Faces of Fauquier: His book will explain a modest hero
Photo/Don Del Rosso
“The way he lived his life — and his character — should serve as a model for all Americans,” Josiah “Si” Bunting III says of Gen. George C. Marshall.
I have enormous respect for American high school teachers. I think, in many ways, they’re the saints of the profession.
Now more than ever, America needs the likes of George C. Marshall, the legendary World War II-era statesman and soldier.
So argues Josiah “Si” Bunting III, who soon expects to finish a 450-page biography of Marshall, set for publication by next spring.
“We’ve lost our way as a culture,” says Mr. Bunting, 78, a decorated veteran, author and educator who lives near Marshall. “I don’t want to get into the whole business of Trump. But, you can imagine what I think of what that has turned into.”
He counts Gen. Marshall — architect of the post-World War II plan to rebuild Europe that carries his name — among America’s best and brightest.
The five-star Army general, who died in 1959, won a Nobel Peace Prize and served as secretaries of state and defense under President Harry S. Truman.
“He was a man of limitless generosity, an American patriot who dedicated his life to the service of his country,” explains Mr. Bunting, author of six books, including a bestselling novel about the Vietnam War. “The way he lived his life — and his character — should serve as a model for all Americans.”
He wrote the Marshall book partly because “rising generations should know” about and draw inspiration from its subject.
Unlike Gen. Marshall, the author became a military man by default.
By his mid-teens, Mr. Bunting got thrown out of two boarding schools because of “general misbehavior” and pranks. He finally got a diploma from Salisbury (Conn.) School in 1957.
At his father’s suggestion, he enlisted in the Marines.
“I went into the Marines because I couldn’t do anything else,” Mr. Bunting recalls with a laugh. “I had a terrible high school record. In those days, the idea was, ‘Put ’em in the Marines. That’ll cure him; that’ll straighten him up’.”
A senior officer recommended that Mr. Bunting attend the Virginia Military Institute if he wanted a career in the Marines.
In 1963, he graduated third in his class, with a bachelor’s degree in English literature.
Mr. Bunting decided to seek a three-year Rhodes Scholarship to University of Oxford. On the advice of others, he changed his commission from the Marines to the Army, based on the belief that would improve his chances of winning the prestigious scholarship.
In 1966, Mr. Bunting received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in modern history from Oxford.
“I had cleaned up my act and went to Oxford. It was a very happy thing to have happen.
“Suddenly, you’re in one of the half-dozen greatest universities in the world — with all expenses paid — to work under a tutor studying whatever your field is.”
The student also met his future wife on a blind date at Oxford.
After they returned to the United States, Mr. Bunting in 1967 — a captain at the time — and 250 paratroopers went to Detroit to help restore order and stabilize the riot-torn city.
“We saw an American city in chaos and completely out of control, with part of the city on fire. It was really a mess. We were carrying M-16s and side arms.”
After two weeks in Detroit, his commanding general ordered him to Washington to testify before a congressional committee about the riots and the use of federal troops — the subject of his first book, “Small Units in the Control of Civil Disorder.”
Mr. Bunting then spent about a year in Vietnam — late 1967 to late 1968 — along the Mekong Delta, where he served with a mobile riverine force and as a headquarters’ assistant chief of staff.
“We would see (Vietcong soldiers) as much as they wanted us to see them,” says Mr. Bunting, recipient of a Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal. “For infantry, where we were, this was mainly a helicopter war.
“You dropped in a landing zone and you would operate from there, because you would be extracted by choppers. It was very different from the sort of American expectations of crossing Europe in a tank or something like that.”
Time magazine chose “The Lionheads” — his bestselling and critically acclaimed account of his Vietnam tour — as one of the top 10 novels of 1973.
For about the next 35 years — most of them as a civilian — Mr. Bunting led the life of an academic and school administrator.
While “very happy in the military,” he left the Army in 1972 as a major, after nine years of active service, because “I had other things I wanted to do.”
In 1995, Mr. Bunting returned to VMI as superintendent during “the huge uproar” over whether the college “should be required” to admit women.
In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down VMI’s male-only admissions policy.
A year later, 30 women enrolled at the college in Lexington, joining 430 male cadets.
“I was an opponent of co-education,” Mr. Bunting says. “I thought if there was one place in the country that should really be a single-sex, all-male military academy, this was it.”
Under the circumstances, “I believe I did the right thing.” But 21 years later, “I see that VMI, as a co-ed place, has continued to be successful, and I think you could say I was wrong.”
• Home Near Marshall
• Why do you do you write?
I’m just happy when I’m writing, or when I’m prepared to write. I read all the time. I do research all the time. In a way, it’s very much who I am.
Wife Diana; 4 children; 4 grandchildren.
Bachelor’s and master’s degrees, modern history, Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University, England, 1966; bachelor’s degree, English, Virginia Military Institute, 1963; Salisbury (Conn.) School, 1957.
• Military service
U.S. Marine Corps, 1957-59; U.S. Army, company commander, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., 1966-67; mobile riverine force, headquarters’ assistant chief of staff in Vietnam, 9th Infantry Division, 1967-68; retires as Army major, 1972.
Board chairman, Friends of the National World War II Memorial, 2014-present; president, Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, 2004-14; superintendent, Virginia Military Institute, 1995-2003; headmaster, Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, 1987-95; president, Hampton-Sydney College, 1977-87; president, Briarcliff (N.Y.) College, 1973-77; history professor, U.S. Naval War College, 1972-73; assistant professor, history, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, 1969-72.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier? 10 years.
• Why do you live here? My wife Diana is a horsewoman, and she grew up around horses. She’s always fox hunted, and I think that, more than anything else, is what led us back in this direction. In addition, we knew people that lived in Fauquier.
• How do you describe this county? I like the pace and feel of Fauquier County. It’s very rare you hear a harsh word from anybody. People here tend to be unpretentious — just a heck of a lot of good guys and good girls here. It has a very gentle feel to it.
It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful part of the United States.
• What would you change about Fauquier? Nothing.
• What do you do for fun? Play the piano. I work out faithfully for about an hour and a half a day. I have a rowing machine, an elliptical trainer, free weights. And, I do long runs.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier? Prince Road, on the edge of Marshall, where we live.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? Given strong leadership, Fauquier will be very similar to what it is now. The basic elements should be the same.
I just think it’s urgent that we preserve this part of the commonwealth and this part of the United States the way it is.
• Favorite TV show? “Mad Men.”
• Favorite movie? Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V.”
• Favorite book? “The Peloponnesian War” by Thucydides.
• Favorite vacation spot? London.
• Favorite food? Roast chicken.
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? Best advice I ever received was not advice. It was the privilege and the opportunity to observe people at very close range. Their advice is very powerful because of the way they lived their lives.
My father and my stepfather were men in different ways who embodied the qualities of character that I think are important — qualities like honor, hard work, not thinking about yourself, how you can be helpful. The power of example.
• Who’s your hero and why? George Marshall. He represents to me what an American citizen and gentleman at his best can be.
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? Give most of it away and keep a half million for useful purposes as they appeared.
I would give it away to schools that I think are doing what ought to be done in the field of education, particularly in those years between 12 and 17.
I have enormous respect for American high school teachers. I think, in many ways, they’re the saints of the profession. And they are all too often taken for granted by people who say nice things about them but that do very little on their behalf.
> CLICK below to watch video of Josiah Bunting discussing Gen. George Marshall.