Images from the dedication service by Cliff Hollis


‘You have helped us honor him’

By Mary Schulken
ECU Director of Public Affairs

Capt. James R. Tant, U.S. Air Force, ECU class of ’65, knew at age 9 he wanted to be a pilot.

“He got his dream,” said Ann Tant Thodes, Tant’s wife in 1974, when the Vietnam veteran died flying a C140 in Bolivia in a fierce snowstorm.

“He went into ROTC at ECU and started out as a navigator because of his eyes, but he found a way to get where he wanted,” she told those gathered Tuesday, April 26 to dedicate ECU’s Freedom Wall and Memorial Walk.

Tant is among three ECU students who died serving their country memorialized with a brick paver stone in the campus’ first space set aside to honor military service in nearly six decades.

The ceremony provided a reminder of the value of those lost lives and what such sacrifice means to freedom, said Chancellor Steve Ballard.

“We’ve all become so comfortable with these freedoms we don’t think so much about where they come from and what must be done to protect them,” Ballard said.

Another name placed on a brick paver is that of 1st Lt. Frank Rice, U.S. Army and ECU Class of ’67, who died in Cambodia in 1970 in a helicopter crash. His brother, Charles, remembered him as a good human being and a proud, participating citizen.

Video by Cliff Hollis


“Forty-one years ago we lost a father, a brother, a son … a proud graduate of ECU who was an asset to his school and his country,” Charles Rice said.

Sgt. David Smith, U.S. Marine Corp., ECU class of ’10, died in Helmund Provence, Afghanistan in 2010. His name was placed on a paving stone as well. His mother, Mary Jane McWilliams, said her son loved life in a special way.

“Our world changed forever when we lost him,” she said. “You have helped us honor him … .”

Four others who have served their country were honored with stones: Christian A. Lockamy, Lt. Col. John Hart, Duncan and Master Sgt. (Ret.) Ervin Evans. All attended and helped place the pavers at the memorial.

At the ceremony, students, faculty and staff held signs that said “We love our military,” “If you value your freedom, thank a soldier” and “SGA supports our troops.”

Dr. Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for operations, planning, development and military programs, pointed to blue-shirted ECU facilities employees in the background, explaining they helped lay the bricks and mortar for the memorial.

“These seats were laid by the hands of those in the military and those who served alongside them,” he said.

Having a place on campus to honor service at ECU is particularly important, Duncan said, because the university has had a long and close relationship with the military and those who serve, Duncan said. That includes starting one of the nation’s first Air Force ROTC programs in 1948 — one year after the U.S. Air Force was established.

Some 100 people attended to mid-day ceremony, which included a rededication of the Victory Bell secured in 1953 as a memorial to World War II and Korean War veterans.