Two cadet companies were organized at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College during the first session of 1872-73. The corps of cadets was established as a permanent organization in the 1891-92 session, along with formation of the first battalion. An artillery battery was added in 1893. The first organization of the corps into a regiment came in 1923. That same year, President Julian Burruss reduced the four-year requirement for corps participation to two years. The first Air Force squadron (Squadron R) appeared in 1946. Batteries were eliminated in 1948. Squadrons were disbanded after 1947-48 but were re-established in 1956-57.
In 1963 work commenced on a corps museum, temporarily located in Newman Library, mainly through the leadership of the Sash and Saber Society and the cadet regimental staff. Today, the museum is located in Rasche Hall, with plans to move it by 2010 to Lane Hall. Also in 1963, the corps’ crack drill team, Company C-15 of the Pershing Rifles, was renamed the Gregory Guard in honor of Earl D. Gregory, a Medal of Honor winner and later a Tech alumnus. In 1964 participation in the corps—two years participation had been required since 1923—became voluntary. Beginning in the fall 1968, freshmen entering the corps had a week of orientation into cadet life before the start of the school year.
On Feb. 28, 1973, the board of visitors gave final approval to a plan to open the corps to women provided that the women would participate in the corps on the same 24-hour-a-day basis as male members. Women—the first to join were Deborah J. Noss and Cheryl A. Butler—were accepted into the corps, except for the regimental band, in September 1973, making the corps one of the first in the nation to admit women to its military program. The women initially comprised L Squadron. Women were accepted into the regimental band in 1975, with Stephanie Hahn and H. Elizabeth Thompson the first to join.
The 25 women who joined the corps in 1973 lived in Monteith Hall, but in 1981 they were allowed to live in certain other residence halls but on different floors than male cadets. In 1990 they were fully integrated into each company area and began living on the same floors as the men.
The corps recorded its smallest enrollment in modern times in 1976-77: 325, including 41 women. In an effort to revitalize it and to reverse the trend of declining enrollment, the board of visitors in early 1977 relaxed regulations governing corps enrollment and resignation. That fall, enrollment increased for the first time in 10 years to 330 members, including 48 women.
In 1979 Selena S. Daughtrey became the first woman to command a company—F Company—comprised of both male and female cadets.
The commander of the corps of cadets, a position established in 1895, is known as the regimental commander. In 1985 Derek A. Jeffries became the first African American to hold the rank of regimental commander, and in 1987 Denise Shuster became the first woman to hold that position. The first African-American woman to serve in the position was Christina Royal, who was regimental commander in fall 2005. Beginning in 2000, one cadet served as regimental commander in the fall and a different cadet served in the spring, a move by the commandant’s office to give more cadets an opportunity to gain leadership experience.
The Corps of Cadets Alumni Inc. was created in 1991 through the efforts of Henry Dekker (class of 1944) to save the corps, whose numbers had begun a downward spiral. The establishment of scholarships for cadets and a resurgence of national patriotism in 2001 helped the corps to attract new cadets. In 1992 the alumni organization initiated Corps Review, a newsletter that was expanded to a magazine in 2004 and targeted corps alumni.
For the university’s 125th anniversary celebration in 1997, Col. F. Edward Schwabe Jr. of the commandant’s staff organized a commemorative walk to follow what he believed to be the trail that William Addison Caldwell, the first student to register at the institution, and his brother, Milton Caldwell, took from their home in the Sinking Creek section of Craig County to Blacksburg. About 10 members of the corps voluntarily participated in the walk along with two or three civilian students, a member of the classified staff, and an alumnus. The corps later adopted the march as a capstone event for freshman training, breaking it into two parts: the first half in the fall following the first phase of freshman training and the second half in the spring following the end of all freshman training. In 2005, alumnus Homer Hickam, whose book Rocket Boys was the basis for the popular movie October Sky and who wrote other popular novels, completed the spring march with the cadets.
