DONORS PAY TRIBUTE TO TECH'S ENDURING QUALITIES
by Kimberly Richards-Thomas '93, M.A. '95
When alumni think about their time at Virginia Tech, each probably remembers a different aspect of this distinctive campus. For some it may be the fall foliage; for others, the Duck Pond or the Drillfield. For many alumni, the enduring symbol of Virginia Tech is the War Memorial Monument and Chapel, a feature that holds meaning not only because of its unique beauty, but also because of its meaning in a larger context. Crowning the entrance to Alumni Mall at the top of the Drillfield, the memorial has become a defining campus icon.
Originally conceived as a World War II memorial, the monument now encompasses much more. Inscribed on its eight pylons are the names of the 419 alumni and students who died in combat during wars and conflicts of the 20th century. The pylons themselves represent the character traits of Brotherhood, Honor, Leadership, Sacrifice, Service, Loyalty, Duty, and Ut Prosim (the university's motto, "That I May Serve"). A cenotaph on the open court of the pylons bears the names of the university's seven Medal of Honor winners. And the War Memorial Chapel, a non-denominational place of worship, pays tribute to the spiritual dimension of education and personal growth.
This stately addition to campus would not have been possible without generous alumni support. During World War II, many graduates wrote to the Alumni Association requesting a suitable memorial to the Techmen who had died in service of their country. The Alumni Association began raising funds for the project in 1945, just after the war ended. The total cost of the project, $500,000, came from the Alumni Fund, and the cost of construction was entirely absorbed by the company in charge, owned by W. Curtis English (architectural engineering '32). After 15 years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the completed memorial was dedicated on May 29, 1960.
On September 8, 2001, following two years of careful restoration, the university and the Alumni Association held a formal rededication of the War Memorial Monument and Chapel. The refurbishing efforts included stone and terrace restoration, sculpture conservation, the addition of new exterior lighting, and many interior improvements.
Once again, alumni support played a critical role. Charles O. Gordon Sr. (industrial engineering '42), a member of the original War Memorial Committee, donated two plaques to commemorate the rededication. The first includes the names of the original committee members, architects, contractor, and sculptors associated with this project. The second expresses the meaning of the monument and lists the dates of the dedication and rededication ceremonies. Both plaques will remain on permanent display. The classes of '34 and '44 also raised funds to install 14 regimental colors inside the chapel. They represent the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets' colors as they progressed over time and the unit colors of the university's seven Medal of Honor winners.
The ceremony proved a moving tribute to the monument's lasting significance in the life of this university. Maj. Gen. W. Thomas Rice (civil engineering '34), who was president of the Alumni Association when the memorial was first dedicated, gave the keynote address. His stirring remarks about the service and sacrifice of so many dedicated alumni inspired all who were present. The ceremony closed with a 21-gun salute by a detail of the Gregory Guard followed by "Taps" and a performance of "America the Beautiful."