Remarks at the Class of 1962 Reunion 2012
GENERAL J. H. BINFORD PEAY, III
Remarks at the Class of 1962 Reunion
27-28 April 2012
Brother Rats, spouses, and friends. Good evening and welcome back to VMI. Since graduating from the Institute, many of you have returned to celebrate class reunions, but no reunion is as significant and will be as memorable as our 50th reunion. Imagine: a half century ago, when we, as young men, crossed this threshold, one we probably never truly understood at matriculation, and certainly we could not envision the implication for our futures. This evening, indeed, is one of those important milestones along our journey of life, and the Institute and I feel privileged to share it with you.
We may not have been fully aware of it at the time, but the early 1960s, and 1962 in particular, was a significant point in the history of still a very young nation. Developments in world affairs, science, and in society were bringing about fundamental changes and setting new directions for the future. In February of 1962, Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr., became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth. During that year, James D. Watson, Frances Crick, and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. A month before our graduation, United States forces were ordered to Laos, and President Kennedy announced that U.S. advisors in Vietnam would fire if fired upon. In September, a U.S. Circuit Court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit African American student James H. Meredith. And in October, President Kennedy announced that the Soviet Union was building offensive weapons bases in Cuba and ordered a naval and air quarantine of offensive military equipment. Some of you as new Second Lieutenants were deployed to our southern coast. Conflict was avoided when Russia agreed to halt construction, dismantle, and remove its rockets, and a long but difficult “winding down” of the Cold War began. Slide rules and calculators were in use by institutions and corporations, but the thought of personal computers, much less cell phones, smart phones, and all the other technological marvels we now enjoy were the “stuff of science fiction”.
In some ways, the 1960s don’t seem that long ago, but it has been 54 years since we signed the Matriculation Book and became VMI cadets. All of us remember that well publicized picture of Bill Mizell “signing-in” just as Marshall did years before…and matriculating cadets do the same today in that same historic ledger. Therefore, you and I can legitimately speak of “Life in the Old Corps.” If you are like me, I suspect that you must be feeling that it was just yesterday that we wore cadet gray, fell into ranks at the last drawn-out sound of assembly, marched as sections to class in freezing weather, stood guard duty, sat down to “family dining” in Club Crozet, cheered our teams, went on military maneuvers, endured difficult four-hour exams, and found a few moments to be with Brother Rats in the PX (then) in Old Barracks. I am also certain that whenever two or more of you get together, like all VMI alumni, the result is a session filled with “Old Corps” stories of the “Rat Line,” encounters with commandants and TAC officers, Sunday morning Inspections before church, Ring Figure activities, waiting for the OCMNI to be run, snow blowing in on you at night through leaky Barracks windows, Hops and parties, memorable professors, and much, much more. Fifty-four years from now, I am certain that today’s Rats will be sharing the same stories because, although VMI has changed over the years and will continue to change in outward aspects, the overall VMI experience, the fundamentals and the traditions, will remain the same. And, I add, … so will the VMI spirit.
A total of 389 of us signed the VMI Matriculation Book on the 10th of September 1958. After being addressed by the President of the First Class, the President of the Honor Court, the President of the RDC, we met the Cadre and began our Rat Orientation. All this was conducted under the watchful eye of the Commandant of Cadets, Col. Glover S. Johns. When we first entered as cadets, the Superintendent was Maj. Gen. William H. Milton, Jr. Life at the Institute had not changed much in the previous decade. But all that was to change at the start of our Second Class year when we got a new Superintendent, Maj. Gen. George R. E. Shell, and a new Commandant, Lt. Col. Jeffrey G. Smith.
Our four years were filled with many memorable events. We marched in the Inaugural Parade for President Kennedy. Our Third Class year was the last year in which early morning resurrections were held. Our class ring was dedicated to the late General of the Army George C. Marshall, and Mrs. Marshall was present at the Figure to receive our ring. Who can forget the “step-off” staged in March of 1961! Spring hike in 1961 came early, and we were placed in charge as the First Class was away on a trip. Our First Class Year the Big Red Team defeated the Hokies on a very wet Thanksgiving Day contest in Roanoke. Something that is gone now, but important then, was “The Pledge.” The Class accepted the Pledge, all 237 of us in 1961, until the completion of Finals. The pledge was kept, and consequently, two of our Brother Rats were able to remain in the Corps. And VMI hit the big screen with Pat Boone and Christine Carere in “Mardi Gras”….and, recall another renowned picture of Byrd Rawlings receiving her affection while straining in the mess hall. As irony and timing so entail, on this April reunion month, Colonel Alexander Morrison, VMI Class 1939 and a 42 year veteran of the VMI Faculty, and Head of the Department of Economics, passed away. Upon our graduation….50 years ago…we had dedicated our 1962 Bomb in his honor. A book recording the Class of 1962 could be written…. And, in fact, it has…. We are appreciative of Tony and Judy Curtis for assembling a collection of biographies of class members and other facts…and, let’s thank them.
