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West Point Posthumously Admits Florida Shooting Victim Who Helped His Classmates Escape

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of the students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas dreamed of attending the U.S. military academy at West Point. This week, West Point announced that it is posthumously admitting Peter Wang. He was buried yesterday in his Junior ROTC uniform. He would've been in the class of 2025. Colonel Deborah McDonald is head of admissions for West Point. Welcome to the program.

COLONEL DEBORAH MCDONALD: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell me about the conversation that led up to this decision to grant him posthumous admission?

MCDONALD: Peter - one of his lifelong goals and dreams was to attend West Point, and so the West Point Society members reached out to the academy and asked, what could we do to help support this family in this grave time? And one of the options was to offer him an appointment posthumously to West Point. And we prepared that offer in order for it to be presented to the family during the funeral on Tuesday.

SHAPIRO: What exactly does a posthumous admission mean?

MCDONALD: What it means is we are recognizing Peter's valor, his lifelong legacy of service to our nation. It's recognizing the duty, honor and focus on country that Peter has shown throughout his entire life. And it's a way for our academy to honor not only him and his memory but to honor his family and the legacy within his community.

SHAPIRO: You say this was presented to the family at the funeral. Can you describe what happened?

MCDONALD: Yes. In fact it was after the actual viewing on Tuesday morning into the afternoon that they opened it up to anyone who wished to speak on behalf of Peter. And so one of our officers had traveled down to Florida - Captain Shahin Uddin. And he was there, and he made the first presentation, and that was the presentation of the offer to the family along with a cadet bust, which is a statue of a cadet, and then also a framed poster with a cadet insignia on it and also a superintendent's coin.

SHAPIRO: Have you had a chance to speak with him about what that experience was like, how the family responded?

MCDONALD: I did have the opportunity to speak with Captain Uddin this morning, and it was a humbling experience, an emotional experience but one that he was grateful to be there to provide that to Peter and to his family.

SHAPIRO: Three of the students killed in the shooting last week were Junior ROTC, and Peter Wang is the one who said he dreamed of attending West Point. All three will receive the Army's Medal of Heroism. Do you think members of the military community feel this tragedy in a personal way?

MCDONALD: Well, I think all members of the American community are feeling this tragedy in a personal way. And members of the military who have served together with service to our nation - we also feel the loss and mourn the loss of any member of our team. And so Peter was a member of our team, as were all the other students and the two other students that were also in the Junior ROTC program, Alaina Petty and Martin Duque. All of them were focused on serving our nation, and so our military members feel that loss.

SHAPIRO: Colonel McDonald, thank you for speaking with us today.

MCDONALD: Well, thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Colonel Deborah McDonald is head of admissions for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.