The VMI Legacy

On the 15th of February, the VMI Family lost one of its most distinguished Alumni, Colonel William Dabney ’61, USMC (The announcement can be found on The Institute’s website). Colonel Dabney served with distinction in Vietnam, commanding two rifle companies of Marines in defense of Hill 881 South (Hat Tip to CDR Salamander). For his actions, during the Siege of Khe Sanh, Colonel Dabney received the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps’ second-highest award for valor. Colonel Dabney eventually returned to The Mother I to serve as Commandant of Cadets, influencing a great many Cadets during their most formative years.

But the passing of Colonel Dabney is quite what makes him so special; he’s simply another warrior embarking on the great journey to Valhalla. No, it is what the Colonel’s story can teach us about leadership and personal courage. If you follow the two preceding links, you can read the story in full, including his citation for the Navy Cross. You can also read his remarks upon his receipt of the award.

Will the VMI Corps of Cadets please rise. (All seats remaining vacant after  invited guests were seated had been occupied by cadets.)

Our generation – these men who just stood before you – came home from war to a nation not much disposed to honor the nobility of their service.  Today, as Pete said a few years late, you gave us our parade.  Thank you!(Audience and Warriors applauded the cadets)
Many of you will soon shoulder the responsibility of command leading the citizen soldiers of your generation.  Eight of your number have already given their lives in the cause of freedom in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Should you be called upon to take America’s patriots in harm’s way, you will find awesome, as I did in my time, their courage and determination.  The experience will become the signal moment in your lives.  We wish you God speed, and we salute you. (Another round of applause with the loudest and most robust coming from those 40 men in the front rows of Jackson Memorial Hall.)
His speech is a wonderful example in the old guard showing the newly initiated the way things should be done. True leadership requires that you teach those whom will replace you everything you know in order to be successful and to accomplish the mission. You must also inspire them by your example. If you expect your subordinates to be courageous, you yourself must be courageous in the face of hardship and criticism. You must also be well-grounded in the history of your organization, using examples to inspire those who you lead. A thorough knowledge of history also better arms you against making the same mistakes as your forebears.
This is a concept that was always well-drilled at The Mother I. From day one, every Cadet was taught that he or she has a long, illustrious legacy which they must uphold. It is these teaching moments that build the “Never Say Die!” attitude and shows the Cadets that it is now their solemn responsibility to carry on the proud tradition. It is this knowledge that has lead so many Institute Men to win the day even when facing insurmountable odds, much like Colonel Dabney did during those seventy-seven fateful days on top of Hill 881S.
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