With slow, measured steps, Jolene O’Donnell paces the short path between Memorial Stadium and the Kansas State Alumni Center. It is quiet, with only the sound of locusts and the occasional passersby filling the silence.
Since midnight, she has kept her post, rifle resting on her shoulder, her posture straight and her face stoic as the temperature climbs above 80 degrees under the afternoon sun.
O’Donnell, a senior in German and elementary education, is a member of the National Society of Pershing Rifles, the oldest continuously operating college military drill group.
As she walks, rifle still in hand, she honors a member of the K-State family who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I, Sgt. Delano Bates — the first of 48 K-State students to die during the war exactly 100 years ago Wednesday.
“I think that it is important that we remember the sacrifice [Bates] made,” O’Donnell said. “We wouldn’t have all the freedoms that we have today if it weren’t for people like him. The 48 Fallen, they’re K-State family, and we should honor that.”
Though Memorial Stadium was intended to honor the 48 Fallen when its construction began in the 1920s, the original design was never completed. It was not dedicated until April 2017.
O’Donnell, hoping to honor the soldiers appropriately, suggested to the Pershing Rifles a series of silent memorial drills, mirroring the guards at Washington, D.C.’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in memory of each of the 48 Fallen.
“It’s important to remember your past and your history and those who gave it all,” O’Donnell said. “While Memorial Stadium is a great place to hang out, it is also a memorial to these 48 people. They don’t have a lot of recognition — they have this one plaque and a wall of pictures in Myers Hall. I just want people to keep that in mind as they’re using it.”
Members of the Pershing Rifles have a strong sense of duty toward Bates and the rest of the 48 Fallen.
“I’m honoring our officers and honoring him the way he deserves,” Sam Zeller, senior in social work and member of the Pershing Rifles, said. “I hope the student body realizes the importance of what we’re doing, and that when they walk by the signs or see us, they realize how much people have worked to help us get to where we are in our nation.”
The Pershing Rifles are open to anyone, regardless of military background or prior drill experience. Students interested in participating in the upcoming memorial drills for the remaining 48 Fallen should attend the group’s kickoff event in Myers Hall at 6 p.m. on Aug. 31.