PI alumni have served in virtually every branch and division of the military and have fought in every war since WPI opened its doors. Several graduates have gone on to earn high distinction in uniform. Percy E. Barbour, Class of 1896, a prominent mining engineer and metallurgist, also had a distinguished career as a reserve military officer. Barbour served in the New York National Guard, Regiment of Engineers, on the Mexican border in 1916-17, and then became associate organizer and first department supervisor of the New York State Troopers. After that assignment, he held a number of posts with the Army Corps of Engineers before being promoted to colonel in the Army reserves. In 1928, he received the Gold Medal for distinguished service from the American Society of Military Engineers.
Left, Major General Frank Lowe on the front lines in Korea.
Among the ranks of WPI graduates are two distinguished U.S. Army generals. Major General Frank E. Lowe '08 was President Harry Truman's "eyes and ears" in Korea during the Korean War. Lowe first worked with Truman during World War II, when Lowe was executive officer assigned to the Senate War Investigating Committee, chaired by the then senator. When the Korean War broke out, Truman asked the 65-year-old general to come out of retirement to be his personal representative. Lowe reported to Truman on military operations, a task that frequently took him to the front lines. For his bravery, he received the Distinguished Service Cross. His citation read, in part, "Accepting personal hazards far beyond the requirements of his mission, he devoted long periods of time with the forward elements of our major units in combat in order that he might better observe and evaluate the battle efficiency of the United States Command." General Douglas MacArthur bestowed the honor on Lowe in April 1951 as one of his last general orders before President Truman relieved him of his command in Korea.
As head of the Army Pictorial Service, Major General Kirke B. Lawton '17 chronicled some of the most important moments in the history of the 20th century. He was assigned to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and coordinated all ground combat photography of U.S. troops. Starting 12 days after D-Day, he followed the American Army across France and into Germany, filming and conferring with U.S. Generals Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley, British Field Marshal Montgomery, and French General DeGaulle. On May 7, 1945, Lawton was present at the unconditional surrender of the German forces in a technical school in Reims, France, and took the only color photographs of the event. Two months later, he "sneaked in" to the Potsdam Conference and took a photograph of Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin that has been printed in a number of publications.
After the war, Lawton again found himself caught up in the sweep of major events. He was named commander of the Signal Corps Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J., where he instituted a loyalty check system for civilian employees. Senator Joseph McCarthy praised the system during the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings. Later, in Nevada, Lawton filmed post-war atomic bomb tests. His military service earned him the U.S. Legion of Merit, three battle service stars, the Victory Medal, and Czechoslovakia's Medal of Merit, First Class.
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