud,” he continued. “One is the flagpole in the middle of the main quad – it’s often forgotten but it’s hard not to smile when you realize that it’s there. The other is Stonehenge – can you even think of another campus who recognizes our veterans that way?”