SI Vault
 
All-America, All the Way
Frank Deford
February 21, 1972
Major Pete Dawkins, a man of his times—of good days past and now of the present
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 21, 1972

All-america, All The Way

Major Pete Dawkins, a man of his times—of good days past and now of the present

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

In the Academy yearbook, his classmates wrote a truly incredible encomium, a reverent tribute that began simply: "We have stood in awe of this man." And ended: "We were not completely sagacious, but we knew a great leader, a great friend, a great man." It was left for Colonel Red Blaik, the coach, to say aloud what everyone else was whispering, that Cadet Dawkins was destined to be chief of staff of the United States Army.

And, oh yes, perhaps more than all these things, this too: at that time, 1958, professional soldiers were not popularly dismissed as blackguards. Soldiers were even generally considered to be quite respectable people.

Major Pete Dawkins, at home in faded blue jeans and boots, listening to the music of his friend Kris Kristofferson: "When I was studying at Princeton [at the Woodrow Wilson School, 1968-70], that was the most heated time of the war. People were very suspicious of me, of anyone military, though after a while some people would condescend to say: 'You know, you're really not like those soldiers.' That was supposed to be a big compliment. I'd reply: 'But don't you see, I am a soldier? I am what I am.' Nobody wanted to hear that. Nobody wanted to believe that it was their stereotype that was wrong. I didn't fit the popular stereotype, therefore I was out of place.

"Then one day during that same period at Princeton, somebody came up to me and said: 'You know, looking back, I think of you as the Bob Dylan of the '50s.' That's the greatest compliment I ever received."

Last January Dawkins' orders to return to Vietnam were pulled, and he was assigned to SAMVA, the office of the Special Assistant for the Modern Volunteer Army. SAMVA appears to be both a think tank and a lobby. On the one hand, it must make the new Army attractive for volunteers. On the other, it must convince the old Army (which is still the only Army) that modernization is not necessarily a sign of frailty, that the Republic will be safe even if doors are put on soldiers' toilet stalls.

Dawkins, if the truth be known, is not overly optimistic, but he tries. As soon as he settled himself at SAMVA, he wrote a couple of memos. The subject was hair, that is to say, the length of hair. "I simply maintained that we could not win over the hair issue," Dawkins says. As a reward for his interest he was taken along to a high-level briefing on the subject that General Westmoreland was conducting. Before Dawkins knew it, Westy had him up before the gathering posing as the military hair model. As Colonel Blaik predicted, the kid was really going places.

In the upper echelons of the Pentagon, some of the old soldiers still wax rhapsodic about the halcyon war years when any man in Army issue with a dandy regulation whiffle cut would be set upon by all available women, beside themselves at the very sight. It came as some surprise to a number of officers that a) this was no longer the case, and b) it had nothing to do with Communism.

Symbolically, nothing speaks more directly of declining military prestige than hair. At the time when Pete Dawkins entered the Army, the whole nation aped the military haircut, just as the whole nation—and not just the American Legion and defense contractors—cared deeply about the outcome of the Army-Navy football game. Now a military haircut is a source of shame. The PXs do a thriving wig business, and many of the most dedicated career men try to assuage their social embarrassment by letting their hair sprout some on top. Unfortunately, that only makes the wearer appear as if he had submitted to one of those two-bit Depression bowl cuts. Many of the most outstanding officers in the Pentagon look like members of Our Gang.

"You know," Dawkins began tentatively at another of the hair hearings, "it's not just the new recruits who want long hair like everyone else. It's my wife, for instance, and a lot of the wives of my friends, of good officers, who want to know why we can't have longer hair."

A bull general rose, horrified at this clear endorsement of henpeckery. "By God," he thundered, "do you mean, Major, that now the Army should be run by what a bunch of women want?"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8