Stories from Iraq

The article “Soldiers’ Stories” in the Summer 2008 issue is one of the finest anthologies I have read in a long time. These are American heroes and heroines; their stories are important. The cover is especially riveting with the framed portraits. And the timing of your publication couldn’t have been better, as I am reading it on this Memorial Day weekend. Thank you for another job well done.

Dick Clair (Col ’57)
Newton, N.J.


This letter is to express appreciation for your coverage in the Summer 2008 magazine of the men and women serving in Iraq. It is so important for our nation to have access to these personal testimonies, so thank you very much for the time and effort you dedicated to raising awareness and giving these UVA alumni a voice.

Mary Froehlich (Engr ’01)
Ramstein Air Base, Germany


I was at Balad Air Base, Iraq, from Nov. 2003 to March 2004. One of the most significant things that we did was to go into the Iraqi villages and hold clinics for the local civilians, both adults and children. Instead of viewing us as the conquering military force, we wanted them to understand that we really did care about them as people. Thank you for publishing those stories from other American service members who have served in Iraq.

Loren Mark Johnson (Col ’76, Med ’80)
O’Fallon, Ill.


I read [the Iraq] stories aloud to my two young daughters. I had a hard time getting through Ms. White’s account without choking up. I hope each of my girls experiences as profound a moment in her life as it seems Kimi did while serving in Iraq. Thanks for sharing.

Jonathan Grau (Col ’95)
McLean, Va.


For what it is worth, I could not have been more pleased, or impressed, with the cover of your summer edition of the University magazine. I must also say I was more than a little surprised.

I attended graduate school at the University the school year of 1970-71. I was on active duty with the Marine Corps at the time, attending school in what the Marines referred to as the “advance degree” program. The Vietnam War was still very much in progress and devoid of support of any kind on most university campuses. Virginia was no exception, and military service was generally looked on unfavorably by most, but not all, faculty as well. Prior to my arrival on Grounds, a sincere effort had been made by a group of students to set fire to the NROTC building. They weren’t successful, but you get the picture.

A small group of us was involved in my program and several other programs sponsored by the military. Most of us were not required to wear our uniforms, so it was easy to keep a low profile—certainly no pictures on the cover of the school magazine. We had all served in Vietnam and if the subject came up, we certainly didn’t keep the fact a secret. Actually, what I was questioned about most often was why I had such a short haircut.

I found the cover story, just in time for Memorial Day, as interesting and inspirational as anything the magazine has published recently. But of course I am somewhat biased. My thanks for the service to our country provided by all the men and women featured in the article. God bless them all. Semper Fidelis.

Philip Buran (Grad ’71)
Lt. Col. USMC (Ret.)
Vista, Calif.


When I received the Virginia Magazine in the mail I was immediately appalled by the cover and corresponding article, “Stories From Iraq.” As a UVA grad student and pacifist, I am ashamed to be associated with this institution that publishes such an article that clearly supports the illegal war our nation provoked on Iraq.

In attempting to honor those UVA associates who are taking part in this horrendous debacle, did you all realize the cultural ineptitude you presented in publishing the photo that accompanied the penultimate war story? The two Iraqis in the background of the photo are hiding behind their camels in positions that suggest both embarrassment and perhaps disgust in being taking in this photo. Sadly, this photo embodies the cultural insensitivity and reckless one-sidedness of this article.

This is not something to be proud of or to publish nationally. This is not the voice and adequate presentation of the character of the students, and I daresay the majority of the alumni and student body of UVA.

Tim Cunningham (Nurs ’11)
Charlottesville, Va.


Thank you for your recent article, “Soldiers’ Stories.” If anyone wants to know what being a Cavalier is all about, they could find it in your summer edition. The service and actions of these fine men and women should be a source of pride for all members of the University community. The daily sacrifices made by them, and their families, are often forgotten during the highly politicized debate surrounding our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. They quietly perform a job (that most people are glad they do not have to do) for one reason: a sense of duty.

Robert Wright (Col ’89)
Glen Allen, Va.


I want to thank you for compiling what I hope will be the first in a series of stories submitted by alumni who have served (or are currently serving) in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East. I would like very much to see a similar compilation of experiences of alumni working as diplomats or State Department officials in the Middle East.

