Raleigh – On Tuesday afternoon, F-15 jets from the 335th fighter squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro roared over the NC State University Memorial Bell Tower. The display, along with a 21-gun salute, were part of a moving ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and those students and alumni who died serving in it.
“I taught Army ROTC here, back in the 90s, and we used to have ceremonies here and now, to be able to be here on the 100th anniversary of the ending of the war is very special,” said Si Harrington, who donned a historic World War I uniform in eighty degree weather on Tuesday.
The observance was held on the steps of Memorial Bell Tower, where the names of 34 Wolfpackers who died in WWI are engraved in a small chapel at the base of the 115-foot tower. The bell tower, whose cornerstone was first placed in 1921, has been undergoing a renovation to repair water damage and finally add bells to the top of the 1,400-ton structure.
“N.C. State has built its reputation on service and sacrifice, ” U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Benny Suggs (ret.), executive director of the NC State Alumni Association.
“The bell tower is one of many monuments across the state of North Carolina that was erected after World War I conflict was over to commemorate the veterans and those who sacrificed everything,” said LeRae Umfleet, director of education outreach at the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
The ceremony concluded with a wreath laying and the playing of Taps. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission coordinated the event with NC State Alumni Association executive director, Admiral Benny Suggs (ret.) and Centennial Commissioner Jerry Hester, both military veterans and NC State graduates.
“We often overlook our national heroes and what went on,” said Hester. “I think it is only appropriate that students, now 34,000 of them, become aware of what this university has done and how our Memorial Bell Tower has come to be a symbol to the nation and the university that those who sacrificed everything are not forgotten.”
It is one of 100 events held statewide this year recognizing the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, in November of 2018. It is the only one held on a college campus. On hand for the event was top NCSU brass, including chancellor Randy Woodson.
“To those who have served our great country, thank you. We are proud that you are part of our Wolfpack family,” Woodson told the crowd of students, service members, and supporters. “You all make our university stronger, more motivated, and better equipped to solve global challenges because of your unwavering commitment to our forefather’s vision for this great nation.”
This year the N.C. Department of Transportation is also taking time and resources to honor the anniversary, planting red poppies that will bloom along the state’s highways.
Interest in WWI history has spiked as the centennial anniversary of its conclusion nears. At the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, an interactive display detailing the state’s role in the war has become the all-time most visited temporary exhibit with more than 300,000 visitors so far. It will be on display until January 6, 2019.