BOONE, N.C. — Each Memorial Day weekend, Appalachian State University commemorates those who died while serving in the U.S. military with a wreath laying at the Veterans Memorial on the Boone campus. The memorial, located next to the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building, honors App State students, faculty and staff who died while in service.
This year, App State Chancellor Sheri Everts selected Marine Corps veteran and App State assistant professor Dr. Seth Grooms, who teaches in the Department of Anthropology, to lay the wreath.
“This means a lot, but this is certainly not about celebrating me. It’s about remembering folks who died serving this country,” said Grooms. “We’ll always have Veterans Day for people to appreciate what living veterans did, but on this day, we need to push ourselves to remember the ones who aren’t here anymore.”
Grooms joined the Marine Corps as an 18-year-old immediately after graduating from high school, serving from 2007 to 2011.
“I was in seventh grade science class on 9/11, and that was definitely a life-altering experience for me,” said Grooms. “I was huddled up with a group of five or six friends during that class, and counting me, I think four of us ended up joining the Marines and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Grooms was an engineer with a motor transport platoon in the Marine Corps, serving with the 2nd Radio Battalion based out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was deployed to Fallujah in Iraq’s Anbar province, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and achieved the rank of corporal during his service time.
“It may not have always felt like it at the time, but the Marine Corps was a great experience,” said Grooms. “I learned a lot about responsibility and was put into leadership roles at an early age. My appreciation only continues to grow for that chapter of my life, and even though it was only four years, the core of my identity always starts with being a Marine.”
Grooms has strong family ties to the Marine Corps. His father, Bo Grooms, enlisted with the Marines during the Vietnam War, and many of his uncles served as Marines as well.
“I guess service in the Marine Corps kind of runs in the family,” said Grooms.
Grooms currently resides in Banner Elk. He grew up in Rockingham as a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. His upbringing led to his love of Native American history and his completion of a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Grooms joined the App State faculty in January, which he describes as his “dream job.”
Remembering the fallen
This Memorial Day, Grooms remembers two fellow Marines who were killed in action while serving in Afghanistan, both of whom exemplify the Marine Corps’ fighting spirit, he said.
Sgt. Wade Wilson
Sgt. Wade Wilson, of Centerville, Texas, served with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines out of Camp Pendleton, California, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He was participating in his third deployment as a platoon sergeant when he was killed in action on May 11, 2012.
Wilson was providing security for his vehicle after it was damaged by an improvised explosive device, according to information from the U.S. Marine Corps. While the vehicle was down, an insurgent opened fire at him and four of his fellow Marines. Wilson immediately drew his pistol, leaving the safety of his armored vehicle to charge at the shooter. He sustained multiple gunshot wounds and continued to move against the enemy until he was mortally wounded. His heroic actions forced the insurgent to retreat, saving the lives of his friends. For his bravery, Wilson was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Wilson joined the Marine Corps immediately after high school. He was 22 years old when he died. Wilson is remembered as an exemplary leader, known to rally his Marines by reminding them that “war is hard.” The phrase is etched in his tombstone.
Sgt. Lucas Pyeatt
Sgt. Lucas Pyeatt, of West Chester Township, Ohio, served with the Marine Corps’ 2nd Radio Battalion in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. As a cryptologic linguist, Pyeatt’s responsibility was to monitor and translate data to detect and locate possible threats.
According to information from the U.S. Marine Corps, Pyeatt was killed by an improvised explosive device blast while conducting a foot patrol on Feb. 5, 2011 — making him the only cryptologic linguist to be killed in action in Afghanistan. He was 24 years old. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant and awarded the Purple Heart.
Pyeatt was a college student when he decided to join the Marines. He left school to step into service after he found out one of his childhood friends who had joined the military had been killed in action.
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About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.