It is refreshing to read such positive and optimistic accounts of what the military and civil affairs corps have achieved in Iraq over the past five years. In an era of increasing negativity toward the war and the American presence in Iraq, I think it is incredibly important to recognize the accomplishments of those working tirelessly to improve the situation there. I commend your editorial staff for doing just that. I am not only proud but also comforted to learn how many UVA graduates have contributed to the effort to stabilize Iraq; the country is fortunate to have the help of such qualified, bright and ambitious individuals.

Emily Valentine (Col ’05)
Washington, D.C.


While I appreciate the service in Iraq that those mentioned in the article have performed, I believe you were remiss in not mentioning, the magazine arriving just before Memorial Day, the service of those who served, and in some cases gave their lives in the service of their country. Having graduated at a time when service was, in most cases, mandatory, I still think and reflect on classmates who, after four years at the University, went off in the service of their country but did not return. I think of Peter Damiano specifically as one of those. They should be no less honored and applauded than those serving now and in the future. They are all members of the UVA family and we should be as proud of them as we are of anyone from UVA who has represented the University in any field of endeavor.

Thomas McNamara (Col ’65)
Voorhees, N.J.


I was incredibly disappointed that the coverage of alumni in Iraq made no reference to Capt. Humayun Khan (Col ’00), the first and, as far as I know, only UVA alumnus to be killed in Iraq. Capts. Holzgrefe and Wolfe, whom you profiled, went through ROTC with Khan.

Eston Melton (Col ’02, Educ ’04)
Arlington, Va.


Thank you for “Stories From Iraq.” I was touched by the bravery, commitment and compassion of our UVA soldiers. It was wonderful to get this insight into their lives on the front.

Andrea R. Nagy (Grad ’89, ’96)
New Haven, Conn.

Brit Hume

Were there really no responses to the article on Brit Hume that had anything meaningful or informed to say? Regardless of your political leanings, you chose to pick letters that ignore entirely his contributions as a well-respected network White House correspondent or his other professional accomplishments; instead, you chose to publish obviously partisan, slanted, poorly substantiated, opinionated hatchet pieces for the apparent purpose of basically lambasting FOX News. Interesting that the opinions offered no examples or facts to back up their assertions, so I suppose the truth is indeed inconvenient if it interferes with your vitriol.

Michael Lacey (Col ’78)
Atlanta, Ga.

Thanks to Saliba

Thank you for the article on Ethan Saliba (“Short Course,” Summer 2008). As an injured student-athlete on the swim team, I experienced Ethan’s commitment to assisting all athletes, not just those playing football or basketball. Ethan had time and interest for all athletes, regardless of sport. My recovery from shoulder surgery was helped immensely by Ethan. I remain grateful for his help.

Will Fitzhugh (Col ’89)
Richmond, Va.

Deep-Rooted Politics

Let me make sure I have this straight. Liberals are “open to experience,” have “greater tolerance” for things “foreign,” more tolerance for “unpredictability” and are “emotionally secure.” Conservatives, on the other hand, have “a need for structure and stability,” watch TV, go fishing, drive SUVs and join fraternities.

In other words, liberals are worldly, sophisticated, well-adjusted and reasoned, with no time for frivolities such as fraternities. Conservatives are insecure, xenophobic yokels who drive SUVs and spend all of their time in such mindless activities as fishing and watching TV, or else boozing it up (at fraternity parties).

I am deeply insulted and offended by this (“Research and Discovery,” Summer ’08). It is unacceptable for Virginia Magazine to print such outrageously hateful, biased material from some ultra-left-wing professors/researchers who are out to find some data, any data, that they can manipulate such that it can be used to malign conservatives and to feed their own elitist liberal arrogance.

I demand a public apology from Virginia Magazine.

Jessee B. Ring (Engr ’69)
Radford, Va.

The Sound of Music

I enjoyed reading “A Sound for All Seasons” about the University’s Cavalier Marching Band. The history of music at the University (or the lack thereof) is a fascinating tale that distinguishes UVA and its Grounds from most other state colleges where marching bands have been an important part of the campus landscape since at least the mid-20th century.

