Some of them didn’t make it.
Like Victor Candlin, a freshman at Colorado State Teachers College. In 1918, he joined the U.S. Marines, and was sent overseas to fight in World War I. Serving on a battlefront in France, he died of his war wounds on Oct. 12, 1918.
Others returned from the wars of America and came back to finish college and went on to promising careers.
Through the years, students volunteered or were drafted to fight for their country: WWI, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the long war in the Middle East. These soldiers came from the Colorado State Teachers College, Colorado State College of Education, Colorado State College and UNC, all the same school.
War would stay in those students’ minds and hearts for the rest of their lives. For some, it would guide their occupations; for some, it would guide their lives.
These are some of the stories of courageous men and women with UNC ties who have served our country.
They are the ones to whom we will forever be indebted.
Victor Candlin, WWI
Nearly a century ago, World War I was beginning, and America needed young men.
So on March 29, 1918, Victor Gladstone Candlin enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He was a freshman at what was then Colorado State Teachers College, but believed his education could continue after the war.
After enlisting at the start of the United States’ involvement in the war, the 22-year-old Candlin was older than most of the new volunteers who were sent to Mare Island, Calif., for basic training. It went quickly. In August 1918, Candlin and his fellow Marines were sent to Brest, France, where the fighting was heavy.
His first taste of battle was the attack of San Mihiel, at the time occupied by German forces. The new American troops proved worthy and drove the Germans out in a three-day battle.
Then came key battles at Blanc Mont Ridge in the Argonne Forest in September 1918 that stretched into October. During the hard-fought battle, more than 7,800 American soldiers were killed or wounded.
On Oct. 8, Pvt. Candlin was severely wounded near Somme Py, part of the Argonne Forest battlefront. He was taken to a makeshift hospital near the front to be treated for his wounds. He died four days later.
Candlin would later be honored with medals, and because of his life in Greeley before the war, Greeley’s veterans would later name their unit The Victor Candlin American Legion Post No. 18.
George Irvin, WWI, WWII
Some men did double duty in the wars. That was the case for George Irvin (BA-23, MA-25), who came to the Colorado State College of Education after serving in the U.S. Army in World War I. He fought in France and was wounded and in the hospital when the armistice was signed.
He joined the National Guard and enrolled at the college in Greeley after the war. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CSCE, then studied at Stanford. In 1928, he joined the CSCE faculty as an assistant director of the extension office, then became director of the department within a few years. In 1938, he was named director of public relations for the college.
Then, in 1940, at age 45, Irvin was called back into the service. He was a major and a field officer for the Selective Service during World War II. He stayed with the military until his retirement in 1955, when he held the rank of colonel.
A year after that retirement, Irvin returned to what was then Colorado State College, as director of special services. He worked directly under President William Ross on special assignments. He was still at the college when he died in 1967. He was 72 years old.
He was one of the few UNC students who had served during both of the world wars. His funeral was in Greeley, and burial was at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.
Col. George Irvin was buried with full military honors.
Albert Martin, WWII
Al Martin (BA-49) enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. At age 19, he was sent to Colorado State College for AAC military training on campus.
During World War II, Martin became sergeant for the 11th Fighter Squadron on the Aleutian Islands, where Weld County’s Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Joe Martinez, was killed and received the medal posthumously.
Martin remained on the islands until the end of the war. He then returned to Greeley and enrolled in college .
The French-Canadian, who became a U.S. citizen after the war, was president of the International Club on campus. He not only earned a bachelor’s degree, but also met his wife, who worked in the college’s business office.
After receiving his degree, the Martins moved to California, where he earned a master’s degree and went on to teach French at Alhambra High School.
Today, he resides in Ojai, Calif.
Wesley Johnson, WWII
Wesley Johnson (BA-35, MA-40) graduated from high school in Greeley in 1931 and earned a scholarship to CSCE. He decided to become a teacher because there were few jobs during the Great Depression. Even though teachers didn’t get paid as much as others, Johnson knew the income would be steady.
To help with his income in college — tuition was $25 per quarter then — Johnson enlisted in the National Guard in the mid-1930s. But it was years later, while he was teaching in Colorado in 1943, that he was drafted into the Army.
Because of his education, Johnson was placed in the Corps of Engineers and assigned to the warfront in Gen. Omar Bradley’s headquarters. His experience in the war was dealing with obstacles for the soldiers on the front.
“We landed on Omaha Beach five days after D-Day,” Johnson says. “And we crossed through Europe into Germany, where we set up headquarters.” They were in nearby Wiesbaden, Germany, during the Battle of the Bulge.
