Virginia Tech Magazine
Winter 2008
fireworks on the Drillfield

The Drillfield isn't just a means of getting to classrooms and residence halls--it becomes a part of students' lives. We asked current and former students, "What does the Drillfield mean to you?" Here's what they said:

In 1971, I had just started dating my husband-to-be (Victor Perez '74). He described me as a hippie while he was a Virginia Tech football jock. I remember joining a sleep-in on the Drillfield, protesting goodness-knows-what; we may even have been protesting putting sidewalks on the Drillfield! After a miserable, sleepless, cold night, I was mortified to see Vic's football friends picking their way over my sleeping bag on their way to 8 a.m. classes. I remember covering my head in embarrassment, hoping not to be seen.

We got married on that Drillfield in the War Memorial Chapel a week after we graduated and will be married 34 years in June [2008].

Karen Fosdick Perez '74

In the winter of my sophomore year, while running full speed to get back to the dorm late one frigid night, I slipped on an icy patch of roadway around the Drillfield. My ankle was very badly sprained, and I had to be on crutches for more than a month. Living in Slusher and having to cross the Drillfield to get to classes, I had no idea how I was going to do it in terms of stamina, much less with ice and snow on the ground. There were enough well-cleared sidewalks from the dorm to the edge of the Drillfield, but when I reached the rim of the Drillfield and looked across at students slipping and sliding, I really felt it was not going to be possible for me to cross. Then a student asked if I needed help and offered to take my backpack and crutches, and his friend just picked me up and carried me across. When he got tired, a different student stopped and offered to help. This happened every day when the Drillfield was iced over, which was for at least a week. Sometimes the same people who had helped on a different day would offer again or walk with us across in case the new person got tired. When the Drillfield melted, some of these same people and others would carry my backpack and just walk slowly with me. Knowing how rushed everyone is at Tech and that so many others took that time for me was quite a sacrifice, I will always remember that Hokie spirit. For that reason, the Drillfield represents the heart of the campus for me. I will never forget the kindness of so many fellow students in the winter of 1978.

Mary Pat Denney '80

My earliest memories of the Drillfield go back to the spring of 1986. I was 15 and my sister was a high school senior. She had high hopes of attending Virginia Tech after graduation. My family was returning from a spring break trip to Tennessee, and Dad decided to detour through Blacksburg. After we parked in front of Burruss Hall, he and my sister walked up those tall steps to the admissions office to inquire about my sister's admissions status.

They were gone a long time. My mom and I, along with my younger sister, Susan, who was only 6 at the time, waited outside. We watched all the activity on the Drillfield, and Susan rolled down the grassy hill there by Burruss hundreds of times. She was having so much fun. The beauty of campus in the spring cannot be mistaken, and the more we watched, the more exciting it became to think about my sister attending Virginia Tech.

Finally, my dad and sister emerged from Burruss Hall. From the big smiles on their faces, we knew they had good news. We were all excited to learn that Sharon would be the first Hokie in our family. Since that time, we’ve become quite a Hokie family. Sharon graduated in 1990, I graduated in 1993, and Susan graduated in 2002. Susan's Hokie years were especially exciting as she became a member of the cheerleading team. Our memories of VT started with that stop at the Drillfield many years ago. Now, we visit campus each fall and think back on our wonderful times at Virginia Tech. We are all proud to call ourselves members of the Hokie Nation!

Lisa Brown '93

I started taking my children to a Virginia Tech football game each year when they were in middle school. I have such an emotional attachment to Virginia Tech and so many Drillfield memories: sorority softball games, Greek bike races, the Highty-Tighties practicing, mud that would suck your shoes off, and worms on the walkways. I did not realize how much of that I had shared with my children until my daughter wrote a poem for me [see below] while she was in high school. I would say my memories had a definite effect on her since Allison is now a member of the Class of '06.

