Going back to the days of the founding, Pi Kappa Alpha has always had a proud history of members in military service. For more than 120 years, Pikes have served their country in every military conflict the United States has been engaged in: from the Spanish-American War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of them have given the ultimate sacrifice. These Gold Star Members are honored at the Gold Star Memorial at Memorial Headquarters and on this Digital History site.
This exhibit documents the stories of Pikes in military service, highlighting their courage, valor, and sacrifice.
Learn about the Pikes photographed at ROTC training here.
Of the six Founders of Pi Kappa Alpha, three of them – Julian Edward Wood, Littleton Waller Tazewell, and James Benjamin Sclater – were cadets at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) during the Civil War.
As VMI cadets, Tazewell and Sclater both saw active service in the defense of Richmond, where VMI had been relocated during the war. The Founder with the most famous military service was Wood. While still of high school age, Julian Edward Wood was among the first to volunteer for the Confederate Army. As early as June 1861, Wood was serving as a drill master in his native eastern North Carolina. At the insistence of his father, Wood entered VMI on January 9, 1862 and would continue as a cadet for the next two years and 10 months. As a corporal in Company C of the VMI Cadet Corps, Wood participated in the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864 where cadets held a sector of the front lines against an assault by Federal troops. During the battle, Wood was "on the colors," holding the VMI Cadet Corps flag and urging his comrades forward. It is said that Federal troops, upon seeing the unfamiliar flag, thought a foreign country had joined forces with the Confederates against them! After New Market, Wood participated in the defense of Lexington, the Blue Ridge passes, and Lynchburg as a cadet before resigning and becoming a First Lieutenant and drillmaster in the North Carolina troops, a position he would hold until the end of the war.
Although he saw no active military service, Robertson Howard did his part during the Civil War as well. As a Quaker, he did not officially align with either side in the conflict. Instead, Howard worked in hospitals helping wounded and disabled soldiers during the war. Although there is a legend in the Fraternity that Founder Frederick Southgate Taylor also served in the Confederate Army, his family has no record of any military service. William Alexander, the youngest of the Founders, lived in England with his mother during the Civil War.
Learn about the Julian Edward Wood Portrait Photograph here.
The ten-week Spanish-American War in 1898 saw the first military service of Pikes since the Civil War. A number of Pi Kappa Alphas were among the American forces who fought in Cuba. A list of members who volunteered for service in the war, printed on page 38 of the December 1898 issue of The Shield and Diamond lists 13 Pikes from seven different chapters as having served their country. This same issue notes that "while therefore our number of soldiers has been few, our men have all served valiantly, and have done their full share in helping to make the country’s victories glorious."
One of them, Lieutenant Henry L. McCorkle, Zeta, would make the ultimate sacrifice and become Pi Kappa Alpha’s first Gold Star Hero. McCorkle commanded a company of regular infantry in Cuba during the Battle of El Caney. On July 1, 1898, McCorkle led a charge in the capture of Fort Caney and was killed in action. In a letter to his family, written just days before his death, McCorkle wrote, "Don’t expect anything brilliant of me, but I will do my duty."
Read a tribute to Lieutenant McCorkle in the February 1899 issue of The Shield and Diamond here.
Learn about the five uniformed Lambda Chapter members in the photograph here.
When President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, Pi Kappa Alphas from across the country were assembled for the 1917 Jacksonville Convention. In a show of support and national spirit, the first action of the Convention was to telegraph President Wilson and "pledge to you the loyal support of its membership."
While only a small number of Pikes had fought in or been impacted by the short-lived Spanish-American War, normal Fraternity life – both at the national and chapter level – was disrupted by World War I (WWI). The Fraternity had seen significant growth in the years prior to the war, but no new chapters were chartered for almost two and a half years during WWI. At the chapter level, regular college life was disrupted and was replaced for many with barrack life as college-age men across the country joined ROTC programs or left school outright to join the military. Many chapters saw their numbers dwindle as older members enlisted, leaving the younger members in control.
According to the June 1917 issue of The Shield and Diamond, 400 Pikes were among the first to volunteer after the United States entered the war. Filled with patriotic spirit and a desire to see action, Pikes – like many Fraternity men – flocked into the army. Just one year later, in June 1918, more than 1,400 Pi Kappa Alpha members were in uniform. Of the nearly 2,000 who would eventually serve during WWI, 50 gave the ultimate sacrifice. The 1920 New Orleans Convention, also known as the Victory Convention in celebration of the end of war, included a memorial service to the "hero dead."
