A century of service: Rock Ceremony honors sacrifice of Ohio State alumni
Service and sacrifice were the themes of a ceremony Thursday to honor the fallen heroes of The Ohio State University.
Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC units on campus hosted the 100th annual Rock Ceremony at Bricker Hall to recognize the more than 900 alumni of Ohio State who died in service to the country as members of the armed forces. The tradition dates to 1919 when students played “Taps” once per week in memory of those who had lost their lives.
President Michael V. Drake spoke to assembled members of the university’s ROTC units, local veterans and guests. He told a story about Bob Williams, the father of one of Drake’s close friends, who served in World War II as one of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Williams was about to embark on a dangerous mission that included flying in poor conditions, against a well-fortified target, while pushing the fuel limits of his airplane. Williams thought he would die on the mission but when his squadron was called to take off, he put fear aside and committed to the mission.
“When it came time to take this step forward he took the step forward. That was something that was chilling and meaningful to me at the time,” Drake said. “It reminded me of the things that people are doing for us at this very minute, every day and every year around the world to try to protect this freedom that gives us this beautiful campus.”
Maj. Gen. Timothy Zadalis, who served as vice commander for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa before retiring, echoed the theme. Zadalis spoke about a mission he led in 2000 to help bring home the remains of six fallen service members from the Vietnam War.
He and his crew arrived in Hanoi in a military cargo aircraft that dwarfed a table with six shoebox-sized wooden boxes resting upon it. He said a joint service honor guard treated each box with reverence and delivered them to flag-draped cases for a return trip to the U.S.
“I will never forget that day with that flag settling down on the transfer case. That day those six small shoeboxes contained the remains of an airman, of a soldier, of a Marine and of a sailor. Every service was represented on that small table,” he said.
The university’s Rock Ceremony is a similar solemn tribute to sacrifice.
“It’s incredibly humbling when I think that, 100 years ago, a group of dedicated students decided that we would not forget. They established a very simple memorial and that memorial has endured for decades. It has endured for a century,” Zadalis said. “It is very humbling to each and every one of us to be standing here on this incredible hallowed ground.”
Following the remarks, Drake and Zadalis joined cadets and midshipmen to place a wreath alongside the rock on the grounds of Bricker Hall that serves as a monument to Ohio State’s fallen alumni. A bronze plaque on the rock commemorates those “who have answered the call to the colors.”
Cadets closed out the ceremony with a 21-gun salute and a student from the School of Music playing “Taps” on his bugle.
Ohio State will observe Veterans Day on Monday. There will be no classes and offices are closed.