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Clemson Celebrates 100 Years of ROTC

Clemson University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps celebrated the ROTC’s 100th anniversary on Bowman Field. The ceremony named two outstanding former Army cadets – retired Lt. Gen. Gene Blackwell and retired Col. Ben Skardon – to the Clemson ROTC Hall of Fame. Former outstanding cadets were also named patrons to each training unit. Each patron’s story was read, and there was be a mini “museum” of artifacts from the university’s Special Collections on display. The ceremony was streamed live online on ClemsonTV.

“I am proud to be part of a university with such a strong military heritage,” said Max Allen, Clemson’s chief of staff and a retired U.S. Navy officer. “As a product of the Navy ROTC, I can see that Clemson has outstanding Army and Air Force ROTC units, both of which do an excellent job of preparing young men and women for service as military officers. ROTC also plays an important role in campus life, helping keep Clemson’s military traditions alive.”

The Army ROTC, as it exists today, began with President Woodrow Wilson signing the National Defense Act of 1916. Although military training had been taking place in civilian colleges and universities as early as 1819, the National Defense Act brought this training under single, federally controlled entity. The Army ROTC produces more officers than any organization in the military, having commissioned more than half a million second lieutenants since its inception. “Army ROTC at Clemson has been an integral part of Clemson since ROTC began here in 1917, however,

Clemson has a much longer military heritage since its inception in 1889,” said Lt. Col. James Mullinax, a professor of military leadership and commander of its ROTC program. “Being a former military school, Clemson has embraced ROTC fully since we went to an all-volunteer force. The support Clemson provides cadets is unmatched across the nation,” he said. “Clemson not only provides scholarships, but also provides great visual reminders all over campus of the sacrifices our service members have made in defense of our nation. This support to the ROTC programs has made them stronger today than at any point in time and this shows in the quality of lieutenants Clemson is producing every year. Cadets are carrying on a great military tradition that Clemson was founded on.” Col. Christopher Mann, commander of Clemson’s Air Force ROTC detachment – the Flyin’ Tigers – said it has been part of Clemson since 1947, the year the U.S. Air Force became a separate and independent service. “Since that time, Clemson graduates have served their nation honorably and with total commitment to the Air Force core values of ‘Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.’” Clemson’s Air Force ROTC has had 22 general officers produced from its ranks over the past 68 years.

Sergeant at Heart

Francis “Sarge” Lewis

Francis “Sarge” Lewis

It is often said in the Army that master sergeants are the ones really in charge of their units, and there’s probably more than a kernel of truth in that in a university ROTC unit. The master sergeant trains cadets in tactical tasks such as land navigation, first aid, working as a team, weapons firing and small unit movements as well as instilling in them values of discipline, integrity and responsibility.

Sarge Lewis with rifle teamIn the late 1950s and 1960s, Francis “Sarge” Lewis filled that role at Clemson. He not only instructed cadets in the basics of military training, he also advised and coached the newly established rifle team as well as serving as chaperone for the band and cheerleaders. The rifle team is pictured with Lewis in the 1967 Taps, and the section on the team refers to it as “one of the newer sports at Clemson.” That year the team was ACC champions, 3rd Army champions, S.C. State Champions and the Western Carolina Conference champions. It noted that the team had placed as high as fifth in the nation in the National Rifle Association competition.

Lewis was such an established part of the Clemson community that, according to a story told by his brother, Joe Lewis, when the army tried to transfer him away from Clemson, President Edwards stepped in and managed to retain Lewis.

Landmarks-Sarge Lewis groupLongtime Clemson administrator Nick Lomax ’63 remembers Lewis both from his time as a student and from when he returned to campus as a staff member after two years in the military. According to Lomax, Lewis “had the perfect military posture, and his normal walk appeared to be a military march.” Lomax also commented on how helpful Lewis and his fellow sergeants — Burton, Gilbert and Purcell — were to “young cadets as we prepared for military service.”

When Lewis retired in 1967, he purchased the nearby Esso Station and soon replaced the small grocery section with a pool table, beginning the transformation of a gas station into the “Esso Club,” a gathering place for students and locals.

Lewis died on September 6, 2015. As his family wrote in his obituary, “The first part of his military career was spent growing and maturing into a professional solider; the last half was spent growing and maturing young men and women into productive American citizens.”

Thanks to Allen Wood for providing background on Lewis and his time at Clemson.

Cadets Team Up with Veterans

ROTC Helping VetsCadets from both Army and Air Force ROTC programs worked with members of Purple Heart Homes, who are veterans themselves, to fix up the home of World War II veteran Fred Turner. These cadets worked at scraping old paint and repainting windows and awnings, as well as clearing out brush and debris in Turner’s back yard. Cadets were able to talk with and learn from veterans of multiple generations. Army and Air Force ROTC will be partnering with Purple Heart Homes during the spring semester as well.

Graduates Commissioned as Second Lieutenants

SHAROSCA MACK ’14, AN ECONOMICS MAJOR FROM LORIS, WAS commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army at a joint Army and Air Force ceremony on May 8. Nineteen students received commissions into the U.S. Army and 11 received commissions into the U.S. Air Force. The ceremony featured guest speaker Col. (Ret.) Rick Schwartz M ’95. A former Army ROTC instructor, he retired last year after 29 years in the Army.

Following the commissioning ceremony, the new lieutenants participated in a Silver Dollar Salute ceremony at Military Heritage Plaza. The ceremony marks the first salute the new officer receives from an enlisted service member. As a sign of mutual respect, the officer presents the enlisted member with a silver dollar.