Growth of a Memory ROTC Leader Col. Earl Donnell honored with tree in MCHS Arboretum
Story by Kathryn Schiliro • Photos by Jesse Walker
It's a rare sight, the entire Morgan County High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) – that's 107 cadets – marching in time and formation down the school's driveway.
That's exactly what happened Friday morning as the ROTC and more than 100 community members, ROTC alumni and veterans walked from the annual Veterans Day event to the front lawn of the high school to watch as a tree in memory of Col. Earl C. Donnell, Jr., was dedicated in the school's arboretum. Donnell's wife, Mae, and daughter, Maegan, were also on hand for the ceremony.
Donnell established the GA-945 Bulldog Group at MCHS in 1994, following his retirement from 25 years in the U.S. Air Force. He started with 85 cadets and, 16 years later, at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, he retired as the school's ROTC Senior Instructor. It's estimated he influenced thousands of cadets.
"His mentorship and management of the cadet corps is proudly displayed in each and every cadet he has had the opportunity to lead," Cadet Major Marianna Swift, who led the ceremony, said. "Just as the memory of Colonel Donnell lingers in the halls of Morgan County High School, his leadership traits and officership qualities continue in the lives of his cadets."
"In planting a tree, you are giving the gift of life back to the earth," Swift said. "Planting a tree is an act of direct benefit to all. It can inspire energy, faith, devotion, and courage and carry forward the name of those memorialized in a living, vital way that grows grander with the years."
The ROTC administration, cadets and school elected that Donnell's tree in the arboretum be Nuttall's Oak. Swift elaborated on this, that the oak tree is known for its strength, citing the fact that the USS Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides," was made of oak.
Swift compared the "sharp, pointed leaves" of the oak with Donnell's "sharp and to-the-point" life lessons; compared to other trees, Swift said the Nuttall's Oak was fast-growing and reliable and juxtaposed that with Donnell's "infectious mentorship" which was also fast-growing and reliable.
The high school's ROTC program also elected to add a stone marker at the base of Donnell's tree "to let people know that the tree has special meaning," Swift said.
The marker is made of 180 pounds of Elberton granite. It's the first of its kind in the arboretum, but the ROTC program, according to MCHS ROTC Chief Nash Allwine, is taking up the installation of stone markers at each tree in the arboretum as its mission.
Swift, tears in her eyes, addressed the final words of her speech to Donnell:
"Colonel Donnell, on my honor, we will stand where you rest and remember you.
"On my honor, we will pick up the torch of freedom and carry it for you.
"On my honor, you will not be a silent memory.
"We will speak of you often so the world will know what you have done.
"On my honor, as you reach the gates of heaven you will hear the voices of a grateful nation rise up and we will honor you."
Printed in the November 17, 2011 edition