With the 100th anniversary of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) this year, Gannon University hosted an awards ceremony for the Pride of PA Battalion in Yehl Ballroom Friday.
The ceremony recognized distinguished cadets from the battalion made up of students from Gannon, Penn State Behrend and Mercyhurst and introduced retired Col. Joseph Gaeta and retired Brig. Gen. Ernest S. Ellis into the Hall of Fame.
Lt. Col. Daniel Rempfer, a professor of military science at Gannon, said graduation preparation is as important as graduation commissions for officers in the U.S. Army.
Rempfer said the men and women in ROTC represent the 1 percent of our nation’s sons and daughters who take an oath to protect the other 99.
“Army ROTC graduates remain fully prepared to lead,” Rempfer said. “We prepare the leaders and visionaries of tomorrow – today.”
Gannon’s ROTC program was started in 1948 based on the school’s principles to serve God and the country. Its first graduation class was made up entirely of veterans and all Gannon students were required to take the ROTC classes until 1969.
Rempfer talked about the military’s recent decision to open all branches and special operation forces training to women, saying women and men take on similar roles serving our country.
“It’s a new time,” Rempfer said.
After presenting a video compilation of five decades’ worth of yearbook and newspaper photos depicting Gannon’s ROTC over the years, the battalion recognized Gaeta and Ellis.
Gaeta was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating from Gannon in 1962. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves for 28 years until he retired in 1993 as a colonel. Gaeta co-founded the Gannon Athletics Booster club and has been a member for over 40 years.
Ellis enlisted in 1943, serving as a combat M.P. during D-Day and following action in the European theatre of World War II. After the war, he graduated from Gannon College in 1951 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Ellis served the army again as a second lieutenant in the Korean War. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1978 and retired in 1982 after 34 years of active and reserve duty. Ellis acted as a senior mentor to officers in Pennsylvania and as director of the Gannon University physical plant for 20 years.
Gaeta, 75, attended the ceremony in uniform, and joked about wearing it as a motivation to lose weight.
“I’ve been your age, but you’ve never been 75,” Gaeta told the cadets.
Gaeta said he got his third choice as a cadet when he joined the Army, which was infantry, but he said enjoyed it.
“The most important thing for me was attitude,” Gaeta said of his time in the military.
He thanked his wife, Elaine Gaeta, for supporting him in his career and volunteer work at Gannon as well.
“I love doing what I’m doing and I will continue to do it until they throw dirt on top of me,” Gaeta said.
Brig. Gen. Charles Pede, who presented the Donald W. Hoffman Award for Leadership, said the real story of the day was the 100-year anniversary and the hall of fame.
Seniors from the three schools in the battalion were announced with their commissions, including Gannon students Kayla Irwin, Mackenzie Kranz, David Marshall, Christopher Rentschler and Anthony Sinagoga.
Irwin, a senior criminal justice major, received commission for military intelligence in the Army National Guard. Irwin said she became interested in intelligence when she enlisted three years ago and her dad asked her to talk to an intelligence officer.
Irwin said she plans to return to school for mental health and psychology, so serving in intelligence will help her gain experience with related work, and she said she’s excited to start working after graduation.
“I can’t wait,” Irwin said. “I’m actually going with one of my friends from basic training, so the Army is a small world.”