The Center for Leadership—later named the Rice Center for Leader Development and housed in the Pamplin College of Business—was established in 1996 to provide cadets with leadership development activities and a leadership minor. During the mid 1990s, the corps alumni organization set a “1000 in 2000” goal and initiated a major campaign to push the number of cadets to 1,000 by the turn of the century. The goal was not reached, but membership did increase. In 1996 the Corps of Cadets Alumni began backing publication of the multi-volume The Bugle’s Echo, a detailed history of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets by Col. Harry Downing Temple (class of 1934). The first volume of the history was issued that year, with five additional volumes following in later years. Temple spent 25 years conducting research for the history, which covers the years 1872-1934. He also produced in 1992 a pictorial history of the uniforms worn by Virginia Tech cadets: Donning the Blue and Gray. An expert on heraldry, he had earlier designed a coat of arms for the corps that was the first officially granted coat of arms from the Army to a unit outside the regular Army. Temple died in 2004 after making numerous contributions to corps history and the corps museum.
Corps Units-A chronological listing of corps units under their original names, according to the date of their first appearance, follows:
Band Company-A cornet band of 10 pieces was organized by Professor Albert Lugar during 1881-82 to furnish music for drills and parades. Known as the Glade Cornet Band, it contained both students and townspeople and did no marching. Because band members wore the initials of the band’s name on their hats—GCB—cadets began calling the group the Goose Creek Boys. In the spring 1892 a drum and bugle corps was organized to accompany cadets marching to and from mess.
The first Band Company was organized in 1892 with 16 members and Cadet Clifford W. Anderson as its leader. The War Department issued 23 musical instruments to the college for the band’s use, and it made its first trip in 1893—to nearby Roanoke’s decennial celebration. On its second trip in 1893—to Norfolk—it accompanied the corps and participated in a competitive drill, which VPI won and was awarded two cannons, which were placed on the Upper Quad. The college also hired its first band director in 1893: James Patton Harvey.
The origin of the band’s famed nickname, Highty-Tighties, has been surrounded in legend, but the true story is that the name came to be applied to the band slowly down through the years after 1919. A somewhat crude company yell was composed during the fall 1919 that contained the catch phrase “Highty-Tightie!” as the first line. As time passed and the band continued to use a modified version of the yell, other members of the corps applied the phrase to the band itself.
Other popular legends surround the white citation cord that all band members wear. President Julian A. Burruss authorized white citation cords for members of the band in the fall 1935 at the same time he authorized white citation cords for honor companies.
The band tried to enlist in the Spanish-American War in 1898 as a unit but was not allowed to do so. Most of the members resigned from college anyway and enlisted as bandsmen with the Second Virginia Regiment of Volunteer Infantry. The war ended while the regiment was still training in Florida.
The band performed at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and played John Phillip Sousa’s “Thunderer March”as it passed him in review. Sousa had his own band play a march in return to acknowledge the VPI band’s salute to him. In 1902, as the band marched past President Theodore Roosevelt at the Charleston Exposition, he called them “the nation’s strength.” He reviewed them again in 1907 at the Jamestown Exposition.
The band has achieved a great deal of fame through the years by winning scores of first place trophies in parade competitions. In 1953, 1957, and 1961 the band won first place in the presidential inaugural parade’s senior band-marching competition, a feat never achieved by any other band and possibly one reason why the competition is no longer held. The band also represented the Commonwealth of Virginia in presidential inaugural parades in 1973, 1977, and 1997 and played for President Reagan in Washington, D. C., during its centennial year in 1983. It performed for Reagan again in 1985 at a presidential dinner held as part of the Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C. It also marched in presidential inaugural parades in 1917, 1934, 1965, 1969, 1981, and 2005.
Among its many other appearances, the regimental band helped open the New York World’s Fair in 1964, leading the opening day’s parade, and participated in the closing ceremonies of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. In 1984 it performed for the 11th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., where guests included President Reagan and Vice President Bush. It has marched in the Thomas Edison Festival of Lights Parade in Ft. Myers, Fla; the Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D. C.; a Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys game at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington; numerous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades; and a number of Christmas and Thanksgiving Day parades in Atlanta and New York City.
