Tampa’s connections to the military are historic, ranging from the early days of Fort Brooke through two world wars and a dozen lesser conflicts to today’s global strategies being played out at MacDill. Today the minarets of the University of Tampa are the iconic symbols of the city. It was here that some of the planning for the Spanish-American War was done by Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders at the then Tampa Bay Hotel. That was a long time ago. The old hotel now houses more than 7,000 students and the University of Tampa campus is spreading farther away from its base on the western side of the Hillsborough River. But what you might not know is that among the alumni of the University of Tampa are three living recipients of the Medal of Honor. There are fewer than 80 holders of the medal living today.
At least two of them are expected to be on hand Tuesday when the new Gen. Peter Schoomaker ROTC and Athletics Building is dedicated at 4:30 p.m. Schoomaker, a four-star general who came out of retirement to become the Army chief of staff, was also the commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill and was one of the key figures in our involvement around the world since 9/11. He still lives in Tampa and will be among the speakers Tuesday. Thomas Arthur, a local businessman and Army vet who spearhead the effort to get the building constructed, said there are still “ample opportunities’’ if anyone wants to chip in to finish off the payments. You know, you don’t teach classes in bravery or how to be willing to sacrifice your life for others at any of the schools I’ve heard about, including the University of Tampa. The characteristics that might go into assembling a Medal of Honor recipient are formed long before your freshman year, although as far as I know you don’t show up with a certificate that promises you are ready to be a hero. Ronald Eric Ray earned a degree in history back in 1972. But it’s unlikely he knew that much about the la Drang Valley where he would find his patrol ambushed on a summer’s day. When a grenade landed near two of his comrades, he attempted to shield them and was badly wounded in the process. You don’t learn that in history class. Harold Fritz got his degree in elementary education. Instead he found himself in Bing Long Province. He was in a truck convoy that was ambushed. Wounded, he climbed on top of a burning truck and led the counter-attack, moving from one position to another. James Allen Taylor graduated with a degree in criminology. Taylor was near Khe Sanh, one of the pivotal names in the history of the conflict. All he did was pull wounded soldier after wounded soldier from burning vehicles while exposed to enemy fire. Despite being wounded by a mortar round, he returned to the battle and continued fighting. Where do men like that come from? My guess is that they have values learned long before they showed up on the UT campus.