New ROTC cadets at EKU take oaths on a weekend honoring fallen veterans

lblackford@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2012 

RICHMOND — The lonely warble of taps floated across the courtyard, as flags at half-mast fluttered, and people in uniform and out wiped their eyes.

Then a new crop of cadets from the Eastern Kentucky University ROTC program took their oaths in front of those who had served before.

"It's very emotional," said Jim Montgomery, class of 1962, who returns for EKU's Veterans Day celebration every year. "When those flags go up you can't say your own name."

On Saturday, he was remembering one of his classmates, Paul Van Hoose, killed in Vietnam, whose body was brought back to the U.S. by another EKU student, Ralph Newman, who went on to serve almost 50 years in active duty and the Army Reserve.

Van Hoose's name is engraved on the plaque in Memorial Courtyard, a plaque that went up only in 2003.

Bret Morris, the former chair of military science at Eastern who now serves as admissions director, said the ROTC alumni group raised $65,000 after they realized that police and firefighters were honored on campus, but there was no place set aside for veterans.

"We raised the money in 18 months," he said.

The long wall is emblazoned with plaques that honor each branch of the military with flagpoles.

The center features a plaque with the names of all former Eastern students who died in service in U.S. conflicts.

Keynote speaker Col. Martin Carpenter, Inspector General of the Kentucky National Guard, called Veterans Day "a celebration of those who made victory possible.

"We should be extremely glad of our service and those who served before us," he said.

EKU has had a strong ROTC program since 1936, when it started, said Allen Back, director of EKU's office of military veterans' affairs and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves.

Since 1936, the EKU ROTC programs have produced 2,200 officers who have served in every conflict since then.

Jack Whitney graduated in 1970, and served several years in active duty and 21 years in the reserves.

"It's an opportunity to reflect on your own personal service and sacrifice," he said. "We put a lot of time in."

EKU put together a big celebration that corresponded with the football game against Murray State. First the U.S. Army's 101's demonstration team jumped with the game ball into Roy Kidd Stadium.

Then during halftime, veterans were invited to walk onto the field.

On Monday at 1:30 p.m., EKU students will recite essays they've written to honor veterans.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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