Beth Braswell Unroe '76

A Drillfield alum returns

Your warm arms reach out to welcome me
And I love you.
Those arms decorated with a decadence of color
Embrace me.
And I am home.
Cool ground gives under my feet,
Holding me up with a support I have yet to feel since leaving you.
Deep vibrance warms my face as
Crisp crackling soothes my ears with loving familiarity.
And I miss you.
I breathe in the smell of beauty.
I touch you as I did once,
With naïve, inexperienced fingers.
And your feel, your scent
Are still familiar to me.
Cool water ripples reflecting the depth of you,
That cascades around my floating face.
And I see the real me,
That resides so far in your purity.

Allison Unroe
For my mom, Class of '76

The Drillfield has many memories for me. My first memory was that big pig roast held on the Drillfield when I was an incoming freshman. It made me forget about home and welcomed me to a new world of freedom and personal growth. I also remember juggling on the Drillfield with the Juggling Club. Another memory (rather crazy) was trying to walk across the Drillfield to go to my 8 a.m. class during a hurricane right before they decided to cancel classes that day. My umbrella broke, and I was soaked and almost got knocked down by the strong winds. But mostly I associate the Drillfield as being a big playground with friends. It was part of the best time of my life!

Michelle R. Robinson '92


In the fall of 1960, I came to VPI as a freshman, a rat in the corps of cadets. There was nothing beyond Owens Hall except Miles Stadium and early construction of a strange-looking new basketball court to replace War Memorial Gym. The largest area of the campus was the Drillfield, and it was a big part of our life as cadets. VPI then consisted mostly of cadets and those who had left the corps after two years. With less than 5,000 students at the university, the Drillfield seemed like it had all the space necessary to march and drill and to play touch football and softball. It always seemed to be snow-covered in the winter and muddy in the spring--not much difference between then and now, except that there were no sidewalks or lights between Eggleston and Burruss.

The Drillfield also was where the band and the athletes used to have our spring softball game, and it was where we became leaders of the corps on a beautiful late May afternoon during the spring quarter of our junior year. The corps still has its change of command ceremony, but it is no longer the sight of half the student body gathered on the Drillfield celebrating the end of another year and looking forward to the next. It was truly the center of the campus in many ways in the early '60s.

Melvin Eugene Huffman '64

One beautiful late May day in 1957, a good friend named Hezzie and I, not being ideal freshmen cadets, found ourselves "sitting" demerits off in a classroom in one of the old military buildings down the hill behind Burruss Hall. It was a very warm afternoon, and we were sitting in the back row by the windows. We were pretty unhappy, thinking about a few of our buddies who were icing down some beer to drive over to Claytor Lake. We put our heads together and came up with a plan: When the officer of the guard and the guard went out in the hall after roll call, we would jump out the window. We figured we'd never be missed, so when the opportunity came, out we went. Both the officer of the guard and the guard came back, however, just in time to see us going out the window. They ran up to the window, shouting at us, and when they stuck their heads out, we ran around the corner.

They then ran to the other window, and we decided to hightail it. We ran up the hill, around Burruss Hall, and started across the Drillfield. We could have qualified for the 100-yard dash as we went flying through intramural games and around cadets drilling. I have a vivid memory of looking back at the officer on guard running after us, his sash flying and his saber clanking against his knee, followed by the poor guard running with his rifle at port arms, both screaming at us to "halt! halt!"

Hezzie and I ran into the quadrangle and into our A Company barracks and hid for a while. We weren't found, and an hour later, we were at Claytor Lake drinking beer, swimming, and laughing about our "great escape." The ending to this story is that at the beginning of the 1957 fall quarter, Hezzie and I started out by sitting about another extra 25-30 demerits. This time, however, we didn't try to escape across the Drillfield.

Randall Wade Everett '56

I would like to share with you my best and worst memories of the Drillfield from my time at Tech. My favorite: During my freshman year, I lived in Campbell Hall, and my room faced the Drillfield. After their winter ball, the corps was out on the Drillfield for fireworks--in the snow! The sight was beautiful--certainly the one and only time I have seen fireworks in a snowstorm--and the guys in their long coats and the girls in their long gowns only added to the majesty of the scene.