His greatest memory of the war came on Christmas Day, 1944. “The skies had been cloudy and it snowed, so the bombers couldn’t fly,” Johnson says. “Then, on Christmas Day, the skies cleared and the bombers came. The Battle of the Bulge ended soon after that. It was the greatest present any of us could have had.”
Johnson stayed in Germany until the war ended in 1945, then came back home to Colorado to teach again.
He celebrated his 100th birthday this year, and said those memories of college and the war will never leave him. “They molded my life,” he says. “And gave me direction.”
George Sage, Korea
He would become well known at UNC in the years to come, but in those early days, flying into North Korea with a combat crew, 18-year-old George Sage (BA-55, MA-57) knew only the friends with him on the plane, and the friends back home in north Denver.
After the war, Sage returned to Colorado, enrolled at the college in Greeley, and later joined the faculty for 29 years.
But in 1948, he’d enlisted in the Army. Eighteen months later, he was stationed in Georgia with the 3rd Infantry when North Korea crossed the border and invaded South Korea. Sage’s 1st Division was among the first to enter North Korea.
“We were first sent into Japan for a month of training,” Sage says, “then they put us on a ship into North Korea. Our assignment was to push the North Korean army as far as we could away from the south.”
They were successful, until a unit of the Chinese Army, backing the North Koreans, entered the country and decimated another unit. That was when Sage’s unit was removed from their area and sent to Pusan to defend that port city in South Korea. “We were successful,” Sage says, “and pushed them back so the demilitarized zone was established and the war was winding down.”
By that time, Sage had spent his required time in the military, so he was sent home and discharged. He enrolled in the Colorado State College of Education in Greeley in 1952. He was on the baseball team and pitched in the College World Series.
When Sage earned his degrees and later joined the faculty, he became the winningest basketball coach in UNC history. He was inducted into UNC’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996. Today, he and his wife Liz spend their retirement between Greeley in the summer and Arizona in the winter.
Rex Schweers Jr., between the wars
For Rex Schweers Jr. (BA-55, MA-60), serving in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program was the beginning of adventures between the wars.
He came to Colorado State College in 1955, after the Korean War, served in the Air Force, then returned to CSC after four years in the military, but before Vietnam. That doesn’t mean Schweers didn’t do his duty for his country.
He was first stationed at San Antonio, Texas, then in Florida, then to Enid, Okla. “I became an instrument pilot on the B-25 for a while,” Schweers says. “Then they sent me to California, where I became a mission pilot on the T-29 and the T-33 fighter jet.”
He spent 2,500 hours of flying time before his stay in the military was finished and he returned to Greeley and to CSC. After getting degrees at CSC and UNC, Schweers became a professor of mathematics at the university. The now retired educator spent 34 years at UNC.
“With the military and the university, I had two careers that I loved.”
David Patterson, Vietnam
He grew up in Loveland, graduated from Loveland High School and went to Western State College, a young college kid with no cares.
Then, along came Vietnam, and a buddy died in the fighting, so David Patterson (BA-73) enlisted in the 101st Airborne, and became a member of the Screaming Eagles, in the infantry. “I was mad that nobody seemed to care about our friends dying over there, and I wanted to do something about it.”
As with all of the soldiers over there, Patterson’s length of service in Vietnam would be one year. Most of that time, he was rappelling out of helicopters with an M16 machine gun and 300 rounds of ammo. He had some close calls, many firefights, and had to spend a portion of the time identifying the dead soldiers as they were brought out of combat. He would never forget it.
After two years in the Army, Patterson said he came home to Loveland and found many of his friends were going to UNC. He enrolled under the G. I. Bill in 1971. With his two years at Western State, he graduated from UNC with a degree in teaching in 1973.
He taught for a short time, then learned that the ski area in Breckenridge was looking for instructors, and he took a job. For the next 40 years, he would teach skiing for the Breckenridge Ski School.
Patterson is retired now, although he still teaches a few classes on the slopes. His sister pulled together all of his letters home from Vietnam and put them in a family book.
“That’s nice,” Patterson says. “I can read those and remember some of the most difficult — and meaningful — times of my life.”
Tom Chagolla, Vietnam
The Eaton native graduated from the small town’s high school in 1966. Then his life changed.
“I was going to be drafted after high school,” says Chagolla (BA-14), “so I talked to the recruiter, and he said if I enlisted, he could see that I wouldn’t be in any combat situations. I joined, and it wasn’t long before I was in Vietnam.”
But his tour in Vietnam lasted only a few months because the 7th Infantry (and Chagolla) were needed in South Korea. The Korean conflict was finished more than a decade before, but Chagolla and the other soldiers were needed along the Demilitarized Zone.
The zone was established after the Korean conflict, and it divided North and South Korea. But it was not “demilitarized.” North Koreans would often cross it to invade portions of South Korea.
