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Jack Barry Field, an artificial-turf sports field usually populated by sweaty athletes and sullied uniforms, was a sea of neatly pressed suits, polished shoes, smart hats and brass buttons last Wednesday.
The ROTC Presidential Pass-In-Review was held at the field on April 29, a fine spring day with plenty of sun and enough wind to fill the flags carried by the color guard. About 200 students dressed in military finery marched onto the field and stood for inspection by their commanders, accompanied by music from the Newport (RI) Naval Band.
The Presidential Pass-In-Review, a military ceremony usually held to welcome a new commander, is enacted annually at MIT, and is relished by the young cadets (Army and Air Force) and midshipmen (Navy and Marine) as an opportunity to participate in an important ceremonial tradition.
"I look forward to this every year," said Air Force Cadet Cecilia Lozada, a senior in chemical engineering who, as the vice commander of Air Force ROTC 365th Cadet Training Wing, is the cadet second-in-command of the other Air Force cadets. Ms. Lozada led her service in the review, giving commands to the Air Force wing as they marched and stood for inspection. Her counterparts in the Army and Navy led their battalions, shouting commands consecutively with Ms. Lozada.
"The cadets were very sharp. I just feel very proud," she said.
MIT's ROTC program, housed in Building W59, educates officer candidates from MIT, Harvard, Tufts and Wellesley in three service branches: the Army (led by commanding officer Lt. Col. Robert Rooney), the Air Force (Col. William Rutley) and the combined Navy/Marine Corps (Capt. Randall Preston).
"It's an honor for me to see the colors march out," said Air Force Cadet Ken Iwamoto, a junior in computer science. "This ceremony gives us a chance to be patriotic and not feel like oddballs. It's good to be with people you trust totally."
Naval Midshipman Adriane Stebbins, a freshman in chemistry, described the ceremony as "a wonderful experience." She said her father had been in Army ROTC. "He was really my inspiration [for joining]."
Like some of the other cadets and midshipmen who had friends and classmates in attendance, Ms. Stebbins had an acquaintance in the audience -- Professor Mary Fuller of the literature section, her freshmen advisor and teacher of the freshman seminar that read John Milton's Paradise Lost.
Capt. Thomas Hudner Jr., retired US Navy officer and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, reviewed the troops as they stood in formation on the field. Following his inspection, he told the commanding officers and audience that "the troops looked sharp and reflected discipline and pride." He then formally addressed the cadets and midshipmen, who were still standing in formation.
"Not many of your contemporaries would be qualified to march along beside you," said Capt. Hudner, a native of Fall River, MA, who served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
"I often look back wistfully on my days as a junior officer -- training and counseling my men, seeing places around the worldï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ and working with some of the most dedicated people you'll ever find in our society.
"I want to give you a pearl of wisdom to take with youï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ loyalty. In the years to come, in military service and civilian life, remember loyalty. An organization cannot operate without the loyalty of its members. It cannot operate without their unquestioning loyalty to its objective," he said.
Captain Hudner received the Congressional Medal of Honor for the attempted rescue of his squadron mate, Jesse Brown (the nation's first African-American aviator), who was shot down behind enemy lines during the Korean War battle of the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
In brief opening remarks, Senior Vice President William Dickson (SB '56), who reviewed the troops along with Capt. Hudner, referred to the Presidential Pass-in-Review of 1956, his senior year, in which he marched alongside nearly 2,000 other cadets and midshipmen. "The field was like a swamp then," he said. That was during the years when ROTC training was required of all MIT freshmen and sophomores (1917-59).
MIT was one of the first universities in the nation to establish an ROTC program on its campus, but its students were obligated to undergo military training even before the creation of the Army ROTC in 1917. As a land-grant college, its charter included a provision for military training. Compulsory training was a requirement until overturned by a vote of the faculty in 1958.
"A time gone by -- and personally I'm not sure for the better," said Mr. Dickson, alluding to the attribute of discipline instilled in students through basic ROTC training. Mr. Dickson served in the US Army Reserve from 1956-65, attaining the rank of captain and receiving the Medal for Excellence of the American Society of Military Engineers.
On behalf of all three services, Col. William Rutley presented Mr. Dickson with a sterling silver saber inscribed: "To William Dickson, for your steadfast support of the tri-service ROTC programs." Mr. Dickson will retire from MIT on June 30, after 40 years of service to the Institute.
When asked about the saber the next day, Mr. Dickson said, "The sword is home and will proudly be displayed there."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 6, 1998.