My worst memory is when I was walking to class one day. I stopped to check traffic before crossing the street to cross the Drillfield. Well, I only looked the way the traffic would be coming from, not the other way, as it was a one-way street, but a guy was riding his bike the wrong way. He ran into me and knocked me down. And to add insult to injury--literally--he walked his bike off of me, leaving two footprint bruises on my abdomen. It still hurts to think about it!

Lois Herren McCoy '72

In the winters of 1947 and 1948, I lived on the third floor of Lane Hall and frequently had 8 a.m. classes in Saunders or Seitz halls--which meant crossing the Drillfield the long way. It was a good 10-minute walk when the weather was fine, but in the heavy snow (12 to 18 inches), it was a difficult 15 or 20 minutes. I would try to find someone else's footprints to follow in, but frequently I was the first one to go that way. I did not have heavy boots, only my army high tops, so I would tuck my wool GI pants in my socks and then have to sit in class with wet shoes and feet for several hours. By then, of course, they usually had the sidewalks cleared for walking.

Harley P. Affeldt '50 and M.Ed. '58

The Drillfield

Every night for 5 years I would walk into your black abyss
I always hoped that I would encounter no one
Just the wind
And my heartbeat

That first snowfall and ensuing snowball fight freed me
I had been bound by perceptions of inadequacy
An epic battle releasing my inhibitions
So ending my adolescence

Architecture -- it was what I wanted to do
You were my first lesson
A simple line drawn with assurance
Spaces defined by geometry and the spirit of human existence

Your vast vacant oval
So extended was your form that there was no sound
Just one's steps in the night
And the rhythm of my heart

Your stone outcroppings gave me strength
Always standing tall against the sky, challenging me to look beyond
To trust my dreams
I pass through your threshold, my journey complete

Kevin B. Sullivan '87
December 2006, Waltham, Mass.

Here are some of my personal Drillfield memories from my days as a Hokie from fall '89 through the fall '93. I remember how long that walk seemed from Pritchard to McBryde, the home of all of my freshman classes that year (or so it seemed). The stretch of path across the Drillfield always seemed to be the windiest part. I remember winter walks across the Drillfield. It took at least 10 minutes to walk from Pritchard to McBryde, and in the dead of winter, my freshly showered hair would be frozen by the time I got across the Drillfield. And I remember my freshman orientation when, during the tour, the guide told us that the Drillfield sinks every year (I don't remember exactly how much). Well, when I returned to campus this year, it doesn't look any lower than it did in 1993. Is it really sinking? [Editor’s note: The rumor that the Drillfield is sinking is just that—fiction and not fact.]

Coming back to the campus for the first time since the tragic events of April 16, I was apprehensive about seeing the memorials. I came back for the East Carolina football game, and I expected it to be an emotional trip. It was. In many ways, it was similar (in emotion) to the way April 16 unfolded. When I went to the memorials on the Drillfield, I felt a sense of numbness and disbelief, just like when I saw the television that morning. I just couldn't believe my eyes. Later at the game, the emotions came out, much like they did the days after April 16. But that image of Burruss Hall towering behind the memorials is one I will remember for a very long time: the majestic symbol of the university and campus I love so much standing behind the 32 smaller stones representing those who were taken from us.

Rich Luttenberger '93

One thing I remember about the Drillfield: drilling. The first parade that we, as rats, were to march in terrified me because I knew that I would screw it up. With my help, our unit finished last in the corps that year (1960-61).

Also, one day I was walking under a tree at the edge of the Drillfield on my way to chemistry class from West Eggleston Hall when heard and felt a kerplunk on my head. Almost dead center on my cadet hat was a juicy, gooey bird-dropping. I could not afford a new hat, but fortunately I was tall enough that the stain was hardly ever noticed during inspections by upperclassmen. The tree is still on the edge of the Drillfield and is much larger now due, no doubt, to years of fly-on fertilizer.

