A few years before his death, Dorsey approached the Alumni Association with plans to relaunch the Association of 1775 (Ao75), William & Mary’s military, veterans and government alumni group, which had been inactive for years. Around the same time, Bowery had a similar idea, and behind the scenes they worked to reinvigorate the organization.
Ao75 is now back in action and moving forward.
Networks are strengthening and infrastructure is growing. Part of a larger, campus-wide focus on William & Mary’s veterans services, Bowery, staff across campus and others are working hard to improve the organization, sometimes on nights and weekends.
But Dorsey, who passed away in January 2018, didn’t see the results of their success. He saw only preparation, a glimpse of the vision: to give those who’ve served and sacrificed so much the community they deserve. That vision, though, was the first step toward the eventual reality. By believing, Dorsey helped others see.
So Bowery stood there, on the dry, cloudy January day, and waited to tell the story of Jim Dorsey, one story of thousands in a nearly 250-year university legacy; a veteran, a William & Mary graduate, a man who made his nation — and his alma mater — proud.
William & Mary’s history with the U.S. military began before the United States existed itself. In 1775, a group of students organized a militia unit, and two years later, even while exempt from military duty, students and faculty formed a College Company for service in the Continental Army.
They called it the “William & Mary Company.”
George Washington was the university’s first American chancellor, and James Monroe, an officer on Washington’s staff, is an alumnus. William & Mary graduates helped earn America’s independence and for centuries have fought to preserve it. After all, Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, while serving as Secretary of Defense, was sitting across from President Obama on the night Osama Bin Laden was killed.
And not only have university graduates served in every major American war, the university itself has transformed because of them. It took herculean efforts from university President Benjamin Ewell to rebuild campus after it burned during the Civil War. World War I led to the university admitting women for the first time in 1918, and after World War II, William & Mary opened up the St. Helena Extension in Norfolk for returning soldiers continuing their education. Lewis B. Puller Jr. ’67, J.D. ’74, who lost both legs and much of his hands during the Vietnam War, won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography, “Fortunate Son,” which began as an article for the William & Mary Alumni Magazine. Two alumni, Ryan McGlothlin ’01 and Todd W. Weaver ’08, and one MBA student, Kyle Milliken, died while fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, respectively. Their names are written on a plaque in the Wren Building, honoring fallen service members from the university.
Starting with militiamen in 1775, William & Mary’s legacy with the military continues 244 years later in 2019.
Transitioning from military to civilian life has always been difficult, but a rapidly changing 21st-century landscape has made that adjustment even harder — especially for those resuming their education or reentering the workforce.
Phillip Sheldon ’20 is making that transition now.
In 1944, Sheldon’s grandfather landed on Utah Beach in World War II, lost a big toe to frostbite in the Battle of the Bulge and later helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in Southern Germany. At the same time, his great-uncle was fighting in a Pacific-Theater submarine division, sinking ship after enemy ship. Members of his family have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, and when Sheldon came of age, he continued the tradition.
In April 2011, Sheldon enlisted in the Marines, hoping to be on the front lines. Two tours followed: one in Afghanistan and another in Romania. It was eye-opening — to encounter new cultures for the first time, to learn what it feels like to be shot at, to see firsthand that many don’t come home.