Fund Will ‘Pay It Forward’ for Student Vets
By Sandra Seitz
Some experiences last a lifetime.
Speak with any one of the more than 100 alumni who were members of the Pershing Rifles Squadron N-12 that operated between 1962 and 1974 at Lowell Tech, and that person is likely to say, “Once a Pershing, always a Pershing” – spoken with a quiet pride.
Squadron N-12, made up of Air Force ROTC students, served as an elite drill team that racked up countless honors and awards at regional and national competitions.
Calling All Vets
Veterans of all the military services can help current students achieve academic success.
Ways to make your gift:
- Send donation to: UMass Lowell Office of University Advancement, Southwick Hall 250, One University Ave., Lowell, MA 01854
- Donate online at www.uml.edu/givenow. Select Student Veterans Fund
- Call 978-934-2218.
The squadron was inducted as a group into the UMass Lowell Veterans Alumni Hall of Fame in 2011. In their honor, all graduating veterans of UMass Lowell wear a white honor cord on their left shoulders as a mark of the camaraderie and esprit de corps that characterized Squadron N-12.
The Pershing Rifles alumni have decided to give back by establishing an endowment for student veterans services, with a commitment to raise $250,000. The fund will provide temporary financial aid to student veterans, ROTC cadets and dependents of disabled veterans who are in need, as well as support for dedicated space and activities for student veterans on campus.
The endowment started as a question, raised by one of the earliest members of Squadron N-12, Edward Kittredge.
“I’d lost contact with the Pershings until a recent reunion, when I was blown away by the lifetime accomplishments of my brothers and sisters,” says Kittredge. “When we were inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame, I asked, what about pulling together a fund to help veterans at the University?”
Like many others, Kittredge had used the GI Bill to further his education. He says, “That happened because the vets who came before me, helped me.
“Looking at vets of the Gulf wars coming back, we found out there are gaps, even delays, in the benefits,” he continues. “We wanted to set up a pool to work as bridge loans and we set out to do this, not just as a squadron, but as veterans of all the services, using our leadership skills to get it started. The endowment leaves a legacy of Squadron N-12.”
Kittredge asks, “What better way not to be forgotten than by helping veterans in the future?”
The original inspiration for the Pershing Rifles Squadron N-12 came in the form of a most unusual ROTC student.
Al Kulas had been awarded a Presidential Academy appointment at the end of high school, and chose the Air Force Academy. Growing up in a military family, he’d lived all over – including in Tokyo right after World War II, while his dad, a U.S. first sergeant, worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Kulas was hard-working, ambitious and could talk his way out of trouble in half a dozen languages.
But he couldn’t spell in English. Despite ranking near the very top of his class at the Academy, he flunked English, restricted by the honor code from seeking the help of classmates. He turned to Lowell Tech and the Air Force ROTC program.
When Kulas hit campus in the fall of 1962, the AF-ROTC commandant at the time was eager for a drill team – UMass Amherst’s team was taking every prize – and called on Kulas to recruit and train a team.
“I told the guys, this may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” says Kulas, who learned the required drill routines from the manual of arms and drew on his life experience for training methods. “I’m driving you hard to condition you, so that nothing can distract you.”
The group practiced three times a week in the parking lot of a closed shopping center, using reflections from the store windows to check their positioning. They improved rapidly, until Kulas was called to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis, missing the rest of the semester.
“When I returned, I asked who’d taken my place, but no one had. They had just practiced on their own, three times a week,” says Kulas. “They were so good, I couldn’t believe it.”
A big Pershing Rifles competition was being held in Boston the next weekend and, working fast, the Lowell Tech team signed up, memorized the routine and found transportation.
“At the competition, we had a chance to watch all the Army teams first,” says Kulas. “Our guys felt so much pressure – I just told them, you’re really good. It was new to me, too, but it’s all about instilling pride in the military and in themselves.”
At their first-ever competition in infantry drill, Squadron N-12 took first place.
“The whole crowd was cheering,” says Kulas. “We were the young kids down the block and they were cheering for us.”
Invitations, trophies and awards followed. Cadets went to war, or graduated; others took their places. Some continued in U.S. Air Force careers – several retired as full colonels, two as brigadier generals. Others went into business, many heading up companies. For Pershing Rifles alumni, achievement is second nature.
As Kulas told those first recruits, 50 years ago, “You’ll hear that in the military you lose your identity. No, when you look exactly like everyone else, when you move as one, the real you shows through. We’ll find out who the leaders are.”
Calling All Pershings …
About 105 former members of Pershing Rifles Squadron N-12 have been identified. If you are one, or know of others, alumnus Peter Maravelias is collecting information: email firstname.lastname@example.org