Salute to Service

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

These are strange times.


In an era when some athletes kneel in protest during the national anthem and ordinary people struggle with whether they are right or wrong, the University of Tennessee chooses to wave the flag and honor the military.

This weekend will be “Salute to Service” on campus.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, past and present, will be recognized in an assortment of ways as a prelude to Veterans’ Day.

The salute begins Friday. The traveling memorial, “Remembering Our Fallen,” will be displayed on UT’s Pedestrian Walkway to pay tribute to those who died while wearing our country’s uniform during the on-going war on terror. There are 31 towers with more than 5,000 photos.

Current military members, veterans and their immediate families will be welcomed to the Tennessee-Louisiana Lafayette basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena, gates C and E, upon presentation of a military ID. Friday evening tipoff is 7.

The halftime show will feature the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon – 24 precision people bearing arms.

For $35, fans may purchase Tennessee-Kentucky football tickets for military people. The athletics department will match those gifts and deliver them to 10 military organizations for distribution. Want to participate? Call 1-800-332-VOLS.

A Volunteer of the Game will be presented in honor of the history of the Volunteer state and the athletic Volunteers. The Pride of the Southland band is preparing a special halftime show dedicated to veterans. The Marine drill team will be involved.

Could be the Tennessee Air National Guard will do a flyover.

If you are at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, look to section ZZ in the north upper end zone and find the single black chair, unoccupied in honor of prisoners of war or military still listed as missing in action. It says the Vols are saving a seat, awaiting their return.

The Sunday women’s basketball game between Tennessee and Presbyterian, 2 p.m., will have complimentary seats for military families, gates C and E.

Tennessee’s “Salute to Service” makes sense. It fits. Tennessee, the state, supposedly led the world in response when duty called.

Robert R. Neyland, for whom the football arena is named, was a West Point graduate who came to Tennessee as an ROTC instructor and assistant coach. He never really left the army. He mixed military logic into his coaching scheme.

Neyland retired as a general and hall of fame coach.

The names and numbers of four former Vols who were killed during World War II are forever displayed inside Neyland Stadium. They are Clyde (Ig) Fuson, Rudy Klarer, Bill Nowling and Willis Tucker.

Another ex-Vol, Austin C. Shofner, a captain and company commander captured at Corregidor, somehow survived that war and emerged a hero. He was the marine who engineered the only American team escape from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and told the world about the infamous Bataan Death March of 1942.

Shofner’s story led to a change of tactics that was credited with saving thousands of American lives.

Shofner was a Volunteer and volunteer. He returned to combat when he didn’t really have to and led marine assault battalions ashore on Peleiu and Okinawa. He directed Filipino guerrillas in the rescue of some 500 prisoners who were in the process of starving. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Legion of Merit.

Like Neyland, Austin Shofner retired as a general.

Neyland grew up in Greenville, Texas. Shofner was from Shelbyville.

If any of this fans a spark of patriotism, the university says you are welcome to salute.

Marvin West welcomes reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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