If we look back to our day and compare it to today, we can see that many dramatic physical changes have taken place at the Institute. The Barracks that we entered was much like today’s Barracks, but now there is a Third Barracks attached to New Barracks and Old Barracks. The Corps size was approximately 1090 cadets then, with over-crowding in the tight barracks space. Today, with the Third Barracks addition, the Corps measures nearly 1,600. Six years after our graduation, VMI opened its doors to African American cadets, and in the 1990s, women were admitted. Coeducation, now in its 14th year remains “a journey,” …difficult…yet it has been a successful and fruitful one for the Institute.
Some other significant changes include dramatic enrollment growth and growth in applications, the end of the mandatory commissioning policy, the end of mandatory church attendance, the introduction of Naval ROTC, the end of having an active duty military officer as Commandant of Cadets, the expansion of academic majors, recognition as a nationally ranked institution -- particularly in engineering, the growth in undergraduate research and foreign study, one hundred percent of the full-time faculty possessing the PhD degree, switching from the Southern Conference to the Big South in athletics, the end of marching to class, the elimination of Saturday morning classes, and the termination of the Rat Line at six months. These changes from a collective and strategic perspective are noteworthy and bear watching; yet, I see no diminishing of standards, toughness, honor or spirit. In fact, I am continually impressed by the young men and women that want our unique form of education. The waiting-deferred application list is long.
Changes to the physical plant cannot be missed: Third Barracks, upgrading of Foster Stadium and Alumni Field, the addition of the new Science Building, North Post and Saunders Fields, an expanded Kilbourne Hall, a new baseball complex, a new museum and Jackson’s home, new parking areas and new traffic patterns around the Parade Ground, renovation and modernization of “every” academic building and Crozet Hall, the addition of Smith Hall, the Marshall Library, Cameron Hall, Moody Hall, Hinty Hall, McKethan Park, New Market Battlefield, and Marshall Hall, where we celebrate this evening. All of these changes, and others, have taken place since we left the Institute.
Much has changed, but much at VMI has remained unchanged. And in this respect I am talking about the fundamental ideals and systems that have sustained the Institute throughout its long history. Despite the many changes in the look and fabric of the Institute, it remains essentially what it has always been: a disciplined community of learning and individual development, dedicated to the highest standards of integrity and personal honor. We continue to teach cadets: how to organize; manage time; break down a problem; think under pressure, and always with honor.
The Institute stands on the bedrock of personal honor as described in its historic Honor Code. And in its fundamental expectations and requirements…, the VMI Honor System and the Honor Court basically remain as we knew them. There have been slight “procedural” changes, but no changes in the standards or in the penalties: VMI remains a single-sanction honor system… the only public school in our country to remain truly single-sanction. Education continues to be a key to its success. The VMI Honor System is the most cherished of all our systems, and we continue to work tirelessly to ensure its integrity and effectiveness.
VMI continues to improve commissioning numbers from 34 percent nine years ago. The Class of 2011 commissioned 57 percent at graduation. This… in time of war. I could not be more proud of these cadets who will serve for a short period with most going on to their chosen professions after their initial obligation. That has certainly been my encouragement. In order to support and advance military studies at VMI, Kilbourne Hall – the ROTC building – was significantly enlarged, and McKethan Park was expanded to 200 acres with very good results for the military field training program.
Admissions continue to grow each year … and in quality… with a selection rate of 45 percent. At the beginning of this academic year, the Class of 2015 matriculated with 509 members. Fifty-seven percent of the cadets in this class are from Virginia and 43 percent are from out-of-state, representing 36 states and four foreign countries. There are currently 139 women in the Corps of Cadets with an Institute goal of 150 to 200. Half of the incoming cadets selected science and engineering majors. VMI today is a very physical school…more so than our time…with strong academics and small classrooms….that demands standards and respect and civility to one another.
To describe VMI today to you could well take most of this evening. Instead, I invite you to see a new 15-minute video which we are using as a recruiting instrument and to, frankly, improve transparency as to the challenges a perspective cadet will face…; I think it accurately describes the “current” Institute…and as people say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It is entitled, “No Ordinary Life”. (Film Shown)
VMI is changing… but we continue to be dedicated to producing, in the words of the founders, “…honorable youths… an honor to our country and our state, objects of honest pride to their instructors, and fair specimens of citizen-soldiers.” It is the “VMI Way” … This is the “Spirit of VMI.” By any measure, the Institute has had an impressive past. It is by all accounts a “national treasure”. I firmly believe that the future holds even greater things for our school and its graduates, and that its reputation will rise to even greater heights.
Tomorrow, at parade, the Class of 1962 will present an incredible check…the size continuing to change this evening. VMI owes each of you, the entire reunion and reunion campaign committees, and particularly George Collins, Chairman, 50th Reunion Campaign Committee and Jerry Burnette, Class Agent and Reunion Committee Chairman, an enormous vote of appreciation. I personally thank you, as well, for your support and loyalty.
As you can imagine, speaking to my own class – my Brother Rats – the Class of 1962 – has been a special honor. Pamela and I are committed to an all-out effort in the years ahead to leave VMI –your school – positioned strongly for the future, and to serve our cadets, faculty, staff, and alumni…and you…. efficiently and effectively.
Welcome home! God Bless the VMI Class of 1962.