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Nov 09, 2023

Military Appreciation Day Spotlight | The Clemson Corps

By: Ken Scar

Note: The following appears in the Georgia Tech football gameday program.

Military service has been a cornerstone of Clemson University since its founding as an all-male military school in 1889. The notable accomplishments and incontrovertible heroics of its graduates in every world conflict since the Spanish-American War fill a long list, beginning with the names of 498 who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Today, more than 10,000 Clemson alumni have served in the armed forces. Each year, Clemson University adds dozens of military officers to that list through its Air Force and Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs. Clemson has also produced a small group of Marine Corps officers each year through the Platoon Leaders Class and Officer Candidates Course programs. But until the late 1990s, there was no alumni group designed to support them.

After the dedication of the Military Heritage Plaza on June 6, 1996, members of the four classes (1950-53) who planned and donated to the plaza realized much more could be done to support Clemson military veterans and started meeting in small groups to explore how to harness the energy of this steadily growing group of Clemson University alumni.

These informal meetings became more earnest as the group quickly coalesced around the common goal of honoring Clemson alumni who served while supporting current students preparing to join the ranks. It recently expanded its mission to support USMC candidates and student veterans. The new organization was named “The Clemson Corps.”

Today, The Clemson Corps plays a role in virtually every military event on campus, particularly the annual Military Appreciation Week and Game, and it has provided more than $2.6 million in scholarships to more than 3,000 Clemson ROTC students from around the United States.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Clemson Corps widened its mission to include providing services to the resulting influx of student veterans and other military-related students.

In 2001, The Clemson Corps took on perhaps its most notable project to date…planning and constructing a memorial that honors Clemson alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice. Members gathered the names and stories of those men and put them on a portable frame that was moved from place to place on campus and called it the Scroll of Honor. The temporary scroll quickly came to be seen as less than ideal, so plans to find a suitable place on campus to construct a permanent memorial began.

They did not have to look farther than the university’s football stadium. In 1942, it was certified that it would be named Memorial Stadium to honor Clemson’s alumni who “have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country.” This drew the members of The Clemson Corps to the area around the stadium, the most prime real estate on campus. It was a big ask, but The Clemson Corps did not hesitate.

In 2006, it obtained wholehearted approval from the athletic department to use the site upon which the Scroll of Honor Memorial now stands, directly across Williamson Road from Howard’s Rock.

In March 2007, The Clemson Corps proposed the Scroll of Honor Memorial to the Clemson University Administrative Council and received unanimous approval to proceed with the project. They conceived a memorial that could serve as a place of reflection, with a round barrow ringed by stones engraved with the name and class year of each alumnus enclosed by a circle of Chinese elm, which stand like sentinels on permanent watch, planted at angles to bow inward toward the grassy mound in homage to the honorees.

The group launched a capital campaign that produced thousands of donations from alumni and friends of Clemson University. Groundbreaking took place in September 2008, construction began in April 2009 and the memorial was dedicated in April 2010. It immediately became one of the crown jewels of the campus, attracting a steady stream of visitors 365 days a year. It also serves as a ceremonial focal point during each Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

“The Clemson Corps has accomplished many great things, and we plan to keep adding to that list, but the Scroll of Honor Memorial is one of our crowning achievements thus far,” said founding member retired Air Force Col. Sandy Edge. “It is more than a pretty place to members of the Clemson Family. It has a deeper meaning than Bowman Field, Kite Hill or even Death Valley because it is not just another landmark to us…it is a sacred place.”

At the time of the Scroll of Honor Memorial’s dedication, there were 468 known Clemson alumni who died serving their country at war. Since then, meticulous research has discovered more names, bringing the current known number to 498.

In 2012, The Clemson Corps procured the 1.5-acre area around the Scroll of Honor Memorial and dedicated it as Military Heritage Park. It is a serene space of rolling lawns ringed by oak, maple, cedar and cypress trees that becomes a place of quiet reflection, even during gamedays when over 81,000 fans fill the stadium across the street.

“The Clemson Corps has a rich history here at Clemson,” said Clemson University President Jim Clements. “One of the most important things we do at Clemson is to prepare the leaders of our future, including our nation’s military, through our ROTC programs. We are incredibly proud of Clemson’s military heritage and that our core university values reflect a commitment to patriotism and excellence. The members of The Clemson Corps not only uphold the values of our university, they make it possible for the next generation of Clemson military veterans to do the same.”

“There’s not another school, not another university in this nation that shows the kind of appreciation for the military and the military heritage that we do at Clemson,” added Edge. “I don’t care if it’s USC, Texas A&M or Harvard, we outshine them all because of our dedicated alumni who recognize the importance of the military to our country. That’s what The Clemson Corps is all about.”