The Citadel at War
By John Warley, ’67 (Final 08-16-2016)
We, The Citadel’s alumni, welcome you to our war memorial. We wish to share an essential part of the school’s story through the lives and premature deaths of those brave warriors whose names are etched into the walls behind you. They were our classmates, teammates, squad or platoon leaders, our friends. They live on in our memory, and forever in this memorial. Like many of us, they joined the armed forces to do their part to preserve freedom. We came home, while they, in Lincoln’s immortal phrase, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”
Understanding their sacrifice requires some understanding of The Citadel. It is not for everyone, as anyone who has matriculated here will attest. Men and women come for various reasons, but expect to be challenged, to be instructed, perhaps inspired, and to be tempered into the leaders demanded by an increasingly complex world. Our history, dating from 1842, confirms the value of The Citadel experience. That experience—in the barracks, on the parade ground, in the academic buildings, on the athletic fields, in our chapels—molds and shapes us in ways traditional colleges or universities would not. Its rigors bond us, as was demonstrated as early as 1852, when the entire junior class resigned, forfeiting graduation, to protest an unjust order. When we leave, we lean on that experience, imbued with the competence and confidence nurtured by everything you see around you, to navigate life’s rougher shoals, its sudden dips and curves. And we lean on it to rise, to excel, to lead.
At the core of The Citadel experience is the honor code. While some schools have discarded their honor codes as relics, we embrace ours: “A cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” By living up to that oath, we prepare ourselves for other oaths, sworn on later days—“to have and to hold” and to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” In striving to live up to the high moral standard set by this code, we seek the values The Citadel instills: honor, duty, respect.
Honor refers not to the medals, citations, and awards earned in combat, though they have been legion, but rather to the manner in which we conduct ourselves in the roughest, most lethal environments imaginable, including torture and confinement as a prisoner of war (POW). Col. Roy Hilton, USA, Class of 1915, survived the Bataan Death March in World War II, remaining a POW for the duration of the war. Col. J. Quincy Collins, Jr., USAF, Class of 1953, spent seven-and-a-half years as a POW, many of them at the notorious Hỏa Lò Prison, known better as the Hanoi Hilton, enduring with honor the unendurable. 1stLt. Alan Kroboth, USMC, Class of 1969, experienced a much shorter confinement as a POW, but one that included a forced three-month trek across Vietnam, barefoot, with a broken back, sleeping in bomb craters, and covered with leeches. These and other alumni POWs honored us by the gritty Citadel resolve they showed to our enemies.
Duty was exemplified by the classes of 1917 and 1918, which saw one hundred percent of their graduates enter the armed services to do their part “over there” in World War I. Many grew up in small towns or on farms, in an age when the telephone was a novelty, the Wright Brothers were experimenting with manned flight, and Theodore Roosevelt led the charge up San Juan Hill. College degrees were the exception, yet having attained one, perhaps the first in a family to do so, these graduates risked all by shipping out to Europe, where unprecedented casualties left a permanent scar on humanity. But still they went. Duty. Nine members of those two classes are named on the wall behind you.
Respect is what we show our country, our flag, our superiors, and one another. It is the entire 1854 Corps of Cadets marching through Newberry, S.C., to fire a salute over the grave of Capt. W. F. Graham, the school’s first superintendent. When Capt. John W. Vaughan, USAF, Class of 1968, learned that a newly freed Vietnam POW would be returning to the U.S. without The Citadel ring stolen by his captors, Vaughan sought him out in a Philippines hospital, took his own ring off, and placed it on the former POW’s finger, a gesture of solidarity and respect. Vaughan represented The Citadel brotherhood that day.
In responding to the nation’s call to arms, those World War I veterans followed a path well worn by the time they shipped out. The initial graduating class of 1846 sent alumni to participate in the first battles ever waged by U.S. soldiers on foreign soil, the Mexican-American War. As members of the famed Palmetto Regiment and other units, we fought from Veracruz to Mexico City, losing six of our brothers, including J.H. Howell, the first alumnus killed in action. The war also initiated a tradition that continues today, that of a war veteran matriculating after military service. That veteran, Allen H. Little, lost an arm during a battle in Mexico before graduating with first honors in the Class of 1852. He died of his wounds two years later.
