Any former student of the university’s regular academic program for credit is considered an alumnus or alumna.
Alumni Association-The 12 members of the first graduating class of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College organized an Alumni Association on Aug. 11, 1875, and elected officers. William A. Caldwell, the first student to enroll at the college in 1872, was elected secretary in 1876, his graduating year since he took an extra year to complete his studies.
The first Alumni Association was never very strong and in 1891 its members decided to reorganize. They drew up a constitution, decided to publish an Alumni Register, and declared that they would participate more actively in the affairs of the college. The association was incorporated on June 23, 1924.
Development of early alumni records required a great deal of work on the part of Col. J. S. A. Johnson, class of 1898, and H. H. “Bunker” Hill, class of 1904, both of whom served without pay. Hill established the basic alumni records system. The first paid executive secretary was Henry B. Redd, class of 1919, who was hired in 1926 and served until his death in 1960. The association adopted new by-laws in 1964, making the association an operating unit of the university and thus relinquishing its “independent” status of 89 years. At the same time, the alumni director-secretary became director of alumni affairs. In 1991 the board of visitors transferred staff and operations of the Alumni Association into the university’s administrative system and elevated the director of alumni affairs to vice president for alumni affairs. Alumni directors/directors of alumni affairs/vice presidents for alumni affairs have been H. B. Redd, 1926-60; M. L. Oliver, 1960-65; Philip Oliver (acting), 1965-66; C. B. Ross, 1966-67; H. L. Pritchard (acting), 1967-68; G. B. “Buddy” Russell, 1968-1995; Thomas C. Tillar Jr., 1996-2015. In 2015, the alumni relations, development, and university relations departments were integrated under the new position of Vice President for Advancement.
Membership in the Alumni Association was originally achieved by paying annual dues of $1 a year (later raised to $3). An Alumni Loyalty Fund (later Alumni Annual Fund) was established in 1937, effective in 1938, replacing dues with annual contributions. An Alumni Fund Council was established in June 1938. A University Development Council was established in 1964 to direct all university fund-raising activities, including those of the Alumni Association. The association was supported through gifts to the Alumni Annual Fund until 1991, when the fund merged with the university’s annual giving program. Since then, it has received support for its operating needs from the Virginia Tech Foundation. Its programs are supported by private gifts and other revenues from alumni, who no longer are required to pay dues or to contribute to the university in order to be considered a member of the Alumni Association.
Virginia Tech’s women graduates organized the VPI Alumnae Society in 1933 to serve their special interests. The society was succeeded by the Women’s Chapter of the VPI Alumni Association, organized in April 1955 and dissolved in May 1971. An “Old Guard” association, restricted to those who have been graduated at least 50 years, was formed in June 1967.
An official Homecoming Day for alumni was designated by the Alumni Association in September 1928, with the first homecoming football game played on October 23, 1926, against the University of Virginia at the dedication of Miles Stadium. Class reunions were held at commencement until 1941, when they were cancelled because of the war. When they resumed in 1952, they were made part of the homecoming football weekend. Today, various class reunions are divided among the home football games, a practice initiated in 2002, with Homecoming reserved for one college (on a rotating basis), the class celebrating its 50th anniversary, Marching Virginians alumni, and Highty Tighties alumni.
The association has established a number of awards and honors for faculty, students, and alumni. In 1957, it instituted Virginia Tech’s first faculty teaching award—the William E. Wine Award—in honor of an alumnus, former president of the association, and rector of the board of visitors. In 1972, as part of the university’s centennial observance, it announced that it would build an endowment to fund a limited number of Alumni Professorships and a series of Alumni Scholarships. The scholarship program provided five $1,000 renewable scholarships to undergraduate students. In 1975 it established two awards to recognize contributions in the extension and research divisions—Alumni Award for Extension Excellence and Alumni Award for Research Excellence—to recognize outstanding contributions outside the classroom. Recipients received a cash award of $500 and a plaque. Later, the association added awards to recognize excellence in advising, international programs, and public service. It also established Outstanding College Senior awards for each college, Outstanding Alumni Chapter Officer awards, and Alumni Chapter Excellence awards.
