A professional basketball legend who starred at Providence College and a retired, highly decorated general who graduated from the College’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Program received special recognition during PC’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Army ROTC Program.
The luncheon, held in Slavin Center ’64 Hall at the beginning of Reunion Weekend 2016, honored Friar great Lenny Wilkens ’60 & ‘80Hon. and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Richard P. Formica (retired). Both were selected for induction into the inaugural class of the Army’s national ROTC Hall of Fame in June at Fort Knox, Ky.
Also honored, posthumously, at the ROTC centennial anniversary event were three other PC undergraduates who served in the military: U.S. Navy veteran John A. Parrillo, D.M.D. ’45 and Army majors Edmund H. Hornstein ’56 and William G. Norberg ’56.
Hosted by the College’s ROTC Patriot Battalion and the Office of Alumni Relations, the luncheon was one in a series of celebrations nationally to mark the anniversary milestone of ROTC. The audience included staff, students, and graduates of the Patriot Battalion; PC administrators and staff, and alumni – many of whom served in the military – and their family members.
Guests were welcomed by master of ceremonies U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin R. Kugel (retired), former chair and professor of PC’s Department of Military Science. Kugel reviewed historical highlights of the College’s ROTC Program, noting it was founded in 1951 and that 1,919 men and women have been commissioned as second lieutenants at PC.
College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 also addressed the guests. He said that the College’s ROTC Program “provides a unique learning experience” for students, who have applied those lessons in their military service and in many other careers and circumstances. Father Shanley said St. Thomas Aquinas frequently referenced patriotism, the virtue of justice, and the importance of God, family, and country.
“Some kind of patriotism is a mark of a well-lived life,” said Father Shanley.
Army and Patriot Battalion veterans Wilkens and Formica were recognized at the luncheon for being selected to the ROTC Hall of Fame for distinct reasons. Wilkens was chosen for leading a distinguished civilian career in basketball and for his community service, while Formica was honored for his exemplary record of military service. Each was presented a framed certificate by Father Shanley.
Wilkens played three years of varsity basketball at PC, earning All-America honors twice and a reputation as one of the Friars’ best backcourt defenders and smoothest ballhandlers ever. He went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA, being named an all-star nine times.
Wilkens likewise crafted a legendary career as an NBA coach. He coached six teams over the course of more than 30 years, and his 1,332 victories as a head coach ranks second all-time in the NBA. He coached the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1979 NBA Championship, was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1993, and was an NBA all-star coach four times. Wilkens, who helped lead the U.S. to Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996 as an assistant coach and the head coach, respectively, is the only person ever inducted three times into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He is the founder and CEO of the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, which supports the healthcare and education of needy children in the Seattle, Wash., area.
After accepting his certificate from Father Shanley, Wilkens told the guests how honored he was to come back to the College and be recognized. He said he was always interested in military history and that his ROTC and military experiences were “tremendous” opportunities.
Wilkens, who served at Fort Lee in Virginia and Fort Benning in Georgia, said serving in the Army gave him confidence and helped him learn how to work with people.
“I’m a ‘yes’ person,” he said. “Sometimes, our military doesn’t get the credit it deserves. These are people who put their lives on the line every day.”
The other Hall of Fame honoree, Formica, called ROTC “life-changing” for him. In his case, he turned it into a 36-year career – one headlined by service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Commissioned through PC’s ROTC Program while an undergraduate at Bryant College (now University) in Smithfield, R.I., he culminated his Army career as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Armed Forces Strategic Command and Joint Functional Component Command – Integrated Missile Defense. Prior to that, he served on the Department of the Army Headquarters staff as special assistant to the chief of staff of the Army. In that position, he worked on the staff’s Air and Missile Defense Task Force and on other missile defense-related issues.
Formica, who held many other command, fire support, and staff assignments in the United States and Germany during his career, received more than a dozen honors during his extensive Army service. His awards included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army Staff Identification badges.
“Attending ROTC here at Providence College opened doors for me that I never imagined,” said Formica, whose brother, John R. Formica ’81, graduated from PC. “… I learned the value of serving something bigger than self.” It was in the Army that he met his future wife, Diane, raised a family of four children, and embarked on a lifetime of service to America, he said.
Formica shared three thoughts about ROTC’s impact, first citing it as “an incredible program that nurtures cadets and transforms them into leaders for life.” ROTC also offers one of the finest models of leadership training in the entire Army, and it connects the Army to America, he said. He explained that the Army ROTC is engaged in colleges and universities across the country and that many junior ROTC programs exist in high schools. Formica retired from the Army on Oct. 1, 2013.
Luncheon guests also listened appreciatively as the College honored three other veterans, two of whom were killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Dr. Parrillo, who died in 2006, was posthumously conferred an honorary bachelor of science degree for his military service to America and his service to PC and the community. A Navy veteran who interrupted his education to serve in World War II, Dr. Parrillo supported the College in many ways. A biology major, he enjoyed a lengthy career in dentistry.
He was a generous PC benefactor and dedicated volunteer. Dr. Parrillo was president of the Greater Providence chapter of the National Alumni Association, the Mal Brown Club, and was instrumental in extending club membership to women. He volunteered at phonathons and as a class agent. Dr. Parrillo received the Loyalty Fund Award in 1981, the Dr. William A. McDonnell Award in 1982, and the Faithful Friar Award in 1995.
Five of his six children graduated from PC: John A. Parrillo, Jr. ‘70, Stephen J. Parrillo, M.D. ’71, Richard D. Parrillo ’77, Mary E. Parrillo ’81, and Geoffrey M. Parrillo, D.M.D. ’83.
Dr. Parrillo’s honorary degree was presented to his wife, Mildred Parrillo, by Father Shanley.
Majors Hornstein and Norberg were recognized during the program for their service and bravery by Andrew R. Gold, ’88, PC ROTC Alumni Association president. A plaque that included their names was rededicated in Phillips Memorial Library, noted Gold. Native Rhode Islanders, they were classmates and close friends who served in the same units for part of their Army careers.
Major Hornstein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from PC, played on the Friars’ men’s hockey team, served as class treasurer in his junior year, and was a member of several clubs and organizations, including the swimming and tennis clubs, the St. Antoninus Club, and the Johannine Society. Major Hornstein and his wife, Kathleen, had three sons: James Hornstein ’82, Richard Hornstein, who graduated from PC’s ROTC Program, and Edmund H. Hornstein, Jr.
During his Army career, he served in Korea and in Vietnam. He was killed in action in Vietnam on April 12, 1966, and was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously on May 15, 1966.
Major Norberg majored in economics as an undergraduate and participated in many College groups, including the Cadet Officers Honor Club, the St. Antoninus Club, the Ski Club, and the Providence Club. Major Norberg and his wife, Marie, were the parents of two sons and a daughter.
A nine-year Army veteran, Major Norberg was killed in South Vietnam on June 7, 1966, while serving as an infantry company commander. His heroic actions that day later led to a posthumous award, the Bronze Star Medal.