Alumnus dies in combat in Afghanistan

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State community was saddened to learn of the loss of one of its own recently. Maj. Sam Griffith, a 1997 alumnus, was killed in the line of duty Dec. 14, while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Griffith, 36, leaves behind his wife, Casey, and two sons, 6-year old Noah and 7-year old Chad. He also is survived by his father, William Griffith of Fuquay Varina, N.C., and his mother, Kathi Bischoff of Jupiter, Fla.

"My last tour of duty with the Marine Corps was as executive officer for the Penn State NROTC, and Sam was one of my students. I knew him really well, and also knew his wife Casey well, as she also is a Penn Stater. He was a great student, and a kind, generous individual. I was proud to have him as a fellow Marine," said Ted Timmerman, associate director office of veterans programs. "When I was at Sam's memorial service yesterday, there were better than 25 of his classmates who made the effort to attend. That speaks volumes about Sam, because many of them are on active duty and it's tough to be able to drop what they're doing to attend the ceremony. The fact that so many were there is just amazing and speaks to the kind of person Sam was."

The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) unit maintains a memorial in the entry to Wagner Building on the University Park campus that recognizes Marines and sailors from the University Park campus that have been killed in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001. A plaque with Griffith's information was added to the memorial on Dec 15.

The Marine Corps and several Penn State alumni already have taken steps to recognize Griffith's passing, and they also are supporting and assisting his family in a number of ways:

-- A captain in the Marine Reserves coordinated with the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation to get a $30,000 education bond for Griffith's children.

-- A major in the Marines led a detail of Marines to Dover, Del., to receive Griffith's casket when it returned to American soil.

-- A former Penn State NROTC student went to stay with Casey Griffith, who also is a Penn State NROTC alumna, immediately after being notified of Griffith's passing.

-- A former Penn State NROTC student coordinated the funeral and wake arrangements.

-- The Penn State NROTC will honor Griffith as part of a Naval leadership lab when students return in January.

Penn Staters have served in the military dating back to the Civil War, and the University now has the largest ROTC program of any non-military institution in the nation. Since fall semester 2001 through the upcoming spring 2012, the University Registrar's Office has processed 908 requests for military leave for students who have gone to active duty. In addition, Penn State graduates about 75-80 ROTC officers each academic year.

Griffith is the most recently known Penn Stater to have given his life in service to his country. Bill Cahir, a 1990 Penn State graduate and a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart after he was killed in action by enemy fire in August 2009 in Afghanistan. Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL and 1998 Penn State graduate, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor, in 2007. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2005 after sacrificing himself to take and return enemy fire while providing cover and transmitting a call for help for his teammates.

The class of 2011 chose to fund construction of the Lt. Michael P. Murphy/Penn State Veterans Plaza as its class gift to Penn State. The plaza honors Murphy and all other Penn State veterans.

For more about Griffith, read the Penn Stater blog entries found at http://pennstatermag.com/2011/12/19/a-penn-stater-sam-griffith-killed-in-afghanistan/ and http://pennstatermag.com/2011/12/20/more-on-sam-griffith/ online.

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Last Updated December 20, 2011