With the approval of its board of directors in 1975, the Alumni Association organized the Student Alumni Associates (SAA). During its initial year, the associates held their first Orange and Maroon Carpet Day, a program to acquaint prospective university students with Virginia Tech. Today, the approximately 85 students who comprise SAA assist with reunions, college homecomings, Founders Day, Faculty Appreciation Day, alumni chapter events, and pep rallies.
In 2000 the university announced that it would begin a $16.2-million campaign to raise money to construct new facilities for the Alumni Association/Alumni Relations. Construction began in 2002 and the center was completed in 2005. Part of a complex that includes The Inn at Virginia Tech & Skelton Conference Center, it was named for William Holtzman, a Virginia Tech alumnus and president/founder of Holtzman Oil Corp.
Alumni War Service-During the Spanish-American War, the members of Band Company tried to enlist as a unit, but their offer was declined. Most members enlisted individually as bandsmen with the Second Virginia Regiment of Volunteer Infantry and were in training in Florida when the war ended. In World War I, Virginia Tech had 2,297 alumni in arms. Some 7,285 Virginia Tech alumni served in various military branches in World War II, with 1,867 serving during the Korean conflict; numerous others served in Vietnam and Desert Storm and now serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and at military bases around the world. Many Tech alumni have preformed heroically in the wars of the nation, but nine, including seven Medal of Honor recipients, deserve special mention.
Medal of Honor Recipients
Antoine August Michel Gaujot, and Julian Edmund Victor Gaujot, brothers who attended Virginia Tech, were both awarded the Medal of Honor. Antoine received the medal for bravery shown at San Mateo, Philippines, in 1899. His older brother, Julian, was honored for action under fire in Mexico in 1911. Natives of Michigan, the brothers enrolled at Virginia Tech in the 1890s but did not graduate. Julian attended 1889-90, matriculating from Lynchburg. Antoine attended 1896-97, enrolling from Williamson, West Virginia.
Antoine saw action in three separate engagements: Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, and World War I. He participated in three World War I battles, receiving three bronze leaves. He was only a corporal when his Philippine action merited the Medal of Honor. Later in life, he became involved in the West Virginia mine wars.
Antoine’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: Corporal, Company M, 27th Infantry, U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: At San Mateo, Philippine Islands, 19 December 1899. Entered service at: Williamson, W. Va. Birth: Keweenaw, Mich. Date of issue: 15 February I911. Citation: Attempted under a heavy fire of the enemy to swim a river for the purpose of obtaining and returning with a canoe.”
After Antoine received his medal, Julian became obsessed with achieving one himself. Referring to his younger brother’s citation, Julian said: “He wears it for a watch fob, the damned civilian. I got to get me one of them things for my own self if I bust.” Julian was stationed at Douglas, Ariz., in 1911 during the Madero revolution (Mexican Campaign) when stray gunfire from across the Mexican border accidentally killed several people in Douglas. Infuriated, Julian mounted his beloved horse, Old Dick, and rode across the border into the teeth of the revolutionists’ fire. Spouting Spanish profanity, at which he was an acknowledged master, he succeeded in saving Douglas from further bloodshed and led five Americans to safety. He also succeeded in infuriating the Mexican government. In referring to the incident, Gen. Leonard Wood later said that Julian’s action warranted “either a court martial or a Medal of Honor. The medal was never better deserved, and no American court martial will convict.” Julian served in the Army from 1897-1934 and participated in five separate engagements: Spanish-American, Philippine Insurrection, Cuban pacification, Mexican Campaign, and World War I. He received two bronze leaves on his service ribbon for action in two major World War I offensives.
Julien’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: Captain, Troop K, 1st U.S. Cavalry. Place and date: At Aqua Prieta, Mexico, 13 April 1911. Entered service at: Williamson, W. Va. Birth: Keweenaw, Mich. Date of issue: 23 November 1912. Citation: Crossed the field of fire to obtain the permission of the rebel commander to receive the surrender of the surrounded forces of Mexican Federals and escort such forces, together with 5 Americans held as prisoners, to the American line.”
