Town & Gown:
Jacksonville State Honors Its Fallen Soldiers
By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - Town and Gown
A star has been an important symbol to Americans since the
beginning of our country. Words from a book published in 1977 by the House of
Representatives about our nation’s flag, displaying 50 white stars, explains,
“The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has
aspired from time immemorial.”
The U.S. Government provides a gold star to mothers who have lost a son or
daughter in service to our country. The Gold Star Mothers Club was created after
World War I to offer support to these women and their families. Their gold star
is a symbol of pride and honor to the family of service members who paid the
ultimate sacrifice. In the United States Armed Forces, the bronze star is a
military decoration given for acts of bravery and great merit. Carrying this
tradition to our campus, Jacksonville State University recognized soldiers over
Veteran’s Day weekend with the lighting of a large white star atop the Houston
This star shined honoring those who served and sacrificed and will also light
the sky during the holiday season beginning on Monday, Nov. 26, at 5 p.m. at
“JSU in Lights.” On this day, my family will host an open house reception from
4-5:30 p.m. at our home on campus. The evening is an enjoyable time of
fellowship culminating in the official lighting of the campus.
In remembrance of eight young men who earned their commission as Army
officers through JSU’s Army ROTC program, a memorial was installed in Rowe Hall
on campus. The Memorial Wall is the first thing one sees upon entering the hall:
eight plaques, each with an etched picture of the officer with their name, rank,
JSU class, and date and place killed in action. The plaques are a center of
focus for students and others entering the building as they prominently hang on
a clean white wall.
The idea for a memorial to these soldiers first began more than 30 years ago
when classmates of those killed desired to honor their fallen comrades. In 1995,
JSU’s ROTC alumni raised the money needed to design and purchase the plaques.
Keynote speaker for the 1996 dedication ceremony, Maj. Gen. Ivan Smith, a
1951 JSU graduate who also earned his commission as an Army Officer through
JSU’s Army ROTC program, said during his speech, “For a brief moment in history
those we remember today held our nation’s honor and destiny in their hands. In
that moment they did not fail us. Now we must not fail them.”
“Whether you knew them or not, we were all part of the same fraternity. I am
glad their memory is honored,” said Garrett Hagan, a graduate of JSU’s Army ROTC
program and Korean War veteran.
Those honored on the wall are 1st Lt. George Lott, class of 1950, killed in
1951 in Korea; 1st Lt. Charles Davis, class of 1966, killed in Vietnam on Oct 6,
1967; 1st Lt. Grady McBride III, class of 1968, killed in Vietnam on June 4,
1970; Capt. Donald McMillan, class of 1961, killed in Vietnam on April 2, 1966;
Capt. Jerry McNabb, class of 1959, killed in Vietnam on June 27, 1966; Capt.
Richard Miller, class of 1965, killed in Vietnam on Sep 3, 1969; Capt. Edward
Pierce, class of 1962, killed in Vietnam on March 13, 1966, and Capt. Donnie R.
Belser, Jr., class of 2001, killed in Iraq on Feb 10, 2007.
The most recent addition to the wall, honoring Capt. Belser, was unveiled
during this year’s JSU Army ROTC alumni banquet which will be held on Nov. 19.
We are very fortunate to have Capt. Belser’s parents, his wife, children,
brother and other extended family members present during the banquet.
Lt. Col. Henry “Chip” Hester, professor of Military Science at JSU, says it
is an honor for him to continue to get to know each of the soldiers after their
deaths through their families and friends and the stories they tell about time
spent at JSU or in other assignments.
In recent years, the JSU ROTC alumni chapter has made it possible to award
academic scholarships each year to outstanding Army ROTC Cadets in memory of
these men. “It is very special each year, to have a former wife, a daughter, or
a best friend of one of these men attend our awards ceremony each fall and
present a scholarship, in memory of one of these men to a young cadet in our
ROTC program,” says Lt. Col. Hester. “It links the generations of the past,
their hardship and sacrifices, with the young men and women in our ROTC program
who represent the future leadership of the Army.”
Erin Chupp, graduate assistant to the Office of Marketing and
Communications, contributed to this article.
About William A. Meehan
Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville
State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.
See story at The Jacksonville News's website: www.jaxnews.com
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