A pause to remember, celebrate and be grateful.

11 Nov

Among the founders of Lincoln Memorial University is Civil War General Oliver Otis Howard. Veterans, it would seem, have shaped this University from its very beginning. Throughout LMU’s rich history, war has reared its ugly head calling students to serve.  So on Veterans Day, it is only fitting that we pause to reflect and remember the service and sacrifice of all of our veterans. There are three in particular that I think paint a good picture of character of the servicemen at LMU.


Pat Williams

The story of Patrick McCamy Williams opens like the story of many Lincoln Memorial University students. A native of Cumberland Gap, Tenn., where his father worked as the business manager at LMU, Pat Williams was the third of four children born to Casimir Pulaski “CP” and Annie George McCamy Williams.

A star basketball player at Powell Valley High School, he was an All-State honoree. Also an outstanding student, he enrolled at LMU following high school. Pat Williams played basketball at LMU and was one of six students highlighted in a Who’s Who in American Colleges in 1940. By that time, the campus had become a basic training ground for the military with both the Navy and U.S. Army Air Corps training men. The latter operated a unit of the Civilian Pilot Training Corps.  Pat Williams completed the Civil Pilot’s Training Course and received his pilot’s license in 1940.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Pat Williams was one of the many brave “Lincoln Men” who served his country. He was commissioned following his junior year at LMU. Before he was called to serve, he volunteered for active duty. Pat Williams transferred from the Cavalry to the US Army Air Corps in September 1941. He was inducted at Ft. Oglethorpe. Following training and one term as a flight instructor, Pat Williams was assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron of the 56 Fighter Group made up of the famous P-47 Republic Thunderbolts.

Pat Williams flew nine missions with his squadron prior to the fateful tenth mission that would claim his life. Moorsele, Belgium historian and aviation enthusiast Lothaire Vanoverbeke uncovered the details of the mission while researching his bookMoorsele, één dorp, twee vliegvelden (translated: Moorsele, A Village, Two Airports):

“Mission Rodeo 34 was carried out on May 31. Pat Williams was with Lyle Adrianse, Gordan Batdorf, Jack Brown, Sylvester Burke, George Compton, Lucian Dade, Roger Dyar, Joseph Egan, Dan Goodfleish, Walter Hannigan, Frank Peppers, Glenn Schiltz, Arthur Sugas and Edgar Whitley, all from the 63rd, part of the complete 56 FG that left Horsam St. Faith at 11:05 a.m. During the assembly Brown had to land because of a gasoline leak and was immediately replaced by Harry ‘Bunny’ Comstock. Over Hornchurch, Compton thought it safer to land because of engine trouble and did so accompanied by Sugas. To show no favoritism, Commander Hubert Zemke rotate the squadrons he flew in the lead and this time it was the 63rd up front with Pat Williams in his flight, sweeping the Knokke-Kortrijk-Diksmuide area. They entered the continent over the Dutch-Belgian border and turned south. Without seeing any ‘Krauts,’ they came over Kortrijk and now turned west. Suddenly Williams wheeled over and went straight down. Whitley was one of those who saw what happened and thinking of an oxygen failure, he started to scream at him over the radio “Pat, pull out,” hoping that if he was partially conscious, he could get him to respond. The Jug turned into a steep dive and was last seen at 10,000 ft. when it entered the clouds.”

Vanoverbeke’s research would go on to reveal that Pat Williams did regain consciousness and leveled the aircraft out; however he crash landed in a field outside the village of Moorsele. Horrified citizens watched as the pilot perished, not in the crash but in the fire that erupted following the impact. Zemke later wrote about the mission, “It was hard to come home and hear that we lost a crew in a dogfight, but losing a good pilot because of a stupid technical defect was even more regrettable.”

Pat Williams was buried with full military honors by a platoon of Flemish NSKK troopers on June 2, 1943. German authorities identified him immediately, but since all allied aircraft originated from Great Britain, the locals assumed he was an English pilot.

This is when Pat Williams’ story starts to deviate from the path of so many typical LMU students. It’s not the circumstance of his death or even his patriotic service that sets him apart, because many “Lincoln Men” volunteered for and gave their lives in service to their country. Rather, it’s the mark his death left on the village of Moorsele, which makes his story stand out.

Just as he was honored in life, Pat Williams was honored following his death. He was the first member of his famous squadron to receive the Air Medal and by direction of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart. His body was removed from Moorsele in 1946 and now rests at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Epinal, France (Bloc B, Plot 17, Grave 31). LMU held a memorial service in his honor on March 5, 1944, and his family carved a memorial on the reverse of his parents’ tombstone in Benton, Tenn. Perhaps the most striking remembrance of Pat Williams’ sacrifice is a monument erected a world away in a country where not a single soul had the pleasure of meeting Pat Williams.

Because local lore remembered him as an “English pilot” it wasn’t until the late 1980s that Pat Williams’ whole story was retold locally. Vanoverbeke’s research uncovered a photo from the crash that showed a star on the fuselage of the plane. The aviation aficionado immediately realized the star meant that it was not an English pilot who had lost his life near his village. He contacted the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Air Force archives and eventually Colonel Zemke. Piecing the story together led him to Harrogate, Tenn., LMU and Howard Williams, Pat Williams’ younger brother.

Vanoverbeke’s research, a voluminous 410-page book, was published in 1993 and reissued in 1999. “As there was nothing in the village that reminded of that sacrifice, I felt that the name and history of Pat Williams had to be brought back to Moorsele. In August of 2001, I asked the Wevelgem mayor and town council (Moorsele is a borough of Wevelgem) to erect a monument for this American pilot,” Vanoverbeke said of his quest to erect a monument in honor of Pat Williams. 

