Revived Victory Bell connects two eras

By Mary Schulken
ECU Director of Public Affairs

When Herb Carlton enrolled in ROTC in 1949 at East Carolina Teachers College, there wasn’t much on campus for male students.

So, like many of his peers, the former Marine turned to the campus Veterans’ Club to meet people and socialize.

Carlton as pictured in ECU's 1967 Buccaneer
“Since there were no fraternities or clubs or things like that except athletics this was pretty well the male dominated social outlet,” said Carlton, a retired associate professor of political science at East Carolina University who lives in Greenville.

Carlton served as treasurer of the club in 1952. The fund drive to secure a Victory Bell as a veteran’s memorial was a logical project, he said, for an era when the GI Bill pumped record numbers of World War II and Korean War veterans on campus.

“This was a time when there were lots of male students on campus who were several years older than the average population,” he said. “We had been in the military and had come to ECU on the GI Bill.”

Fifty-eight years after it was placed on campus, ECU rededicated that bell April 26 as part of its Memorial Walk and Freedom Wall, a place set aside to honor military service on campus.

A shift in attitudes

This marks the first time since the Korean War — and the first time since the Vietnam era — the university has set aside a place on campus to honor military service.

It shows how public attitudes toward military service have come full circle during that period, said Dr. Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for operations, planning, development and military programs.

 “I think military service has become much more popular in the sense that people respect what it entails,” Duncan said.

Carlton’s time on campus as student and teacher spans most of those 58 years. When he arrived, there was no male dorm on campus. Men on athletic scholarships slept in what was called “the dungeon” — the basement of Wright Auditorium. But ROTC was popular. Veterans were plentiful, he said, and were accepted by all.

“I don’t remember a level of distinction between those who had been in the military and those who had not,” Carlton said.

Fifteen years later, as a faculty member, he watched campus attitudes change as the Vietnam War — and the fierce national debate about it in the 1960s — polarized public opinion.

“There were undoubtedly some feelings of animosity towards the group of people who were in the ROTC,” Carlton said. “It was a time of long hair, and they were highly visible by the fact they had short hair.”

ROTC, military visible again

In 1988, ECU’s Air Force ROTC was nearly disbanded, along with others nationwide whose size fell below a minimum threshold.

Now, with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, military service is more visible on campus than it’s been in decades. The number of ROTC students is now at 225, Duncan said. The Army has commissioned 115 ROTC cadets in the past 10 years, he said.

Each year ECU will dedicate sponsored brick pavers honoring those who have sacrificed and served, Duncan said. The Victory Bell secured by 1950s Veterans’ Club members will be pressed into service

“I’ve got in my mind we will tap the bell for each of the new bricks,” he said.
“We need to hang onto our few traditions, and that was a tradition I felt was important to resurrect.”


ECU Veterans Club

East Carolina University's 1952 Buccaneer included an image of the popular Veteran's Club on campus (pictured above), along with the following details: 

"The Veteran's Club is a social organization for all ex-servicemen interested in furthering friendships and performing worthwhile duties for the college. The club has a banquet once every quarter which promotes a fraternal feeling among its members. Plans are now being made for the erection of a Victory Bell which will sound the victories of the East Carolina Pirates in every sports endeavor throughout the coming years."

Officers listed on the page are Otis G. Bain, Jr., president; Neil Ragan, vice president; Jack Rennie, secretary; and Herb Carlton, treasurer.