Every year the President’s Review at Yale draws a crowd. This annual campus event, held at the John Lee Amphitheater at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, and organized by Yale’s Naval and Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) units, features Navy midshipmen and Air Force (and Army) cadets in full dress uniform on parade in front of the Yale community, family members, dignitaries, and invited guests.

The recent 2024 President’s Review offered a special surprise. Among the honors conferred upon select cadets and midshipmen at the event was a newly-created Air Force ROTC award named after Yale alumnus and retired Brigadier General Enoch “Woody” Woodhouse II ’52, a World War II veteran and one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Brigadier General Enoch “Woody” Woodhouse Wingman Spirit Award is the first Yale ROTC award named after an alumni veteran of color.

Woodhouse, who is 97 years old and purportedly the only Tuskegee Airman to graduate from an Ivy League institution, was thrilled to be invited back to campus to present his award to the inaugural Air Force ROTC cadet recipients.

Colonel Lester Oberg, commander of Yale Air Force ROTC (Detachment 009), chats with retired Brigadier General Enoch Woodhouse II ’52 after the President’s Review. (Photo: Henry Kwan)

According to Colonel Lester Oberg, commander of Air Force ROTC (Detachment 009) at Yale, the idea for this award emerged when he met Woodhouse earlier in the year on a previous campus visit

“Ever since meeting Woodhouse, our team was looking for ways to celebrate his service and draw a connection between our detachment and his legacy, and it dawned on all of us that an annual award presented in his honor would be a great way to establish that connection,” he said. “To have him present the first awards was particularly special.”

Oberg noted the significance of honoring alumni veterans like Woodhouse through named awards.

“We truly stand on the shoulders of giants, and in his case, a humble, generous, and witty giant at that,” he said. “He is a national treasure.”

Oberg added that current and future generations can learn much from Woodhouse’s example.

“There are so many lessons to be learned from heroes like him that you would need to major in them and study them for four years to truly give them justice,” he said. “To look at his accomplishments, and the conditions under which he accomplished them, is truly inspiring.”

Air Force ROTC Cadet Eric Simmons salutes retired Brigadier General Enoch Woodhouse II ’52 before receiving The Brigadier General Enoch “Woody” Woodhouse Wingman Spirit Award at the President’s Review. (Photo: Henry Kwan)

Eric Simmons, one of the two inaugural recipients of the Woodhouse award, who is from Charleston, S.C., and currently a junior at Western Connecticut State University, was deeply honored with this distinction and highly appreciative of the life journey of individuals like Woodhouse.

“I am pleased that Woodhouse was acknowledged for his service,” he said. “Amazing people like him sometimes go unnoticed, so I’m glad that there was appropriate recognition while also remembering the people from the past who served and sacrificed greatly to protect the many privileges and rights that we have today.”

Simmons noted how meaningful it was to personally meet Woodhouse.

“As an individual of African descent, his words profoundly influenced me,” he said. “His experiences in the military and in life were considerably more challenging than those I have encountered. He did not have the same level of support that I did because of the color of his complexion, but despite all the obstacles he encountered, he still attained remarkable accomplishments.”

He added how grateful he was to learn from Woodhouse’s example.

“He has taught me the importance of appreciating my blessings and the necessity of exerting greater effort than others in order to achieve desired results.”

Ivanna Roque, the other Woodhouse award recipient, hailing from Wallingford, Conn., and currently a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, was similarly moved by earning this distinction.

“Receiving this award was a moment of profound honor, one that filled me with a deep sense of gratitude,” she said. “Meeting a figure of such legendary stature as Woodhouse was an experience that left an indelible impression upon me.”

Roque asserted that ROTC cadets and midshipmen can learn invaluable lessons from veterans like Woodhouse.

“We can gain a significant appreciation for the sacrifices made by previous generations in defense of freedom,” she said. “World War II veterans such as Woodhouse embody resilience, courage, and determination in the face of adversity, traits that are essential for military service.”

Captain Tyler Detorie ’16 with retired Brigadier General Enoch Woodhouse II ’52. (Photo: Henry Kwan)

Tyler Detorie ’16, a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who was commissioned as an officer through Yale ROTC and served six years on active duty and is currently an MBA student at the Yale School of Management (Class of 2024), recounted his impression of meeting Woodhouse.

“I felt a profound sense of pride being in his presence,” he said. “Woodhouse and his contemporaries demonstrated an unwavering dedication to their country and a willingness to make personal sacrifices for the collective benefit, serving as a powerful example of selflessness and commitment to a cause larger than oneself.”

Detorie echoed that Woodhouse was a wonderful role model, particularly within the Yale community.

“He epitomizes the motto ‘For God, For Country, and For Yale,’” he said. “To meet him was an honor I’ll never forget.”

Holly Hermes, Yale’s university liaison for veteran and military affairs and a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, who grew up in a multigenerational military family that included grandparents who served during World War II, was mindful of the service and sacrifices of veterans like Woodhouse.

“It’s wonderful to have an award that recognizes Woodhouse—his story is inspirational to our entire community, both military and civilian,” she said. “It is also incredibly special that cadets had the chance to meet and interact with him during the inaugural year of this award in his honor.”

Hermes noted Woodhouse’s humility and down-to-earth demeanor.

“Woodhouse has an engaging, approachable personality that made it easy for the community to interact with him and ask him real questions,” she said. “He was honest about the challenges he faced, but also had an overall positive outlook on humanity.”

According to Captain Bill Johnson, commanding officer of Naval ROTC at Yale, the establishment of the Woodhouse award was a fitting tribute for someone who embodied the many qualities that are held in high esteem in the military community.

“The attributes that the Woodhouse award represents—strength in adversity and relentless optimism—are what we want in our future military leaders,” he said. “These traits are indelibly etched in his character, and I can think of no better person to name this award after.”

Johnson added that Woodhouse’s example to others transcends his wartime record and military career.

“Woodhouse, and heroes like him, can teach us what truly matters in life,” he said. “He has lived his life exemplifying the values of service and sacrifice, the selflessness of giving more than you take, and the commitment to making a positive difference in the communities in which you belong.”

Devon Riley, U.S. Air Force veteran and staff member at the Yale Office of Diversity and Inclusion, interviews retired Brigadier General Enoch Woodhouse II ’52. (Photo: Henry Kwan)

In addition to the President’s Review, Woodhouse participated in a moderated discussion, hosted by the Yale Veterans Network and the Yale African American Affinity Group, in which he was asked to speak on a range of topics and issues, from his life experiences and military career to his thoughts on the future of Yale and the nation.

Devon Riley, a U.S. Air Force veteran and diversity support specialist at the Yale Office of Diversity and Inclusion, noted how inspired he was getting to know Woodhouse as the event interviewer.

“Listening to his story about attending Yale, and how he was treated, is proof that hard work and perseverance can lead to great things,” he said. “It was wonderful to see him recognized with a Yale Air Force ROTC award in his name.”

Riley, who is from New Haven, Conn., added that he cherished the life lessons that Woodhouse’s example provided.

“He is a living reminder that if you keep striving towards your goals, you will eventually achieve them,” he said. “His legacy instills a valuable lesson for all—the importance of treating others with respect and perseverance in the face of life’s challenges.”