Not all Citadel alumni have served in the military, but the school's history remains very much intertwined with the nation's. 

For instance, as the country faced a critical need for junior officers and second lieutenants during the Second World War, the federal government called the Citadel's entire Class of 1944 into service in the summer before their junior year.

Then-Citadel President Gen. Charles P. Summerall objected, arguing that the cadets would become better soldiers if allowed to finish their education — but to no avail.

With the exception of three cadets who were unable to serve, the entire class marched off campus to board a train to Fort Jackson in Columbia, and from there to basic training and theaters of war across the globe. They became legendary as the Class That Never Was.

Timothy Street, a member of that class, served with the Navy in the Philippines and made it home safe to finish his time at The Citadel. Others were not so fortunate. By the war's end, 281 Citadel alumni would be killed in action, including 34 from the Class of 1944.

"I don't think you can emphasize too much the sacrifices that those people made," Street said in a 70th-anniversary video produced by The Citadel in 2014. "So many of my classmates did so much more than I did. I feel nothing but a huge, huge helping of humility when I think about what happened to me. What kind of sympathy could you even utter that would repay somebody for a sacrifice like that?"


A mural in The Citadel's Daniel Library depicts the firing on "Star of the West" on Jan. 9, 1861 during the Civil War.

It wasn't the first time South Carolina's public military college sent its cadets or graduates to war en masse. Nearly the entire classes of 1917 and 1918 served in the First World War. During the Civil War (1861-65), all but 15 living Citadel alumni served in the Confederate armed forces.

The Citadel hasn't seen its cadets mobilize on such a scale since World War II, but the connection between the college and the military remains strong. The Class of 1967 saw many of its members fight in the Vietnam War, and graduates from that class recently spearheaded a campaign to place a war memorial to fallen alumni on campus.

Citadel ROTC (copy)

Members of the Citadel Army ROTC train on campus in 1974. File/Staff

Speaking at a dedication ceremony in October, Class of 1967 member Joseph J. Keenan recalled how regimental commanders at The Citadel would read them the names of fallen Citadel graduates.

Cadets would pause to pray or silently reflect.

"By the time our class reached our junior and senior years, those names were not just names to us," Keenan said. "They became somebody that we knew."

John C. Warley, a member of the Class of 1967, wrote the inscription that greets visitors to the memorial today. It begins, "When country calls, The Citadel answers." It ends, "Speak softly in the company of heroes."

Citadel alumni served in conflicts throughout the Cold War and other conflicts, deploying to Lebanon, Beirut and Grenada. They also served in Operation Desert Storm. Citadel alumnus Joseph John Pycior Jr. died in the terrorist attack on The Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and 2nd Lt. Therrel Shane Childers — a 2001 Citadel grad — was the first U.S. casualty during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Throughout its history, The Citadel has produced military leaders and decorated war heroes. Gen. Glenn M. Walters, a 1979 graduate, rose through the ranks of the Marine Corps to become assistant commandant in 2016. 

Today, about one-third of The Citadel's graduates enter military service. That's been the norm for the past several decades, with a few fluctuations, according to Steven V. Smith, historian for The Citadel Alumni Association.

"We saw a huge ramp-up for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we've seen a little bit of a draw-down from that, but now the numbers are coming back up," he said. "It's dictated by the needs of the service."

While The Citadel has always included rigorous military-style training for its Corps of Cadets, it has adapted its academic offerings to the needs of both the U.S. military and the private sector.

The college has recently added more courses in nursing, engineering and cybersecurity, in part because of demand from the military but in part because of demand from companies like Volvo and Boeing.

"Even when the school was founded, the military aspect of it was used to enforce the academics. The strict military discipline reinforced the academic studies," Smith said. "It's the military college of South Carolina, and the military aspect of it supports the academic endeavors of the cadets."

"If we're not paying attention to what society needs, then we're not evolving," Smith added.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.