Address by COL (ret) Kenneth G. Swan '56 MD

at the 2006 Harvard ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

Thank you, Captain McKinney,

President Summers, distinguished flag officers, distinguished members of Harvard’s graduating Class of 2006, parents, relatives and friends; distinguished 50th Reunion classmates. I am very grateful for the privilege of addressing you on this auspicious and celebratory occasion. Commissioning the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps of Cadets and Mid-shipmen to the ranks of 2nd Lieutenant and Ensign, respectively, is one of Harvard’s proudest traditions, now almost 100 years old. We are assembled here this afternoon in admiration of your accomplishments and with gratitude for your service to country. The question is why are there so few of you?

Fifty years ago there were 148 ROTC students or 15% of the 1013 graduates of Harvard’s Class of 1956. A similar calculation for the Class of 2006 results in a figure of 0.5%! Several events may have contributed to this difference. The Korean War (1950 – 1953) was at its height when the Class of 1956 applied for admission to Harvard and the draft was still in effect, not to be repealed until 20 year later in 1973. Although the war in Iraq had not yet begun (2003) when the Class of 2006 applied for admission to Harvard, “9/11” had occurred (2001) and America was poised for retaliation. It would be easy to conclude from these facts that my Classmates, fearful of the draft during war time, chose ROTC as an educational entitlement alternative. Members of the Class of 2006 needed no protection from the draft, but were likely to be involved in a probable war if they volunteered for ROTC; few volunteered. Those who did desperately needed financial assistance for their education. I believe both conclusions to be wrong; instead I see patriots in both Classes.

A sample of Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC graduates in Harvard’s Class of 1956, all friends in Kirkland House, exemplifies the times. Ken Rossano’s concern for the draft was real, but he had been recruited, as scholar-athlete, by both Annapolis and West Point and almost chose the latter. Instead he accepted Harvard and chose Army ROTC, without scholarship. He remembers his 18 months in Korea, where he was the Executive Officer of a 155 mm howitzer battery, as the best block of training he ever experienced. Ken MacCormac loved the ocean, he loved sailing, he loved ships. He too was concerned about the draft. He was even more concerned about staying in Harvard! He chose Navy ROTC, also without scholarship, and he considers his two years, during which he was Third Officer on board a Minesweeper in the Atlantic, as very special. John Miller was aware of the others’ concerns, but he said he didn’t care; he wanted to fly. He chose Air Force ROTC and incurred further obligation or “pay back time” because of his flight training, but he ended up flying the F-86 Sabrejet, by definition a maximal high! Common to all three, in our conversations, ran the deeper theme of pro patria. ROTC students in the Class of 2006 had no fear of a draft, but now have war time service ahead of them. Educational financial support may have been a major consideration in your decision, but since over 99% of your classmates chose alternative funding, despite its benefits, your choice of ROTC seems to be all but ill advised. What then was your motivation? All Americans are indebted to our country and most seek a means to express their gratitude. Military service is one of the most traditional expressions of love for country or pro patria. I choose to believe this to have been the inspiration for these members of the Class of 2006, just as it was for my classmates, those between, those before and, hopefully, those to come.

Harvard has a proud history of military service to country. For example: conspicuously displayed on the transept wall of Memorial Hall is the name of Col Robert Gould Shaw, Class of 1858. He was Commanding Officer of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first all black unit raised in a free state during America’s Civil War. He and most of them were killed in the Battle of Fort Wagner, Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1880, helped Col Leonard Wood, Harvard Medical School Class of 1884, organize the so called “Rough Riders,” whose charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba, during the Spanish American War in 1898, earned for Roosevelt, eventually, the Medal of Honor and for Wood promotion to Major General and, ultimately, Army Chief of Staff. Harvard’s most famous aviator and ranking “ace” is Lieutenant Douglas Campbell, Class of 1917. He is credited with downing six German fighters during his brief service in France during WW I, and for which he was awarded that nation’s highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre. The list of Harvard’s military heroes is long and time is short, but mention should be made of the Kennedy brothers in WW II: Joseph Jr., Class of 1938, Army Air Force bomber pilot, killed in action in Europe and John, Class of 1940, Navy PT 109 Commander, wounded in action in the Pacific. Service to country inspired them all as it has these members of the Class of 2006 and my classmates. What then, Officers, will you bring to your gaining unit in the Armed Forces? What will it expect of you? What will they expect of you? What will Harvard expect of you and, most important, what will be your own expectations?

