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ROTC holds Veterans Day ceremony

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On a rainy Veterans Day at Notre Dame, University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh told a standing room only crowd in the auditorium of the library that bears his name that he stands “in awe, respect and gratitude to our armed forces.”

“Because if we stand high in the councils of the world today,” he said, “it’s because we’ve had the kind of people who could stand behind our flag and out in front of our nation, giving us stability, order and a sense of heroic dedication even at a time of much self-indulgence.”

Hesburgh, who was president of Notre Dame for 35 years, was the guest speaker Tuesday at the Notre Dame ROTC Tri-Military Veterans Day Ceremony. The commemoration of those who have fought in the armed services of the United States, an annual event, began at Notre Dame a day earlier. Starting Monday at 4:30 p.m., alternating members of the Notre Dame ROTC programs stood watch in dress uniforms at the Clarke Memorial Fountain, more commonly known as Stonehenge. They stood sentry over a 24-hour period when temperatures hovered at and around freezing and rain and ice fell intermittently.

Hesburgh praised the tradition of ROTC at Notre Dame, a tradition he said goes all the way back to Notre Dame founder Father Edward Sorin.

When Hesburgh began teaching at the University after World War II, he said the school was “practically a navy camp,” with the large influx of Navy veterans into the student body.

During his time as president of the University, Hesburgh said there were, at times, feelings of anti-military sentiment in the country. Hesburgh said he never shared those feelings. And when other colleges dropped their ROTC programs, Notre Dame kept theirs.

Hesburgh said he is proud of the men and women in Notre Dames’ ROTC program.

“You represent the best of the Notre Dame tradition and the best of the American tradition,” he said.

Hesburgh told the ROTC members sitting or standing in the auditorium, clad in their dress uniforms, that he prayed for them every day.

Veterans Day, he said, is a day to pray for men and women, including those who went to Notre Dame, who gave their lives in military service to their country.

“It’s also a day when we are especially proud of all of you young cadets and airmen and marines,” he said. “It’s a wonderful day when we can say there are still young people in this country who are willing to stand up and face the powers of evil.”

Hesburgh, who spoke for nearly thirty minutes, told the audience a story about the time when President Jimmy Carter arranged for him to ride in the SR-71 Blackbird. Hesburgh had done a favor for Carter, and in exchange, he told the president that he wanted to beat the world speed record for aviators.

So he took the necessary tests, passed and when Hesburgh went up in the air in the SR-71, the plane set the world speed record for aviators.

Hesburgh said he was proud to say he has flown higher and faster than all but about 10 pilots in the U.S. Air Force.

At the end the Veterans Day ceremony, members of the ROTC program presented Hesburgh with a model of the SR-71, placed atop a base with a plaque inscribed “the fastest priest on Earth.”

Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat recently re-elected to represent Indiana’s 2nd District, spoke briefly following Hesburgh. He thanked the members of ROTC for their pledge to service on behalf of the people who live in his congressional district, an area that includes Notre Dame.