During my junior year, under the leadership of P. P. Duncan '63, we won the gold chord, the top, number one. The victory parade across the Drillfield was sweet.

Jim Floyd '64

The Drillfield certainly holds many memories for all graduates, but for an Old Guard alumnus, it holds some special and vivid memories. In my days at Tech (1952 to 1956), the Drillfield was the center of the campus as I knew it, or at least as I saw it.

A drive to the Duck Pond was almost off campus. The only parking lot students could use was at the outermost extent of the campus. It was paved with crushed stone--no Tarvia in those days. The walk from the parking lot was almost as far from the Drillfield as the walk from the apartment where I lived off campus.

Almost all of the buildings that I visited, or had classes in, were adjacent to or very near the Drillfield: Patton Hall, McBride Hall, Robertson Hall, and many others. Indeed, most of my classes were in buildings adjacent to or near the Drillfield. The only exception was where we studied history and economics, which was down over the hill from the Upper Quad. Since my major was electrical engineering, much of my time was spent in Patton Hall, which was the electrical engineering building in my day.

Most of my time on campus was spent on or near that beautiful grassy plain called the Drillfield. I can visualize looking out from the War Memorial and seeing most of what was then known as VPI. Homer Hickam expressed almost my exact feelings when he wrote, "The colonnaded War Memorial ... is one of the best spots to take in the breadth of the campus. It is there that I feel centered in the past ... able to see the structures and grounds as they were when I attended the university....” (Virginia Tech: Cut in Stone, 2007, DSA Publishing & Design, Inc., p 4.) It was a pleasant and serene setting that provides some precious memories of my days and the friends I knew at Virginia Tech. My most vivid and lasting memories of the Drillfield are of the beautiful green grass that covered the entire field. There were no sidewalks crossing the field. It was all grass and a magnificent sight whether looking out from the War Memorial or Burruss Hall or from the west or south.

All will remember the warm spring, summer, or fall days when one could look out over the Drillfield and see pockets of students sitting or standing in small groups or perhaps some guys tossing a ball around. There might even have been a group of cadets engaged in what was some important activity. On occasion there might have been a group of students holding an outside meeting of one of the student clubs or of one of the student chapters of an engineering society. Most such memories would hold true for almost all Tech graduates. On one of my recent visits to the campus, such sights still existed.

The pick-up football games I saw during my visit remind me of a most vivid memory of the Drillfield. When I attended Tech, we held organized intramural football games of two-handed touch football on the Drillfield. I think there were teams from various departments in engineering, and there may have been other organizations involved. Intramural football was one of the few activities outside of class in which I participated; since I lived off campus and worked at the Lyric Theatre several hours a day, I had little time to do so. I remember one game when a single play literally altered my life and still affects me today, some 50-plus years later. How so? Well, I was playing defensive end and on a sweep around my end, I took the wrong angle and got "boxed," so to speak. I made a dive for the runner--and I got one hand on him but not two--and rolled over on my arm and hand. I heard a slight crunching sound but felt no pain. For some reason I sat up before I tried to get up; to this day I don't know why. I looked down at my left hand and thought, "What a weird sight!" The little finger on my left hand was pointing at an angle of 90 degrees over the knuckle of my third finger. I just sat there looking at my hand when some of the guys came running over to see why I wasn't up and ready for the next play. Immediately they realized what was wrong, and a couple of the guys helped me hold my hand and arm still until I could be pulled to my feet. At that point I still felt no pain.

Someone helped me walk to the Dispensary, holding my arm with the funny-looking finger. During that walk I started to feel the pain, and by the time we got there, it had become quite severe. I saw a nurse who, I believe, straightened the finger and put a splint on it, but she may have sent me to a physician. My memory of the incident after we arrived at the Dispensary is very hazy. I have no memory of the location of the Dispensary. I only remember that we walked to the southeast across the Drillfield. I believe it was in a building somewhere near the southeast corner of the field. Perhaps there will be someone who reads this who can provide the location. In any event, my finger was straightened, and I wore a small wood splint wrapped with gauze and tape for several days. My football games were over.

