Front & Center News from Fork Union Military Academy–May 8, 2017

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Stories in this issue:

  • Alumni Association honors Phillip Dabney for 65 years of service to FUMA
  • PHOTO ESSAY: Alumni Weekend
  • Mother's Day Parade this coming Sunday is a very special occasion
  • Bob Futrell, Class of 1967, makes presentation to classes
  • Trustees offer Access Scholarships challenges
  • Fork Union alumnus, 2LT George Owen Retan, remembered in the Netherlands
  • FUMA to host Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Sole2Soul 5K Race
  • Admissions Office schedules events around the region
  • Have you voted for FUMA?
The Alumni Cannon

Alumni Association honors Phillip Dabney for 65 years of service to FUMA

The longest-tenured employee of Fork Union Military Academy, Phillip Dabney, was honored this past weekend by the Alumni Association upon his retirement after 65 years of service to the Academy. Phillip Dabney came to work in the dining hall in 1952 at age sixteen, joining his mother, the beloved Miamie Lewis, on the Fork Union staff. Phillip had been hanging around Fork Union since his mother joined the staff when he was eight years old, and young Phillip recalls visiting his mother at the Middle School, watching parades, and wandering the Academy grounds as a young boy.

When Phillip joined the Academy staff in 1952, our country was at war with North Korea, Harry S. Truman was finishing his term as President, and the Academy had its own dairy and produced its own meat, eggs, and vegetables on the Academy farm.

In the sixty-five years to follow, Phillip Dabney became a familiar face to generations of cadets, and he became well-known to cadets through the years for two things in particular: his homemade yeast rolls, and his distinctive whistling of hymn tunes as he worked.

For those who have worked closest alongside him, however, it has been his unrivaled work ethic and determination that has distinguished his career. Mr. Dabney became indispensible to the success of catered events, and he presided over many of the Academy's most notable and well-attended dinners.

Phillip's sister, Helen Carter, said it best in an interview a few years ago for an article about her brother:

"He has been such a fine example for young people—not just at the Academy, but in our own family and in our community. That's what he's always wanted—to be a good role model. He hopes to have others realize, through his example, the value of hard work. We learned that in our family."—Helen Carter

It is characteristic of Mr. Dabney's quiet grace and devotion to others that, when he was invited to stand alongside RADM Burhoe to take the review of the Alumni Day Parade, the highest honor the Corps of Cadets can bestow upon an individual, Phillip Dabney declined the special honor, explaining that he needed to be at church with his family on that Sunday.

Phillip Dabney is nothing short of a living legend at Fork Union. He will be greatly missed as an everyday presence on campus. We wish him much happiness and good health in his well-deserved retirement.

Alumni Weekend 2017

Friday—Alumni BBQ

Saturday—Alumni Golf Tournament

Saturday—Alumni vs PG Basketball Game

Saturday—Alumni Association Dinner

Sunday, Veterans Memorial Service

Sunday—Alumni Day on campus

Sunday—Alumni Day Parade

Flyin' Bob Futrell, FUMA Class of 1967, arrives for his 50th Class Reunion from the air.

50th Reunion–Class of 1967

Mother's Day Parade this coming Sunday is a very special occasion

Mother's Day has traditionally been one of the most important holiday celebrations at Fork Union Military Academy. The tradition of hosting cadet mothers on this special day and having mothers "take the review" of the Mother's Day Parade dates back for many generations. In our boarding school environment, young men learn how important family truly is in their lives, and Mother's Day begins to hold a very special significance for cadets as a day to show their appreciation for all that mothers mean in their lives.

We hope that as many current mothers of our cadets as possible will be able to join us for this special celebration. There are special events being held on campus for our mothers, including a tea and social time. But no event is more important to our cadets than the opportunity to "pass in review" in front of their mothers.

Sixty years ago...

You can see this Mother's Day tradition in action in this vintage film made in 1947. Although the quality of the video is not as high as we are used to seeing today, the sentimentality of our Mother's Day Parade can be clearly seen.

Echo Company in formation

Bob Futrell, Class of 1967, makes presentation to classes

Introduced during Sunday's parade as "Flyin' Bob Futrell," the Fork Union Military Academy alumnus (FUMA Class of 1967) did more than make a spectacular entrance by parachute with a huge American flag banner this past week. He also took the time to visit cadets in the classroom and make a very special presentation to the Honors Physics and Vector Calculus Classes.

After graduating from FUMA, Mr. Futrell had hopes of flying as a pilot, but an injury dashed those hopes. It was at that time that he began to pursue education in the (then) new field of computer science. His lessons for cadets on maintaining flexibility in your life, and the need to continue to pursue education through certifications opened up new windows to the cadets on how they might pursue career paths of their own.

Mr. Futrell never gave up on flying, however. A veteran now of over 2000 skydiving jumps, Mr. Futrell explained the physics of flight to cadets. He showed and explained the features and intricacies of parachutes and wing suits, having brought his gear with him.

At least one cadet was influenced to pursue a career in engineering or computer science, and all were inspired.

Senior Samer Khalil stated, “ I was inspired how life can lead you in different directions. Following your passions and doing things you love causes you to think in different directions and find ways to improve yourself.”

Board of Trustees Chair, Mr. Bill Vakos, greets cadet leaders on Fraley Circle

Trustees offer Access Scholarships challenges

This past week, the Board of Trustees of Fork Union Military Academy held one of their twice-yearly meetings to discuss the business of the school. As always, much of the discussion revolved around how to help keep the Academy accessible and affordable for as wide a range of students as possible, while keeping the school financially sustainable and meeting expenses.

During this year's meeting, as our Director of Admissions was describing a young man currently seeking admission—a fine young man, smart, athletic, a natural-born leader, but whose family did not have the resources to send him here—Ms. Marion Moon, a member of the Board of Trustees, issued a challenge to her fellow trustees to help do even more than they are already doing to make Fork Union accessible for students such as this.

The Board of Trustees already does a lot to help provide scholarships and financial aid for deserving students each year:

Trustee Scholarship Program

  • The Board of Trustees each year offers a competitive Trustee Scholarship that provides full tuition and uniforms for a deserving new freshman or sophomore entering the Academy. This scholarship is highly-competitive and merit-based. Candidates who submit applications for the Trustee Scholarship are reviewed by a scholarship committee and a scholarship winner selected based on demonstrated scholastic achievement, character, and citizenship.

Access Scholarships

  • In addition to this merit-based scholarship, a number of our trustees help fund Access Scholarships to help provide additional financial aid to students who lack the means to pay the Academy's full tuition on their own. One such Access Scholarship is the Major Craig Moon Access Scholarship established by trustee Ms. Marion Moon.

In fact, just minutes before she spoke up in the meeting, Ms. Moon had already given a significant check to Tim Redden, the Academy's Vice President for Development, to help continue to fund the Major Craig Moon Access Scholarship.

But Ms. Moon was not through helping students on this day.

She told her fellow board members that even more must be done to help students with financial aid. She stated that she was going to write another check, this one for $50,000 to go towards financial aid for students, provided that other trustees step forward to match her challenge gift, so that at least another $100,000 could be provided for students in need.

The applause for her spontaneous and generous act had barely slackened when another trustee, Dr. Emerson Farley, who was seated next to her, said, "I'll issue a second $50,000 challenge."

Before the meeting had concluded, another trustee, Steve Shelton with his wife Nancy Jo, had handed in two checks for $25,000 each to go toward matching both Ms. Moon's challenge and Dr. Farley's challenge, saying, "Now we're halfway there on both challenges."

These challenges are now in the hands of the remaining trustees and trustees emeriti to raise an additional $50,000 from within their own ranks ($25,000 remaining on each of the two challenge gifts) by the fall meeting of the Board of Trustees on October 20, 2017. All funds given towards these challenges are to be earmarked for Access Scholarship support.

Dr. Farley has already delivered his first pledge payment and reports that he has been busy on the phone calling other emeriti trustees already, seeking further donations. With just the amount of new funding already in hand, at least ten new cadets are more likely now to be able to come to Fork Union who otherwise have not been able to afford to do so.

Fork Union Military Academy is blessed to have a Board of Trustees that not only provides leadership guidance for the school, but provides generous financial support to help directly cadets who might otherwise not be able to afford the top-quality college prep education offered at Fork Union.

Board of Trustees member Ms. Marion Moon poses for a photograph with some of the young men who are always on her mind and heart: the cadets of Fork Union Military Academy.

You can learn more about Ms. Moon's efforts to help cadets through the Major Craig Moon Access Scholarship in the video below:

Cadet Thailan Pay sounds the bugle call

Fork Union alumnus, 2LT George Owen Retan, remembered in the Netherlands

We received an email this week from the family of Roger Zoontjens in the Netherlands, and the message it contained was so wonderful and moving.

May 5th is celebrated in the Netherlands as Liberation Day, marking the end of their occupation by Nazi Germany on May 5, 1945. In honor of this occasion, the Zoontjens family adopted a grave to care for at the American Cemetery at Margraten where 8,301 American soldiers from World War II have their final resting place, most of whom were killed in action nearby. Roger Zoontgens did a lot of investigation about the soldier whose grave he adopted, and he has even gotten in contact with the soldier's family.

This process so interested Roger's son, Joep, that Joep decided to pick out a soldier interred in the cemetery and adopt his grave to care for himself.

The grave that Joep picked out was that of 2LT George Owen Retan, a member of Fork Union Military Academy's Class of 1941.

George Owen Retan (from left) in 1938, in 1941, and about 1943

In August 1942, George Retan left Cornell University to enlist in the US Army. He joined the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a new unit established to be a kind of "super unit" of elite warriors, sort of a precursor to today's Delta Force or Seal Team Six. Following months of arduous training, Retan had already been promoted to Sergeant and was being readied for action in Europe.

Retan's first combat action came on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy when his regiment was dropped by parachute behind the German lines. Wounded in the leg within his first five minutes on the battlefield, Retan distinguished himself in action over the next several days. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart and received a battlefield commission, promoted to Second Lieutenant.

On September 17, 1944, Retan parachuted into the Netherlands near the town of Son as part of the Allied offensive known as Operation Market Garden. The operation also became known as "a bridge too far," as the Allies unsuccessfully tried to take a series of key bridges to clear an invasion route directly into Germany.

Company A of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of which Second Lieutenant Retan was the Assistant Platoon Leader of the 2nd Platoon, was assigned to capture the bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal at Son.

In the 1977 movie, A Bridge Too Far, actor Elliot Gould plays an army Colonel, jogging with his men down an open dirt road towards the Son bridge, a cigar clamped in his teeth. As the men get within sight of the bridge, explosives suddenly detonate destroying the bridge just before they reach it. The scene plays as a moment of dark comedy in this movie version.

Elliott Gould in the 1977 movie, "A Bridge Too Far"

The true story was far from comedy.

Retan's Company A had gotten scattered across the drop zone, and almost half of 1st Platoon had been dropped too far from the objective. So it was Retan's own 2nd Platoon that was selected to lead the assault on the Son bridge. Their Platoon Leader, the First Lieutenant, had broken his ankle upon landing during the parachute drop, so it was Second Lieutenant George Owen Retan who was leading the soldiers into the battle to secure the Son bridge, not a cigar-chewing colonel. And the battle was no easy jog down an open road, either.

With Second Lieutentant Retan at the head, the 2nd Platoon of Company A led the regiment through the woods of the Son Forest. About 400 yards from the bridge, they encountered the first resistance from German riflemen. Retan's platoon suppressed the German fire and continued pushing through the heavy forest toward their objective. About 200 yards from the bridge, all of a sudden an 88mm German artillery piece guarding the bridge opened fire into the trees. Soon, the other two 88mm guns had lowered their barrels and begun firing directly into the woods. Although designed as an anti-air weapon to shoot planes down from the sky, the Germans discovered that the 88mm guns were fearsome anti-artillery weapons as well.

Second Lieutenant Retan faced only one option. His men had to attack headlong into the massed fire of those three cannons.

The soldiers raced through the woods and then across the grass straight into the muzzle blasts of the massive artillery pieces. After overwhelming the Germans at the guns and silencing the artillery, the paratroopers then stormed the remaining yards toward the bridge to seize their objective. But the Germans set off preplaced explosives just before the Americans set foot on the structure, blowing it up in their faces.

But not the way it happened in the movie version.

In real life, the battle for the Son bridge left Company A with 30 percent of its officers and men killed or wounded in the Son Forest. George Owen Retan, at the head of the attack, was among the first of the men to be killed in that short, fierce battle. His name is now carved into the smooth stone wall of the Veterans Memorial on the campus of Fork Union Military Academy, alongside the names other former cadets who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

In this remarkable photo taken near the Son bridge on that fateful afternoon of September 17, 1944, an American soldier stands at one of the 88mm gun emplacements captured by the Americans, one of the three guns that killed George Owen Retan and killed or wounded so many of his men, its barrel still lowered menacingly toward the woods.

