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2011 Distinguished Graduate Award

Dr. Lewis Sorley '56

Dr. Lewis “Bob” Sorley served as an Armor officer during the Cold War, standing guard along the Iron Curtain in Germany, serving as second in command of a tank battalion in combat in Vietnam, and later commanding a tank battalion back in Germany.  In the academic realm, he served on the faculties of the United States Military Academy and the Army War College.  He also performed yeoman service at the highest levels in the Offices of the Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Defense.  Upon retiring from active duty in 1976, he embarked upon an equally illustrious career with the Central Intelligence Agency, serving in a succession of responsible positions and revitalizing the National Intelligence Emergency Support Office.  After a dozen years as president of a corporation he founded, he launched a career as a writer of military history and also served as Executive Director of the Association of Military Colleges and Schools.  His most enduring contributions, though, have been as a military historian and biographer, especially as regards the Vietnam War, and as an ethical and moral touchstone for a generation of military leaders.

As a young Armor officer, Sorley served in armored cavalry units constantly on alert for Soviet expansion and the Cold War in Europe.  Later, he would serve on another front of that war as executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, in Vietnam, before returning to Germany to command the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor.  Even though the era of the early seventies was a difficult one in Europe, his battalion excelled in morale and professionalism.  Upon graduating from the Army War College he was selected to remain on the War College faculty.  There he taught military planning and strategy, established the first elective course in advanced military strategy, and chaired the Current Affairs Panel, a group of students who made panel presentations on military affairs to college students, civic groups, and on television.  His integrity and professionalism were extremely important as that panel sought to portray accurately the Army’s role in the Vietnam War, a conflict then not well understood by many of the audiences addressed.  He completed his military career in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Sorley next joined the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served initially as the policy planner on the Intelligence Community Staff for the Director of Central Intelligence, then as the Agency’s chief of internal audit, and finally as head of the National Intelligence Emergency Support Office.  In that last assignment, he put his stamp on the Central Intelligence Agency by revitalizing this important office with government-wide impact and responsibilities.  During these years he also earned a doctorate in national security affairs from the Johns Hopkins University.  Upon retiring from the Agency in the grade of SIS-4, three-star general equivalent, he became President of Azonic Services Corporation, an entity he founded, served two terms on the Board of Trustees of the West Point Association of Graduates, and was an adjunct fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He was also, for eight years, Executive Director of the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States; served for a decade as a member and then secretary of the Board of Directors of the Army Historical Foundation; and was selected by the Virginia Military Institute as its first visiting professor of Leadership and Ethics.

It is as an author and historian, however, that Sorley has had his most lasting influence on the Army and our nation.  His A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, and the later Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972 have, over the years, brought about an altered and much improved understanding of the Vietnam War and the performance of our armed forces in that conflict.  There is now a general understanding, even among critics of the war, that Creighton Abrams ranks among the most outstanding of America’s military commanders.  Sorley’s work in explaining the complexities of the Vietnam War has expanded and enriched the historical record while also significantly influencing contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine.  His devotion to our South Vietnamese comrades has been reflected in his helping several shape and publish manuscripts about the war, and in his editing and facilitating publication of The Vietnam War: An Assessment by South Vietnam’s Generals.  Additionally, his biographies of General Abrams and General Harold K. Johnson have received wide acclaim, as has his editing of Press On! Selected Works of General Donn A. Starry.  As a man of integrity who gives of himself generously to tell the West Point story, lecture at West Point and in other military venues, and write for graduate publications, Sorley was the obvious choice to author Honor Bright: History and Origins of the West Point Honor Code and System for the Military Academy’s Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic.

Accordingly, the West Point Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy takes great pride in presenting the 2011 Distinguished Graduate Award to one of the finest military historians of the last half century and, in the words of General Frederick Franks ’59, a national treasure, Dr. Lewis Sorley, Class of 1956.