Fifty years ago, three cadets from the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Class of 1964, Alton “Butch” Harper, Homer “Sonny” Hickam, and George Fox, came together with one goal in mind; to have the biggest game cannon the world has ever seen.
Through their perseverance and effort, and the support of the entire corps as well as alumni and faculty, their idea became reality.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, the Corps of Cadets will commemorate 50 years of tradition by holding an anniversary celebration for Skipper. The event will begin in the Burruss Hall Auditorium, located at 800 Drillfield Dr., at 3:30 p.m. All are welcome to join today's Corps of Cadets to learn about Skipper from those who were there when it all began. The event is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.
Following the presentation in Burruss Hall, the celebration will move to the Drillfield in front of War Memorial chapel, located at 601 Drillfield Dr., for a special 21-volley salute in honor of President John F. Kennedy on this 50th anniversary year of his death and the creation of Skipper. At approximately 4:45 p.m. the Gregory Guard, the Corps of Cadets precision rifle drill team, will execute the first two volleys and then the seventh rifleman will yield the honor of the 21st round to Skipper during the third volley.
The Highty-Tighties, the regimental band, will provide music for the ceremony.
On Nov. 22, 1963, while driving back to Blacksburg after picking up the barrel and carriage, the cadets learned that President Kennedy had been shot. Upon learning of his death, Kennedy’s legacy and naval background would inspire the naming of the cannon now known as Skipper.
In Kennedy's honor, the first firing of Skipper was a 50-volley salute, a military tradition to honor the death of a president. Soon after on Thanksgiving Day, the annual VMI versus VPI game was held and Skipper was first introduced, in spectacular fashion, as the Corps of Cadets game cannon.
For the next 50 years, Skipper and those cadets that maintain it’s legacy, the Skipper Crew, became embedded within the tradition of Virginia Tech, becoming one of the most recognizable icons of the Corps of Cadets and the university. The cannon is a symbol of family, tradition, and Hokie pride.
At the beginning of every game and at every Hokie score, the rumble of the nearly 1,000 pound cannon can be heard throughout the Blacksburg community. To this day Skipper continues the tradition outset by its founders, serving as a guide for the corps, alumni, fans, and all of Hokie nation.
After serving proudly for 19 years, the original Skipper suffered a blowout in 1982. In 1984, Paul Huffman, Jr., a Virginia Tech alumnus whose father’s foundry had created the original Skipper, volunteered to design and create a new Skipper for the Corps of Cadets at no charge as his father had done. The original Skipper is currently located in the Holtzman Alumni Center museum, located at 901 Prices Fork Rd., until the new Corps Leadership and Military Science building opens.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23 at approximately 3 p.m. the Gregory Guard and Skipper will practice on the Upper Quad near Lane Hall, which is located at 280 Alumni Mall. The Gregory Guard will perform two rifle volleys, performed by seven rifleman, and Skipper will fire twice.
Free parking is available in Perry Street Lots and the Perry Street Parking Garage near Prices Fork Road with a visitor’s pass. A visitor’s pass may be obtained Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Visitor Information Center, located at 965 Prices Fork Rd., near the intersection of Prices Fork Road and University City Boulevard next to the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. A visitor’s pass may also be obtained from the Virginia Tech Police Station, located at 330 Sterrett Dr., outside of the Visitor Information Center hours. Find more parking information online or call 540-231-3200.