Military students to honor veterans, ROTC’s proud past

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

While many people throughout Brookings sleep on Nov. 11, Cadet Major Sarah Smith will march in peaceful silence to honor the veterans’ sacrifices that have ensured freedom in the United States.

“We really need to think about everything they have done so we can still have the United States ? and everything that we have,” she said.

Smith, a junior geography and geographic information sciences major, is marching as part of the 24-hour Veterans Vigil being held Nov. 10 and 11 at the Brookings County Veterans Memorial. Between 60 to 70 SDSU Air Force ROTC cadets will march in pairs in 30-minute shifts to honor the service of veterans and to continue a legacy of military pride.

“We are honoring veterans that have sacrificed either their lives or their time,” she said. “We want to show that we respect them.”

As a land-grant university, SDSU has a strong military tradition. The college was required to have an Army training program as part of the Morrill Act, and each male had to be involved with it for two years.

“It’s never not been around,” said Maj. Troy Ness, who has worked with the Army ROTC program since July 2005. “It’s been part of the university since the beginning.”

In 1946, the Air Force ROTC was started at SDSU, and in 1969, joining ROTC became voluntary.

Throughout this time, ROTC has worked to mentor student cadets to become future leaders in the U.S. military, and in some cases, the SDSU chapter has produced some of the best and courageous military leaders of their time.

One of those leaders was General William DePuy, for whom the military science building was named. DePuy, who served the country for 36 years and in three wars, was commissioned from ROTC in ? Continued from a1

1941 as a second lieutenant in the infantry. He later became the first Commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which gave him the overall responsibility for many of the Army’s training centers, including the ROTC program.

DePuy is the highest ranking alumnus of ROTC, which is why the building was named after him in 1987.

Another famous ROTC alumnus was Willibald C. Bianchi, a 1940 SDSU graduate who later received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be given to military personnel.

Bianchi voluntarily led a rifle platoon of another company in its effort to wipe out two enemy machine gun nests. The first lieutenant was wounded by two bullets through his left hand and later by two machine gun bullets through his chest muscles, but he continued throwing grenades and firing shots at the enemy.

After Bianchi’s second wound, he climbed on an American tank and fired its anti-aircraft machine gun into the enemy position until he was knocked off the tank by a third severe wound. President Franklin Roosevelt honored Bianchi’s courage that day in World War II with the Medal of Honor.

“All these people have done so much to make this such a proud tradition,” said Ness. “Some people join for other reasons like money ? but some cadets say, ‘I’m going to South Dakota (State) as a cadet because they have a proud tradition.'”

In addition to graduating famous military leaders, the SDSU program has also featured some noteworthy instructors. Omar Bradley served as the head of the Military Science department in 1919 and later became a five-star general, the highest Army ranking.

“For the program itself, it’s a great honor because of his status and of what he did in the military,” Ness said. “It’s a great honor to have such a rich tradition of military leaders come through the program.”

For Ness and several cadets, though, Veterans Day is not reserved for just famous military leaders but all military personnel who have worked to keep the United States free.

“It’s a day to honor those who have gone out and fallen, to honor those who have fought for our freedom,” said Cadet Major Tanner Christensen, who is in his fourth year with Army ROTC.

Ness agreed.

“For me, it’s about what our forefathers have done to lay the groundwork to get us to where we are at today,” he said. “If we didn’t have people interested in serving in the U.S. military, we wouldn’t be as far as we are in today’s world.”