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Memorabilia on exhibit at Virginia Military Institute
Soldiers exemplify 'Duty, Sacrifice, Courage'
The exhibit helps create a good understanding of what happened in the
past so it might be prevented in the future, Lt. Col. Jim Berger said.
By MICHELLE MIZAL
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Lt. Col. Jim Berger recalls counting the days as a prisoner of war in
North Vietnam -- exactly 2,276 of them --after his F-4 fighter jet was
shot down in 1966.
He remembers the dark room with a single faint light bulb.
He was moved around. Sometimes the room would be cramped, and
sometimes it would be large enough for 55 men, but either way, life was
the same -- weary men trying to hold onto a world they once knew.
"You have to do something with your brain," he said.
He made a cardboard ackgammon game and used toothpaste caps as game
There's a notebook filled with scores of concertos, band music and
lullabies that Berger recorded from memories of playing the baritone
horn and trombone in the Virginia Military Institute marching band.
Then there's the pieced-together American flag.
Berger stuffed a red knit polo shirt into a white handkerchief
folded over with slits cut into it. A blue piece of sweater was folded
and laid on the upper left corner.
No matter how many times guards took his handicrafts away. Berger
always managed to steal them back.
Now those items -- along with other memorabilia -- are part of VMI's
new exhibit, "Duty, Sacrifice, Courage." It pays tribute to the nearly
4,000 alumni who served during the Vietnam War. It focuses on the
stories of three men -- all from Virginia. Berger, 60, who now lives in
Lexington, represents sacrifice and is the only survivor of the three
cadets. He is pleased with the exhibit. It helps create a good
understanding of what happened in the past so it might be prevented in
the future, he said.
"The exhibit means a chunk of my life. It was a time when I couldn't
do anything. Time stood still. Virtually everything passed me by ... the
world passes you by," he said.
Lt. Keith Gibson, museum director, said the exhibit is "real-life
"This personal recollection has a particular poignancy that
artifacts from the Civil War may not share with us because they do not
have the immediacy that Vietnam has with us."
The exhibit opened Nov. 11 -- the institute's founding date -- and
about 1,000 visitors have seen it. They also have heard it.
"I'm surrounded by grenades, rockets ... this is probably the
quietest place we have," says a recording of the late Capt. Arnold
Schlossberg Jr. He was in an ammunition bunker.
The tape plays continuously with the exhibit. It is the only
recorded letter he sent home.
Schlossberg, a native of Roanoke, died in October 1994 after
retiring from the military as a major general. He became one of the
founders of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Schlossberg represents "duty," Gibson said, because he is not marked
by any particular extraordinary act. Instead, it is his service and
dedication as a whole that he is noted for.
It was his younger sister, Deda S. Miller of Colorado Springs,
Colo., who donated the tape and Schlossberg's other memorabilia.
"This is one way to preserve the memory of my brother's contribution
to our country. He served 33 years of his life in a wonderful,
Then there's Maj. Gen. James Humphreys, who was the head of medicine
of American forces in Vietnam. He represents "courage."
A South Vietnamese farmer was struck in the back by a grenade, which
lodged in his body without detonating. So Humphreys, of Richmond, and
his team performed surgery using sandbags and 6-foot-long tools. The
operation was a success.
"Honestly, none of the members of the team consider that the action
was anything other than unusual," Humphreys wrote in a letter to the
museum dated 1966. The story is included in the VMI archives.
He returned from Vietnam in 1966 and later became head of space
medicine. He died in April 1994.
Gibson looked at the X-rays -- showing a very visible grenade lodged
beside a spinal cord.
"This is important to the new members of the VMI family -- men and
women," Gibson said, "They need to know these stories of cadets who wore
the uniform before them."
Something To Cheer About?:
Friday, November 20, 1998
'They look like men in skirts,' says one VMI cadet
Female 'rat' cheerleaders treated like vermin
Problems cited include: the "improper leadership role" of the rats and the increasing "sexual tension" in the ranks from seeing "brother rats" in skirts.
By MATT CHITTUM
THE ROANOKE TIMES
LEXINGTON -- In the long list of firsts that came with the advent of coeducation at Virginia Military Institute -- first woman to enroll, first woman to quit, first woman to smash an upperclassman in the mouth -- it's the inaugural no one seemed to consider.
The men of the slow-to-bend military school were prepared for women living in the barracks, women on the obstacle course, in the classrooms, on the track team.
But they apparently weren't prepared for women with nearly shaved heads prancing the sidelines at football games in short skirts, oozing with pep.
For the first time in 159 years, VMI has its own female cheerleaders.
They've been heckled, made to do cheers in barracks instead of pushups, and pelted with peanuts by their fellow cadets during football games.
Almost from the first "rah," they've been up to their pompoms in controversy, mainly because the squad is made up mostly by freshmen "rats."
Rats are supposed to be miserable in their gray wool slacks, not peppy in little skirts.
The cheerleaders have been mocked in the student newspaper, and someone circulated a petition in the barracks to have the rats removed from the squad. The petition cited, among other reasons, the "improper leadership role" of the rats, who aren't supposed to lead anyone at anything, and the mounting "sexual tension" in the ranks from seeing their "brother rats" in skirts.
This is all an unlikely problem.
Who would have thought that a young woman could have simultaneous urges to attend a stronghold of masculinity like VMI and to bounce in a tight sweater and wiggle some pompoms ?