Regrettably, the next conflict to test our alumni came not in a foreign land but upon the ground on which you stand today, although our campus was then in downtown Charleston on Marion Square. On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets, fighting under a new flag, fired the first shot of the War Between the States on the Star of the West, a ship attempting to resupply the Union garrison at Fort Sumter. As other states seceded, our cadets and alumni answered the call to duty. Some left school to form what became known as the Cadet Rangers, assigned to the 6th Regiment, South Carolina Cavalry. Using skills and knowledge acquired here, they trained recruits, defended the coast of South Carolina, and in 1864 played a critical role in the bloodiest all-cavalry battle of the entire war at Trevilian Station in Virginia. With Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton leading them, they rushed headlong at a mounted enemy column under the command of Brig. Gen. George Custer and broke their charge.
As Union forces marched to the sea in Georgia, our entire Corps of Cadets defended the Charleston & Savannah Railroad at the Battle of Tulifinny Creek, successfully holding off a superior force. Suffering one dead, seven wounded in their “baptism by fire,” they earned the praise of seasoned veterans who served with them. Given the outcome of the war and the fact that one of our own fired the first shot, it was perhaps fitting that Capt. Robert M. Sims, Class of 1856, served as General Lee’s representative to carry the flag of truce through Union lines at Appomattox. At war’s end, three hundred sixteen Citadel men numbered among those making the supreme sacrifice, including Col. Charles C. Tew, our first graduate. We honor their service.
Among the casualties on both sides of the War Between the States was the college itself. Like much of Charleston, our former home on Marion Square faced economic destitution and occupation by Union forces. In the desperate years that followed, few envisioned the revival of the noble educational experiment begun there in 1842. We, members of The Citadel’s long gray line, recognized the mournful strains of taps, and taps had been sounded for our alma mater.
It is therefore fitting, and a testament to The Citadel experience, that we refused to let it die. Classmates had died, and the Lost Cause we defended had died, but the institution we loved could not be allowed to die. We had found in its structure, its rigors, its esprit de corps something essential to preserve. When the last Federal troops garrisoned in our barracks departed in 1877, efforts began immediately to reopen despite daunting odds. The decimated state treasury held no funds to refurbish it. But we persevered. Aided by our old friends in the Washington Light Infantry, we pressed a well-orchestrated campaign that, in 1882, by a single tie-breaking vote in the South Carolina Senate, saved The Citadel.
The cadets admitted to those first classes after reopening fought a war far different from the one their parents initiated. In this war, the enemies consisted of stark, state-wide poverty, an earthquake in 1886 that brought parts of Charleston to knees still bent, and a fire in 1892 that destroyed a significant portion of the barracks. Through all these adversities, we became, as a corps and as alumni, stronger.
In 1898, Americans reminded each other to “Remember the Maine” as war with Spain commenced in the Philippines and in Cuba. We sent thirty-two of our alumni into service, and while we suffered no fatalities, the engagement produced our first Medal of Honor recipient, Brig. Gen. John T. Kennedy, who received his initial military training here.
Survival of the college into the twentieth century foreshadowed what it was to become in the twenty-first and beyond. Despite the years when we were linked to The Arsenal in Columbia as The South Carolina Military Academy, we have always been known as The Citadel. In 1910, we officially became The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina. By then, increased enrollment dictated new construction, so in 1922 the campus was relocated to our permanent home here on the banks of the Ashley River.
Since its inception, The Citadel has been governed by a Board of Visitors. Each March 20th, we celebrate Corps Day, the date on which the first students reported in 1843. Twenty cadets assembled on that spring day, designated as Beneficiary Cadets because their families were unable to pay the two-hundred-dollar tuition charged to Pay Cadets. To its enduring credit, the Board of Visitors directed that no difference in duties or treatment be made between paying and non-paying cadets; that merit and character were to be the path to promotion and recognition. Merit and character still rule here. Reveille sounds for rich and poor at the same hour. To the beneficiaries of family trusts and to those without resources, we issue the same uniforms, with military and academic achievement on our collars, chests, and epaulets, proudly worn and earned.