The Wevelgem Town Council agreed and on June 2, 2002, the memorial monument was dedicated in the presence two of Howard Williams’ adult children and Whitley, the pilot who cried out trying to pull Pat Williams out of unconsciousness during his dissent. Colonel Marion Tunstall, Air Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, represented the American Ambassador at the ceremony.

Belgium Prime Minister Yves Leterme and U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman were among the dignitaries present at the rededication of the Pat Williams memorial.

Nine years later Pat Williams would be honored once again, this time in the presence of Belgium Prime Minister Yves Leterme and U.S. Ambassador Howard Gutman. The rededication was necessary when the monument, which was originally placed between where he died and where he was first buried, had to be moved to accommodate the expansion of a local sports arena.


Ross Carter

Ross Carter and Pat Williams probably either knew or knew of each other, as Carter was graduating cum laude from LMU around the same time Williams left the University to join the war efforts. Carter was born and raised in Scott County, Va., and graduated cum laude from LMU in 1941, where he majored in history. He went on to become a decorated war hero in World War II, as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th PIR. Carter participated in battles in Africa, Sicily, Italy and at Cassino. For his heroics during the war, Carter was awarded a Silver Star, Combat Infantry Badge, five Gold Stars for Battle, The Purple Heart and his unit earned a Presidential Unit Citation. His Paratrooper Wings bear three stars, one for each combat jump.  He saw 340 days of actual combat. He was one of three survivors from his original forty-four man platoon when the war ended.

After his service, Carter wrote the manuscript for the book Those Devils In Baggy Pants, a memoir of his wartime service.  Shortly after his service he was diagnosed with cancer and battled it throughout the writing process. During his illness he spent many hours with his brother Dr. Boyd G. Carter, briefing him on the editorial work.   His story went on to become a non-fictional best seller when it was released in 1951. A condensed version was published in Reader’s Digest in October 1951. Carter’s memoir is still in print today and is considered the quintessential book on the paratroopers in World War II.

The name for his book was inspired from this quote found in the diary of a German officer who opposed the 504th on the Anzio beachhead:  “American parachutists – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line.  I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they strike next.  Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…” –  thus  the title  Those Devils in Baggy Pants.

Ten years after his death, LMU celebrated its sixtieth year as an institution of higher learning. During that celebration two Airborne Infantry master sergeants presented the school with a check for $300, the first gift to the University in Carter’s memory. Carter never lived to see his success, succumbing to cancer on April 18, 1947. Having never married and leaving no descendants, his legacy lives on at his alma mater, where his fellow paratroopers and classmates have established the Ross Carter Memorial Scholarship Fund.

“Ross lives on in the book he wrote and in the lives of the young people who are inspired by his example,” University President Robert Kincaid remarked at that celebration. “From his short life of full achievement and devotion will come inspiration for future writers and future leaders who will add greatly to the priceless heritage he has left to humanity.”

Carter’s legacy lives on, even today, as his scholarship is awarded annually and the English department awards Ross S. Carter writing awards.


David “Mac” McCollum

Nearly 70 years after Williams lost his life in WWII and 65 years after Carter succumbed to cancer, David “Mac” McCollum crossed the stage at Tex Turner Arena in 2012 and became an alumnus of LMU. A decorated Marine veteran, McCollum served two tours of duty in Iraq during his seven years of military service prior to enrolling at LMU.

His path to LMU was born out of frustration with a larger institution. “After my second tour, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the education benefits that come with serving our country. I wanted to do that at UT, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t get me in the classes I needed to graduate within the time frame I wanted to graduate,” McCollum said. “Discouraged, I checked out all the other schools around Knoxville. On a whim, I visited LMU. I literally left campus that day with a clear path to graduation, signed up for classes with financial aid in the works. I couldn’t believe it.”

McCollum stayed on his course and graduated in May. As significant as the 20 or so steps it took for him to cross the stage and pick up his diploma were, what came next may have shaped his life even more. Just two days after crossing the stage at commencement, McCollum embarked on an over-500 mile trek from Knoxville to Washington, D.C. Throughout his “Ruck to Remember” McCollum blogged about his experience to raise funds and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project

McCollum logged thousands of miles alongside fellow heroes and patriots in extreme conditions and under fire while he served in the Marines. Many of the soldiers he walked alongside never made it home or suffered traumatic and life-altering injuries. It is in honor of his fallen friends that he has mapped out his next path. 

McCollum was inspired to do something after his best friend, Bradley Walker, lost both of his legs during his second deployment. “I really feel like I didn’t and can’t do enough for him,” McCollum said. “We were just kids. Just 23, 24-year-olds and his life has changed. It’s just the right time for me to step up and support all the wounded warriors, like Bradley.”

The idea initially grew out of camping and hiking trips with fellow veterans. “We would sit around the campfire and talk about our experiences. Inevitably the conversations would trail off as we remembered all of the guys we lost or who were injured. We decided we had to do something to honor them.”

McCollum completed his “Ruck to Remember” on Memorial Day in Arlington National Cemetery. His fundraising wrapped up a couple months later with a tally of over $17,000 raised for the Wounded Warrior Project. Now a decorated veteran and college graduate, McCollum hopes to go back to work for the United States of America, this time for the federal government in an agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

On this Veterans Day, we pause to remember, celebrate and be grateful for all of our servicemen and women, especially Pat, Ross and Mac.


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