“After we’d been there awhile,” Chagolla says, “we were ready to end our tour and come home. Then came the Pueblo Incident, [when North Korean troops boarded and captured the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence ship, in January 1968] and we had to stay for a few more weeks.”
The crew was released 11 months later, but the North Koreans still have the ship. “We wore our battle gear and were under lock-and-load all the time. When the Pueblo happened, we were ready for war.”
It would be 1969 when Chagolla got out of the military and first enrolled at New Mexico State. A year later, he transferred to CSC. He would graduate from UNC with a degree in Mexican-American Studies.
After a year as the director of the local Habitat For Humanity, and other work through the years, Chagolla returned to UNC. “The average age of the students was about 22,” Chagolla said, laughing. “I was in my 60s.”
But it was a good experience, as the professors asked Chagolla to help the younger students with advice in the workplace and at school. He graduated last December with a degree in International Affairs.
“UNC was good to me,” Chagolla says now. “And the veterans center was a big help to me.”
Alexis (Rominger) McCabe, Iraq
Don’t tell Alexis McCabe (BA-94) that there’s something she can’t do. The Colorado woman graduated from UNC, became a U.S. Marine and the second woman in Marine history to fly a combat fighter jet. Soon, she’ll become an emergency room physician.
It started, she’ll tell you, because she lived in a military family in Denver; her father was in the Navy, and her mother was a civil service employee in the department of defense at Fitzsimons Army Hospital.
She graduated from Overland High School, then went to UNC, graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She then worked for more than two years as a flight attendant for United Airlines, and in 1997, she joined the U.S. Marines.
Because of her degrees, she went in as a second lieutenant, and joined the flight school. She received her pilot wings in 2001, and that’s when she became a pilot of an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet.
During 2003 and 2004, she flew the jet from the USS Enterprise over Iraq to support the ground troops. “It wasn’t a dangerous thing,” she’ll tell you. “They’d take some shots at you, but Iraq had nothing to really shoot you down.”
She came home then, but a year later, she was back in the air, flying out of the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, again giving support to troops on the ground. It was a six-month assignment, and she returned home to Pensacola, Fla., as a flight instructor.
Because of Alexis’ life to that point, she is featured in a book, Military Fly Moms.
She’s still in the reserves (she officially left the Marines in 2010). She, her husband and two children, Haley 12, and Colin, 7, live in Mandeville, La. At 40 years old, some would say Alexis had earned her stripes, and she could now settle into a nice, quiet job.
Not so. She entered medical school in 2010, and will graduate in May as an emergency medicine physician. She’ll then start her residency in emergency medicine, which will last three or four years.
Bounthanom “Nom” Khoutsavanh, Iraq
His voice is quiet. Soft, as he talks about it. He’s a former U.S. Marine, a gunner with a 50-caliber machine gun perched atop a Humvee in Iraq. A dangerous, frightening job.
A world away from that experience, Nom graduated this spring from UNC with a 3.43 GPA in Criminal Justice. Someday, he wants to be a federal agent for his country.
Nom (a shortened version of his first name) was born in Laos, where his parents still carried the memories of a long, devastating war. When he was 5 years old, he and his family moved to America to start a new life.
He grew up in Fresno, Calif., graduated from high school there, and enlisted in the Marines in 2004. A year later, at age 19, Nom found himself atop the Humvee patrolling the streets of Ramadi, Iraq.
Today, five years after fighting in Iraq, Nom reflects on his service, recalling the anguish in losing a best friend, roommate and “other buddies” who didn’t return after being ambushed.
“The details are a bit difficult for me to remember because it has been almost 10 years,” he says.“A unit in Ramadi was ambushed, and we went to reinforce them. …there were snipers on rooftops shooting at us. … rockets, grenades. … we wanted to get the unit out safely. … We didn’t get all of them.”
Coming home unharmed carried a burden.
“I have both my arms and both my legs, and I’m also one of those Marines who came home alive,” Nom says. “Sometimes, I regret that I’m all right, when there were so many others who lost so much.”
Understandably, he’s guarded about sharing his military experience on campus — with the exception of UNC’s Veterans Services Office where he can talk over a cup of coffee with fellow veterans enrolled at UNC who’ve become his good friends.
“I don’t talk openly about being a Marine in Iraq because I don’t know how people will react. But my professors here were tremendous. Once they learned of my status, they were extremely helpful.”
Nom wants to complete a master’s degree in Criminal Justice at UNC, but right now, the finances are difficult. His G.I. Bill runs out with graduation, and he’ll have to find a way to get the money to live on. “Mostly, I already eat Ramen noodles more than anything else,” he jokes.
But with the background and experience Nom already has, there’s no doubt that someday, he’ll be a federal agent in the country that he loves so much. NV