I read with a great deal of sadness and almost equal measures of pride and nostalgia of the death of Silas L. Copeland, sergeant major of the Army, retired, in the February 2002 issue of the AUSA NEWS.
The article, written by Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, USA, Ret., was a well written tribute to a great American soldier.
I was very fortunate to have known Sergeant Major of the Army Copeland when I was a college student.
He became the standard by which I measured every noncommissioned officer that I met during my Army career. Little did I know at the time what a high standard that was.
I met Sergeant Major of the Army Copeland while I was a student in the ROTC unit at tiny Centenary College in Shreveport, La., not far from his native Texas.
When I transferred there in 1957 to begin my junior year, the Department of Military Science and Tactics had four officers and six sergeants.
The officers were Col. Robert S. Scott, who was awarded the Medal of Honor as an infantry first lieutenant in the Solomon Islands during World War II; 1st Lt. Jack L. Hancock, who retired as a major general; and a major and a captain.
The six sergeants consisted of staff sergeant, who was a former major, two sergeants first class, who had served during the Korean War as reserve officers, and three master sergeants.
One was a former National Guard active duty colonel, and the other two had always served as enlisted men.
One of these was Silas Copeland.
There were many great role models there, each in his own way, but Colonel Scott and Master Sergeant Copeland were the two who had the greatest impact on me.
Their inspiration convinced me to accept a Regular Army commission when I graduated.
The two were similar in many ways -- that tall, quiet, fierce-looking infantryman from New Mexico and that calm, quiet tanker from Texas.
I spent the next 27 years subconsciously looking for someone to match them, but, although I served with many great soldiers, I was unable to find anyone like them.
My fellow cadets and I were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
Col. James M.Durham, USA, Ret.