Returning to City College for the ceremony welcoming back ROTC was beautiful and surreal. It was strange to walk in the Great Hall and see so many military men and women criss-crossing the floor in sharp uniforms, and I had to remind myself at times that I was one of them. I felt uncomfortable like one would when inviting two friends to dinner that you know don’t get along, but are forced to be cordial. I studied the faces of faculty members whom I knew were at best, skeptical of this endeavor.
The ceremony began with a the posting of the colors. The Francis Lewis High School JROTC Color Guard did the honors and looked superb.
The President of City College, Lisa Staino-Coico began speaking, then CUNY’s Chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, followed by the ROTC Cadet Commander, Major General Smith, all discussing how great it is that ROTC is returning and thanking those who had a role in bringing it back.
Then Gen. Powell, the guest of honor, was called to the stage.
He thanked the Color Guard. He spoke briefly on how important and how formative ROTC was to him. And then he began to wrap up his remarks.
He took a deep pause.
“Military service is honorable,” Powell said. “We may disagree with the politics or the policies of it all, but military service is honorable.” (Jeff Mays, DNAinfo)
That, I believe was Gen. Powell’s way of addressing the lingering apprehension among those who believe ROTC does not belong on campus.
Military service, is honorable.
Over the years, I imagine that Gen. Powell has thought long and hard about military service – with all its trappings – and how that service can be reconciled with our democracy. His war was Vietnam, and his school was City College. His formative years were spent at City College at what was once one of the largest ROTC programs in the country. His alma mater would later boot the program off campus. No longer welcome. He must have felt betrayed.
Somehow, he had to reconcile this all in his mind. Military service is honorable. That is where that reconciliation ended.
And I agree.
More poignantly, and in a barely quivering tone, Gen. Powell said that as proud as he was at this achievement, seeing ROTC return to City College, he only wishes his City College ROTC buddies who never made it back from Vietnam were there to see it. It was interesting to see a man whose influence stretched much further than the rice paddies of Vietnam, go back there for a moment. I could tell that he meant what he said. And I was reminded that Gen. Powell is still a soldier.
The ceremony concluded with us singing the Army Song in the Great Hall.
After Decades, Boots Are Back on Campus (New York Times)
R.O.T.C. Returns to New York’s City College More Than Four Decades After Removal (New York Times, At War Blog)
ROTC Returns to CUNY (CUNY Press Release)
CUNY brings back long-lost ROTC program (New York Post)
Colin Powell Helps City College Re-Launch ROTC Program (DNAinfo)
Army ROTC returns to City College of New York (Army Press Release)