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War Heroes Return for Campus Honor

Published: Aug 9, 2005
Three Congressional Medal of Honor recipients returned to their alma mater on Thursday, Aug. 4, for the unveiling of honorary plaques that detail The University of Tampa graduates’ brave deeds during the Vietnam War.

The red-carpet event brought military officers, local dignitaries and campus officials to the Vaughn Center Crescent Club to honor the three national heroes – Harold A. Fritz ’75, Ronald E. Ray ’72, and James A. Taylor ’72 – and to celebrate the creation of a new Hall of Military Honor, a corner of the campus library where the plaques will be displayed.

While it is rare – perhaps unprecendented – for a non-military school to claim three Medal of Honor recipients, it is more unusual still that all three UT recipients are living. Since its inception in 1861, more than 90 percent of the Medal’s 3,440 recipients have received it posthumously.

During the event, all three men expressed gratitude for being honored. They displayed humility about their military service awards and spoke fondly of their time at UT, which each attended through aid from the military’s “Bootstrap” tuition program.

Fritz was awarded his Medal in 1969, six years prior to his UT graduation. The event brought the Illinois native back to Tampa for the first time in 30 years.

“Walking in here, it’s like being home again,” said Fritz inside Plant Hall prior to the event. “I want to go to class!”

Fritz said that while attending UT there was still much debate about the war. He said that he appreciated the campus environment, which promoted candid, yet rational, discussion.

“You just got a good feeling about the campus,” said Fritz. “You felt that the environment was right for learning and that people were here to help the students.”

Ray, who was awarded his Medal in 1966, said that he wanted to reflect attention to other soldiers who have “served on the ground.” And though he was greatly appreciative for receiving the day’s honor and praise, he said that it also was important for the nation to focus on civilian life.

“We have to remember one thing,” said Ray, a resident of Tarpon Springs. “We are a country protected by our military, not dominated by it. That’s the key.”

Taylor, who also was awarded his Medal in 1966, expressed a desire for those who might visit the Hall of Military Honor and see the veterans’ portraits.

“I hope that the young men and women who view our faces go beyond that,” said Taylor, who traveled from California for the event. “Look and see what we represent and what we stand for. Because the men and women have to understand today that freedom does not come without sacrifice. Freedom is not free. It is a privilege.”

The Hall of Military Honor plaques will be located on the first floor of the Macdonald-Kelce Library in the Florida Military Collection Room. Rear Adm. Leroy Collins Jr. and Lt. Col. Deirdre Dixon, UT’s director of ROTC, were instrumental in creating the tribute.