Dedication Speech -- Columbia War Memorial

LTC Eliot Goldman CC '79, USAR

12 December 2008

Today with the actions of Mr. Campbell and the Columbia College Alumni Association, and members of the War Memorial Committee we honor Columbians killed in combat. Students and graduates who died before having the opportunity to attend their reunions.

On behalf of the United States Military I am proud to present these certificates of appreciation to the members of the Committee for making sure the military service of Columbia’s fallen graduates, and those who did not come home to be able to finish their studies, are remembered and honored.

Let me tell you who were some of the people we honor today, and the role Columbia played in our nation’s battles.

Individuals like 1908 graduate poet Joyce Kilmer; and 1916 soccer captain, football player, track team member Herbert Arthur Buermeyer; both sacrificed themselves so we could return to Columbia for our own reunions.

The first day of World War II, December 7, 1941 was the last day of life for 23 year old Columbia College graduate Ensign Herbert C. Jones. Jones received one of the 15 Medals of Honor awarded at Pearl Harbor. While manning an anti-aircraft gun on the USS California he was mortally wounded, and when his shipmates came to rescue him Ensign Jones shouted “Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.” Most of us never knew these heroic people. But some of us knew those who knew them.

Some of us knew the great alumni who formed the conscience of Columbia after World War II and served alongside those we commemorate today. People like NROTC Cadet Dean Henry Coleman trained with them; Combat medic Professor James P. Shenton bandaged them; and author Lt Herman Wouk wrote of them. One survivor and Medal of Honor recipient in WW I, was both a College and Law School graduate, William Donvoan. Wild Bill as he was known, went on to systematize the gathering of intelligence and founded the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, the WW II predecessor to the CIA.

Every Columbia freshman, before he or she even reads the Federalist Papers, learns that graduate Alexander Hamilton was also George Washington’s aide, captain and colonel. These are just the ones who lived.

Imagine the great potential of those we lost, those we honor today -- those who live only in our memory and through those they knew. Thanks to this new living memorial we can get to know them.

From 1917-1918 four consecutive editors-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review enlisted. They joined 17 other editors who resigned to enlist. Who were they? Did they survive? Were they killed in combat? The answers might now be knowable to us through this interactive memorial.

Bullets coming at you do not distinguish between those who went to Columbia or those who dropped out of high school. Their sacrifices humble us. We walk on campus not just in the shadow of great minds, but in the footsteps of heroic individuals.

By your actions today you help pay a debt, long overdue, to their memory. This memorial proves Columbians have paid the price of selfless service to America long before most colleges in the country even existed. In WW II our dormitories housed and graduated more ensigns than Annapolis. We can be very proud of our history of service.

We have all stood at 116th St. & Amsterdam Ave., looked left than right, and understood the strategic importance of this ground when Washington camped here and cannons dominated battlefields. Who would have thought that in 2001 war would again come to our City. How many of us felt the greatness of America when we looked out the windows of the World Trade Center to try and see buildings at Columbia? How many of us still feel their loss? No doubt the 44 Columbia alumni from 9 different schools killed on September 11th would agree with Santayana when he said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.

21 Columbia Law Review editors interrupted their studies to enlist in World War I -- despite the fact that America was then led by a Princeton graduate. Many of the dead we honor today viewed military service not as a duty, but as a right. My service is part of the debt we still owe them, and I am a better person because I serve in the United States Army Reserve.

Fredrick Douglas said “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has, it never will.” The memories of the people we honor today are worth following. As those who are inscribed on our monument would be the first to tell us, we still have a job to do, and we should continue to be among the first to stand and be counted for military service.

Not many schools have had an alumnus in the Oval Office. With a Columbia College graduate about to be Commander In Chief, we should see to it that President-elect Obama does not command a military that lacks Columbia graduates.

Three months ago, 100 yards from here, our president elect spoke of a recommitment to public service by the youth of America. Today we pay homage to Columbia men who have exemplified commitment to public service by making the ultimate sacrifice to the best country on earth. I leave you men and women of Columbia with the thought that the best way to honor those we pay tribute to with this memorial is to provide a new generation of Columbia men and women with the opportunity to also serve in our military. I challenge Columbia to reestablish ROTC so that this memorial will not represent a commitment of bygone days, but a commitment to the future of Columbia and our great nation.

The President Obama Class of ‘83 ROTC Unit should be announced in 2009, and should stand up its first company shortly after that.