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Marching Into History

For NC State’s Marching Cadet Fraternity, the Memorial Belltower is an abiding reminder of those who serve and have served. Now, through the Cadets’ special bell, the fraternity’s contributions to the university will ring out for others to hear far into the future.

marching cadets reunite to see their bell
Marching Cadets and their families and friends reunite at the Memorial Belltower to celebrate the arrival of the fraternity’s special bell. Photo by Marc Hall.

This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the restoration and completion of the Memorial Belltower. Click the link to learn more about the history of NC State’s Legend in Stone.

The Memorial Belltower is NC State’s most iconic landmark, but many members of the Pack forget that the “Memorial” in its name is a solemn and sobering word. Built as a tribute to NC State alumni who died while serving in the U.S. military during World War I, the Belltower has become a symbol of university unity, celebration and so much more over the last century. Still, the structure remains a war memorial first and foremost.

For a special group of Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) cadets, that fact was never out of mind.

The Marching Cadet Fraternity, also known as the Marching Cadets or just MCF for short, was formed in 1961 in association with NC State’s AFROTC program. The Marching Cadets served as the official drill team for the program and participated in several events on and around campus, including parades for the city of Raleigh. Brothers, as both male and female cadets were called, wore special red and white cords on their uniforms to identify themselves with NC State while preparing to serve their nation upon graduation.

The Marching Cadet Fraternity seal.

Brothers were required to be AFROTC cadets before pledging, have an Air Force uniform and be part of the Belltower guard detachment. The pledge period was reportedly long and difficult, which built even more camaraderie into the 2nd lieutenants-in-training. When the brothers were finally accepted into the fraternity, they truly felt like a family because of all the experiences they had shared during the process.

The Marching Cadets’ best-known service to NC State: standing guard at the Belltower for 24 hours each Pearl Harbor Day. The annual event came about after a cadet visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., and witnessed the carefully orchestrated changing of the guard ceremony. Moved by the experience, he wondered, Why can’t we do something similar at the Belltower?

Marching Cadets worked to raise money for a bell in the Memorial Belltower during the grassroots Finish the Belltower campaign. D7, chosen in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, was the result. The bell now rings as part of the Belltower’s complete 55-bell carillon. Photo by Marc Hall.

The cadet made the proposal upon his return to Raleigh and soon gained approval from AFROTC leadership. Veterans Day had already passed by then, leaving the next major military memorial on the calendar as Pearl Harbor Day. So, beginning at midnight Dec. 7 and continuing until midnight Dec. 8, cadets stood guard outside the Belltower’s Shrine Room in honor of the U.S. service members who lost their lives during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The nights were often bitterly cold, but the cadets didn’t mind (too much). The guard of three cadets was changed each hour on the hour, and as temperatures dropped near freezing, the posted guards would shoulder their ceremonial rifles and march slowly back and forth across the Belltower grounds to keep warm. A warm car and some coffee or hot chocolate were welcome rewards at the end of each tour.

Marching Cadets standing guard at the Memorial Belltower with stacked rifles
Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) can be quite cold each year in Raleigh, North Carolina, but that didn’t stop the Marching Cadets from paying their respects to the fallen by standing guard at the Memorial Belltower for 24 hours. Brothers changed guard every hour throughout the day. Photo courtesy of the NC State University Libraries’ Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials.

“Then, on Pearl Harbor Day, we hosted a ceremony and invited leaders from the university, officials from the city of Raleigh and Pearl Harbor veterans to say a few words of remembrance and thanks, and to lay a wreath to recognize sacrifices made by so many, and in particular our NC State family,” said Ret. Lt. Col. Thomas “TC” Moore, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and dual degree holder from NC State who now owns a meteorological consulting company in Raleigh. “During this time, the university opened the Belltower — handing the keys to a group of college students — and, anytime during that 24-hour period, if someone walked up to the officer in charge of the guard during that shift, they would take them on a tour of the inside of the Tower.

“We took pride in it,” Moore added. “It was something that we looked forward to planning and executing every year. Some years we had less than 10 cadets available for the guard tours, so sometimes you would have to alternate an hour on and an hour off of guard duty!”

Brothers of the Marching Cadet Fraternity participated in many events on and around NC State’s campus, including city parades in Raleigh. Photo courtesy of the NC State University Libraries’ Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials.

U.S. Air Force policy changes in the 1990s regarding collegiate organizations such as the Marching Cadets led the latter to formally disband in 1996. The brothers still consider themselves a tight-knit family, though, as evidenced by their reunions every few years at Fort Fisher in Wilmington, North Carolina. Brothers who still live in the Raleigh area often meet up at local restaurants to keep in touch, and each December, the talk gets around to their time spent guarding the Belltower.

The latest of these Fort Fisher reunions is taking place the same day as the dedication ceremony of the newly restored and renovated Memorial Belltower at Henry Square, but several brothers will still be in attendance — along with a special bell all their own.

Marching Cadets were required to be AFROTC cadets before pledging, have a U.S. Air Force uniform and be part of the Belltower guard detachment. Brothers then wore red and white cords on their uniforms to display their membership in the fraternity. Photo courtesy of the NC State University Libraries’ Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials.

In 2013 and 2014, as part of the grassroots Finish the Belltower campaign, brothers raised money to purchase a bell to forever commemorate the impact the fraternity had on the university and themselves. Bell D7 was selected to once again honor Dec. 7 and Pearl Harbor Day. The bell is inscribed with the Marching Cadets’ motto “The Unity of Being Is Not Communicable In Words” followed by “Marching Cadet Fraternity.”

D7 and the other Finish the Belltower bells were recently recast and tuned to harmonize with the bells provided by a gift from Bill (’81) and Frances Henry in 2017. Today, the 55 bells of the complete carillon continue the proud military tradition begun by the alumni lost in World War I and continued by the Marching Cadet Fraternity.

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