Today, the Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization celebrated the return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to campus in a ceremony at Memorial Church in Cambridge, Mass. In his opening remarks, Thomas Reardon, president of the organization, noted that 2011 had been “a very good year” for the university’s relationship with the military. Drew Faust, president of the university, had signed an agreement to reinstitute Navy ROTC and had initiated talks to do the same with its Army and Air Force counterparts.
“For the first time in 40 years,” Reardon said, the university had “something to celebrate” on Veterans’ Day. Gone was “the ominous pall” that had descended on the campus in 1969, when the university ejected ROTC in protest of the Vietnam War.
It was fitting to hold the ceremony in Memorial Church, Reardon argued, because it had been built to commemorate the Harvardians who had died in World War I. Now, the names of the 1113 students who died in the wars from WWI to Vietnam adorn the walls.
Major General John Hyten, a member of the class of 1981, gave the keynote address. A native Alabaman, Hyten recounted his first days on campus in 1977, when he was “physically and verbally assaulted” while passing through Harvard Square for wearing his uniform. But Hyten reminded the audience “inside the university, it was different.” Although his colleagues questioned his decision to join the Air Force, they never displayed the hostility that confronted him beyond the yard.
Nowadays, Hyten admitted that his friends in the military find it “a little bit odd” that he went to Harvard. But he argued, “I see that changing.”
After Hyten’s remarks, Terence Murphy, director of the veterans organization, unveiled the new addition to the church’s walls: a plaque with the names of the 17 Harvardians who have received the Medal of Honor. Harvard boasts the most alumni to receive the Medal of Honor among the civilian universities. Only the Naval Academy and West Point top it. (I tell the story of one of the recipients, Robert Murray, in my piece on the homepage.)
On the plaque there were blank spaces — room, Murphy hoped, for future recipients.