The Citadel's Class of 2011 learned quickly that the sense of brotherhood preached at the military college is not all talk, it's real.
The night before graduation ceremonies on May 7, the family of cadet Patrick Rein of Ocala, Fla., was involved in a tragic traffic accident just south of Charleston that killed his future father-in-law, Rodney Gause, his fiancee, Elizabeth Gause, and critically injured his future mother-in-law, Peggy Gause, and his 3-year-old daughter, Isabella.
"We started hearing about it while we were lining up for graduation Saturday morning," class president Steven Munoz said. "Word started to spread that a cadet's family was in a terrible accident, but we didn't know details until the next day.
"Within 24 hours of graduation, I was getting bombarded by messages from dozens of classmates wanting to help. It was amazing to see the effect of The Citadel family so strong and so quickly right after graduation."
News reports said a pickup truck towing a flatbed trailer lost control on U.S. Highway 17 south of Charleston, crossed the median and struck the car carrying his daughter, his fiancee and her parents en route to his graduation ceremony.
Rein was scheduled to be married on May 29 to 21-year-old Elizabeth Gause, who died of injuries sustained in the accident. Their 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, has been undergoing surgeries at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Citadel cadets, by rule, are not allowed to be married or have dependent children, according to Munoz. Isabella, however, was not classified as a dependent.
Munoz said the outpouring from his classmates has been overwhelming.
"These are guys who are getting ready to go to war or start jobs," Munoz said. "At a time when most guys are relaxing at the beach right after graduation, the first thing on their minds was what they could do to help our classmate."
How to help
It is not unusual for cadets to lend a hand when needed. It's part of the fabric that is The Citadel.
Already, the Class of 2011 had set up a bank account to help dozens of their fellow graduates who couldn't afford class rings. That effort raised about $10,000. Now the account will be used for something more serious.
Munoz is heading an effort to raise money for Rein, a father with a seriously injured child.
Donations can be made through their website, www.citadelcadets.com, or directly to the Rein family at 4225 SE 60th St., Ocala, FL 34480.
In less than 48 hours, Munoz said, the account received more than $2,500 from classmates and alumni.
"The entire Citadel family is mobilizing on this," Munoz said. "One of our brothers is in need. It really is true that you have a second family at The Citadel."