However, my more immediate problem was my work at the Lyric. I was the projectionist, and a part of my job was to thread the motion picture projectors. Needless to say, I had some extremely difficult and painful days. But the clincher was even worse. During my submarine days, I had taught myself to touch-type on a mechanical typewriter, and the proficiency that I had gained was often a help in preparing my class work, particularly those infamous lab reports. Remember that in those days, there was no such thing as computers with sensitive keyboards and all kinds of special keys. So what was the big deal about typing? When my finger healed, I once again tried to type, but that left little finger would not work properly. Indeed, I had to force it to push down on the keys, and I could not determine if it was even on the correct key. Hence, I found myself looking down at the keys to see if my finger was placed properly, and even then I did not always hit the correct key. As time went on and I was unable to make my left hand function properly, I became a two-fingered typist and that is still my lot today. Even as I sit here at my keyboard in front of my desktop computer, I pound away with two fingers. Very inefficient and slow, you might say. Yes, indeed. But if this story seems unlikely. I would challenge you to sit at your keyboard and try to type without using your little finger on your left hand. And don't cheat!

Memories of the Drillfield? Ah, yes. There are some big memories, some small memories, some important memories, and some not-so important memories. But they all are certainly lasting memories of the Drillfield in the center of the Virginia Tech campus.

John H. Cunningham '56


I have many memories of the Drillfield from my years as a student, 1937-1941.

I believe it was in 1938 when the German armies were on the march through Europe that the U.S. military needed to reassure the American public that the United States was capable of resisting any threat of invasion by any foreign military force. To this end, a show of force was scheduled for VPI. Notice of the event was published throughout the area.

On the selected day, two bomber-type aircraft flew up from Langley Field to put on a bombing demonstration on the Drillfield. These aircraft were old, open-cockpit biplanes that took half a day to cross the state. Now, modern fighters can make the trip in 10 to 15 minutes. The bombing demonstration consisted of dropping bags of flour from the cockpit by hand (the Norden bombsight hadn't been developed yet) in an attempt to hit a target placed on the Drillfield. Some of the sacks of flour came close to hitting the target. Along about the middle of the afternoon, a detachment of ground personnel arrived with giant searchlights and numerous machine guns. These anti-aircraft units were deployed around the perimeter of the Drillfield. As darkness fell, the searchlights were activated, and the machine guns were dry-fired (no live ammunition was used). The searchlights did illuminate a few low clouds.

The Drillfield was actually the scene of a real battle at certain times of the year: snowball battles, that is. At the first good snowfall, the entire corps of cadets would roll out and assemble on the Drillfield for a snowball fight. Actually, it was mostly the freshmen seeking revenge for the hazing they had endured at the hand of the sophomores.

I sincerely hope that the Drillfield will remain in the future much as it is today, an open green space amid an otherwise crowded environment.

William B. Vincel '41

When I was at Tech from 1936 to 1940, I was in "I" Battery. We always marched to the mess hall where "Pop" Owens was in charge. En route to a meal, our battery of cadets might chant in cadence some gripe that we had. On one occasion, we chanted a gripe that was, at the very least, disrespectful to our army military commandant, Col. Tenny. During our next corps drill--the drills took place three times a week after the noon meal--Col. Tenny was present. He selected "I" Battery to drill at double-time during the entire period. We were equipped with our rifles, and it was a painful learning experience. The point was, learn when not to taunt authority.

Byrd L. Rawlings II '40

My memories of the Drillfield are of the bone-chilling variety. When crossing the Drillfield to get to class on those especially frosty mornings, tears streaming from my eyes and freezing on my cheeks, I came up with my mantra for perseverance that continues to hold true today: "There's nothing to do but to do it." Sometimes ya gotta just keep going to get to the other side.

Paige Takach '78

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