Remarks at Dedication of Kilbourne Hall
1 April 2009
Governor Kaine, Mr. Slater, faculty and staff, our ROTC Team, ladies and gentlemen of the Corps of Cadets, and friends of the Institute: it is a pleasure to welcome you on this occasion of the dedication of Kilbourne Hall. To be absolutely accurate, I should say that I welcome you to this “rededication” of Kilbourne Hall. I want to recognize the Kilbourne family…granddaughters…”Zhan Eichelberger” and “Lisa Tracy”… and their families, and extended families…would all of you please stand and receive our applause and gratitude.
As we bring this splendid new facility on-line, VMI makes a major advance in its historic mission to produce Citizen-Soldiers for the Commonwealth and the nation. A strong tradition will now become even stronger, thanks to the upgraded and thoroughly modern facility in which our three service programs will henceforth operate. Nothing, of course, can substitute for the dedicated professors, instructors, and staff who design and carry out the military education programs that transform young cadets into officers for all branches of the U.S. armed forces…, but these professionals would be severely hampered in their work if they did not have first-rate facilities and the tools to aid them achieve their goals. And “first-rate” is certainly an appropriate description of the building complex we dedicate today.
I began by saying that this is a “rededication” of Kilbourne Hall, because what has been created is a renovation and a significant expansion of a building that was dedicated in honor of VMI’s sixth superintendent on 5 October 1968. That building, the original Kilbourne Hall, has served us well over the years, but our military education program soon outgrew it. When Kilbourne Hall was first occupied, there were only two ROTC programs at VMI: Army ROTC and Aerospace Studies. Seven years later, a Naval ROTC unit, marine-oriented, was created, at the strong urging of former Senator John Warner, and VMI received a contingent of Marine Corps and Naval instructors. Although mandatory commissioning at VMI ended in the early 1980s, the number of cadets taking ROTC courses did not decline. Enrollment in the program remained a requirement for graduation, as it is today. As the size of the Corps grew in the following years, the need for instructional space grew as well. Kilbourne Hall soon became inadequate as a location in which to achieve the mission, and this development necessitated the current renovation and expansion.
Although mandatory commissioning ended in the 1980s, the number of cadets accepting Regular Army commissions or commissions in the U.S. Army Reserve or in the Virginia National Guard has been steadily rising over the past six years, so that last year more than fifty percent of the graduation class was commissioned. Our goal is to commission 70 percent of the graduating class in all four services…and having the finest military science building of any college or university in the nation will help us to reach that objective.
Most here, remember the building that has been incorporated into the “new” Kilbourne Hall was VMI’s Physical Plant or Department of Buildings and Grounds. And that, indeed, was the case for many years. But before it was the Buildings & Grounds building, it was the Institute’s stables. On 22 December 1916, VMI’s superintendent Edward Nichols announced that three units of the newly formed Officers Reserve Corps (the precursor to ROTC) had been established at the Institute. This program included three units: cavalry, field artillery, and infantry. It took a few years, but on 7 July 1919, one hundred horses arrived at the Institute, and by the fall a stables building was ready. These stables were inadequate, however, and soon there was talk of building new ones. In March 1938, seventy-one years ago last month, the sum of $38,000 was appropriated by the Virginia General Assembly and added to a sum from the Federal Public Works Administration to construct what were called the “new” stables. This is the building that later served as the B&G building, and is now the extension of Kilbourne Hall. This new use and designation for the B&G building is appropriate for two reasons: first, as it originally housed horses for the cavalry program, it was part of the Officer Reserve Corps program…, and second, its construction was accomplished under the superintendency of General Kilbourne, VMI’s remarkable war-time superintendent. I might add, 51 years ago I studied field artillery (we had branch specific ROTC then) and was introduced to the “gunnery” problem on this former dirt floor facility.
The decision to name the hall in 1968 for Lieutenant General Charles Evans Kilbourne, VMI Class of 1894, was most appropriate. Here was a soldier who had earned the three highest military awards the nation bestows: (1) the Medal of Honor, (2) the Distinguished Service Cross, and (3) the Distinguished Service Medal. He had served numerous times in the Philippines; in China during the Boxer Rebellion, and in World War I. After the war he taught on the faculty of the Army War College, commanded a number of Coast Artillery units here and abroad, and served in the famous War Plans Division in Washington, D.C., from 1932 to 1934. He retired from the Army in 1936 after thirty-eight years of service to the nation.
In 1937, General Kilbourne was called out of retirement to serve as the sixth superintendent of VMI. The challenge was enormous, not only because of the gathering war clouds in Europe and the Far East, but because the lingering effects of the Great Depression made life especially difficult for the Institute. The next nine years challenged VMI to an extent rivaled only by the Civil War. General Kilbourne was superintendent when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. entered the war. Funding was scarce, the wartime draft carried off many members of the faculty, the Corps of Cadets was so diminished that by the time the Class of 1944 graduated, it had only two members still at VMI, and the Institute was populated by hundreds of Army Service Training Program (ASTP) cadets temporarily assigned to VMI. And yet, VMI under the leadership of General Kilbourne continued its operations, graduated scores of officers for the services, and was able to maintain many of its traditions and practices. When General Kilbourne retired as superintendent in 1946, the Institute stood ready to take on its post-war work and to return to normal.
Without a doubt, the present complex of buildings, which includes the original Kilbourne Hall, the Old Stables, and now the new infill building that joins them, is the finest collegiate military facility in the nation, and it befits an institution with the military tradition possessed by VMI. The project was a large one, including not only the buildings that you see here, but a massive storm drain system beneath these buildings and a parking area across the street. The buildings not only expand our ability to offer the finest collegiate military instruction possible, but also serve the community by enhancing this aesthetic approach to the town of Lexington.
Many people need to be recognized and thanked for successfully completing this project, and foremost are the architects of Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern, Inc., and the contractor -- Nielsen Builders, Inc…., and the numerous subcontractors and our VMI Construction Office members depicted in your program. The total of new construction and renovation covers 83,436 square feet, which is an approximate 24 percent increase in the building square footage. The cost of the project was $13.4 million, with nearly the entire amount provided by the State of Virginia. The new space provides relocated and upgraded offices, additional classrooms, space for new Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve Detachments, and increased storage space. Overhead utilities have been relocated underground and street lighting has been upgraded, beautifying this part of the Post and forming a gateway into historic Lexington.
At the dedication ceremony in 1968, the Institute was honored by the presence of Governor Mills E. Godwin, Jr. Today we are honored by the presence of Governor Tim Kaine, the 70th Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and a very close friend and strong supporter of the Institute. Governor Kaine was inaugurated in January 2006 in historic Williamsburg, the first Governor to take the oath of office in Williamsburg since Thomas Jefferson. The VMI Corps of Cadets proudly participated as a marching unit at that ceremony. We are proud of the fact that Governor Kaine is our Commander in Chief…on behalf of the entire VMI community, Governor, thank you for your presence here today. And, thank you for your personal support of this project. Your encouragement, I assure you, will certainly be “borne-out” by the performance of our graduates in the years ahead…for they are our credentials. We will “now” formally dedicate this outstanding ROTC educational and military facility …I ask Governor Kaine and Colonel Worrell and Mr. Slater to conduct the unveiling.
Governor Kaine, ladies and gentlemen, this concludes this morning’s ceremony. I invite “all” to tour this facility…the Naval ROTC to your left…Air force and Army to your right…the indoor rifle range in the basement…classrooms principally on the upper floor…and the Quartermaster Store to your far left. Colonel Worrell will lead the Kilbourne family; LTC Bissell the Governor and members of the VMI Board of Visitors. Enjoy the day.