Although women joined the corps of cadets in 1973, they were not allowed into the Highty-Tighties, even though students from Radford College, the Women’s Division of VPI, had been allowed to play in the band on a temporary basis during World War II. In 1971 a women’s drill team—attired in white hot-pants; sleeveless, navy blue tops; white boots; and white tams—was organized to march with the band. In 1975 the decision was made to admit women into the band because of their outstanding record since joining the corps. Unlike other female corps members at the time, the female band members wore the same uniform as their male counterparts. The first female cadet to serve as drum major of the band was Vicki G. Saville, selected for the position in 1977, and the first black female cadet to serve as regimental band commander, Lisa Williams, followed in 1986
In 1975 band alumni formed a non-profit corporation, Highty-Tighty Alumni Inc., with Charles O. Cornelison as president, “to promote and preserve the fraternal, educational, musical, and leadership qualities embodied in the Virginia Tech Regimental Band through constructive, organized efforts of its alumni.” Band membership that year reached an all-time low of 65 members. Nonetheless, the band—and the Gregory Guard—played a role in the nation’s bicentennial activities, with the Gregory Guard participating in the National Pershing Rifle Drill Team competition in New York City and the Highty-Tighties appearing in the Yorktown Festival.
Conrad Cavalry -A regular organization for members of the corps, the Conrad Cavalry unit was organized in the fall 1971 by Kenneth T. Chappelle, who was its first commander, and made its debut May 23, 1972, on Montgomery County Day. The organization was named for Thomas N. Conrad, president of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech), 1882-86, who was an expert horseman. The unit, which was disbanded and then re-established in the late 1990s, uses horses and facilities of the privately owned Big Red Barn in Christiansburg. In fall 2007 the unit was developing a partnership with the 6th Virginia Cavalry re-enactors to use the re-enactors’ horses, which are trained for loud, high-stress environments, for military parades.
Gregory Guard-Once known as Tech Company E-15 of the National Society of Pershing Rifles, the Gregory Guard was officially founded as a separate organization in 1963. A proficient, silent, armed drillteam, it is comprised of no more than 50 cadets who perform, usually in groups of three to 15, without vocal commands. The guard is named for Virginia Tech alumnus Earle D. Gregory, believed to be the first native Virginian to receive the Medal of Honor. In 1975 the precision marching unit placed first among 15 marching military units at the 22nd International Azalea Festival Parade in Norfolk, Va.
Cadet Rank-From 1892-1937 cadet commissioned officers were selected from the senior class, sergeants from the junior class, and corporals from the sophomore class. In the 1937-38 session commissioned officers and sergeants were appointed from the senior class and corporals from the junior class. Since 1938 commissioned officers and sergeants have been appointed from the senior class, corporals from the junior class, and first-class privates from the sophomore class. The lance corporal rank, established in 1966 to recognize outstanding sophomore cadets who had already attained private first-class rank, is no longer bestowed.
Corps Adjutants-In the early years, rather than a regimental commander, corps adjutants assisted the commandant, who was the active commander of the corps. Those adjutants, listed below by the calendar year in which they served the major portion of their duties, were not necessarily the highest-ranking cadets.
Regimental Commanders-The first overall commander of the corps of cadets was appointed in 1895. Since that time, the regimental commander’s rank has been first lieutenant, captain, major, or colonel. Regimental commanders from 1895-1999 are listed below by the year in which they began serving. Beginning in 2000, two regimental commanders were selected, one in the fall and one in the spring. Beginning in 2000-01, the two regimental commanders are listed by the academic year in which they served.
Corps Political Structure-The first political (legislative) organization of the corps came with adoption of a constitution in June 1908. Cadets and civilians united under a single constitution on April 19, 1966, forming a Unified Student Body (now the Student Government Association), which nullified the cadet constitution. See Student Government Association
Corps Presidents-The first president of the corps of cadets was elected for the 1908-09 session; the last was elected for the 1963-64 session. The president’s main function was to serve as chair of the cadet senate. The presidents, listed by the year in which they served most of their office, were the following:
Honor Court—The Gray Jacket, a student publication, provides the first mention of an honor system in its October 1906 issue. The Honor System was established in 1908 by President Paul Barringer and was officially adopted by cadets during the 1908-09 session. An Honor Court, established in January 1935, tried both civilians and cadets. In fall 1939, the civilians established their own court. The board of visitors reorganized the honor system in 1973, with honor courts established in each academic college to try violations of lying, stealing, cheating, and failure to report a violation, but cadets continued to maintain their own Honor Court to try non-academic cases of violations of cadet regulations.
