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Lathrop ’98 says Memorial Day took on greater gravity after classmate’s death

Tom Coyne
Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Lathrop '98 speaks at the Gold Star Ceremony on Memorial Day at Culver Academies. (Photo by Mo Cabrera)

Stern '98 remembered at Gold Star Ceremony

May 29, 2023

Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Lathrop ’98 told a standing-room-only crowd at the Gold Star Ceremony that the meaning of Memorial Day changed for him after a Culver Military Academy classmate died while serving in Iraq in 2004.

Lathrop told Culver Academies students he recalls attending Gold Star ceremonies at Memorial Chapel when he was a cadet and understanding why the names of 247 Culver alumni who had died while serving their country were inscribed on the wall.

“I now realize how much I didn’t, I couldn’t understand the gravity of that loss,” Lathrop said.

He told the crowd that a week after he and three Culver crew teammates passed under the Iron Gate at graduation in 1998 they traded their maroon and gold colors for those of the Marine Corps and the Air Force, not knowing that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, would define their service.


Culver Girls Academy student Katherine Looby '24 places a wreath on a Gold Star Flag during a Memorial Day service. (Photo by Mo Cabrera).

Marine 1st Lt. Andy Stern ’98 was killed on Sept. 16, 2004, while serving in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Stern was the commander of the 3rd Platoon, Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, and was positioning his tank between members of a construction platoon building a road and an improvised explosive device when it detonated.

“Through this, I gained a deeper, more heartfelt, understanding of what those names in the narthex of this chapel mean,” Lathrop said. “Today we gather as a community of Culver Academies and reflect on the terrible cost of war.  While Andy is the only Culver grad I personally know to die in combat, as we listen to the now 248 names read aloud, let us remember they were all, as Andy was to me, classmates, teammates, roommates, and friends.”

Lathrop is now a Ph.D. student at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. He is researching alternative navigation solutions utilizing anomalies in Earth’s magnetic field.

He is a 2002 graduate of the Air Force Academy, he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 2010, and has flown more than 400 combat sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Lathrop and the Rev. Dr. Sam Boys, director of spiritual life at Culver Academies, enter Memorial Chapel at the start of the Gold Star Ceremony (Photo by Mo Cabrera)


Lathrop also told those at the ceremony on Monday the history of Memorial Day. Originally it was called “Decoration Day” because of a grassroots movement by communities throughout the country seeking to honor each town’s soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Lathrop said 1868 is generally recognized as the first “Decoration Day,” which later became known as Memorial Day.

Culver Academies’ first remembrance of the holiday was conducted in 1901. In 1919, it officially became the Gold Star Ceremony when the names of the 85 Culver men who died during World War I were read aloud and the first Gold Star flag was unfurled.

“As this day now serves as a day of remembrance for those killed in all American wars, more than 150 years after the first observance of Decoration Day, we are now here in the Memorial Chapel to remember the men of Culver who died in combat,” he said.  “The Academies has a history of producing men and women who did, and do, answer a calling to serve in the American armed forces during both peace and war.” 

Lathrop urged the students to always use Memorial Day weekend, as a time to celebrate with family and friends, saying: “Life is certainly worthy of celebration.”

But he also urged them to take a moment to remember those who have died for their country.

“As you go forth during each Memorial Day, a moment of remembrance and gratitude is warranted for your fellow fallen citizens,” he said. “Just as this morning, we are here to remember and honor our Culver classmates who entered the American armed services and died carrying out their duties, while following the commands of their nation.”


A plaque commemorating 1st Lt. Andy Stern, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, hangs in the narthex in Memorial Chapel.

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