I am reading a book now by Herman Wouk called the "The Winds of War," which has been an eye-opener for me. It is about the second World War. At that time the four most influential people in the world were Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. Part of the book outlines the strategy Roosevelt used in easing America into that war, something the American people didn't want to do until the country was attacked at Pearl Harbor.
I look back at my life when I was growing up reading about the war and how different things are now compared to then. I don't think people are that different, but I think things have changed, more than people have. There are a lot of things we have today that we take for granted we didn't have when I was growing up, and that is progress. Progress in technology has been part of our history since we began keeping records as materials and machines have changed the way we live.
The progress has mostly been good, but there can be side effects. One of the things I worry about today is our young folks because in my opinion, in some ways, our American society has become soft, in part from all of the technological progress we have achieved that makes our lives easier than in generations past.
In the 1940s, before the war, our country had a draft, but it was about to expire and one of the major topics of the era was whether there should even be a draft for military service. Many of the American people were against the draft, but with the threat of war on the horizon the draft was expanded, and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor the draft was expanded even further.
In reading "The Wings of War" and living my life, I know how fortunate we are to enjoy the freedoms we have in this country. I also know there are a lot of folks out there who know even better than I do how fortunate we are to live in the United States. The world was a dangerous place in World War II and it is still that way today in many places with atrocities still taking place.
Growing up in Georgia, I went to Richmond Academy, a military high school, and I didn't necessarily like having to wear a uniform and drilling three or four days a week. When we went to college back then, we had two years of obligation to the military through the ROTC program with two days of drill and three days of military class. You had to have it to graduate.
My sophomore year I had a good friend who was in the same platoon I was in and I probably knew the platoon commander, too. I got him to mark me present every day that year for drill, but I didn't go to a single one for a year. They caught me right at the end of school and told me they would give me an incomplete or fail me.
If they gave me an incomplete, I would have to come back to school and go to every drill my junior year. I got to thinking about it and I knew they had me. There was nowhere to run so I looked at the captain, who was talking to me, and I said, "If I have to go to drill every day, I want to take advanced ROTC because I like the classwork with the leadership, tactics and other stuff." It was something I made good grades in so I said, ‘How about letting me go into advanced ROTC?"
The captain said, "What? You think we are going to let you go into advanced ROTC after you cut every drill as a sophomore?" I answered, "Well, it's a thought." I told him, "I could use the $28 a month and I have got to go to drill every day and I like the classes, so why not?
He told me he would have to talk to the commandant about that so the head guy let me into the advanced program, on probation, having to make every drill. Everybody who goes into the advanced program from their sophomore to junior year becomes an officer. They made me the sergeant-major, but I was happy because they let me in.
I was commissioned after I graduated and it was the best thing that ever happened in my life. The military training, with the discipline involved, was exactly what I needed. Having to be accountable, at all times, was an important thing for me to learn. In fact, I think that everybody at some time in their life can benefit from that type of training. In my case, being in the Army, if I didn't show up I was AWOL (absent without leave) and could go to jail. That is the worst thing you can do in the Army.
I stayed in the Army for 2 1/2 years. There were a lot of things I had to do whether I liked them or didn't like them. For example, I didn't like to have command performances at company functions, battalion functions and social events. You had to be there and had to bring your wife if you were married. I look back now and it was the right thing to do in building the camaraderie and discipline necessary for us to perform as a team. If we wouldn't have been ordered to be at all events, there would have been officers and their wives who would have been left out of certain events and it was a good thing that everybody had to be at everything.
Remembering that brings me around to thinking that today a lot of people, including me, have concern for the lack of discipline they see in our young folks. I certainly don't mean all of them, but there is definitely a problem. Whether it is created from the environment at home, or both parents working--whatever excuses we want to make--it is there.
There was certainly some of that, too, when I was growing up, but I think with a lot of us serving in the military and having to learn how to live with discipline in our lives it made a positive difference for us individually and for our country as well.
I think the best education you can get in this country, bar none, is at the military academies--Air Force, West Point, Naval Academy, all of them. It is not just because of the academics, which are excellent, it is because of the discipline demanded of the students outside of academics. If they can stand up to the demands that are put on them as part of all of the things the military academies stand for and require them to do, it is as great of an education as a young man or woman can get.
One of the things I liked about our program when I took over as head coach at Auburn is that we had an athletic dorm for everyone on our team to live together. It helped us build camaraderie and if you ran the dorms the right way they were a great thing because you knew who the kids were associating with and if they got with the wrong crowd you knew it. Now that the athletes are scattered all over campus and all over town, the coaches can't always know what they are doing. I would think in cities a lot larger than Auburn the problem is worse.
Even though our society has changed, I still think that young people, if properly motivated, will respond to the challenge of bringing discipline into their lives. We have a great example of that here at Auburn with the young men who are willing to do what is necessary to become successful football players. I know they work 10 times harder than we did back when I was playing college football.
To be a team capable of winning the national championship like Auburn did last season, it is a 12 months a year commitment. When I played college football you reported to campus in August, practiced and then played your season. You had a make-shift offseason program of some kind, which wasn't highly emphasized, and then you had spring practice. After that everybody went home for the summer and got a job unless they had to stay for summer school in order to be eligible to play that fall. There were no summer workouts like the players at Auburn and other colleges are going through now.
Whether they are playing soccer, football, basketball, baseball or whatever type of team it may be, discipline and self-sacrifice are essential to success. Young folks will almost always respond positively to major challenges if they don't have a choice. Given a choice, many people will go the easy route, so I don't totally blame our young folks for the lack of discipline in this generation because in general I don't think we demand enough of them with the exception of athletics and similar fields of competition.
I am know I am old-fashioned as I mentioned previously, but I believe when they turn 18 years old everybody in our country needs to serve in the military for six months. If they don't want to train to shoot or kill somebody as a soldier, there are all kinds of jobs that can be done to help the country that require the type of training and discipline that will benefit the individual as well as the nation.
We live in the greatest country in the world, but I am not sure that everybody, especially young people, understand all of the sacrifices that were made on our behalf to live in a free country. People all over the world are envious of the United States, but at times we take what we have for granted and that is something we sure don't want to do. We need to make sure this generation and generations to follow understand what we are and what we stand for as a nation.
From the Mailbag:
I just read your column regarding the FSU-Auburn game from 1984. As a true southerner, I have probably attended 175 games over the years, and that game was super special. Even though we lost, that was a heck of an entertaining game. I always wondered what got you so upset to get those three personal fouls in a row. Thank you for clarifying.
I still use a comment you made on your weekly TV show from that game where you said our slot receiver (Darrin Holloman) "could not be hemmed up in a phone booth." I say it a couple of times a year and give you credit. Funniest thing I ever heard a coach say, and it was dead accurate. I played softball with Darrin later in life and he was the slipperiest person I ever saw in a baseball rundown.
We use to laugh about the Southern Independent crews, they were consistently inconsistent. The only thing for sure about them is that they only caught FSU holding about 25 percent of the time. They were downright terrible, probably worked Texas elections in their off time.
Although I have always been neutral about Auburn, I always enjoyed watching your teams play. They played hard and with purpose. They never backed down from a good fight and that speaks volumes to you and your staff. I hope retirement finds you well and rest assured the completion always thought a Coach Dye team was a hell of a ball club.
Louis "Top" Erwin
Thanks for your interesting and kind comments, Louis. That FSU team had great receivers. We weren't the only ones who couldn't cover them.--Pat Dye
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye also writes the Dye-Log and Pat's Picks columns for AUTigers.com.