The price of freedom was again brought home to us in 1941, on “a date which will live in infamy.” Reflecting the nation’s outrage at the attack on Pearl Harbor, we sent as a percentage more of our students into the armed forces than any college in America, except the federal service academies. Those entering Lesesne Gate in September 1940 became known in Citadel lore as the “class that never was,” the Class of 1944. Out of the five hundred sixty-five who reported, three remained by the spring of their graduation year, the rest having been called to serve.
We participated in all theaters of World War II. In Europe, we lost members of eighteen separate classes in the victorious effort to defeat the Axis Powers. On battlefields that have come to define courage for generations of Americans, we fought and, for some of us, paid the ultimate price. On the beaches at Normandy and Anzio, in the Ardennes Forest, at Saint Lô, in the skies over France, Germany and North Africa, we helped deliver the blows that ended the war.
One member not lost was Maj. Roland F. Wooten, Jr., USAAC, Class of 1936. Wooten entered The Citadel in the teeth of the Great Depression that began in 1929. He lacked the funds to afford the uniforms essential to his matriculation. Brooks C. Preacher, Class of 1932, had retained his uniforms and agreed to make them available to Wooten, who went on to become a pilot and a World War II hero. In two hundred twenty combat missions over Italy, France, Germany, Sicily, and Tunisia, he shot down three enemy planes. Wooten himself was shot down three times. His valor earned him twenty-two Air Medals, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, and a host of honors from our Allies. During a later-in-life interview, discussing the impact his alma mater had on him, he said, “We need more Citadels.”
In the Pacific, Lt. Col. Horace E. Crouch, USAAC, Class of 1940, flew as a navigator and bombardier over Tokyo as one of Doolittle’s Raiders. Crouch survived, but members of twenty Citadel classes gave all in avenging Pearl Harbor. Two of those were PFCs John H. Cotter and Gerald R. Casey, USMC, Class of 1946. Brothers could not have been closer than Cotter and Casey. They grew up in the same hometown, went to the same church and school, matriculated at The Citadel together, then saw their education curtailed by their duty and the demands of the war. Assigned to the 4th Marine Division, they played on the football team that won the Central Pacific Championship before being sent to Iwo Jima. Cotter fell on the day of the landing and Casey two days later. The same fate befell our first World War II ace, Lt. Col. George B. McMillan, USAAC, Class of 1938, who survived aerial combat as a pilot for the famed Flying Tigers but was lost in the skies over China thereafter. Ensign Claude J. Gasque, Jr., USNR, Class of 1936, was among three hundred seventy lost at sea when the USS Quincy, having supported the Marine landing on Guadalcanal, succumbed to Japanese artillery and torpedoes in the Battle of Savo Island. In every Pacific battle, from the Philippines to Midway to Okinawa, we were there.
Lest we forget, there were World War II casualties in the American theater as well. We were among those who trained others and who protected the shores, the air and our borders. Those who died while serving in uniform are remembered here for their sacrifice during a time of extended national emergency.
South Carolina has always furnished the nucleus of our student body. Those first 1843 Beneficiary Cadets, boys from Charleston, Georgetown, and Abbeville, for whom a college education surely seemed a distant ambition, reported for what must fairly be described as an experiment. The concept of the citizen soldier, someone educated for peace but prepared for war, had no precedent in this state. We admitted the first non-South Carolinian in 1882, and since then young men and women from all over the country and the world have come for what we offer. Most return home to provide leadership instilled here. Many serve in the armed forces. Li Sui An, Class of 1929 and a colonel in the Chinese Army, died of wounds fighting in China during World War II. Beginning in the 1960s, Thai students brought sustained enthusiasm to our ranks. One of those, Unk Viruch Tangnoi, Class of 1963, rose to captain in the Royal Thai Army before losing his life in 1968, fighting as our ally in Vietnam. Today, we accept students from everywhere to prepare them to go anywhere.