Both Gaujot brothers died in Williamson, West Virginia, Antoine on April 14, 1936, and Julian on April 7, 1938.
Sgt. Earle D. Gregory, the first native Virginian to receive the Medal of Honor, was dubbed the “Sgt. York of Virginia” by newspapers nationwide during World War I. A native of Chase City, he attended Virginia Tech after receiving the medal for gallantry at Bois de Consenvoye, north of Verdu, France, on Oct. 8, 1918. He single-handedly captured 19 German soldiers and two machine guns, saving countless American lives. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre, Medal of the Legion of Honor, Medaille Militaire, and Montenegrin Order of Merit. He was president of the corps of cadets while at Tech and graduated in 1923. The cadet precision drill team, the Pershing Rifles, was renamed the Gregory Guard in his honor in May 1963. Gregory bequeathed his medals and war memorabilia to his alma mater before his death on Jan. 6, 1972. In 1972 the corps of cadets established three honors in his memory.
Gregory’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Headquarters Company, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Place and date: At Bois-de-Consenvoye, north of Verdun, France, 8 October 1918. Entered service at: Chase City, Va. Birth: Chase City, Va. G.O. No.: 34, W.D., 1919. Citation: With the remark ‘I will get them,’ Sgt. Gregory seized a rifle and a trench-mortar shell, which he used as a hand grenade, left his detachment of the trench-mortar platoon, and advancing ahead of the infantry, captured a machine gun and 3 of the enemy. Advancing still farther from the machine gun nest, he captured a 7.5-centimeter mountain howitzer and, entering a dugout in the immediate vicinity, single-handedly captured 19 of the enemy.”
2nd Lt. Robert F. Femoyer was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroism in World War II. A native of Huntington, W.Va., and a member of the class of 1944, he saw action over Germany in a “Flying Fortress” and directed navigation of his anti-aircraft-riddled plane back to safety in England. Although mortally wounded, his action saved the lives of his crew. He died on Nov. 2, 1944, an hour after his plane landed. Femoyer Hall is named in his memory.
Femoyer’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, 711th Bombing Squadron, 447th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Over Merseburg, Germany, 2 November 1944. Entered service at: Jacksonville, Fla. Born: 31 October 1921, Huntington, W. Va. G.O. No.: 35, 9 May 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on 2 November 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by 3 enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2 1/2 hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
1st Lt. Jimmie Waters Monteith Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for courage and gallantry while leading his men in destroying an enemy emplacement on the Normandy beachhead during World War II. He was killed in action on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). A native of Richmond, he was a member of the class of 1941 but only attended VPI for two years. Monteith Hall honors his memory.
Monteith’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Colleville-sur-Mer, France, 6 June 1944. Entered service at: Richmond, Va. Born: 1 July 1917, Low Moor, Va. G.O. No.: 20, 29 March 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 1st Lt. Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire. Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where 2 tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machine-gun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, 1st Lt. Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain. When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding 1st Lt. Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, 1st Lt. Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by 1st Lt. Monteith is worthy of emulation.”
Sgt. Herbert Joseph Thomas was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross posthumously for heroism on the Solomon Islands during the Pacific Campaign of World War II. On Nov. 7, 1943, while leading his troops in action against Japanese forces, a grenade he tossed bounced back amidst his men. He flung himself upon it, sacrificing his own life to save his comrades. A native of Charleston, W.Va., and a member of the class of 1941, he was a nationally recognized varsity football player at VPI (now Virginia Tech). Thomas Hall is named in his memory. Elsewhere, a destroyer and a hospital were named for him.
