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UNG remembers veterans today, every day

Four cadets worked for a year to restore two cannons located outside Gaillard Hall. From left are Cadet Richard Hite, a combat veteran, Cadet Capt. West Johnson, Cadet Justin McDuffie, a combat veteran, and Cadet Jordan Word.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) joins the nation on Nov. 11 to honor some 23 million living veterans. At UNG, which is designated as the Military College of Georgia, the military is an important part of the university culture; hundreds of alumni, students, faculty, and staff have served in the armed services throughout the university's history or are on active duty today. UNG also commissions dozens of new officers every semester as one of only six senior military colleges in the country.

In addition to a military review at 4 p.m. Nov. 11 to mark Veterans Day, two alumni will be honored later this month for their courageous military service, and current cadets, including two combat veterans, are restoring cannons on the Dahlonega Campus to preserve the university's military history.

BG Grange
Brig. Gen. David Grange

Brig. Gen. (Retired) David Grange ('70) and the late Col. (Retired) Ben Purcell ('50) have been selected as inaugural inductees into the new Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame. Selected in the valor category, both will be honored at an induction ceremony Nov. 22 in Columbus, Ga. The Hall of Fame is a nonprofit organization that aims to recognize the sacrifice of Georgia's more than 770,000 military veterans and their families.

Grange served in Vietnam as a platoon leader in the 75th Rangers and as an advisor to a Vietnamese Airborne Division. He led Ranger and Delta Force units during operations in Iran and Grenada and commanded an infantry battalion in 2nd Infantry Division. He was deputy commander of Delta Force during Desert Storm and has commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment. He also served as deputy commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, deputy commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division and commanding general of 1st Infantry Division in Bosnia. He was awarded three Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts during his career.

Col. Purcell
Col. Ben Purcell

Purcell, a former professor of military science and commandant of cadets at UNG, served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, including combat tours in Korea and Vietnam. Purcell, the highest-ranking POW in Vietnam, endured interrogation, starvation and beatings during his 62 months of captivity and was released after the end of the war. Purcell was awarded the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart, and the Parachutist and Combat Infantryman Badges.

In 2012, the new formation plaza on the university's Dahlonega Campus was dedicated in honor of Purcell as the COL Ben Purcell Formation Plaza.

On Nov. 9, a dedication ceremony was held on the plaza for two World War II-era cannons. About a year ago, Cadet Capt. West Johnson had just become a certified gunsmith when he learned the university wanted to restore the pair of 57 mm, M1A1 antitank guns in front of Gaillard Hall, a cadet residence hall.

"I'm a history major and I hate to see history rust away," Johnson said. "I've restored small-scale guns from the Civil War era and the War of 1812, all the way up to World War II. Someone may have died with these weapons, so I try to restore anything I can."

Johnson enlisted the help of his fellow cadets: Jordan Word, also a history major, and combat veterans Richard Hite and Justin McDuffie, who had experience with large machinery and weapons during their service. Hite served two tours in Iraq as a combat engineer and said he's looking forward to the group's next project, restoring the World War I-era cannon in front of Price Memorial Hall.

An Athens native majoring in international affairs, McDuffie served as an aircraft crew chief in Afghanistan. "I wanted to help with the project to leave a legacy for future students and cadets. These cannons will be here forever," he said.

Word, a National Guardsman, shares Johnson's love of history. "I grew up around guns because my dad is a gunsmith, and I just jumped on the opportunity not just for the experience, but to help out my friends."

It took a year for the cadets, with help from UNG's history society Phi Alpha Theta, to restore the two cannons, which have been deactivated so they cannot be fired. The cadets hope also to work with the Dahlonega VFW to restore a Vietnam-era tank.

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