The large, open room at the front of the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Md, was originally the main entrance to the schoolhouse. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, school administrators moved the main entrance to its current location to increase building security, installing a staff-duty desk and security cameras.
The old entrance hall was used as a storage area for items moved from the Defense Information School’s previous location at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. The room and its contents were damaged in 2005, when a frozen pipe burst and spilled water into the hall. While sorting through the waterlogged boxes for salvageable items, then-Command Sergeant Major Randall Cordell, DINFOS senior enlisted advisor, discovered plaques from the former school’s Public Affairs “Hall of Fame,” dedicated to graduates of the schoolhouse who had distinguished themselves throughout their careers.
While discussing the find with then-Commandant Col. Hiram Bell, the men decided to create a “Hall of Heroes,” honoring those who distinguished themselves in the military communications field by making the ultimate sacrifice.
Once the idea was approved, Visual Communications instructor Staff Sgt. Dixie Kapayou came forward to volunteer her services in designing the Hall.
One hundred and thirty plaques hang on a background of alternating marble laminate and smoked glass mirror. The plates display the names of servicemembers killed while performing duties in the communications/visual information field. Each plaque has the name, rank, service, date of death and the name of the conflict in which they died. Those honored range from private (E-1) to major (O-4). The earliest plaques date from WWI.
The Vietnam War is the conflict with the most names represented, including seven broadcasters/maintainers from one Armed Forces Radio and Television Services (AFRTS) station killed in the same attack.
The plates line the wall in six rows, flanking a 35” x 28” etched glass panel depicting the Department of Defense seal, underlined with the phrase “For those who gave their lives in combat” and followed by the seals of all five branches of the military.
In the center of the Hall, greeting visitors who enter through the glass doors that used to be the main entrance, a 72” parquet seal of the Defense Information School is embedded in the floor. The parquet design used different woods in varying natural shades, with a light blue background for the inner seal. The seal is banded with a ¼” brass ring.
The flags of all five services fly from the railing of the second-story landing, from which passers-by can look down into the Hall from above. Also on display in the Hall of Heroes is the ship’s bell from the USS Sprig, which was donated to the Naval School of Photography when the ship was retired from service in 1977. When the school combined with the Defense Photography School, and later the Defense Information School, the bell followed.
Today, the Hall of Heroes is used for ceremonies and functions at the Defense Information School, and serves as a daily reminder of the ultimate price some public affairs and visual communications specialists have paid.