Saturday, November 12, 2005

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

On November 11, 2005, 10 Marines gathered at the Camp Fallujah Rotunda to celebrate the founding of the Virginia Military Institute, located in Lexington, Virginia. A short history of VMI can be found on their webpage at to include the following:

Before the formation of the Institute in 1839, its site was occupied by a military post of the State of Virginia, the storage point of arms for the western part of the Commonwealth for more than 20 years. It was shortly after the War of 1812 that an arsenal was established on the town’s outskirts.

The arsenal guard of some 20 soldiers, although living a strict military life while on duty, was lacking in self-discipline, and their leisure-time activities upset the decorum of Lexington. Plans for a change in the arsenal’s administration were discussed, and in 1834 it was proposed among Lexington’s leading citizens that the arsenal be transformed into a military college, wherein the students while protecting arms could also pursue educational courses.

Championed by a young Lexington attorney, John Thomas Lewis Preston, the plan led to legislation by the General Assembly establishing the Virginia Military Institute. It was Preston, generally credited for conceiving the idea of VMI, and later one of the original members of the faculty, who gave the new institution its name: “Virginia—a State institution, neither sectional nor denominational. Military—its characteristic feature. Institute—something different from either college or university. The three elements thus indicated are the basis of a triangular pyramid, of which the sides will preserve their mutual relation to whatever height the structure may rise.”

Though many come to VMI, not all graduate. Some depart to pursue their degree at other colleges and universities while others leave under less than honorable conditions. During World War II, many alumni took sabbaticals to fight the war, graduating years after their classmates. Our graduates pursue a variety of careers, and include many notable individuals such as as Senator Harry F. Byrd; General George C. Marshal; USAF Chief of Staff General John Jumper; Comedian and Actor Dabney Coleman; Marine legend General “Chesty” Puller; General George S. Patton (rat year) and famed sculptor and artist Moses Ezekiel. It has graduated 265 General and flag ranked officers, 6 congressional medal of honor winners, and is the only college in America to send its students into battle, resulting in the loss of 10 cadets at the battle of New Market in 1864.

We ranged from 2nd Lieutenant to Colonel, with graduation dates between 1980 and 2004. Despite the 24-year span between us, we all share a unique background unlike that experienced by any other college student in the United States, with the possible exception of the Citadel. The bonds of VMI are strong, and the term “brother rat” applies to all who have graduated or departed in good standing. We swapped stories of our cadetships at mother “I” and reminisced about our days as young cadets, the girls we dated, the road trips we made, and the fun we had during an age of innocence. It was a good night, and for a brief moment, the war in Iraq was forgotten.

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