Student veteran to carry Indiana Bicentennial Torch to honor astronaut, alumnus Gus Grissom

PSVO President Dustin Weisner poses with Astronaut David Wolf during the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Run. PSVO President Dustin Weisner poses with Astronaut David Wolf during the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Run.

Past rivers and through state parks, Indiana’s Bicentennial Torch is heading toward Purdue. When it arrives on Oct. 12, it will pass through the hands of Purdue President Mitch Daniels, Dean Emerita Betty Nelson, and even members of the Purdue Engineering team who designed it, among others.

Purdue student Dustin Weisner, president of the Purdue Student Veteran Organization (PSVO), also will carry the torch for about a quarter of a mile, starting around 10:49 a.m. from the corner of Third and University streets to Freedom Square at the Armory. With members of PSVO in formation behind him, Weisner will run to honor Purdue alumnus Gus Grissom, one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts, a U.S. Air Force test pilot and mechanical engineer.

Weisner is dedicating his portion of the relay to Grissom in part to recognize the astronaut’s contributions to space exploration, but also to remind the local community of Grissom’s military service.

Before Grissom became the second American to fly in space, he enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII. He was discharged from the Army in November of 1945 and enrolled at Purdue using the GI Bill less than a year later. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, Grissom re-enlisted in the military and served as a wingman during the Korean War. 

Later, Grissom served as command pilot for the first manned Project Gemini Flight, thus becoming the first NASA astronaut to fly into space twice. While Grissom is best known for his NASA career, as well as his untimely death during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission, Weisner says the astronaut’s military service deserves to be remembered as well.

“I’m proud to be running in honor of someone who has done so much for us as a University and a nation,” Weisner says. “While we can’t physically thank him, we’d like to do it in spirit.”

As one final nod to Grissom, Weisner will pass the torch to Dr. David Wolf, a Purdue alumnus, astronaut and visiting professor who will carry the flame to the Neil Armstrong bronze sculpture. 

Jamie Richards, director of Purdue’s Veterans Success Center (VSC), says Grissom is a glowing example for other veterans who want to use the GI Bill to further their education and go on to make a lasting impact on the world.

“Gus certainly did that,” says Richards, who helped facilitate Weisner’s participation in the relay. “Honoring him during Indiana’s Bicentennial is a great way for us to connect Purdue’s history with Indiana’s history, as well as the history of Purdue veterans to our current students who have served or are currently serving.”

Moreover, Richards hopes Weisner’s participation in the relay will help raise awareness about Purdue’s veteran community, including services offered by the VSC.

“We want our service members, including those who are separating from the military, to know where they can go on campus to find camaraderie and support.”

More information about the Bicentennial Torch Relay

The Bicentennial Torch will travel 3,200 miles through all 92 Indiana counties, hitting 260 cities along the way. Fired by Indiana-made E-85 fuel and crafted from aluminum lithium alloy from Alcoa in Lafayette, the torch will stay lit the entire way. It also will transmit its location via GPS and can be followed on social media or via a tracking app (available on the App Store and Google Play).

More than 2,200 torchbearers will carry the flame during its five-week journey. Of local torchbearers, more than a third have a Purdue connection.

Additionally, the torch is the culmination of more than a year of work by Purdue students and faculty:

Additional information about the torch’s features may be found on YouTube.

Writer: Andrea Thomas, Communications Director for Student Success Programs, 765-496-3754, thomas78@purdue.edu

Last updated: Sept. 21, 2016

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