Commandant of Cadets-Except for a period in 1879-81, a commandant has been over the corps of cadets since 1872, with two of them serving two non-consecutive terms. In 1966 the post began reporting to the dean of students. It has reported to the vice president for student affairs since 1968, when the first vice president for student affairs was named. Commandants:
Reserve Officer Training Corps—The board of visitors agreed to adopt ROTC at the college on Nov. 29, 1916. An Army infantry ROTC unit was organized on Jan. 5, 1917. Coast artillery and engineer units were added in 1919 but were disbanded after World War II. An Air Force ROTC unit was added in 1946. In 1952 the board of visitors directed that ROTC instruction be organized as an instructional department with no direct responsibilities for the corps of cadets. A Navy ROTC program became effective in 1983. Marine ROTC was established at the same time as and as a part of Navy ROTC. ROTC now operates under the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences umbrella.
Cadet Uniforms—The original cadet uniform cost $17.25 and consisted of a cadet gray cap, jacket, and trousers trimmed with black. Other important changes since that time include the following:
Coat-of-Arms-Designed by Col. Harry Downing Temple (class of 1934), who commanded the Army’s Institute of Heraldry 1961-66. Designated by the institute as an official coat-of-arms for the corps of cadets in 1966, the first time a coat-of-arms had ever been assigned by the Institute of Heraldry to a unit outside the regular Army, National Guard, or Army Reserve.
Military Weekend-For years, the Military Ball and the Military Brawl comprised Military Weekend, which is held during the winter (February) each year. The Military Ball was first held at the 1887 Commencement, was discontinued after 1890, was revived in 1940 by Scabbard & Blade, and continues today. It has also been known as the Corps Dance. The Military Brawl was known as the Corps Minstrel until 1964, when the name was changed to the Corps Variety Show. The shows commenced in 1919, were discontinued after 1931, were revived in 1956, and were discontinued in the early 2000s. The Military Brawl featured skits by cadet organizations, cadet musical performances, and a slide show. Beginning on the Thursday before the Saturday evening ball, the corps now hosts a leadership conference, and visiting cadets stay for the senior banquet that precedes the ball. Military Weekend concludes with “Silver Taps” played by regimental buglers standing among the Pylons and a fireworks display sponsored by the Sash and Saber Society.
Skipper—Various cannons have been used off and on for years at Virginia Tech, and in the 1960s one industrious student formally proposed to the student governing body that a cannon be acquired to fire at football games. The proposal was approved but went no further. About the same time, cadets Alton B. “Butch” Harper Jr. and Homer Hadley “Sonny” Hickam made a pact at a traditional Thanksgiving Day game with then-archrival VMI that they would build a cannon for Virginia Tech (then known as VPI) to outblast VMI's “Little John” and to halt the VMI Keydets from yelling “Where’s your cannon?”
Harper and Hickam collected materials (members of the corps contributed brass) and used a mold created in one of the engineering departments from Civil War-style plans to make their cannon. The canon was fired for the first time on Nov. 23, 1963, the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, to honor him—and it was named “Skipper” because Kennedy had been the skipper of a PT-boat.
The canon was fired for the first time at a football game on Thanksgiving Day 1963 during the annual VMI game. At its first firing, the eager cadets tripled the charge, shaking the glass in the press-box windows of Roanoke's Victory Stadium. Today, cadets fire Skipper from outside Lane Stadium when the football team enters the field and when it scores and for other notable occasions.
Special Corps Trips—Each Memorial Day during the first years of the university, when it was known as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, the corps marched to Montgomery White Sulphur Springs, 12-15 miles away, to honor the Confederate soldiers buried there, returning to campus the same day. In 1875 parts of the corps’ two companies formed one company for the long march, while the remaining students rode to the ceremony, prompting a comment from a Gen. Preston that "it was 'd_____ poor militia that had to be hauled about in ambulances." Since then, the corps of cadets has taken numerous other trips as a unit, although such trips were more frequent in earlier days. The first out-of-state trip by the corps was to the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N.Y., in June 1901. The cadets, quartered in tents at the fair, participated in drills and parades. They returned to campus for commencement after nine days away from the college. The second major trip—to an exposition in Charleston, S.C.—occurred in April 1902. There, President Theodore Roosevelt reviewed the corps. Two special trains were required in the spring 1904 when a party of 554 students, faculty members, and guests left Christiansburg to attend the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World’s Fair). The corps spent a week in St. Louis, living in a camp located at the fair grounds. (See also Band Company and Gregory Guard.)