Thomas’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Born: 8 February 1918, Columbus, Ohio. Accredited to: West Virginia. Citation: For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the battle at the Koromokina River, Bougainville Islands, Solomon Islands, on 7 November 1943. Although several of his men were struck by enemy bullets as he led his squad through dense jungle undergrowth in the face of severe hostile machine gun fire, Sgt. Thomas and his group fearlessly pressed forward into the center of the Japanese position and destroyed the crews of 2 machine guns by accurate rifle fire and grenades. Discovering a third gun more difficult to approach, he carefully placed his men closely around him in strategic positions from which they were to charge after he had thrown a grenade into the emplacement. When the grenade struck vines and fell back into the midst of the group, Sgt. Thomas deliberately flung himself upon it to smother the explosion, valiantly sacrificing his life for his comrades. Inspired by his selfless action, his men unhesitatingly charged the enemy machine gun and, with fierce determination, killed the crew and several other nearby-defenders. The splendid initiative and extremely heroic conduct of Sgt. Thomas in carrying out his prompt decision with full knowledge of his fate reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
1st Lt. Richard T. Shea Jr., who attended the Army Specialized Training Program at Virginia Tech, received the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroic actions on Pork Chop Hill near Sokkogae, Korea. In more than 18 hours of heavy fighting against superior numbers, he moved among the defenders of Pork Chop Hill to ensure a successful defense and then led a counterattack, killing three enemy soldiers and refusing evacuation when wounded. He died on July 8, 1953, of wounds received in hand-to-hand combat while leading another counterattack.
Shea’s citation includes the following information: “Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company A 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Sokkogae, Korea, 6 to 8 July 1953. Entered service at: Portsmouth, Va. Born: 3 January 1927, Portsmouth, Va. G.O. No.: 38, 8 June 1955. Citation: 1st Lt. Shea, executive officer, Company A, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and indomitable courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. On the night of 6 July, he was supervising the reinforcement of defensive positions when the enemy attacked with great numerical superiority. Voluntarily proceeding to the area most threatened, he organized and led a counterattack and, in the bitter fighting which ensued, closed with and killed 2 hostile soldiers with his trench knife. Calmly moving among the men, checking positions, steadying and urging the troops to hold firm, he fought side by side with them throughout the night. Despite heavy losses, the hostile force pressed the assault with determination, and at dawn made an all-out attempt to overrun friendly elements. Charging forward to meet the challenge, 1st Lt. Shea and his gallant men drove back the hostile troops. Elements of Company G joined the defense on the afternoon of 7 July, having lost key personnel through casualties. Immediately integrating these troops into his unit, 1st Lt. Shea rallied a group of 20 men and again charged the enemy. Although wounded in this action, he refused evacuation and continued to lead the counterattack. When the assaulting element was pinned down by heavy machine gun fire, he personally rushed the emplacement and, firing his carbine and lobbing grenades with deadly accuracy, neutralized the weapon and killed 3 of the enemy. With forceful leadership and by his heroic example, 1st Lt. Shea coordinated and directed a holding action throughout the night and the following morning. On 8 July, the enemy attacked again. Despite additional wounds, he launched a determined counterattack and was last seen in close hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. 1st Lt. Shea's inspirational leadership and unflinching courage set an illustrious example of valor to the men of his regiment, reflecting lasting glory upon himself and upholding the noble traditions of the military service.”
Other Alumni Recognized for Heroic Military Actions
Since the Spanish American War, 18 Virginia Tech alumni have been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor. One in particular should be mentioned:
Maj. Lloyd W. Williams, a native of Berryville and a 1907 alumnus, was killed on June 12, 1918, when a shell exploded nearby while he was being evacuated. He had been gassed and wounded by enemy shrapnel in a battle near Chateau-Thierry, France. Williams has been attributed with one of the more famous quotes of World War I: “Retreat? Hell, No!” According to official reports, a French major, moving with his battalion along a dark road after a general withdrawal had been ordered, told Williams, then a captain and commanding officer of the 51st Company, Fifth Marines, to follow. Williams reported the incident to his battalion commander with the following message: “French drawing back through us. French major ordered me to withdraw with him. Told him to ‘go to hell.’” A Distinguished Service Cross was later sent to his parents. Williams was the first Virginian known to have died in World War I. Major Williams Hall honors his memory.
At least one Virginia Tech alumnus received the Presidential Unit Citation, indicating that each man in the unit deserved the Distinguished Service Cross: Col. Richard F. Wilkinson, a 1942 alumnus, earned a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for heroic actions while leading troops in Africa during WWII. He led an infantry battalion in taking Mount Venere in Italy, which earned his entire battalion the Presidential Unit Citation. His division saw more days of combat than any other American division in the war.