When you drive by Bowman Field, and get stopped at the light, if you look out over the field, you’ll see what looks like a soldier, walking down from the hill. If you’re playing Frisbee on the field, you can see that it’s not an actual soldier, but a statue. And then, one day, I was playing disc golf with my brother, and found myself just above the soldier statue, looking down on the Military Heritage Plaza of Clemson. I promised myself that one day soon, I would go back again with my camera, and take a closer look.
The Military Heritage Plaza was built in 1996 to honor Clemson’s history as a military college and to honor the many Clemson alumni that have served in the armed forces. In 1955, Clemson ceased to be a military school and became a co-educational school that allowed civilians to attend, but it continues with a tremendous military tradition, as home to both Army and Air Force ROTC, as well as hosting a Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course (did I say that right?).
After passing the entrance plaque to the Plaza, I found myself on the top level, looking at another plaque that explains the purpose of the Military Heritage Plaza. I was unaware that Bowman Field used to be the parade ground for the former military school, but if you think about it, it makes sense. What better place for military drills than in that large open field? It further explains that the medals replicated on this plaza represent the thousands that have been awarded to men and women from Clemson, for valor, merit, and honorable service.
“By the close of the third year, a complete Clemson man emerged from the mold of the model cadet, rendered by the artist in the twin towers; a man prepared to meet life with determination to achieve his goals, be a good citizen and make a contribution to society. That senior cadet’s likeness appears in the sculpture on the fourth terrace. Inscriptions on the wall caps list the major conflicts in which Clemson men and women have served as of 1996. Of the thousands to whom the medals replicated here were awarded, at least three were presented the Medal of Honor.”
After reading this plaque, the design of the Plaza began to make sense. The raw recruits were those that stood where I was standing, looking down on the years ahead of them. The second terrace was designed to show a group of cadets in formation, with all the bootprints showing their positions. Each pair of footprints represents a Clemson man that served in the armed forces, after graduating.
While looking out on the sea of footprints, I decided to look closely at one of them. If it hadn’t rained the night before, I never would have noticed the writing on the side of the tile. The water had pooled enough to highlight the word “Edge”. I stuck my finger in some of the remaining water, and painted the rest of the name, so I could read it properly, the letters were so faint. Sure enough, I was right. I was staring at the name of Sandy Edge, a man I know, who comes through Fernow, regularly. A man that deeply loves his school. And because of those footprints, he obviously fought somewhere for his country, though I don’t know his history.
Originally, I thought the tiger paw on his boot print was because he’s such a Tiger fan, he must have had boots with tiger paws imprinted in them. But my other web source says that it’s there because he’s a professor at Clemson, presently. Another man who loved his school, loved his country, and served with honor.
The words on each set of steps represents the discipline and characteristics that each cadet was meant to learn, if they were to become that perfect soldier, the man of honor that would step from the mold at the bottom of the Plaza.
I continued to marvel over the number of medals, most of which I’d never heard of, and some for wars I wasn’t aware had been fought (or I hadn’t read about them recently, in my history books). So many battles that were fought for our freedoms, or to free other people from an oppressor. Could we possibly live in a greater country?
I had to go back to the original plaque for another look, trying to remember what it had said about the lower terraces. The twin towers represent the mold that every Clemson cadet went through, before becoming the model soldier, the man of duty, the one willing to lay down his life for his country.
And then, before they finally step out onto the field of battle, or just the field of their lives, they still need to instill more qualities and disciplines, so that when they are tried, they are not found wanting.
This is a great school, with an amazing history, which I’ve known little about, until now. More of us should be aware of the men that came before us, walked the grounds of Clemson, and left us great things to live up to. Shouldn’t we all consider the disciplines that these cadets had to take on? We would all be the better for it.
And if you’ve served our great country in the armed forces, whether you attended Clemson or not, we thank you. Freedom is never free, but we are free because of your willingness to fight for God, family, and country.