I am the class agent for the VMI class of 1961 and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you for the purpose of advancing the cause — to grant The New Market Medal, —VMI’s highest award and one which can only be awarded by you, the Board of Visitors (BOV) to now 15 months retired superintendent, General J. H. Binford Peay lll.
In October, a letter was sent to the BOV presenting a resolution advanced by our class president, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and prestigious member of the Virginia Bar, the Honorable Wyatt B. Durrette’61, that was unanimously adopted by our class at our 60th reunion, nominating General Peay to receive the New Market Medal. We had hoped that The Board of Visitors would take action in light of our nomination to honor General Peay for his long and distinguished service to our country, our State and to VMI but to date no Board of Visitors action has occurred.
VMI has only awarded 15 New Market Medals since it was established. It is clearly reserved for persons having not only an affiliation with VMI but also who have rendered great service to the Institute, our state, and our country. Evidence of this high standard is its award to George C. Marshall, General of the Army, and Secretary of Defense and of State.
I want to speak to you more directly about our resolution which is —-why General Peay deserves to be added to the pantheon of leaders receiving the New Market Medal, and for which we nominated him, I offer the following:
General Peay’s career has been that of a soldier in which he distinguished himself for over 35 years; first as a young officer in Vietnam; later in his career as the commanding officer of the 101st Airborne in Desert Storm and as the Nation remembers,—executed the great “left hook” that spelled the doom of Saddam Hussein’s brutish army thus ending the unlawful occupation of Kuwait;— and then rising to be the twenty-fourth Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army. His last assignment, the pinnacle of his career, was as Commander in Chief of The United States Central Command which encompassed 20 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Persian Gulf, and Asia –
After his Army retirement, General Peay served as Chairman of the Allied Defense Group and was subsequently selected by the VMI Board of Visitors to become the VMI’s 14th Superintendent. Many of you actually witnessed his outstanding performance in that role.
I have been the 1961 class agent for over 47 years and I have never seen the pace of improvement in achieving excellence as an academic institution move further and faster than occurred under General Peay.
Let’s not forget the great improvement to the physical plant at VMI which has been dramatic over his 17 years of service.
Today VMI’s endowment on a per student basis matches or even exceeds that of any other public institution of higher education —an advancement in large driven by the immensely successful Campaign during his tenure.
Finally, I would like to add a footnote to the objective measures of success that mark all New Market Medal Awardees, and that is the hallmark of character.
My class is convinced beyond any doubt that General Peay is eminently qualified to be awarded the New Market Medal. He passes muster under the most rigorous application of selection criteria—–leadership, duty, honor and devotion and those qualities of character and ability that already mark him as one whose contributions in public service will be of enduring significance.
Of course we helped mold him and the other Rat members of his class under our tutelage as 3rd classmen and excuse me if I take some pride in the job we did.
General Peay displayed uncommon civility throughout his career but especially in the manner in which he left his assignment as Superintendent. Suffice it to say his dignified resignation under the unusual circumstances attendant to that resignation and his subsequent actions mark him as an exceptional man.
I personally witnessed the reception by the Corps, including the thunderous Old Yell, given him in the Old Barracks courtyard, on the occasion of his resignation which in my view gave witness to his inspirational leadership.
General Peay then left VMI displaying a grace and dignity not shown by his detractors.
I would like to add a coda to these remarks, by quoting the distinguished immediate past president of the Board of Visitors, William Boland, Class of 1973.
His comments were made on the occasion of the establishment, by the Board of Visitors, of The Peay Endowment for Academic Excellence. Mr. Boland said of General Peay and I quote: “The exemplary qualities of character and leadership he demonstrated during a lifetime of leadership….” Mr. Boland also rhetorically asked and again I quote “Who better to exemplify the traits of well rounded, high achieving cadets.” That praise rings just as true today. Those remarks by your former BOV president standing alone justify the award to General Peay which we urge you to do.
I recently reminded my class of the address to Congress by General Douglas McArthur following his dismissal as Commander of UN forces in Korea. In it he invoked the refrain from an old army song — “Old soldiers never die they just fade away.”
General Peay, my classmates and I are in our 80s. Among our supporters of this award are many alumni even more elderly than we. So I ask you to join the many classes both old and young that have seconded our resolution and the many other alumni that individually applauded the resolution; —-that personal rancor if any be put aside —and that the record of General Peay’s unblemished service to the nation and VMI be objectively weighed; and —-that he be awarded the New Market Medal while We and HE can still personally see and feel the admiration in which he is held. It is a tribute he richly deserves and one which only you can confer. To do otherwise would, in our collective view, forever be a blot on the VMI escutcheon.
I want to end on this note. —- In these secular times, I rarely look to the Bible for support for a public stand I take. But the Bible is imbued with much wisdom that all should heed in their affairs. Thus, we are admonished, in Romans 13:7 which I now paraphrase, to render to all their due and, especially, to honor those to whom honor is due. It takes no special insight to recognize there is an important corollary to this admonition. That being it must likewise be dishonorable not to render honor to those to whom it is due. I, therefore, ask this honorable body to take the honorable act of rendering to VMI —and General Peay the honor that is due and approve at this Board of Visitors session, the awarding of the New Market Medal to General J. H. Binford Peay lll.
Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you.
Col. Ryan, I respectfully request that my remarks be included in the minutes of this meeting and placed in the archives of VMI. The Board has my permission to publish my remarks in the Alumni Review and / or The Institute Report.
–Sal Vitale, VMI Class of 1961