Brig. Gen. John N. Dailey ’62 proposed the idea of establishing a UNH Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Hall of Fame back in 1997 in part to solve a problem: Attendance at the group’s annual Veterans Day ceremony had been falling off and the event needed some new energy. It also proved fortuitous timing to honor one of the university’s — and the UNH Army ROTC’s — best known alumni, Jere Chase ’36, who died in October of that year at the age of 82.
Chase had held multiple positions at the university — he was an executive vice president and served twice as interim president. Both the Jere A. Chase Ocean Engineering Building and several university awards were named for him; his athletic exploits as a member of the men’s alpine ski team had already earned him a spot in one UNH Hall of Fame. Naming Chase the first inductee to the ROTC Hall of Fame seemed like a fitting way to set the tone for what two decades later has become a long line of distinguished alumni who have brought honor to UNH through their participation in the ROTC and their service to the military, to New Hampshire, or to the university itself.
This November, the UNH ROTC Hall of Fame celebrates its 20th anniversary. During the last two decades, the program has grown from a small outdoor ceremony to a formal event in the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building. Among the 66 ROTC alumni to be inducted over the past 19 years are Gen. Lori Robinson ’81, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Armed Forces, former New Hampshire governor Stephen Merrill ’69 and UNH’s first Medal of Honor recipient, Harl Pease Jr. ’38. With an average interval between graduation and Hall of Fame recognition of just under 51 years, the recipients are a mix of living and posthumous honorees; recent inductees have included two young alumni who were killed in action in Afghanistan shortly after graduating from UNH, Benjamin Keating ’04 and Scott Milley ’09. Following a 30-year career in the Army that included two tours of duty in Vietnam, Dailey himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
The program has also grown to include the awarding of scholarships to current ROTC cadets. Shortly after the Hall of Fame was established, Stratham, N.H., residents Walter and Mary Smyk began attending the event. While neither attended UNH, Walter had been an Air Force pilot in the Korean War and appreciated the university’s recognition of its alumni in the service. The Smyks enjoyed the event so much that in 2003 the couple established the Mary and Walter Smyk ROTC Scholarship Fund to provide awards totaling $12,000 to a number of student cadets each year. Over the years, as sources of ROTC scholarship support have dwindled, the Smyks’ support has been critical for deserving cadets who are struggling to pay for college.
Sadly, 2017 will mark the first year that neither Walter nor Mary Smyk will be in attendance at the ceremony. Walter Smyk died 10 years ago, in August 2007, and Mary Smyk passed away on May 18. The Smyks’ presence will live on, however, as Mary’s will included a gift to the university to fund the couple’s ROTC scholarships in perpetuity — and to increase the annual award amount to $20,000.
“Walter and Mary were the epitome of what constituted the American Patriot to me,” Dailey says. “They were revered and respected by the community they lived in and by the UNH ROTC cadets they supported. I will miss them and hold them in high esteem forever.”
The 20th anniversary Veterans Day ROTC Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place Friday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Originally published in UNH Magazine Fall 2017 Issue