Medals for school cadets killed in line of fire

Peter Wang, who dreamed of joining the US Military Academy, was given a ceremonial acceptance letter by the school.
Peter Wang, who dreamed of joining the US Military Academy, was given a ceremonial acceptance letter by the school.

CORAL SPRINGS (Florida) • Fifteen-year-old Peter Wang dreamed of attending the US Military Academy at West Point one day, but he never got the chance. He was shot down last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as he held open a door so others could escape.

As he was laid to rest on Tuesday, West Point issued his family a ceremonial letter of acceptance.

"One of USMA's priorities is to develop leaders of character who are committed to the values of duty, honour and country," the academy wrote on Twitter.

"Peter Wang's actions on Feb 14 are an example of those principles, and the academy honours his dream of being a West Point cadet."

The 17 people killed in the shooting rampage included three members of the school's popular Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC): Peter, Martin Duque and Alaina Petty. Fellow students say the cadets acted valiantly, helping to usher others to safety.

All three have been posthumously awarded the Medal of Heroism by the army.

Cadet Command spokesman Michael Maddox said that just 48 JROTC heroism medals have been awarded in the past 20 years.

Maddox said JROTC students who survived the shooting at Douglas High might also receive medals for the help they gave to others as the attack was under way.

The accused gunman, Nikolas Cruz, 19, had also been a JROTC cadet. The corps is one of the high school's largest clubs, with nearly 300 students who take courses in subjects like military drill, leadership and shooting. Their maroon polo shirts were a familiar sight around the school campus.

Cruz may have counted on that. The police say he was wearing his maroon polo shirt when he was arrested, after having slipped away unnoticed after the rampage.

"We all have those shirts," Angelyse Perez, 18, a senior in the corps, told The Washington Post. "We're never wearing them again. We're going to destroy them all."

Other cadets credited their corps training with helping to minimise the carnage at the school.

But Cruz's ties to the corps - The Associated Press reported that he had honed his shooting skills on its marksmanship team - raised troubling questions.

The Pentagon spends US$370 million (S$489 million) a year on JROTC programmes at about 3,400 high schools across the country, hoping to foster the next generation of military leaders. Some communities welcome JROTC, but in others, it meets resistance from parents and advocacy groups who say it promotes militarism among impressionable youths.

Peter's funeral on Tuesday was attended by hundreds of people. He lay in a coffin in the small chapel at Kraeer Funeral Home, dressed in a JROTC uniform like the one he wore the day he was killed, with the Medal for Heroism pinned to the chest.

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Medals for school cadets killed in line of fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe