Coincidentally, I was reading Standing Tall: Leadership Lessons in the Life of a Soldier (Casemate, 240 pp. $34.95, hardcover; $20.99, Kindle) while waiting for my wife in the Newton, Massachusetts, hospital where the author, Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, was born
In this autobiography, we learned that Foley’s mother believed that reading books was a sign of laziness and she forced him, as a child, to turn in his library card. He went to West Point as a 6’7” basketball recruit and his limited reading background may have contributed to him ranking of 497th out of the 504 in the USMA Class of 1963.
His academic history also may partially inform the crisp style and content of this short autobiography, but it did not deter him from having a distinguished military career. As Foley indicates, his mother instilled in him a strong work ethic and it shows.
Bob Foley was a platoon leader and company commander with the 2nd/27th in the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1966-67. He received the Medal of Honor the following year for his extraordinary courage under fire during a vicious jungle fight in November 1966 near Tay Ninh. After Vietnam, Foley went on to serve in 25 assignments during his 37-year military career (1963-2000), which led to three stars.
He chronicles all of them in great detail, and sprinkles his thoughts about leadership throughout the book. There are photos, a list of 109 wreath-laying assignments, a summary of others, images of his citations and decorations, along with bibliography and an index. He has a short section on his thoughts about the Vietnam War and how the many opportunities over the decades to avoid it were squandered.
The book is loud and clear on the sacrifices a military family must undergo to enhance a servicemember’s career. His three children went to nine different schools from first grade through high school, for example, and yet, even as teenagers, they were seemingly always supportive of him.
His wife could not have had a sustained independent career, although she did have take teaching and other jobs. She had to spend the bulk of her life raising the children, creating a home, and being a supportive military wife in all its aspects. Foley’s career would not have been as successful, or probably not successful at all, without his wife and children’s unqualified buy-in. He recognizes this and is deeply appreciative.
What is intriguing is that Foley’s success came despite his academic deficiencies and background. Some West Point dropouts, such as Edgar Allan Poe, James McNeal Whistler and Adam Vinitieri, have been successful in other endeavors. However, those who finished last in their West Point classes, including George Armstrong Custer, George Pickett, and Simeon Magruder Levy, did not fare well thereafter, at least in their final battles.
Neither Dwight Eisenhower nor Ulysses Grant performed particularly well at West Point. Yet they ended up as among the greatest of U.S. military leaders, also became U.S. presidents.
Maybe Bob Foley’s mother had the right idea.