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‘For some of us, every day is Memorial Day’

May 21, 2020
color guard at Veteran Memorial Grove.NROTC students helped re-dedicate the Veterans Memorial Grove during Meliora Weekend 2015. The grove honors University alumni killed in wartime since the First World War.
Members of the University of Rochester community have served in the United States military—and lost their lives in that service—almost since the University was founded in 1850.

About 100 students and alumni fought for the Union during the Civil War, which began in 1861. Since then, University students and alumni have died in nearly every major American war. Many are honored with plaques on the River Campus in Wilson Commons, and in the Veterans Memorial Grove.

For some family members, there has never been closure. “Every day is Memorial Day,” says Tozia Shemanski Romig ’63N, whose husband, Edward Romig ’63, was never found after his plane exploded over the South China Sea.

Capt. Nathan York, commanding officer of the University’s NROTC unit, calls May “a bittersweet month.”

“We start the month with commissioning, a moment where we celebrate to start of new military careers with our recent graduates and their families,” he says. “A few weeks later, we are reminded of the gravity of the oath that we take as service members as we remember and honor the legacies of the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice.”

As Memorial Day draws near, we profile a few of the members of the University community who died while serving in uniform.

 

Philip CareyPhilip Carey ’39
World War II

Philip Carey came to Rochester from the Worcester, Massachusetts, area. He majored in German and was involved in many student organizations including Delta Kappa Epsilon, German Club, and the Troubadours. He also appeared in numerous German plays, was student leader of the glee club, and was elected Phil Beta Kappa his senior year.

After graduation, Carey entered Harvard Medical School while also serving in the United States Naval Reserve. In 1943, after receiving his medical degree, he transferred to the Marines, trained at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and was sent overseas in April 1944, where he served as a medical officer for a tank battalion in the Pacific.

Lt. Carey was killed on September 15, 1944, during the US invasion of the Japanese-occupied island of Peleliu. 

According to a letter sent from the unit leader to Carey’s mother, shortly after landing that April, Carey jumped from his tank to aid a wounded Marine in the water despite a devastating barrage of gunfire from Japanese forces. Carey set up an aid station for his tank battalion and worked on wounded Marines until he was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action.”

 

Donald ThompsonDonald Thompson ’62
Vietnam War

Donald Thompson had been a high school football star in Wellsville, New York, a village 80 miles south of Rochester. At Rochester, he joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and graduated with a degree in economics. 

Classmates described him as “genial,” “easygoing,” and a “team player” with a great sense of humor. He met MaryLou Caldwell ’62, an elementary education major, at the University, and they were married on December 28, 1963, in Watkins Glen, New York. By then, Thompson was an ensign in the Navy, serving with the Naval Air Advanced Training Command in Kingsville, Texas.

Thompson was sent to Vietnam, where he was promoted to lieutenant commander. On the night of February 4, 1967, Thompson flew a jet fighter off the USS Kitty Hawk on a reconnaissance mission along the coast of North Vietnam. The aircraft exploded. 

For decades, Thompson was listed as missing in action. Then, in 2001, the crash site was discovered from eyewitness accounts. It had been the only plane shot down in that region. 

Thompson’s remains were found and positively identified in 2003. Late that year—36 years after he was killed—his remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

 

Edward RomigEdward Romig ’63
Vietnam War

Edward Romig grew up in Havertown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. At Rochester, he majored in psychology, joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, and served in the Naval ROTC. He met nursing student Tozia Shemanski ’63 during their first year at college, and they married on June 8, 1963, at St. Mary’s Church in Rochester. The next day, both graduated from the University and Ed was commissioned an ensign in the US Navy and sent to flight school in Pensacola, Florida.

A daughter, Heather, was born a year later. Romig reached the rank of lieutenant junior grade (LTJG) and was stationed at Moffett Air Field in Santa Clara, California, where he served as a navigator in the 7th Air Transport Evacuation Squadron during the Vietnam War. “As he used to tell my mother, they would fly the bullets over and the bodies back,” Heather said this week.

On June 17, 1966, Romig was heading home from Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam when his C-130 aircraft exploded over the South China Sea, killing all 12 on board. No hostile fire was observed, and the exact cause of the crash was not determined. 

Tozia remembers the evening a military chaplain and casualty officer rang her doorbell in San Jose and said her husband was missing. “I knew when I opened the door it wouldn’t be good news,” said Tozia, then seven months pregnant with their son, Joel.

Romig was four days shy of his 25th birthday. His remains were never found.

“Eddie was a kind and gentle man who loved his family, playing guitar, taking pictures and building things with his hands,” Tozia said this week. “Like all families of the missing, we always have an empty spot in our hearts. For some of us, every day is Memorial Day.”

Joel Romig, who never met his father, is now 53 and owns a boating business in Wilmington, North Carolina. “It’s hard to put into words how the loss of a person over 50 years ago, who I never met, has such an impact on my life,” he said. “It has left me with a sense of loss and emptiness and also made me very proud of my country and all the veterans and their families, who sacrificed more than most will ever understand.”

 

Read more Memorial Day profiles

Wilcox with canteen in wooded background.‘It broke our hearts’: Honoring alumni on Memorial Day 2019
Armour David (Bud) Wilcox III ’68, one of 17 alumni who died in the Vietnam War, is among those profiled this Memorial Day.
Peters in uniform against plain backgroundHonoring fallen alumni, faculty on Memorial Day 2018
Spiro Peters ’50, one of four alumni who died in the Korean War, is among those profiled this Memorial Day.
Closeup of Beghold's face.Honoring fallen students, alumni on Memorial Day 2017
Bruce Beghold ’47, one of 57 alumni who died in World War II, is among those profiled this Memorial Day.

 

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Category: Society & Culture

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