OU Army ROTC Produced Leaders, MOH Recipients

OU Army ROTC artillery battery cadets at attention, 1938.

Since 1917, the University of Oklahoma’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) has produced military leaders, including two Medal of Honor recipients, who made the difference in winning battles throughout the world.

Many of these early ROTC graduates from OU would fight in World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific. Others would fight in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan. As the nation remembers its veterans this Memorial Day, here are some who received their ROTC training at OU:

  • John Lucian Smith of Lexington and Leon Robert Vance of Enid would earn the Medal of Honor for heroic action in World War II.
  • Other OU grads including Hal Muldrow and Russell Dwight Funk would turn a potential military disaster into an Allied victory on the embattled beachhead of Salerno, Italy, in 1943.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of ROTC programs in America. The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame will honor Oklahoma ROTC programs and alumni at its Hall of Fame banquet Oct. 21 at the Embassy Suites in Norman. Because this is ROTC’s Centennial, Maj. Gen. Douglas O. Dollar, of Stillwater, and an Oklahoma State University ROTC graduate, wants as many Oklahoma ROTC alumni as possible to be recognized for their service.


OU MEDAL OF HONOR recipients, Smith and Vance

Major John L. Smith

Smith was commissioned an Army lieutenant of artillery at OU. He later resigned to accept a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps where he became a pilot. He became a Marine Corps Ace who shot down 19 Japanese planes and led his fighter squadron on many sorties, accounting for the destruction of 83 enemy aircraft. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2010.

Bob Vance
Lt. Col. R. Leon Vance

Vance entered OU and spent two years in ROTC. In his second year, one of the incoming freshmen and comrades in ROTC was Smith.  After Vance’s second year, he was accepted by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated as an infantry lieutenant. He went to flight school and was assigned to the Army Air Corps.

On June 5, 1944, Vance earned his Medal of Honor in his second and final combat mission. He flew a B-24 in an Allied attack on German positions on the French coast one day before the Normandy Invasion.

Vance’s plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, wounding many of his crew. Vance, whose right foot was partially severed, still managed to fly the plane. It was too heavily damaged to land in England so Vance flew over the English Channel where his crew could safely bail out and be rescued. He then landed in the water. An explosion blew him out of the plane and he clutched a life preserver until he was rescued.

Two months later he was put on a plane for evacuation to the United States. The plane disappeared between Iceland and Newfoundland and was never found. His Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously. Vance Air Force Base in Enid is named after him. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2009.


Salerno, Italy

ROTC was mandatory for most students at OU. And after college, many ROTC cadets including Hal Muldrow and Russell Dwight Funk joined the 45th Infantry Division, a National Guard Division that was organized in 1923 and would be mobilized for World War II and again for the Korean War in 1950. Funk joined the Division in 1923 and Muldrow joined it in 1928.

muldrowMuldrow, who lived in Norman, eventually would command the 45th. Funk, of Oklahoma City, would be a Colonel and would make the Army his career.

Lt. Col. Russell Funk

At Salerno, the two officers and their men would keep the Germans from winning the battle. During fighting at Salerno, Germans found a gap in the Allied forces that led to the ocean.


Intent on pushing the 45th and adjoining forces into the sea, the Germans launched a counterattack of tanks and infantry down that gap and toward the ocean. A volume of Time-Life Books World War II series said it best in crediting the 45h with saving the invasion.

“Between the German spearhead and the water stood only a handful of American infantrymen and some 105 mm guns of the 189th Field Artillery Battalion under Lt. Col. Hal Muldrow Jr. and the 158th Field Artillery Battalion under Lt. Col Russell Funk, both of the 45th Division,” Time-Life said.

The two artillery battalions fired eight rounds per minute per gun, “a rate perhaps unsurpassed by any artillery in World War II,” Time-Life said. Together, the two battalions fired 3,650 rounds, stopping the German attack and preserving the Allied beachhead.


Some additional notable OU ROTC graduates

Major General Ernest L. “Iron Mike” Massad

OU ROTC cadet Ernest L. “Iron Mike”  Massad  would join the 11th Airborne  Division as a battalion commander of artillery and fight in the Pacific.  Massad was an OU football player, basketball player and track man. He was named to several All-American football teams. He later was a Major General, commanding the Army Reserve’s 95th Division (Training). He held the three star rank when he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1970.

