COLUMBIA — George H. Ousley Jr. was a high school dropout. In 1965, he joined the Navy. He didn’t consider going to college until a friend told him that as a Navy veteran he could get funding under the GI Bill to go to school. In need of a second job to support his family, Ousley said he knew attending school would be a great help.
“For me to attend college under the GI bill was, I think, by the grace of God,” he said. “I just don’t know how my life would have turned out.”
Ousley enrolled at Columbia College and received help and support from the faculty who enabled him to graduate in 1978. On Wednesday morning, Ousley, his wife and son’s family were in attendance for the Ousley Family Gift Announcement as part of Columbia College’s third annual Military Recognition Day.
The Ousley family donated $100,000 to fund the Ousley Family Veterans Service Center at the college.
“These people up here were so helpful to me, and I never forgot that,” Ousley said.
The goal of the center is to provide support for veterans, military service members and their dependents with the transition into the college and to provide support for any needs current members and veterans might have.
The center opened last year, and the money the family donated might turn into scholarships.
“It will bridge the gap for those who want to pursue higher education and may need a little extra financial support,” said Michael Kateman, the college's executive director of development, alumni and public relations.
Both of Ousley’s sons, Greg and George, joined the Navy.
Greg Ousley served from 1988 to 1992 before attending Columbia College. He graduated in 1997. He said his experiences at Columbia College were positive, and the counselors and faculty were "enormously helpful," and he’s pleased with his family’s involvement with the center.
“For us as a family, it’s something to be very proud of,” Greg Ousley said. “I couldn’t think of a better cause or institution for us to be involved in.”
George Ousley III was killed in a car accident at 19 while serving in Rota, Spain.
In addition to the Ousley Family Gift Announcement, the Military Recognition Day included a parachute demonstration from the 101st Airborne Division Parachute Demonstration Team, “The Screaming Eagles.”
Four members of the team parachuted onto the college’s soccer field, carrying American flag and a Columbia College flag. Both were raised on a flagpole.
Col. Charles McGee, formerly of the Air Force and a 1978 Columbia College graduate, presented the first $1,000 Col. Charles E. McGee Scholarship to Air Force Cadet Patrick Hatcher.
McGee was a Tuskegee Airman, the first group of African-American men to fly in combat. Former President George W. Bush awarded the group* the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2007.
While the ceremony’s events were taking place, a group of about eight demonstrators stood outside the field's fence holding up signs in protest.
Two men dressed as Abu Ghraib prisoners in orange jumpsuits with bags over their heads. Two other demonstrators held signs stating, “honor veterans not war” and “save a soldier’s life, bring 'em home.”
“Since we are Christian pacifists, we decided before that we were not going to be rude," Steve Jacobs, an employee at the St. Francis House said. "We weren’t going to interrupt them. We are not going to chant. We weren’t going to holler things. We were going to be very silent and respectful.
“Even though we know our presence probably made people angry, we felt it was important to present this other side of the truth.”
When Jacobs found out about the event, he said he felt he had to do something because he lives at the St. Francis House, which is across the street from Columbia College's soccer field.
Army Reserves sergeant Matt Schwedtmann was particularly upset by the sign that said “honor veterans not war.”
“That’s exactly what we’re doing here,” he said. “It’s aggravating, but you have to remember the reason you’re here, to protect those freedoms of speech.”
Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and a demonstrator at the event, said they weren’t there to impugn the veterans but to question government policies.
“We feel the best way to support troops is to bring them home safe and alive,” Haim said.
“Them exercising their first amendment rights is their own way of honoring us,” Pete Jones, a Marine Corp corporal said of the protesters. “They wouldn’t be able to do it without us.”
Joanne Tedesco, senior director of public relations for Columbia College, said the event was "open to everyone.” She declined to comment on the demonstrators.
Tedesco also said there was an anti-war message burned into the soccer field, but declined to say what it said. The college does not know who left the message. Parts of the field were brown, but there was no clear writing from a ground view.