When I arrived in Charlottesville in the fall of 1961, there was no musical group that I can remember at the football games (the Wahoos were about to emerge from a three-year losing streak). If there was a band, it made no impression. I had participated in a 200-piece marching band at Miami Senior High and was shocked that there was no similar musical organization at Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village. Thus, I joined the newly formed Army ROTC band. After a semester of practice in Cabell Hall, it was disbanded for lack of sufficient instrumentation.

In January of ’62, the band was reformed as a drum-and-bugle corps, and I traded my tenor saxophone for a bass drum. Later that spring, this small, dedicated group of Cavaliers marched in the extremely long Winchester apple blossom parade. That was the last time I ever volunteered to carry a bass drum and, in fact, it was my last appearance as a marching musician.

Don Slesnick (Col ’65)
Coral Gables, Fla.


I read “A Sound for All Seasons” with enthusiasm. I take a little historical exception to the sidebar “Past, Present and Future.”

I was a freshman in 1961 and a member of a very unique version of the UVA Pep and Concert bands. The football team started the season with a 0-28 losing streak and the band was downsized from earlier years. The fact that we played the national anthem for the opening game was next to a miracle and gained us notoriety on the front page of the Cavalier Daily.

We grew and kept the Pep Band alive, at least for my four undergraduate years, but were never able to field a marching band! I enjoyed the camaraderie, the work and the opportunity to get away from the books and study for a couple of hours.

Don Hobson (Engr ’65, GSBA ’70)
Newark, Del.


In recent editions of the Virginia Magazine, I’ve seen articles about the history of the Marching Band, and their struggles to find space on Grounds, as well as articles about the state of the University-sponsored choruses, and the independent a cappella groups. I have never seen a detailed article, or mention in the other articles, about the Virginia Glee Club.

The Virginia Glee Club is the oldest musical organization of any type at the University, and second-oldest student organization of any type. It is recognized as one among the elite collegiate men’s choruses in this country. Its members have included a president of the United States and captains of industry.

Truly notable works of men’s choral music have been commissioned and dedicated to the Virginia Glee Club. The Glee Club has performed across the country and around the world. And yet, the Virginia Glee Club today receives no funding from the University, the state of Virginia or Student Council. It nearly ceased to exist in the late 1980s (a fate suffered by the Women’s Chorus until its return in the mid-’90s). The Glee Club today is supported entirely by the hard work of its members, and generosity of its friends and alumni.

To help remedy the stressful financial situation, alumni and friends of the Virginia Glee Club have formed an association dedicated to raising an endowment to help support the Club, and ensure it survives well into the future as a student-run group. The association even hopes to help the club in its constant struggle to secure rehearsal and performance space on Grounds. The association has been designated an Alumni Interest Group at Alumni Hall. And yet, no ink in the pages of the Virginia Magazine has been dedicated to the Virginia Glee Club since I can remember—even when articles have been written about the large and diverse number of groups now performing on Grounds.

The Virginia Glee Club is an institution at UVA with a long and very colorful history. Today, it is conducted by Frank Albinder, one of the most notable figures in modern men’s choral music. A little interest from this publication would certainly stir the memories of many alumni of the University.

Lars Bjorn (Col ’97)
Arlington, Va.

Faulkner at the University

Your story and video about William Faulkner’s term as writer in residence (“Retrospect,” Summer 2008) sparked my own memories of Faulkner’s great interpreter at the University, professor Douglas Day. I enrolled in Day’s course on Faulkner exactly 15 years after the great writer’s visit and experienced the next best thing to sitting at Faulkner’s feet. Lecturing without notes, Day spoke in perfect paragraphs, opening doors to appreciation of even Faulkner’s most demanding work. I was not an English student, but that course was my most rewarding academic experience at the University. I remain in awe of Day’s knowledge and his ability to convey it. He helped me—and doubtless many others—get “into” Faulkner in a way we could never have done on our own.

Michael Birkner (Grad ’73, ’81)
Gettysburg, Pa.


I was on the track team at UVA from 1954 to 1958 and William Faulkner would occasionally come to our track meets. I had read he did not like to be photographed and was not easy to approach. During a track meet in 1957, I introduced myself and asked if I could take some photographs. Mr. Faulkner said that as soon as the meet was over, he would wait for me near the center of the field. As I walked away, I thought to myself that he would not show up. After the meet was over, he was waiting where he said he would be and I took a number of photographs. I thought about how agreeable he was after I read the article in the Virginia Magazine. I would see him a number of times walking around the Grounds and was always sorry that I didn’t ask him to sign one of my photographs. I am enclosing three of the photographs that I took that day.