George Owen Retan's war ended on September 17, 1944 in the Son Forest of the Netherlands. He lies in Plot A, Row 4, Grave 8 of the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten. In the decades since he was laid to rest there, his bright white headstone has been cleaned regularly and flowers placed by the grateful citizens of that country.

This past week, as our alumni gathered at our Veterans Memorial to honor our cadets who have fallen in battle and to place carnations at the base of their memorial wall, a young man in the Netherlands named Joep Zoontgens was placing flowers on the grave of George Owen Retan.

His sacrifice is still being remembered. His heroism is still being honored.

Joep Zoontgens and his family tend to the grave of George Owen Retan in the Netherlands
FUMA Trustee (and former NFL running back) Eddie George chats with cadets

FUMA to host Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Sole2Soul 5K Race

Fork Union Military Academy is set to host the Sole2Soul 5k, sponsored by the Charlottesville Area Fellowship of Christian Athletes, on Saturday, May 13. The race will start at 8:00 AM with check-in at 7:00 AM.

The Sole2Soul 5K benefits the Charlottesville Area FCA through campuses, coaches, community and athletes of all ages. The FCA in the Charlottesville Area is active in 18 out of 37 middle/high schools reaching 18,000 students. One-fourth of the proceeds will be used directly to send an athlete to summer FCA Camp for an opportunity to have a life-transforming experience. Camps are a time of "inspiration and perspiration" for athletes and coaches who want to reach their potential through comprehensive athletic, spiritual and leadership training.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is touching thousands of lives one heart at a time. Join the movement! Proceeds help athletes attend FCA Summer Camp and help keep the ministry alive and active in the community and schools.

  • Location: Fork Union Military Academy
  • Date: Saturday, May 13 2017, 7:00 a.m - 12:00 p.m.
  • Address: 4744 James Madison Hwy, Fork Union, VA 23055
  • Time Schedule: After registering a confirmation e-mail will be sent to you with race day details and directions
  • Check-in: 7:00 a.m. - 7:45 a.m.
  • Start Time: 8:00 a.m.
  • Raffle: 9:30 a.m.
RADM Burhoe honors Chief Bruce Patterson, FUMA's band and choir director, for his recent participation in the Honors Concert Band and Honors Jazz Ensemble held at Longwood College

Admissions Office schedules events around the region

We encourage you to invite your friends and neighbors to learn more about Fork Union Military Academy and whether our college prep environment might be a good fit for one of their young men. This week the Fork Union Military Academy Admissions Office will be open for visits and interviews Monday-Saturday. Please call 434-842-4358 to arrange a day and time.

Our weekday Open House program returns this Friday, May 12, 2017. Prospective cadets and their families may join us at 9 AM to take a campus tour, visit a classroom, have their admissions interview, and eat lunch with our corp of cadets. Many coaches and activity directors will also be available to discuss their programs with interested visitors. Please contact COL Billingsley (434-842-4205) or Dr. Grant (4344-842-4255) to schedule your Friday visit.

Check out the upcoming schedule of admissions events:

May 12—Weekday Open House on campus

May 20—Admissions Fair in Philadelphia, PA

May 21—Admissions Fair in Gaithersburg, MD

May 27—Admissions Fair in Vienna, VA

FUMA's Honor Guard presents the colors at the 2nd Annual Enlistee Recognition Ceremony in Charlottesville

Have you voted for FUMA?

One of our area's favorite media outlets, C-ville magazine, is holding their annual Best of C-Ville contest to celebrate the best businesses and service providers in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. Fork Union Military Academy is in the running as one of the area's best private schools, but we are facing tough competition from the very active and loyal families of The Covenant School in Charlottesville. While Covenant is a very fine school, and one of our favorite people, a former FUMA coach, Seth Wilson, was recently named their head football coach, we obviously cannot allow them to coast to an easy victory without putting up a fight for the title.

Vote today to let C-ville magazine and the Charlottesville community know that there is no better school in the Charlottesville area than Fork Union Military Academy! As they say, vote early and often. And get your friends and family to click the link below and vote as well!

Created By
Daniel Thompson


Photos by: COL Al Williamson, Kate Pendergrass, Jamie Krogh, RADM Burhoe, Kevin Yeager, and Charles Thomas

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