CLEMSON — Forty marines from the U.S. Marine Special Operations Command in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment spent the day Thursday at Clemson University during their third day of a four-day visit to the Lake Keowee area.
The Keowee Key community has sponsored the visit for Upstate Wounded Warriors, a group helping Marines adapt to life outside of the military after being medically discharged.
Clemson University officials welcomed the group for a tour of the Scroll of Honor Memorial and Memorial Stadium.
"The memorial park here is focused on service," said retired Army Col. Danny Rhodes, a Clemson graduate and co-chairman of the Scroll of Honor Memorial committee.
Rhodes emphasized the range of professionals that Clemson has produced and wants to honor, from religious and agriculture leaders to educators and engineers. The Scroll of Honor memorial within Clemson's memorial park, directly across from the stadium's east gate, recognizes the 481 Clemson alumni who have died while in military service. Names of those lost — including five sets of brothers — are etched in stones laid around a mound in the park.
"We want to honor the service of these veterans today," Rhodes said. "Without their sacrifices, we may not be able to stand here today."
Retired Marine Cpl. Chris Jones of Anderson said his visit to the area has allowed his colleagues to see how people react when their wounded military come home.
Jones was wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, during a combat tour. He was exposed to three bomb blasts, two improvised explosive device explosions and one mortar attack.
He said the experience here has been phenomenal.
"It's really eye-opening having everybody here to open up and allow us to see what is going on," Jones said. "That's heartwarming, I really enjoy that. From the time that we got escorted through six different counties going into Keowee Key. They opened their homes to let us stay with them. It really shows us that people go throughout their service not really knowing what their response is. It's here, with Southern hospitality and people actually doing this."
Dressed casually for the tour, the military men crossed the Avenue of Champions, from the Scroll of Honor to the entrance of Memorial Stadium where football players rub Howard's Rock before each home game.
Charlie Bussey, the Tiger Letterwinners Association executive director and Clemson quarterback from 1953 to 1957, explained the rock's story — and the commitment by those who rub it to always give 110 percent. The rock comes from Death Valley in California.
"They rub the rock for good luck. If you think of 81,000 fans sitting in the stands cheering for you, the band playing Tiger Rag, it's a very emotional thing," Bussey said.
Retired Marine Clayton Chapman of Walhalla was the first of the 40 military visitors to approach the rock.
"It's the first time I've ever got to rub the rock, so I enjoyed that a lot." Chapman said.
Chapman played football for Walhalla High School and was ready to play on scholarship for North Greenville, but he joined the U.S. Marine Corps instead. He was injured in 2010 and has been under medical attention ever since.
"I'm getting off active duty this year," Chapman said.
Walking past a roped-off field, which is undergoing preparation for the new football season, the group enter the strength-training facilities to hear about how the players prepare.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to talk to you," said Larry Greenlee, assistant director of strength training and conditioning for the football program. "I'd like to say thank you for serving our country."
In 1942, Clemson named the football stadium to honor those alumni who gave their lives serving in the military.
"When we were looking for a place to create a memorial to these alumni who gave the ultimate sacrifice, we were naturally attracted here to the stadium," Rhodes said. "There are almost 60 former athletes who are on the Scroll of Honor, dating back though the last 100 years. So there is a lot of significance between athletics and military heritage here, and it's a very special place."
Dave Moorehead of Clemson, a member of American Legion Post 151, joined the tour and saluted the U.S. Marines in the Wounded Warrior program. He remarked at how much Clemson has grown. He graduated with 175 men on June 6, 1954, An hour before graduation, he also was part of a group in the college's ROTC program who were presented officer commissions.
"Now we've got 17,000 people on this campus; we had about 3,400 at that time," Moorhead said. "Clemson is a pretty unique place in American as far as a university is concerned because in World War II, we after West Point and Texas A&M provided the most commissioned officers in World War II."
He said it's appropriate that veterans of later conflicts also be honored.
"People in Keowee Key just grabbed the bull by the horns and they organized this thing," Moorhead said. "It's a nice peaceful way of honoring these people who have committed their lives to the missions of the United States of America and willingness to step up and die for people here so this country can maintain our freedoms."
In the football locker room, Bussey told the military men how the team used to meet in an A-frame hut. Times have changed, and with it an arms race among schools for the best football facilities, he said. Bussey said he has visited other school facilities.
"If there's a better one in this country, I haven't seen it," Bussey said of Clemson's west end zone, expanded over the past five years.
The group ate a barbecue lunch in the West End Club area. Each got a T-shirt, a media guide and a military appreciation day medal. Clemson Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips took a moment at lunch to echo what others have said through the day.
"Words cannot express our appreciation and our respect for each and every one of you all," Phillips said.
Retired Air Force Col. Sandy Edge, a longtime instructor for Clemson's ROTC program, asked the visitors a series of questions.
"What will you commit to, what will you leave, what will you give to, what do you believe, who do you respect, what will you fight for, who will you protect, what will you give your life for?" Edge said. "You've answered those questions about yourself. The people who walk through the park, that's the questions we ask them."