ROTC students hold 24-hour flagpole vigil to honor veterans

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Cory Ray | @CoryRayDE

Air Force ROTC cadet Lexie Layton, left, and Army ROTC Cadet Devin Tegtman stand at a modified parade rest in front of the flagpole Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, outside of Woody Hall. “I’m out there to celebrate the veterans of America and make sure people know it’s Veterans Day," Tegtman said. (Cory Ray | @CoryRayDE)

By Cory Ray

For a full 24 hours, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students stood under the flagpole outside Woody Hall to remind people passing by to commemorate veterans.

“It’s about honoring who came before us,” Schuyler Parks, a junior from Marseilles studying aviation technologies, said. “We’re aspiring to be military officers one day.”

The students began the vigil at 11 a.m. on Nov. 9 and ended it the next morning at 11 a.m., at which time they attended a Veterans Day ceremony in Carbondale.

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Parks, an Air Force ROTC student, said one Army ROTC and one Air Force ROTC student would stand under the pole for 15 minutes before rotating with another pair.

Students marched out with a detail commander, who led the procession that involved a small changing of the guard ceremony, before assuming their position.

“We bring the old guard back to attention to show their shift is coming to an end,” he said. “Just like in military, lower ranking officers enlisted will salute their higher ranking officers.”

Night and day, those students stood facedown holding mock rifles under the flag, a position Parks said was a modified parade rest.

“You get tired,” he said. “But you just keep doing it because it’s for a good cause.”

Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE
Air Force ROTC cadet Lexi Layton, left, and Army ROTC Cadet Devin Tegtman stand at a modified parade rest in front of the flagpole Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, outside of Woody Hall. (Cory Ray | @CoryRayDE)

Arnold Air Society ROTC students have been holding this yearly vigil since 1985 — more than 30 years — Brennan Palmer, a sophomore from Washington studying mechanical engineering, said.

Parks said some of the veterans they now honor were once SIU cadets standing in front of the flagpole, bringing their vigil full-circle.

Both Parks and Palmer said they’ve seen a variety of responses, from curiosity to pictures to some passersby coming up and thanking them.

“A lot of people on campus don’t really realize what it’s for,” Parks said. “You’ll get people asking questions.”

Parks said planning took one and a half months, beginning with securing a base on the lower level of Woody Hall where those students would relax, eat and even sleep when not on guard.

They began practicing the changing of the guard ceremony a couple weeks before the event, Parks said.

ROTC Air Force Cadet Devin Tegtman, a senior from Crystal Lake in architectural studies, said about 40 cadets participated in helping with the vigil.

For Palmer, going into the Air Force was an easy decision as both his father and grandfather served in the branch.

From a young age, he said his father sparked his interest in joining the military.

“My dad’s in the Air Force — I always thought it was the coolest thing,” he said.

Palmer stood outside for roughly four cumulative hours on Thursday, and he spent the rest of the time with other cadets at the Woody Hall base, he said.

Staff writer Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_de.

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