Celebrating 75 Years | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Ronnie Woodward.

East Carolina University Air Force ROTC cadets look at photos in a case in the library exhibition “75 Years of Detachment 600: East Carolina’s Air Force ROTC.” (ECU photos by Rhett Butler)

    From the vision and support of then-East Carolina Teachers College president John Messick in the 1940s to current cadets and commander Lt. Col. William Dye, who is East Carolina University Air Force ROTC's 28th commander, ECU is celebrating 75 years of its Air Force ROTC unit.

    Stemming from a 1947 application initiated by Messick, Air Force ROTC Detachment 600 opened in 1948.

    The detachment has racked up accolades and achieved notable milestones since its inception, including in 2017 when it received the Right of Line award as the best medium-sized detachment in the United States. Currently, it is the second-largest detachment in the state of North Carolina.


    A 75th anniversary ball was held at the Greenville Convention Center last Friday, weaving together decades of Pirates to network and reminisce. A main campus library exhibition, "75 Years of Detachment 600: East Carolina's Air Force ROTC," will be displayed on the library's first floor through the fall semester. The detachment also is working with university advancement for an ongoing crowdfunding campaign.

    "Our detachment, at 75 years, is only one year younger than our United States Air Force as a separate service," said retired Gen. Gary North, '76, before a panel discussion at the library's exhibition. "You see graduates around the world and when two or more are gathered, it's 'Go Pirates' and about Pirate Nation, whether it's during peace time or they're civilians who graduated from the university and hold jobs in the industry, in government or in the uniform of our country. ... The pride that Pirate Nation brings is just phenomenal."

    North, who attained the rank of four-star general during his military service, was keynote speaker at the 75th anniversary ball, 14 years after he served as keynote speaker for ECU's 2009 spring commencement ceremony. He is a Virginia native who currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

    ECU's Air Force and Army ROTC units are both part of the College of Health and Human Performance.

    Dye moderated the recent panel discussion. North was a panelist, joined by retired Maj. Michael McShane, '66, retired Col. Derrick Floyd, '97, Lt. Col. Elenah Kelly, 2000, and Joan Phillips, former longtime Detachment 600 administrative secretary.

    They were candid in stressing to current cadets in attendance about the importance of the ECU prestige.


    "I think about 75 years of excellence, going all the way back," Floyd said. "For 75 years, I know there have been Pirates all over the world taking care of the nation and keeping it safe. It provides a certain solace, and you cadets don't really get it or understand it yet, but you'll see. Once you commission and get out there and start working, you'll get in places and see other Pirates doing the same thing. ... There is something very special about the experience you are getting right now."

    Alston Cobourn, head of university history and records for Academic Library Services, curated the exhibit.

    "In putting together this exhibit, I personally enjoyed seeing how the Air Force ROTC program has grown and changed over the past 75 years, while also building consistent traditions that haven't changed much," Cobourn said. "The Air Force ROTC cadets throughout the detachment's history have really contributed to the university's mission, Servire, by organizing and participating in community service and fundraising events. Going through our early photographs of the program, I was struck by how long they have had a presence on campus. Seventy-five years sounds like a long time, but when I think of it as three-fourths of a century, then I really feel how long it has been."

    In 1969, the U.S. Air Force chose ECU as one of five detachments to accept women. Martha Van Hoy was the first woman to join East Carolina's program, and in 1974, Mary Kathleen Langan was the detachment's first female commissioned line officer.

    Langan's breakthrough came two years after William T. Mitchell was ECU's first Black cadet to be commissioned, earning second lieutenant status in the U.S. Air Force.

    "When I hear about those moments, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride," cadet Coriel Grannis-Ezell said. "When I am commissioned, I will be a fourth-generation female officer. It goes all the way back to my great grandmother with officers in the Air Force. That alone fuels my pride even more, and is a big reason why I'm here."

    Pride and support are main factors to help cadets as they face various challenges while progressing through the ROTC program.

    "I've met some of my best friends here and I love how supportive everyone is," Grannis-Ezell said. "This teaches you how to be a mentally tough person. It's a lot of work, it really is. It has taught me how to organize and be on time and lay out things in an organized manner. It has taught me how to be a leader, and how to be a follower even more."


    ECU's tradition of producing distinguished cadets, commanders, officers and military leaders is not lost on former and current cadets, especially this year amid 75th anniversary celebrations.

    "The foundation that they set has brought us here, 75 years later," cadet Colin McClelland said. "They left a path for us to follow and to continue as strong. ... We want to continue on the tradition of being a Pirate."
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