Your Harvard education will be difficult to conceal; more will be expected of you. Take advantage of the opportunity. Remember the words of Louis Pasteur in 1854, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” You must share your Harvard education, humbly, with all those under your command and, tactfully, but only when invited, with your superiors. There will be many surprises in the educational levels and leadership skills of your officer colleagues. The Academy graduates are an inspiring group of officers, but I believe they will say the same about you. Incidentally, General Colin Powell is an ROTC graduate of the City College of New York. Harvard expects you to compete, successfully, with these officers from all walks of life. Your own expectations should be limitless. You may even decide to make a career of the Armed Forces or you may choose to complete your obligation, resign your Commission and pursue other challenges. Whatever your choice, however, all who preceded you will concur, your military experience will likely remain one of your most vivid memories. And there is a third alternative. You can complete your obligation to the Active Components and join the Reserve Components.

On a personal note I chose the latter. Under the terms of the Berry Plan, which was a shield from the draft, still in place during my training, I was obligated for two years of Active Duty with the Army after completing my surgical residency. Hippocrates of Cos, acknowledged Father of Medicine and author of the Oath all physicians take, said 2,500 years ago, “He who wishes to become a surgeon should go to war.” I took his advice and spent the first year of my two years of obligation in my first tour of Vietnam. You might call it a Trauma Fellowship! I served the next year and extended for over three more years of Active Duty before switching to the Active Reserves, where I remained for over 30 years with the US Army. I was activated for six months during Operation Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War. Thus two careers were possible and, like you I trust, I will always feel my country gave much more to me than I to it. That is our legacy.

Mothers, fathers, loved ones, you must be reassured our Armed Forces are likened to a big family, sometimes harsh, but always loving where there is need. Support Services are found on all military installations for the families of those deployed oversees and away from home. Our Armed Forces are all volunteer services. Recruitment and retention are challenged today as never before. Thus, the health, happiness and professional satisfaction of all, including dependents, are essential, if force strengths are to be sustained.

Are there risks or dangers in military service? Of course, but I must tell you, in three tours of Vietnam and one of Desert Storm, I don’t recall ever being injured; I know I was never wounded. True, I’m a surgeon and not part of the “combat arms,” but I was deployed, always, in the combat zone, not infrequently caring for members of my own unit. I awarded Purple Hearts, but I never received one. My only real fear in the combat zone was uncontrollable hemorrhage in the operating room, a fear that lingers. On the other hand, I sustained many injuries in military schooling, at home during peace time. In Airborne Training School I fractured a rib my second day. In Halo School I suffered anoxic encephalopathy. I fractured another rib in Air Assault School and had to recycle. I returned the next year and successfully completed the school, but in the process I fractured my cervical spine and my thoracic spine. I fractured a humerus in military parachute competition. During the Army’s Flight Surgeon’s School, the Navy almost drowned me in the Huey Dunker. Combat duty for me was much less hazardous than training at home, during peace time! Mothers, fathers and loved ones, I must confess and you must be reassured, all those schools were voluntary!

Although your numbers suggest an endangered species, Officers of the Class of 2006, we have reason to believe that the pendulum of ROTC, on college campuses, is moving in a direction more favorable to expansion. President Summers, I know I speak for all in attendance today when I say “Thank you,” for all you have done, personally, for ROTC, not just here at Harvard, but also, by example, for ROTC on campuses of colleges and universities across the country. Harvard is the birthplace of ROTC in 1916 and Harvard’s contributions to national defense must not be allowed to become a memory of the distant past. Officers, though your numbers are small, you have kept the light of ROTC burning here at Harvard. We who honor you today reiterate our pride in you and will be ever grateful to this “Band of Brothers and Sisters” in Harvard’s Graduating Class of 2006. Congratulations, good luck and may your God be with you.

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