I was blessed to have a wonderful father who shaped me and made me into a young man, but he then sent me to Virginia Military Institute to finish off the job.
I was lucky. I was studying civil engineering and my faculty advisor was Colonel Donald K Jamison.
Colonel Jamison was a civil engineering professor for 40 years, the Department Head for much of that time, the tennis coach, and a mentor (faculty advisor) to a series of very lucky cadets.
He was a friendly face, a port in a storm, but a man who treated you like a man.
We used to get our grades six times per semester during our Rat year. The first time I got a grade in calculus, I got an F.
I had to report to Colonel Jamison to review my grades. All of my grades were good, except for calculus. I just didn’t get calculus. I was trying, but it just wasn’t sinking into my head.
“You’re going home and you’ll never be a civil engineer, won’t get an Army commission if you fail Rat calculus.”
Those were the words he delivered to me. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t scold me. He just laid out what was going to happen.
The draft was on in those days and it meant something else — being drafted when my student status was removed.
I got some help in calculus — assisted by my first class dyke (mentor) who got someone to work with me — and I figured it out in a week. I finished the semester with an A. Once I figured it out, it was easy.
I ended that year #1 in the class academically, which was one Hell of a surprise to me.
“I knew you’d figure it out,” Colonel Jamison said, when I brought him my final grades (which was at the beginning of my second year).
Colonel Jamison inspired confidence in a wiseass 18-year-old who needed that kind of inspiration. After that, I knew what I was capable of and performed at that level.
I got a job in the Fluid Mechanics Lab grading papers and assisting cadets–arranged by Colonel Jamison. That meant I could study in the quiet lab. Colonel Jamison came around at least once a week to check on me. I studied in the same place for four years. He checked up on me for four years.
About fifteen years ago, I wrote Colonel Jamison a letter thanking him for the interest he had taken in me. He remembered every element of my cadetship including an odd discussion as to whether I should jump from the fourth stoop into the laundry truck that was located in the archway four floors below.
Only VMI guys will understand this: I suggested that I would be “out of the Ratline” if I did that. He would say, “Technically, you will be out of the Ratline, but you will have to come talk to me.”
Thank you, Colonel Donald K Jamison for all you did for me. Thank you, VMI, for having attracted such rare men of talent, character, and commitment. This is the secret sauce of VMI.
There are few institutions left in America that teach, develop character. VMI continues to be one of them.
Godspeed, Colonel Jamison. Thank you.