A memorial service was held in Pearson Auditorium at New Mexico Military Institute Thursday, to honor Lt. Gen. Richard T. Knowles (ret). Knowles passed away at the age of 96 at his home in Roswell last week.
The decorated general served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. During his 16 years in the New Mexico Legislature, he worked to create NMMI’s largest scholarship program, now known as The General Richard T. Knowles Legislative Scholarship Program.
About 500 people attended the service. Almost 270 of those in attendance were NMMI cadets, according to Brig. Gen. Richard V. Geraci USA (ret), commandant of cadets and dean of students at NMMI. The rest were family, friends, former colleagues and members of the motorcycle club Patriot Guard Riders, who attend funerals of fallen U.S. military personnel.
During a memorial tribute, speakers described the Lt. Gen. as honorable and shared humorous stories.
Former state senator Tim Jennings (D-32) said that Lt. Gen. Knowles had supported him after ads attacking Jennings appeared during one of the former senator’s campaigns. He emphasized that the Lt. Gen. did this despite being in a different party.
“Integrity was Dick Knowles,” said Jennings, who worked with Lt. Gen. Knowles on the legislation behind the scholarship. Jennings also attended NMMI with the Lt. Gen.’s stepson, Stan Crosby.
The Lt. Gen.’s son, retired New Mexico District Judge Richard J. Knowles, of Albuquerque, began his speech with a saying he said only his father could get away with.
“A speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.”
Flanked by his three sisters Diane Buchwald, Katherine Buck, and Rebecca Crosby, son Knowles shared details of his father’s biography. He said his father left home at 13, and lived on the streets of Chicago until landing a job as a golf caddy.
He said his father sometimes caddied for mafiosos because, though the Lt. Gen. disapproved of their activities, they tipped well.
The ceremony also included a performance of the national anthem by the NMMI Ensemble, a rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” sung by attendees, a reading of Psalm 23 by Cadet Lilly Tauala and a sermon by First Methodist Rev. Dr. Douglas Mills, who read from the Book of Deuteronomy.
The reverend also presided over the funeral of the Lt. Gen.’s wife Elizabeth Kay Knowles. Elizabeth Knowles, mother of Stan Crosby, passed away in November of last year.
The memorial closed with Taps, played by two cadet trumpet players, followed by the Green Mountain Battery playing over the auditorium speakers.
Brig. Gen. Geraci said the service doubled as an educational event for cadets in attendance by exposing them to the Lt. Gen. as an example.
The Lt. Gen. was decorated with 30 awards during his 32 years of service in the army, including the Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
He was the highest ranking officer to be shot down in the Vietnam War, cited Rev. Dr. Mills.
The Brig. Gen. said holding the memorial for Lt. Gen. Knowles, per the deceased’s request, was an honor.
“He was just such an incredible supporter” of NMMI, Brig. Gen. Geraci said.
He said the Legislative Scholarship allowed cadets who otherwise would not be able to attend the Institute to so. According to the Brig. Gen, before the scholarship was instated, only 15 to 18 percent of cadets were New Mexico residents. Following the scholarship’s inception, the proportion rose to 35 percent.
Among the cadets in attendance, more than 200 of the 221 recipients of the scholarship were present, Brig. Gen. Geraci said. The Institute has 913 cadets, total.
For Rebecca Crosby, Lt. Gen. Knowles was primarily a father. She said the memorial reminded her of his importance to the army and to NMMI.
“We sit here and watch this and go, ‘Oh, my God, what an incredible person. What an incredible life he had,’” she said.
A funeral for Lt. Gen. Knowles is to be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date.