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LSU's Military History a Source of Pride for Many

LSU's long history of training military personnel, from "buck privates" to generals, is a source of pride for many alumni. One organization on campus, the Cadets of the Ole War Skule, provides an avenue for them to get together and give back to the university in a variety of creative ways.

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Every Memorial Day, LSU and the Cadets of the Ole War Skule honor the university's proud military heritage, while remembering the sacrifices and contributions of all U.S. veterans, with a wreath-laying ceremony.
Eddy Perez/University Relations

The group, whose membership is open to anyone who has a connection to the university and the military, was established in 1955 by former cadets who attended LSU when the school was still located in downtown Baton Rouge. The organization is headquartered in the base of the Memorial Tower, or campanile, and hosts several events to celebrate, commemorate and educate others about the contributions of many of LSU's students, former students, alumni, faculty and staff in the defense of our nation.

All members have some connection to the university and with the military, but that connection has a broad range. Some attended LSU but enlisted before they graduated, often in time of war because service to their country trumped all else.

One example of such a member is William J. "Billy" Heroman, who first arrived on the LSU campus in autumn 1941. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Sunday, Dec. 7, of that year, Heroman and most of the other cadets in his class knew they would enlist.

"They made it easy for us," Heroman recalls. "They set up an enlistment station in the Field House. Almost all of us went there and signed up."

Not only did LSU provide a convenient place to enlist, the university was also a site for the Army's Specialized Training Program, or ASTP, a comprehensive and intense preparation program for the best of these new enlistees. Heroman remembers feeling lucky because he had done well enough on the military's testing to remain on campus in ASTP for his training while awaiting his orders to deploy.

"We were part of the smartest unit in the Army," he explains. "We were all very young – 18 or 19 years old – so they called us ‘smartass youngsters' and ‘battle babies.'"

He was sent to Italy in 1942 and served throughout the war. In 1944, during the "Battle of the Bulge," he had been serving on the front lines for two months when he and his platoon were captured by the Germans.

LSU and the Cadets of the Ole War Skule will honor the university's proud military heritage with a Memorial Day ceremony at noon on Wednesday, May 30, at the LSU War Memorial on the Parade Ground.

During the ceremony, the names of U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Dale Istre and U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Robert James Reeves will be unveiled on the Wall of Honor. Both were killed in Afghanistan while serving their country in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The wreath-laying ceremony will pay tribute to Istre and Reeves with a moment of silence, the playing of taps and a presentation of etched renderings of their names to their families. The event will also include an address by keynote speaker Brig. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general for the state of Louisiana.

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"We were assigned to a foxhole," Heroman remembers of his time at the front before he was captured. "You get to know your buddies pretty well that way – three of us in that foxhole, one keeping watch while the other two tried to sleep – and one of my buddies was Jewish. His name was George Goldman. When we were captured, we all had to line up next to the trenches. The first thing the Germans did was check our dog tags – our IDs indicated ‘C' for Catholic, ‘P' for Protestant and ‘H' for Hebrew. We knew what they did to the prisoners with ‘H' on their tags. I had been carrying my rosary beads with me ever since we got to the front lines, so before the German officers got to us, I gave George my rosary beads and we hid his dog tags. So I guess he was saved by the rosary!"

For four months, Heroman remained in captivity in a small German village that was frequently strafed by Allied planes. "We came nearer to being killed by those planes than by the enemy!" said Heroman. Then one day the Russians reached their encampment.

"A big old Russian tank – with a woman driver! – liberated us," he commented. He had lost 45 pounds and had some health issues to overcome, but he was finally going home.

When Heroman returned to Baton Rouge, he decided to go into the family business rather than continue at school. In 1955, following in the footsteps of three generations of Heroman floriculturists before them, he and his wife, Janet, opened Billy Heroman's Flowerland Inc. Today, the business is the largest floral business in Louisiana.

It was through business with Heroman's first floral shop that Denver Loupe, another member of Cadets of the Ole War Skule, met Heroman.

"In the 1950s, football games were still almost formal social events on campus," Loupe explained. "The ladies would dress up, and their dates would give them corsages. Billy Heroman's was where we all went, so I spent a lot of Saturdays picking up flowers, and I got to know Billy that way."

Loupe was not in ROTC at LSU. In fact, he attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches for the first year of his college education. Then he entered the U.S. Navy and served on a destroyer escort in the years following World War II.

"During my time on the ship, we went through the Panama Canal, and I was assigned to take the helm. Anyone will tell you that I have a hard time steering a pirogue, but I navigated that escort through the Canal!" Loupe marvels. "Somehow I managed."

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LSU and the Cadets of the Ole War Skule co-host annual events throughout the year to offer a visible remembrance of the soldiers who have proudly served in America's armed forces and given their lives to preserve our freedom.
Eddy Perez/University Relations

Loupe returned to Northwestern State for two more years and transferred to LSU in his senior year, completing his agriculture degree on the G.I. Bill. He continued his education, earning both master's and Ph.D. degrees at LSU specializing in sugar cane studies. Well-respected in this area of great importance to the Louisiana economy, Loupe made his career at LSU within the LSU AgCenter's Cooperative Extension Service, remaining for more than 40 years, including 17 as vice chancellor.

A member with a different experience is John Milazzo, who was in the Air Force ROTC program at LSU from 1966-68. Milazzo served in the U.S. Army in 1969 and 1970 with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He returned to LSU and graduated in 1972. Since then, he has worked in banking and has served as president and chief executive officer of Campus Federal Credit Union for 27 years.

"I firmly believe," Milazzo remarked, "that had it not been for my LSU education and military experiences, I would not have attained the professional success I have."

He credits his membership and his active involvement with Cadets of the Ole War Skule to his good friend, Dan Walsh, retired executive director of the Division of Continuing Education, and a charter member of Cadets of the Ole War Skule.

"Before I knew it," said Milazzo, immediate past president of the organization, "I was a member and nominated to its board."

Milazzo has high praise for the member base and its commitment to continuing the traditions of the Ole War Skule.

"Today, Cadets of the Ole War Skule is committed to supporting the Corps of Cadets and LSU's proud military tradition. Through its efforts, LSU's cadets have advocates in every sector of business and industry," said Milazzo. "We have people who have attained the rank of general and people, like me, who were enlisted personnel. All are equal in the ranks of Cadets of the Ole War Skule and are tied together in the desire to see LSU's ROTC program be preserved and prosper.

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In 1955, a group of cadets who had begun their LSU experience on the old downtown campus officially organized the Cadets of the Ole War Skule as a way of ensuring that future generations of LSU cadets and alumni might never forget the university's rich military heritage and traditions.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

"We support the corps by our donations and dues and by our time and efforts," he continued. "Our desire is to let young people interested in pursuing a military career know of LSU's rich contributions to our nation's defense and to support them in their pursuits. We are committed to funding scholarships for these students and to preserving LSU's priceless military heritage by building and maintaining a military museum in LSU's Memorial Tower."

LSU and the Cadets of the Ole War Skule co-host annual events throughout the year including the Chancellor's Day Parade, the LSU Memorial Day Ceremony and LSU Salutes. These ceremonies help to preserve and honor the ideals and experiences from previous generations so that they can be passed along to future generations and offer a visible remembrance of the soldiers who have proudly served in America's armed forces and given their lives to preserve our freedom.

Additional information about membership in the Cadets of the Ole War Skule is available at www.olewarskule.lsu.edu, by email at cadets@lsu.edu, or by calling the Cadets of the Ole War Skule at 225-578-0420 or toll-free at 1-866-SALUTES.