I am the Class Constable for the VMI Class of 1961 and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you in an effort to further the cause – to award the New Market Medal, – the highest distinction of VMI and one which can only be bestowed upon you, the Board of Visitors (BOV) until now 15 months retired superintendent, General JH Binford Peay lll.
In October, a letter was sent to the BOV presenting a resolution put forward 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, which was adopted unanimously by our class at our 60th meeting, nominating General Peay to receive the New Market Medal. We had hoped that the Board of Visitors would take action in light of our appointment to honor General Peay for his long and distinguished service to our country, state and VMI, but to date no action from the Board of Visitors did not take place.
VMI has only awarded 15 new market medals since its inception. It is clearly reserved for people who not only have an affiliation with the VMI but also who have rendered great service to the Institute, to our state and to our country. Proof of this high standard is his award to George C. Marshall, General of the Army and Secretary of Defense and 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 named him, I offer the following:
General Peay’s career was that of a soldier in which he distinguished himself for more than 35 years; first as a young officer in Vietnam; later in his career as Commander of the 101st Airborne in Desert Storm and as the Nation remembers, – performed the big “left hook” that sounded the death knell for Saddam Hussein’s brutal army, putting thus ending the illegal occupation of Kuwait; – then rising to be the twenty-fourth Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army. His last posting, the pinnacle of his career, was as Commander-in-Chief of United States Central Command, which encompassed 20 countries in the Middle East, Africa, the Persian Gulf and Asia –
After retiring from the military, General Peay served as Chairman of the Allied Defense Group and was later selected by the VMI Board of Visitors to become the 14th Superintendent of VMI. Many of you have witnessed his exceptional performance in this role.
I was Constable for the Class of 1961 for over 47 years and have never seen the pace of improvement in excellence as an academic institution go further and faster than under General Peay.
Let’s not forget the great improvement to VMI’s physical plant which has been spectacular over its 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 learning – an advance largely driven by the campaign’s immense success during his tenure.
Finally, I would like to add a footnote to the objective measures of success that characterize all New Market Medal winners, and that is the mark of character.
My class is convinced beyond doubt that General Peay is eminently qualified to receive the New Market Medal. He meets the most stringent application of the selection criteria – leadership, duty, honor and dedication and those qualities of character and ability which already distinguish him as one whose contributions to public service will be of enduring significance.
Of course, we helped shape him and the other Rat members of his class under our tutelage as 3rd class and excuse me if I’m proud of the job we did.
General Peay displayed an uncommon civility throughout his career but especially in the manner in which he left his posting as superintendent. Suffice it to say, his dignified resignation under the unusual circumstances that accompanied that resignation and his subsequent actions make him an exceptional man.
I have personally witnessed the reception by the Corps, including the thunderous Old Yell, given to him in the courtyard of the Old Barracks, on the occasion of his resignation, which in my opinion testifies to his inspiring leadership.
General Peay then leaves VMI with a grace and dignity not shown by his detractors.
I would like to add a coda to these remarks, quoting the distinguished 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 which he has displayed over a lifetime of leadership…” Mr. Boland also asked rhetorically and I quote again “Who better to
illustrate the traits of well-rounded, high-performing cadets. That praise rings just as true today. These remarks by your former president of the BOV alone justify the award of General Peay that we urge you to make.
I recently reminded my class of the speech given to Congress by General Douglas McArthur following his removal as commander of the UN forces in Korea. He invoked the refrain of an old military song –
“Old soldiers never die, they just disappear.”
General Peay, my classmates and I are in our 80s. Among our supporters of this award are many alumni even older than us. I therefore ask you to join the many classes, young and old, who have supported our resolution and the many other former students who have individually applauded the resolution; – that personal rancor, if any, be set aside – and that the record of General Peay’s unblemished service to the nation and to the 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 that only you can bestow. To do otherwise would, from our collective point of view, forever be a stain on the VMI crest.
I want to end on this note. —- In these secular times, I rarely turn to the Bible to support any public position I take. But the Bible is steeped in great wisdom that everyone should consider in their business. So we are warned in Romans 13:7 which I am now paraphrasing, to render to all their due and, above all, to honor those to whom honor is due. It takes no special insight to recognize that there is an important corollary to this warning. That being so, it must also be dishonourable not to render honor to those to whom it is due. I therefore ask this honorable corps to take the honorable act of rendering to the VMI – and to General Peay the honor which is due to him and to approve at this session of the Council of Visitors, the awarding of the medal of the new marched to General JH Binford Peay lll.
Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you.
Colonel 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 journal and/or institute report.
–Sal Vitale, VMI class of 1961