Designer of Nation's Presidential Medal of Freedom Dies
February 25, 2004
Col. Harry D. Temple, a Virginia Tech alumnus who wrote a comprehensive history of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and designed the Presidential Medal of Freedom for President John F. Kennedy, died Feb. 24. He was 92.
"Harry Temple was the epitome of Ut Prosim ['That I May Serve,' the Virginia Tech motto]. He served with distinction as a career Army officer and as a historian who preserved the history of the corps of cadets. He will be missed by all alumni of Virginia Tech," said Maj. Gen. Jerrold P. Allen, commandant of cadets at the university.
Temple dedicated 23 years of his later life to researching and writing the corps history covering 1872 to 1934, the year of his graduation. His work, which was published in a six-volume set titled The Bugle's Echo, also chronicles the history of Virginia Tech during that period. "You can't have a history of the corps without a history of Virginia Tech," he once said.
When the first volume was printed, Temple wrote that the motive behind his work was "an earnest desire of an old grad to prevent the story and spirit of the small pre-World War II military college from slipping into obscurity within the shadow of its successor preeminent and large civilian university."
In addition to the corps history, Temple produced in 1992 the book Donning the Blue and Gray, a pictorial history of the uniforms worn by cadets at Virginia Tech. Using money contributed by his fellow alumni, he commissioned an artist to complete 37 full-color plates of the various uniforms and combined them with 47 pages of history he penned himself.
Temple spent 32 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 1966, with the last five of those years as chief of the Army's Institute of Heraldry, and collected more than 1,000 volumes on heraldry, an interest he developed as a teenager. He donated his collection, a combination of rare and scholarly books dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries, to Virginia Tech's University Libraries in 1989. It is housed in Special Collections in Newman Library.
His expertise in heraldry and leadership of the Institute of Heraldry landed him a position as heraldry advisor to the Federal Commission of Fine Arts, a job that led to a similar post for the White House. "President Kennedy wanted something similar to the Queen's Honor List, and we came up with the Presidential Medal of Freedom," he said in 1989. "Every artist in the institute wanted to enter a design. The institute turned in 12 designs, including mine, without names attached. The Commission of Fine Arts cut the field to three. From the three, the White House picked mine."
Temple also designed 42 coats of arms in the National Cathedral in Washington and the coat of arms for the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, which was the first officially granted coat of arms from the Army to a unit outside the regular Army, National Guard, or Army Reserve. He shepherded it through the process to become officially registered with the U.S. Office of Heraldry. According to Temple's own estimates, he designed between 200 and 300 coats of arms for schools, colleges, and churches.
With his knowledge of Virginia Tech history, Temple located corps memorabilia, which he donated to the corps museum, always attaching a history of the pieces in his neatly printed handwriting. He searched antique shops throughout the state, always on the lookout for items related to the corps.
He also used that knowledge to identify numerous photographs in the archives of his alma mater, and he added to those archives photographs he located while doing the research for his history books.
"He was a strong supporter of University Libraries and became a wonderful friend. What a loss," said Eileen Hitchingham, dean of University Libraries. Members of the library staff and the university community often sought him out to answer questions about Tech history.
Temple's contributions to the university's corps of cadets were recognized by the board of visitors in 1996 with a Special Citation, which was presented during Founders Day ceremonies. The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Alumni Association honored him with a celebration later that year under a tent on the front lawn of Lane Hall, the university's first barracks. He also received special recognition from University Libraries.
Temple was born in Elizabeth City County, Va., now a part of Hampton, on Oct. 24, 1911, and grew up in Petersburg. He earned a bachelor of science in industrial engineering at Virginia Tech, then known as VPI, before doing graduate work at George Washington University and the University of Georgia. The career military man was a graduate of the Army's Command and General Staff College, the Army Logistic Management Center, and the Army Management School and was a combat veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.
A memorial service for Col. Temple will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 27, at Virginia Tech's War Memorial Chapel, with a graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, March 5, at 10 a.m. McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg is handling arrangements.