Bob Kalsu was a University of Oklahoma All-American tackle in 1967. Kalsu played one year for the Buffalo Bills and was named the team’s top rookie. He was an ROTC graduate and went on active duty after the 1968 football season. A Lieutenant in the artillery, Kalsu was killed in Vietnam on July 21, 1970.

ROTC Alumnus Creates Portraits of Fallen Soldiers

By Doug Warner, NEWS 9

Colonel (Ret.) Ken Younkin works on another portrait.

After a 30 year stint in the military, a Norman man continues to serve his country.

Retired Army reservist Ken Younkin laid down his weapon years ago and picked up a scroll saw.

Younkin is now a member of the Portrait Freedom Project. The nationwide group of more 400 woodcutters carves portraits of fallen soldiers.

“If I couldn’t do something for the soldiers themselves, maybe I could do something for the families,” Younkin said. “You think about the family and the person you’re cutting and wonder what it would have been like to have met them while they were still alive.”

Younkin said he’ll never forget the first portrait he made of Cpl. Chad Powell. He still has the letter Powell’s family sent him.

“They said the little boy saw that and said, ‘That’s my Daddy,'” Younkin said. “Five-year-old son, that one, I broke down pretty good on that one.”

Younkin said he has made it his personal mission to try to do as many Oklahoma portraits as possible.

“I always felt I needed to do something to give back,” Younkin said.

Col. Younkin was commissioned in the field artillery from the Oklahoma State University Army ROTC in 1970.

CLICK HERE to watch the News 9 video online.



Robert J. Kelsey

captain-robert-j-kelseyCaptain Robert J. Kelsey was born in 1945 at Lawton, Oklahoma. In June 1967 he received a commission in the U. S. Navy through the Navy ROTC Regular Program at the University of Oklahoma; he was selected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and Physics.

After flight training in the A-F4 aircraft in June 1969, he reported to VA-23 (Fixed Wing Attack) deployed on the USS Oriskany, CVA-34 in Southeast Asia participating in air operations over North and South Vietnam. When VA-23 was decommissioned in 1970 he transitioned to the A-7E aircraft and reported to VA-146 on the USS Constellation CVA-64 assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Five (VX-5) at Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California.

During his tour with VA-105 the Squadron deployed twice to the Mediterranean Sea and for service there was awarded the Commander Naval Air Atlantic Battle “E” and the Rear Admiral C. Wade McClusky Award as the best Attack Squadron in the U. S. Navy. In October 1984 he assumed command from Commander, Light Attack Wing One (LATWING ONE) and was the top pilot in LATWING ONE. His medals awarded include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, three Meritorious Service Medals, 20 Air Medals with “Vs” and seven Navy Commendation Medals with “Vs”. He retired 4 June 1992 and died 24 June 1992.

Captain Kelsey was induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2013. That same year, a University of Oklahoma Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Midshipman received the first Capt. Robert J. Kelsey Leadership Award during a ceremony at the university’s ROTC center, April 16. The award, presented to Midshipman 2nd Class Alan Tompkins, included a $1,000 scholarship.

“It means a lot. I know there are plenty of other midshipmen who are more than qualified for the award, so to be chosen as the first recipient is very humbling and rewarding,” said Tompkins. “I am honored to be recognized by the Kelsey family and very thankful for the opportunity they have provided. I hope to continue to be a good example in the battalion and the community.”

22929378_BG2The scholarship endowment was established by the family and will be administered by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

“We are extremely pleased about this opportunity to honor Bob’s memory while helping current and future Navy ROTC students,” said Kelsey’s father, Charles Kelsey. “He was very dedicated to God, his family, his country, and the U.S. Navy. He was a tremendous role model for his children, his seven younger siblings and, I’m sure, hundreds of fellow military members.”

“Capt. Kelsey left a great legacy at this university, both as a midshipmen and during his very distinctive service,” said Capt. Rod Clark, commanding officer of the OU NROTC unit at the time. “It is a wonderful thing that his family has created a scholarship to continue that legacy”

The purpose of the University of Oklahoma NROTC Program is to educate and train qualified young men and women for service as commissioned officers in the Navy’s unrestricted line, the Navy Nurse Corps and the Marine Corps. As the largest single source of Navy and Marine Corps officers, the NROTC Scholarship Program plays an important role in preparing mature young men and women for leadership and management positions in an increasingly technical Navy and Marine Corps.