Learn more about the photograph taken during World War I here.
Much like World War I, the U.S. involvement in World War II (WWII) led to significant disruptions and sacrifices for Pi Kappa Alpha. Voluntary enlistment and the subsequent draft resulted with universities across the country enrolling considerably fewer men than they had previously. With fewer young men in college, Pike Chapters found their numbers stagnant or dwindling during the war years. Letters and reports from the early 1940s discuss depleted numbers and recruitment difficulties. On the national level, the Fraternity suspended its biennial convention during the war years. The Supreme Council elected at the 1940 Chicago Convention would continue to serve for six years until conventions were resumed with the 1946 Mackinac Island Convention: Victory Convention.
Pikes of all levels played key roles in the war effort. Two Pi Kappa Alphas served as members of Congress. Congressman John Sparkman, Gamma Alpha, of Alabama and Senator Charles O. Andrews, Alpha Eta, of Florida were influential in working to improve and enlarge the army and navy respectively. Of particular note was the work of Harold Zipp, Gamma Beta, who was among those responsible for the design and development of the B-29 bomber. One of the largest aircrafts in use during WWII, the B-29 would prove to be essential to the war effort.
Even before the United States formally entered WWII in December 1941, Pikes began gearing up for war. The 1941 issues of The Shield and Diamond are full of articles discussing the war, national defense, and men joining the service. The January 1942 issue of The Shield and Diamond reported that one in five undergraduate Pikes during the 1940-41 school year were in the armed forces by January 1942. Between men who voluntarily enlisted and those who were drafted, more than 15,000 Pi Kappa Alphas would eventually serve their country in the military during WWII in both the European and Pacific Theaters. Of these, nearly 500 lost their lives.
Learn about this image of Arthur Weeks here.
Though less widespread than the previous World Wars, the Korean War nevertheless impacted the Fraternity and saw significant participation from Pi Kappa Alphas. The beginning of the conflict, especially coming so quickly on the heels of the Second World War, left many Pike chapters nervous. In a report to headquarters, Beta Omicron Chapter Historian David E. Conrad wrote that at the start of the 1950-1951 school year there was, "an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty caused by war in Korea and the troubled international scene." He continues, "this uncertainty, especially among men of draft age, put a serious damper on rush and scholarship, as well as most phases of college life." Doubtless these feelings of uncertainty and tension were not only felt at Beta Omicron Chapter and the University of Oklahoma, but throughout the country and among all Pike chapters.
In 1952, at the suggestion of Beta Chapter, the Supreme Council adopted a blood donor program as a national philanthropic project. The program, motivated by a desire to support the war effort and to benefit wounded servicemen, called for 100% participation in blood donation drives among active members. Chapters without blood donation programs on their campuses were encouraged to spearhead efforts to start such programs. They exceeded their goal of 1,000 pints of donated blood, providing 1204 pints by September 1952.
Hundreds of Pikes served in the military during the Korean War. Capt. Irving T. Duke, Omicron, commanded the Battleship Missouri, the first American battleship to reach Korean waters. Anthony Herbert, a Gamma-Sigma pledge who had tried unsuccessfully to sign up during WWII as a 14 year-old, joined in the Army three years later and became the most decorated enlisted man during the Korean War. Another member, Major James Henry Crutchfield, Beta, had served during WWII and headed to battle again during the Korean War. There, Major Crutchfield, along with 30 other Pikes, made the ultimate sacrifice.
Learn more about US Navy Ensign Randolph Scoggan in the photograph here.
Although the United States had been engaged in Vietnam since 1955, there is no mention of the military effort in The Shield and Diamond until March of 1964 when it was reported that Pi Kappa Alpha lost its first member in the Vietnam War. Lt. Louis A. Carricarte, Gamma Omega, had graduated in 1962 and immediately become an Army pilot. He was killed in action on December 12, 1963, when his plane was shot down during a combat mission flying over enemy territory.