Five years after victory in World War II, the Cold War that grew out of that victory turned hot. On June 25, 1950, communist North Korea, backed by China and the Soviet Union, attacked the Republic of South Korea across the 38th parallel. We were present when U.S. forces, responding to a UN Security Council resolution, led a dramatic amphibious landing at Inchon, cutting off North Korean forces and turning the tide in favor of democracy. By the time an armistice brought an end to the fighting in 1953, twenty-six alumni had fallen.
Among the litany of tragedies associated with war, those missing in action (MIA) are particularly traumatic, leaving families, friends, and loved ones to live in uncertainty. Confirmation of their fate, so essential to grieving, can take decades, as was the case for Capt. William K. Mauldin, USAF, Class of 1944, shot down over North Korea in February 1952 and not identified until his remains were returned fifty-six years later. Remains never found or identified present the ultimate uncertainty, as we were reminded at the 2015 funeral service for Capt. Glenn R. Cook, USAF, Class of 1967, shot down over Vietnam in 1969. We have included MIAs as part of this memorial, always hoping against the odds to welcome back a lost brother or sister and to strike a name from the wall. The loss of Capt. Patrick McKenna, USA, Class of 1989, highlights yet another danger in war. He and twenty-five others lost their lives over northern Iraq in 1994 when the Black Hawk helicopter McKenna piloted was shot down by friendly fire.
When President Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural address, told the world that America would “pay any price, bear any burden,” we were among the first to learn how high that price, how heavy that burden. The following year, Capt. Terry D. Cordell, USA, Class of 1957, became the first combat death of an American officer in South Vietnam. While here, he served as a company commander with the cadet rank of captain, was a member of the Honor Committee, and was recognized as a Distinguished Military Student. As is too often the case, we gave up one of our best. The deaths and disfigurements in Vietnam defined a generation. The country came to agonize over its price, the burden here and abroad. We agonized too, as word of lost classmates and friends became a dreaded drumbeat. But we went, because while the dangers for those of us destined to serve in Vietnam had changed, our duty had not. For seventy-one of us, the sacrifice was the ultimate one.
In the decade following the conflict in Vietnam, the U.S. military transitioned from conscription to an all-volunteer force and focused on joint contingency operations. In 1983, we were among the coalition forces deployed to Lebanon as peacekeepers. One of our own, 1stLt. Charles J. Schnorf, USMC, Class of 1981, lost his life in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. Simultaneously, President Reagan, concerned that Soviet-Cuban influence on the small Caribbean island of Grenada would eventually pose a threat to the U.S., ordered Operation Urgent Fury, a combined force that descended upon the island, restored a deposed government, and rescued hundreds of U.S. citizens from a potential hostage situation. We mourn an alumnus lost in that effort, Capt. Michael F. Ritz, USA, Class of 1977, the only U.S. officer casualty in Grenada.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered Operation Desert Storm, which took the life of Capt. Mario J. Fajardo, USA, Class of 1984.
On September 11, 2001, a surprise attack on the homeland must have seemed to some like a latter-day Pearl Harbor, but unlike that Pacific attack on military ships and an airfield, this assault targeted innocent civilians in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on domestic air flights. When the U.S. responded with Operation Iraqi Freedom, one of our own, 2ndLt. Shane Childers, USMC, Class of 2001, was the first to fall. The War on Terror demanded years of our sustained professionalism in the most hostile, heat-infused environments. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we demonstrated uncommon valor and heroic determination, as was acknowledged when two of our fallen, Lt. Col. Chad Buehring, USA, Class of 1985, and Capt. Daniel W. Eggers, USA, Class of 1997, had Camp Buehring in Kuwait and Camp Eggers, a Special Forces compound in Kabul, named to commemorate their leadership and sacrifice.
The world is not yet safe for democracy. Our alumni remain in harm’s way across the globe. No one reading these words can fail to hope that the last name has been added to the walls, but history has shown that to be unlikely. What is certain is that when country calls, The Citadel will answer.
John Warley, a native South Carolinian, is a graduate of the Citadel and the University of Virginia School of Law. He practiced law in Virginia until 1993 when he moved to Mexico to write and teach. Now a full-time writer, Warley divides his time between Beaufort, South Carolina, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.