November 12, 2010 — Coral Gables — Wearing the American flag pin given to her by her mother almost 34 years ago, Karen Taylor closed her eyes and steeled herself as ROTC Cadet Nathalia Poses delivered a prayer.
Taylor was thinking of her father, a World War II veteran who was a driver on the Red Ball Express, a caravan of black drivers who ferried gas, bullets, and rations to General Patton’s forward area combat units, ensuring that they had what they needed to sweep across France into Germany.
“Their convoy was frequently targeted, so it’s one of the untold stories of true bravery, since they were not allowed to fight on the front lines,” explained Taylor.
She was one of several people who assembled on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus on November 11 for a Veterans Day ceremony that UM President Donna E. Shalala said “honored those who have served our country in its greatest hours of need.”
Active-duty personnel and veterans from many wars, including a former aviator from the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, attended the ceremony. Held on the lawn in front of the Rhodes House, where UM’s Air Force ROTC detachment is based, the tribute included the dedication of a model F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which bears the familiar “U” symbol on one of its rear wings.
General Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which recently opened a brand-new headquarters in Miami, told the ROTC cadets that they “represent a commitment to make sure our freedoms are maintained and that our skies will always remain free.”
The general asked members of the audience who had served in the armed forces to stand and be recognized. Taylor was one of them. An administrative assistant in UM’s Dean of Students Office, she served three years in the Women’s Army Corps during Vietnam, working in medical facilities in Washington and Texas, where she cared for injured soldiers returning to the U.S.
ROTC cadets stand in formation with the model of the F-22 Raptor behind them.
“I was proud to take care of our wounded and maimed,” said Taylor said, who was ecstatic to be at the ceremony after her boss, Dean of Students Ricardo Hall, invited his staff to walk across the street from their building and attend the tribute.
“That was just what I needed,” said Taylor.
Others in attendance included Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, a Vietnam veteran and former Army advisor to NATO forces in Germany, who wore a Vietnam service ribbon necktie “to remind myself of my era of service to the country and of the people we left behind and the people who came home but with no life left in their bodies.”
Arnold Stocker, an instructor in UM’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, heard about the ceremony shortly before it began and rushed over from the M. Christine Schwartz Center for Nursing Education, arriving just before the activities started. “It was a nice combination of veterans and the current generation of the men and women who serve,” he said of the ceremony. Stocker is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves who is part of a critical care air transport team.
Also at the ceremony: Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Ricci, the new commander of UM’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 155; Ricci’s immediate predecessor, Lieutenant Colonel Theo Theodore; Lieutenant Colonel James “J.D.” Davis, commander of the U.S. Army ROTC at Florida International University; several members of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and UM Trustee Thomas Wood, an alumnus of the University’s School of Law who served in the United States Navy, Judge Advocate General Corps.
“I always wanted to be a naval officer because I worshiped my dad,” said Wood, whose father also served in the Navy. “There’s no way in the world I can ever repay the Navy for what it did for me. That’s why on Veterans Day and Memorial Day I remember all the servicemen and servicewomen who have given up their lives.”
General Fraser greets cadets at Thursday's Veterans Day ceremony on the UM campus.
After the ceremony, it was Charles Flowers who many people in the crowd surrounded, listening to his stories of what it was like to be one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces who flew several successful missions over Europe during World War II.
“We were accused of not having the mentality to fly airplanes,” explained Flowers, “but we proved everyone wrong.”
Flowers said he flew combat missions during World War II and the Korean conflict, piloting the P-51 Mustang in both campaigns. “We flew the D model,” Flowers said. “It had a Rolls Royce engine and could go 500 miles per hour, which was fast during those days.”
He recalled one of his fellow pilots who flew a propeller-driven plane yet still managed to shoot down the first German jet fighter of World War II.
Flowers also recalled the day in 1941 when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Institute for an inspection, taking a flight with one of the pilots, Charles A. Anderson. “If not for her, we wouldn’t have gone overseas,” he said.
“My dad’s story is a lot like their history,” said Taylor, “a story that at last has finally been told.”
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