Coming to the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s and going on to serve in the military prepared Homer Paul and John Long for the rest of their lives. Today, they utilize the lessons they learned to help guide the OU College of Arts and Sciences.
Paul, who was a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Long, who retired after 33 years in the Army where he was a Major General, have both served on the CAS Board of Visitors. As we honor our Veterans today, students in the college should know one of the commencement traditions is rooted in the armed services.
Paul went through the Naval ROTC program and earned his bachelor’s degree from OU in 1954. Soon after graduating, he was commissioned and served on active duty for two years, including service in Korea and Japan. Upon his release from active duty in 1956, he entered the OU College of Law where he earned his juris doctorate. Paul pursued a career in banking and successfully led two banks. He joined the CAS Board of Visitors in 2006 and began serving a second term again this year.
“I have a lot of pride in the Marine Corps and it teaches you responsibility over and above your own self-interests,” said Paul. “You have a job to do and you will get it done. The commitment, training and work ethic stay with you. It was a critical part of who I am today and the way I’ve conducted my life. The military experience was very serious and constitutes the ethical, moral and professional commitment I have toward life.”
Long graduated from OU with a degree in history in 1956. After his time in the Army, he started a successful marketing and retail sales consulting company, which he led for 20 years. He joined the CAS Board of Visitors in 2006 and has a rich history of mentorship to students. He also received the Outstanding Service Award from the college in 2013.
“The military was a wonderful career for me,” said Long. “It made a lot better person out of me. The time at OU helped a great deal because for the first time in my life I had to assume responsibility. You don’t grow without accountability and the Army gave me nearly all of it. I’ve learned more from the mistakes I’ve made than any success.”
As graduates cross the stage each year, they receive their diplomas and shake hands with Dean Kelly Damphousse, who then hands each graduate a challenge coin to recognize their achievement.
Damphousse has taught his international terrorism class to OU students on military bases around the world and he was often presented a challenge coin (using the traditional handshake method) by his students. His growing challenge coin collection led him to bring that tradition into the college.
“The purpose of the challenge coin has changed over time and now they are handed out for a job well done,” said Damphousse. “Today, I salute our veteran students and alumni, as well as every patriot who has ever proudly worn the uniform in service to our nation. On this Veterans Day, and every day, we thank you. As the fall semester ends, I challenge our students to finish strong as they pursue their academic goals and I look forward to presenting you with your own coin to celebrate.”
Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” Nov. 11, 1919, the anniversary of the end of World War I. The United States Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938.
Long, whose service includes time in Vietnam, kept his challenge coins that are most valuable to him. The most meaningful came when he was a commander of a battalion in Germany and was given one by the Secretary of the Army for improving the culture of his soldiers in a positive way.
“What I would tell graduates is these coins are items to recognize the good work and effort they have done as a student,” said Long. “You should be proud of them and save them, but the most important thing as you go into the real world is to not forget to recognize those under you.”