We were just cadets
Legendary march to Fort Hood changed the lives of those involved

As Arlington State College (now UTA) transitioned to a four-year university in the late 1950s, the two-year ROTC program also changed to a four-year curriculum. With that change, the program sent its first class to summer camp at Fort Hood in 1960.

Those ASC cadets were the first to attend the camp between their junior and senior year and then graduate as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. I was one of those cadets. We were unbelievably fortunate to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right people.

The right place. No one I knew expected this institution and this ROTC program in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to become what it is today. During the change from a junior college to a four-year university, ASC remained a branch of the Texas A&M System until joining The University of Texas System in 1965. It is now the U.T. System’s second-largest institution and has the finest ROTC program in Texas. This growth began when “we were just cadets.”

Cadets March Home
Led by Capt. Willard Latham, far left, Arlington State College cadets sing "Jody" as they approach Fort Hood in 1960.

The right time. As cadets, we were the lucky ones to receive the benefits of these academic and military program changes. I don’t think any of us realized then how fortunate we were.

The right people. Few of us appreciated the quality of the military instructors headed by Col. Kirk Brock and supported by three assistant professors of military science: Maj. Oliver Hord, Maj. Charles McDowell and Capt. Willard Latham.

Col. Brock, the professor of military science and tactics, and his staff of officers and sergeants wanted to instill leadership qualities in their cadets—to teach them how to excel. They realized that they needed something for the cadets to focus on, a challenge, something nobody else had done.

Capt. Latham, an ASC alumnus, was the newest addition to the staff and a decorated Korean War veteran. At 32, he was handsome and turned the heads of many coeds. As a student, he commanded the Corps of Cadets and the Sam Houston Rifles. As an assistant professor of military science and tactics, he became the tactics and physical fitness instructor. He conducted physical training and field training in the hilly areas of north Arlington, running us hard over the rough terrain.

Maj. Hord and Capt. Latham were the catalysts who conceived the idea of marching 160 miles to Fort Hood. They overcame significant resistance at several levels to make it happen.

Frankly, I did not understand why Capt. Latham was so tough, why he made us push beyond our known limits; I figured that’s just the way he was. Only later did I realize that he wanted to create an adverse situation for the cadets to overcome so we would bond as a team. It worked. We are still close today, 44 years later.

We were the cadets in the transition class from the junior to senior ROTC program. We were the leaders of the Corps of Cadets when we were sophomores and juniors. And as seniors, after camp at Fort Hood, we would return to continue to lead the corps.

How important all of this was when we went on active duty. Three years of cadet leadership experience placed us well ahead of our contemporaries from other schools. When confronted with real leadership issues, we handled them without hesitation—we had experienced most of them before.

The grueling yet rewarding march to Fort Hood (see story on pp. 20-23) gave me confidence in combat when under hostile fire in Vietnam. Hip deep in rice-paddy water, my radioman wounded, I had the confidence to know that I could carry him and his radio to safety. Without the experience of the march, we both might not be here today.

I can never repay those officers and sergeants who molded us into what each of us became. I will be eternally grateful. I am sure the others feel the same.

— Joel H. Ward, colonel (ret.), U.S. Army

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