After March 1964, mention of Vietnam War continued in The Shield and Diamond throughout the conflict. The alumni news section was filled with notes about recent alumni joining the conflict, either voluntarily or through the draft. Hundreds of Pi Kappa Alpha men served during the war. At least three members of were held as POWs, and at least 27 became Gold Star Heroes, giving their lives in service.
The Vietnam War is perhaps most unique in Pi Kappa Alpha’s history of military service because of the way Fraternity perception of the war changed, mirroring in many ways the shifting perceptions of the nation as a whole. What could be called the "official" Fraternity position towards the war, as evidenced by articles in The Shield and Diamond and remarks made by prominent leaders, was decidedly positive in the early- and mid-1960s. Editor of The Shield and Diamond Robert D. Lynn complained in December 1965 that "American foreign policy has been subjected to critical and unwarranted abuses by many" and introduced an excerpt from a letter by a Pike serviceman, stating that it would help to showcase "the contrast between our fighting forces in Vietnam and the bleeding hearts on some of our campuses" (Bleeding hearts that Executive Director Earl Watkins assured readers in June 1966 did not include men of Pi Kappa Alpha). He wrote that, although accounts of student demonstrations against the war filled the newspapers, "I know of no incident, personally, where a member of our Fraternity has been involved."
Like the national perception of the Vietnam conflict, Pi Kappa Alpha’s position on the war changed as well. While the Fraternity never wavered in honoring its members who served and died during the war, its support for the war itself did sour. By the 1970 Biloxi Convention, the Fraternity was officially opposed to the war, adopting a resolution that stated the representatives "disagree with the continued military and political involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia" and that they believed involvement in the conflict "is not in the best interests of our nation."
Learn more about Second Lt. Paul Eklund, Delta Rho, (pictured third from left) on a search and destroy operation north of Bien Hoa during the Vietnam War.
Late 20th and early 21st century conflicts have also seen their share of Pi Kappa Alphas serving in the military. Almost as soon as American troops were first deployed as part of the Gulf War in August 1990, reports came in that brothers of PiKA had joined the conflict. According to lists published in The Shield and Diamond during 1991, 183 Pikes served in the military during the six-month conflict.
Pi Kappa Alpha lost three members during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. James B. Reilly, Gamma, Davis G. "Deeg" Sezna, Jr., Sigma, and John M. Grazioso, Zeta Sigma, worked in World Trade Center Towers One and Two and were killed during the attack. Two other Pikes – James J. Minck, Zeta Sigma, and Denham Schiff, Gamma Eta – also worked in the World Trade Center buildings, but thankfully survived. At least six Pi Kappa Alphas enlisted, reenlisted, or were activated in the Reserves in the weeks immediately following 9/11. More Pi Kappa Alphas would serve in the military as the United States entered into the War in Afghanistan later that year. As of the end of 2018, at least 54 Pi Kappa Alphas have served in the military in Afghanistan and 6 lost their lives during their service.
The Iraq War, which began in 2003, also included Pikes. At least 160 Pikes served during the 8-year conflict. The Iraq War witnessed the first Pi Kappa Alphas added to the Gold Star roll since the Vietnam War. These two casualties – Lt. Col. William R. Watkins III, Alpha Epsilon, and 1st Lt. Jeffrey J. Kaylor, Epsilon – were killed in just the first weeks.
Learn more about Pikes who served in Afghanistan by scrolling through articles in the 2011 Kappa Alpha Alumni Association newsletter, The Advancement.
The concept of a Memorial Headquarters came about following World War II as a way to show gratitude to the Pi Kappa Alpha brothers who served in the military, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
Over 150 years, thousands of Pikes have answered the call to serve their country in the military. They have fought around the globe in conflicts and wars. Six hundred of these men gave their lives in service to their country. For their dedication, courage and sacrifice, Pi Kappa Alpha honors these men at the Gold Star Memorial at the Memorial Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Here, visitors can learn about PKA's involvement in wars throughout its history, and read the solemn roll call of all the men who sacrificed their lives for their country, and remember them. Today, these Gold Star heroes are also memorialized as a part of this Digital Archive. Here, you can not only read the names of these 600 men who sacrificed their lives for their country, but you can also learn more about the life and military service of these heroes. If available, you can also view archival material such as photographs, letters, and reports related to each Gold Star hero.
Learn more about the visitors looking at military uniforms at Memorial Headquarters in the photograph here.