"Just because we go here doesn't mean we're not feminine, that we're not women," said sophomore Gussie Lord, one of two upperclass women on the squad.
But the somewhat masculine appearance of the female rats is part of what many cadets are booing about.
"They shouldn't be down there," said junior cadet Jason Clough of Melbourne, Fla. "They don't look like cheerleaders. They look like men in skirts."
Femininity aside, these women don't limit themselves to the usual "Block that kick!" kind of cheers.
During Saturday's game against archrival The Citadel, the VMI squad smiled gleefully and shook their pompoms in time with cadets who bellowed, "We want blood!"
Across the field, The Citadel cheerleading squad, made up of women from the College of Charleston, high-kicked in off-the-shoulder uniforms that bared their midriffs, their long hair up in big bows.
The Citadel has only one female cadet, a sophomore, on its squad, and she didn't make the trip to Lexington.
Before this second year of coeducation at VMI, the squad was filled out by women from nearby women's colleges, like the former Southern Seminary in Buena Vista and, more recently, Mary Baldwin College in Staunton. Men have been on the squad for years, usually to shout through megaphones and hold the women aloft.
As the school prepared for the arrival of its first women in August 1997, a group of committees considered every aspect of having women in the ranks it could think of, including having its own cheerleaders. But that seemingly minor issue got lost in all the talk of haircuts and bathrooms.
The plan was to phase out the Mary Baldwin women as VMI women showed interest, said Col. Mike Bissell, who directed the assimilation of women at the college.
But cheerleading faculty adviser Ned Riester, a 1978 VMI grad, decided to go with a cadet squad, because of concerns over liability and the hassle of getting the Baldwin women to and from practice.
Squad captain Randy Eads began recruiting VMI women to cheer, including freshmen. One rat, Tracy Schultz, chose cheerleading over rugby, according to her father, Frank Schultz, who drove to Lexington from Newark, N.J., to watch his daughter cheer Saturday.
By the time he was done, Eads had filled out the squad with two male rats, seven female rats and two sophomore women.
"I'm not sure that 100 percent of the corps knew what was going to happen," Eads said.
"If we had had five [sophomores] out there, nothing would have happened," Riester said.
But cadets began objecting right away.
The student newspaper, The Cadet, asked 50 cadets if they were in favor of the "female/rat" cheerleaders. Eighty percent said no.
Cadets began stopping the women in barracks and forcing them to show their spirit right there on the stoop, solo. It's the upperclass way of teaching rats not to separate themselves from their brethren, especially in public.
"They don't stop a female cross country runner and make her show her running kick or whatever," Riester said, " but they'll stop a cheerleader and make her cheer."
The petition began circulating on Oct. 8, and cadets complained that the cheerleaders were escaping tougher training activities in favor of cheerleading practice.
Two days later, things got ugly at the football game during parents weekend.
The cadets, armed with free peanuts they'd been issued in honor of the weekend, unloaded on the cheerleaders, shouting "You suck!"
"It was embarrassing," Riester said. "I was not embarrassed about the girls with the haircuts. The embarrassing thing was that we would have people in the corps that would do this."
Sophomore cheerleader Megan Smith called that treatment "kind of depressing, because we've come a long way from the beginning of the year."
Last week, the squad was invited to the national cheerleading competition in Orlando, Fla. Much of the controversy has died down now.
In true, "never say die" VMI fashion, the women have persevered. None have quit.
They have their supporters. Last year's senior class president, Kevin Trujillo, supports the squad. Bissell also complimented the squad.
Cadets come up and say "Good job" from time to time, Smith said.
Riester said he probably won't have rats on the squad next year. They have a hard enough life without the extra grief, he said.
But then, choosing the more arduous course and enduring anyway may make the cheerleaders some of the toughest cadets of all.
Eads thinks so.
"They're showing a lot of determination and will power to come out here," he said.
VMI Basketball: Keydets are 0 - 3 after falling to ODU earlier this week. Next up is Wake Forest on Monday, Nov 30.
VMI Memories: Thanks to those that sent in some personal memories. And, hey, keep 'em coming. I'll share a couple each week. Having said that....
Since Christmas trees in the room were banned. As firsts, my roommate, Doug Messner, and I took our rats down to the Maury to find the biggest "Christmas Rock" we could carry. We found one that had to weigh well over 250lbs. We rolled it onto a blanket and dragged it into our car and then dragged it into barracks. We decorated it with paper snowflakes and ornaments. We painted on it "Cristmas Rock."[sic] When everyone asked where the "h" was we said he lived next door. (Everyone called our neighbor "H" Byrnes. I don't have a clue what his real name is.)
After a week or so, a TAC without a sense of humor gave us a special report for "Unauthorized boulder in room." I don't recall how the special got resolved but I do remember dragging that boulder through old and new barracks after taps. The bed straps we were dragging it with broke around Sally Port and we had to roll it through new barracks. It made so much noise when it rolled that people were coming out on the stoop to see what the racket was. It took three or four of us to drop it out of a window at the rear wall of new barracks. It made a pretty big dent in the asphalt.
Reid Garst '87
And one more....
Having the third laugh at our terrible aim during the first rat/third snowball fight until he realized we were putting them thru his doorway transom behind him.
Hey, that's it for this week.
Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75
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