by Keith Dale
Coppell, Texas, USA
In 1976 I was commissioned as a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. During that first stressful summer, known as Plebe Summer, many of us faced pressures we had never known before.
Moving from high school casualness and privilege to full military drill and regulations, and being forcefully reminded every day that we were on the absolute bottom rung of the Naval ladder, had its effect. Some of my classmates quit. Many of us became discouraged time and again, especially when the fall arrived with its full academic load.
In my company the stress was high, although it was no more nor less than in any other. One person, Midshipman 4th class Williams, a fellow plebe (freshman), stood out in the way that he handled the stress. He never seemed to get discouraged. He was always calm and level-headed, even in the midst of being berated or cross-examined by a team of Second Classmen. Mr. Williams became a model to many of us, and we looked to him for direction in how to respond to the stress. He was a couple of years older than most of us and was Prior Service — he had been in the Marines prior to his appointment to the Academy.
One particularly dismal weekend morale sank to a particular low. Several of us entertained thoughts of “washing out” — becoming quitters by leaving through the “Bilge Gate”. I can remember clearly that several of us were talking about resigning the next morning when we heard a voice singing, echoing down the hall. My two roommates and I went in search of the owner of the soulful tenor voice and found ourselves in the hall outside Mr. Williams’ room. He was leaning in the doorway and was singing a bluesy song that he was making up on the spot. After his song, he talked to us quietly, sensing our dejected spirits. Simply put, he helped us pull out of our self-pity and defeatism. He made us realize that we were already where tens of thousands of people wanted to be. Simply put, he cared enough to lift our spirits and he renewed our motivation.
Needless to say, I didn’t quit the next day. I did leave the Academy without graduating two years later for academic reasons, but certainly not for motivational problems. I was able to leave with my head held high, knowing that I had not given up when the going was the toughest, and for that I owe a lifelong debt to Mr. Williams.
He graduated and served a very successful tenure in Naval Intelligence before he found his true calling: he worked with troubled youth as a motivational speaker. He has since found a national forum to interact with individuals in a positive way, and he still speaks to youth and adult groups with great impact and success.
You may know of him as the talk-show host, Montel Williams. I’ll always think of him as the Man Who Cares.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.