Jerry D. Holmes

Holmes_SketchMajor General Jerry D. Holmes, U.S. Air Force, was born 14 July 1935 in Jenks, Oklahoma and raised in Wewoka, Oklahoma. He graduated Wewoka High School in 1953. In 1958 he graduated The University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geological Engineering and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force through the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). In 1964 he graduated The University of Oklahoma with a Master of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering. He completed Squadron Officer School in 1965, graduated the U.S. National War College in 1976, and in 1985, graduated The Harvard University Program for Senior Executives in  National and International Security.

In September 1966 he was transferred to Royal Air Force Station, Upper Heyford, England. There, he served as an RF-101 pilot and standardization and evaluation flight examiner with the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. From October 1969 to October 1970 he flew 135 combat missions over all of Vietnam in RF-101 and RF-4 aircraft from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam.

1433971266473Maj. Gen. Holmes’ military awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, U.S. Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, U.S. Air Force Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Outstanding Unit Award with “V” for Valor in combat.

Maj. Gen. Holmes was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2014.

Jerry Max Bunyard

lieutenant-general-jerry-max-bunyardAfter a military career spanning more than three decades, Lt. Gen. Max Bunyard’s love for his country and serving others is obvious. Bunyard was standout baseball player at Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater, and was a leader on and off the field. While at Oklahoma A&M, he was involved in the Army ROTC program, the Blue Key National Honor Society and served as president of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Bunyard served two combat tours in Vietnam. His first tour was with the First Infantry Division Artillery, serving as an artillery aviation officer. On the second tour, he commanded an aerial field artillery battalion in the First Cavalry Division.

He also was a project manager for the Patriot air defense missile system before assuming command of the U.S. Army Missile Command and Redstone Arsenal, Ala. His responsibilities there included being installation commander of the arsenal and being in charge of Army missile research, development, procurement, fielding and sustainment worldwide.

Bunyard also served in Korea; Germany; Fort Carson, Colo.; Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Monmouth, N.J.; and several tours in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.

Bunyard’s Pentagon tours included weapon systems analyst in the office of the assistant vice chief of staff of the Army; deputy director for defense test and evaluation in the office of the deputy under secretary of defense for research and engineering; and the Army’s assistant deputy chief of staff of research, development and acquisition.

His last assignment before retirement was as deputy commanding general for research, development and acquisition at the U.S. Army Materiel Command in Alexandria, Va.

In the military, Bunyard found an outlet for his love for baseball. In 1963, he became the 3rd Infantry Division baseball coach while stationed in Kitzingen, Germany, and looked to a mentor for advice.

“I stayed in contact with Coach Greene because I needed some help on how to collect data on the pitchers and players,” Bunyard says. “He was the most helpful.”

No matter the distance from Stillwater, Bunyard still encountered fellow Cowboys.

He was surprised when he met classmate Don Bliss in Vietnam in 1965. Bliss was the aviation officer of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the two shared an experience they will never forget.

“I heard he was there, and I called to see if I could come fly an orientation mission with his unit as I entered Vietnam on my first tour,” Bunyard says. “He said my orientation flight would be with another pilot, and we would deliver supplies to a unit that was currently in contact with the Viet Cong. As we approached the extremely small landing zone in the middle of the jungle, we were taken under intense fire, but we were able to deliver the supplies and get out of there as quick as possible.

Lt. Gen. Bunyard as the 2012 OSU Homecoming Parade Grand Marshall.

“When we returned to the helipad, I asked Don if he was trying to get me killed on my first mission, and we had a big laugh concerning the flight. The helicopter had to be evacuated to maintenance because of the numerous bullet holes sustained in flight. Don and I talked by phone recently and rehashed this incident, and we both remembered all the details.”

Bunyard’s military awards include two Distinguished Service Medals, one each from the governors of Alabama and Oklahoma; two Distinguished Flying Cross awards; a Defense Superior Service Medal; a Legion of Merit award; and three Bronze Star Medals.

Although his list of prestigious awards is long, Bunyard remains humble and says working with people has been the most rewarding experience of his career, a sentiment he echoed during a ceremony for his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2010.

“It has been my hope and desire to pass along my passion for working with people to my children and grandchildren as well,” Bunyard says. “I have two grandsons who are pursuing a military career, and they appear to be following this path.”

Bunyard retired from the military in 1989. He is one of seven OSU graduates to rise to the rank of lieutenant general — a title currently held by 43 people in the U.S. military. He became president and CEO of Bunyard Enterprises Inc., which provided independent program and process assessments in the weapon system acquisition field for the U.S. Department of Defense. He sold the company and now conducts research and writing on several subjects. Bunyard and his wife live in Alexandria, Va.