Douglas C. Buckelew (Col ’58)
Virginia Beach, Va.

Douglas C. Buckelew’s photos of William Faulkner

Cemetery Connection

Set in Stone” (Spring 2008) sent me into a reverie of my days on Grounds in the University Cemetery, where I could always find peaceful refuge. The cemetery became even more special when my fiancé, Teo Mendez-Zfass (Col ’05), proposed to me there in the fall of ’07. I was touched to learn that I share the location of my marriage proposal with Dr. and Mrs. Richard T. Ellison Jr. (Med ’52), whose letter was published in the last magazine.

Has the magazine thought of featuring different places on Grounds where couples have proposed? Just as Dr. Ellison and I learned about something we had in common, these stories could connect alumni.

Caroline Thomson (Arch ’05)
Atlanta, Ga

Another Look at Salaries

I am writing to comment on Bob Understein’s letter in the Spring 2008 issue. His comparison of Coach Groh’s salary is valid as far as it goes, but it leaves out quite a few pertinent facts.

The Board of Visitors and the administration made a decision 50 years ago to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. The only plausible inference from this is their recognition that a strong athletic program, in concert with a strong academic program, would build interest and support for both. Their vision was good, and the results in both areas have been spectacular. At that time, even our most ardent supporters could not rank the University at the very top of public education, a position that we now all enjoy and take pride in.

As the largest, most expensive to run, and greatest revenue sport, football naturally has the highest-paid coach. I suspect that if one had access to the salaries of presidents and coaches in the top 10 conferences, the ratio of their salaries would be fairly consistent. Coaches’ salaries are determined by the competitive marketplace and don’t always relate to performance in a given year. I’m not sure what context was intended when talking about taking $10 million in profit to the bottom line. I assume it is well known that the state does not contribute at all to intercollegiate athletics and facilities, and that all money spent has been funded through private contributions, private endowment, student fees, ticket sales, TV, and program and facility advertising. Academic excellence has been achieved despite a premise that athletes somehow taint the process. We have attracted quality student-athletes without in any way diminishing the quality of nonathlete applicants. The Jefferson Scholars Program and the high quality of each entering class, a highly competitive process, attest to that. Of interest is our consistently high ranking in the Directors’ Cup, which ranks intercollegiate success among all Division I schools for all team sports. Our soccer and lacrosse teams have recently been national champions and top ranked for some years, not to mention the success of our women’s teams. We are doing well in all areas.

The coaches and presidents are paid out of different pockets, and our alumni and friends understand that. President Casteen is the highest paid president in Virginia. The disparity with the football coach is a matter of market dynamics, not a measure of their relative value to the University.

Nicholas G. Wilson III (Col ’52)
Virginia Beach, Va.


I wish to offer my strong support for the position taken by Robert Understein (Com ’63) in his article “Compensation Concerns” (Spring 2008).

It would be self-serving for President Casteen to speak out on this matter; therefore as a self-appointed committee of one, I invite all of my fellow alumni to write to the Chair of the Board of Visitors and express their feelings about compensating the football coach more than the President of the University.

Yes, I am aware that a portion of the compensation paid to the football coach is provided by outside sources (enthusiasts of the football program). In fact, it appears that the true compensation package is camouflaged. I would prefer to use this money for improving salaries of the faculty and assisting new admissions needing financial assistance.

I attended the University during the years 1947-1951. We did not win many football games as I recall—and we really did not care because we enjoyed the games regardless the score. I do remember the game we played against the University of Pennsylvania in 1949. We were the underdog. We won. It was a joyous and memorable occasion.

I am sure that the football coach at Harvard, Yale or Princeton is not paid more than the University President, understandably, because football is not their primary focus. Quality of education is the focus, as it is at the University of Virginia, and we should compensate accordingly.

So, fellow alumni, let the Board of Visitors receive your written opinions on this matter.

Douglas R. Eitel (Com ’51)
Valrico, Fla.