When putting Culver’s Veterans Day ceremony in perspective, Col. Robert Curris ’88 said students should remember what kind of institution Culver was at the time of the first Armistice Day observation on campus.
The Academies was only 24 years old when World War I ended in 1918 and the total number of alumni was roughly 2,000 young men. Then consider that 85 of those alumni – many not much older than the students – had just died, having given their lives “so that you may have a better life. What impact would that have on you?
“I can tell you that it had a significant impact on Culver and really shaped its early history.”
The result was the naming of buildings after places where those men had fallen and everyone gathers every year “to celebrate their lives and their contribution to the Culver story.”
Even though the holiday was officially changed to Veterans Day in 1952, Culver still celebrates Armistice Day because of the significance of the loss of those men “had on our institution.” And, Curris added, he is proud of the way Culver celebrates the holiday.
“You see, before I was a colonel or even a soldier, I was one of you,” Curris, who is in the Pschological Operations branch of the Army, said. It was the Veterans Day ceremony that moved him as a 14-year-old fourth classman as much as any other during his time at Culver. He remembers getting a lump in his throat, flinching at the sound of the guns, and tears welling up in his eyes “because for the first time in my life I could associate the playing of Taps with people and not just lights out at the end of the day.”
Imagine how different the Culver story would be if not for such a large sacrifice so early in its history, he said. “I firmly believe that a school which prides itself on turning youth in to the leaders of tomorrow must have heroes.” And whether it’s the 85 lost in World War I, the Logansport Flood cadets of 1913, or the other losses from World War II to present, those are the people “who make the Culver story so compelling.”
People like Hal Holbrook ’42, who served four years in the army after graduating from Culver. Now an Oscar-nominated actor, “he joined the army the same year he graduated and served for four years.” And there are “hundreds if not thousands” of Culver alumni who have contributed to the Culver story in a similar way, Curris said.
Culver’s story also includes the members of the faculty and staff who have served. He named several staff members and told stories about Master Sgt. Mark Click and Master Sgt. James Smith, both of whom had a major influence on him during his Culver years.
“It was these men, these veterans, who gave me the basic life skills of leadership, problem solving and prioritization that put me on my path.”
Since leaving Culver, Curris said he has achieved two business degrees, a War College Fellowship at Chapel Hill, and commanded at every grade since being commissioned. Five of those commands have been in conflict zones “and I have lost count of how many foreign countries I have operated in.” He is currently the PSYOP commandant for the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.
Some of those adventures are captured in two U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s history books, The Weapon of Choice and All Roads Lead to Baghdad. He brought copies to donate to the Huffington Library, which is his contribution to the Culver story.
He also thanked eight of his Culver peers who are currently serving, including his roommate Navy Commander Marc Hone ’87. And Curris asked the crowd to do the same and take the opportunity to thank a veteran. “Whether from your family, a friend or maybe the faculty, find one, in person if possible, and look them in the eye, shake their hand and thank them. They will appreciate it.”
Then he asked the students to also find the time to step back and “look around you. Recognize the unique opportunity that this is; top notch faculty giving a world class education, Olympic level sporting venues, and a campus whose majesty is unmatched. Take that in. And then ask yourself how you will contribute to the Culver story?”
Whether through public service, military service, foreign service, the arts, education, or science, “how will you contribute?
“What will you bring to our story?”