From the attic to the “Hall of Fame,” to a reunion nearly 45 years in the making. It all became a reality last Friday and Saturday as more than 50 alumni and friends of Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Detachment 311 converged on Grambling State University for an inaugural reunion and dedicatory ceremony.
About 90 days ago, the “idea seeds” for a reunion were dropped by Carolyn Collier, GSU’s executive director of Alumni Affairs. Collier vetted the idea with her supervisors and then wasted no time cultivating it.
She talked about the possibility of a reunion with two former Detachment 311 cadets, and now retired officers, because she knew they would take the mantle and run with it.
Collier enlisted the help of Lt. Cols. Valerie S. White and Coennie Harmon Frazier Woods, who knew the project could not be complete without the help of Jennifer Jones.
Jones spent 15 years as secretary for Detachment 311. Meetings were held via teleconference to include other Detachment 311 alumni.
During the planning process, it was discovered that Jones had stored many boxes of the detachment’s memoirs in her attic since 2005. The items were being tossed and would no longer be needed because the Air Force was drawing down and had decided to deactivate the detachment.
“We were all stunned and amazed that she cared so much for the detachment that she would do this,” said Lt. Col. White.
“Once we discovered she had all these items we went to work. Her husband, Ernest, and daughter, Britney, spent many hot hours pulling the memorabilia out of the attic into the family’s garage,” White said of Jones and her family.
White and her daughter, Alexis, transported all the Detachment 311 treasures to the A.C. Lewis Memorial Library. From there, the staffs of the library and The Gramblinite newspaper got busy assisting in any way possible.
Gatha Smith, Lt. Col. White’s mother, had preserved some newspapers from the late 1980s and early ‘90s that featured a detachment service project as well as when Detachment 311 brought the Clydesdales to the university.
Former Detachment 311 cadet and veteran Renee Tatum Walters made and donated a quilt featuring detachment memorabilia to go in the Hall of Fame Room. Lt. Col. Patricia Thomas assisted her with the project.
The library staff found a fitting location to honor the 34 years the detachment was entrenched in the fabric of GSU and the town of Grambling. Many hours were spent putting display together.
“The display is open for all to see and learn and is located in the Library Hall of Fame, Air Force ROTC Room,” Lt. Col. Woods said. “This is a part of GSU history that needed to be preserved.”
Now that all the planning was complete, the only thing left was implementation. Alumni began the weekend of events with registration in the Favrot Student Union, followed by a guided, windshield tour of campus and the immediate surrounding area.
There could not have been a better “tour guide” than Dr. Ruby Higgins, former Grambling State vice president of student affairs, according to Woods.
“Dr. Higgins is the consummate ambassador for the university. Our alum were filled with questions and she had all the answers,“ said Woods.
Later that evening, Collier and her husband, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ewing Collier, former commander and professor of Aerospace Studies, hosted a social at their home.
Activities continued Saturday with the highlight of the reunion, a Dedicatory Program unveiling the Detachment 311 Hall of Fame Room in the library.
The Dedicatory Program was orchestrated by White.
The most touching part of the ceremony was when Col. (Ret.) Sam Douglas and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Woods did an “In Memoriam” recognition to honor deceased alumni of Detachment 311.
The late Lt. Col. (Ret.) Michael Tatum’s wife, son, mother, father, sister and many other family members attended the dedicatory program.
“We miss Michael an awful lot, and we’re glad that he and other deceased alumni were remembered during this program and this inaugural reunion,” said Homer Tatum, mother of Michael Tatum.
“We do what we can to keep Micheal’s memory alive,” she added.
The Dedication Ceremony ended with a closing prayer by library staff member Glenda Wade, who was instrumental in the design of the Hall of Fame Room.
Jones said all the work was worth it.
“I am truly happy that my dream for Detachment 311 to at long last have its place in history at GSU is fulfilled.”
“Words cannot express how grateful I am,” she added.
In 1971, AFROTC Detachment 311 was established at Grambling State University under the command of Col. Henry L. Frederick. There were 10 subsequent commanders: Lt. Col. David L. Smith, Lt. Col. Roland D. Ellis, Col. Rosetta Armour-Lightner, Lt. Col. Thomas C. Carrington, Lt. Col. Ewing L. Collier, Lt. Col. Joseph R. Mitchell, Lt. Col. Eugene Stump, Lt. Col. Susie Hill, Lt. Col Malcolm D. Grimes, and Col. Dianna L. Brown.
In 2005, the detachment closed at Grambling. GSU students interested in AFROTC are enrolled in the program at Louisiana Tech University through a cooperative agreement.