Yesterday, Sharon and I drove down the Shenandoah Valley, with all four children, to attend the burial of Col. William”Big Bill” Dabney, USMC Ret. The service was at the R.E. Lee Memorial Chapel in Lexington.
Big Bill was married to my mother’s cousin, Virginia Puller Dabney, for fifty years. (Virginia’s younger brother Lewis married Linda Todd, who as Delegate ‘Toddy” Puller sponsored me as a House intern many years ago).
Big Bill was the consummate Virginian. He grew up in Richmond and graduated from VMI. His wife was from Saluda. She was even named “Virginia.”
I knew Big Bill from my childhood in Fairfax City. He was one of the original organizers of the FPYC soccer league, which I joined in 1975. His sons Lew and Billy, my older cousins, were my athletic standard-setters. His daughter Keane attended Fairfax High School with me. The family lived in the Mosby Woods subdivision, and I would often spend weekends there. We were one extended family.
Big Bill was the authentic American fighting man, Marine Corps version. He proved his mettle in Vietnam, where he served multiple tours. He was a company commander at Khe Sanh, and his “India Company” held their position on Hill 881 for weeks after being surrounded by NVA regulars. Big Bill held the company together, despite astronomical casualty rates, and drove off the Communists, earning a Navy Cross and a place in Marine Corps history.
Forty-five years later, many of his old enlisted men were present at the post-funeral reception, wearing their distinctive “India Company” jackets and smoking cigarettes right next to the “No Smoking” sign. He would have loved that too.
After retiring from the Corps in the Eighties, Bill and Virginia moved to Lexington and he became very active in VMI, serving as head of the ROTC and Commandant of the Corps of Cadets. He loved VMI, every inch of it.
We stayed in very close touch. In 1996, he gave the Bible reading at my wedding. I also used to stay with Bill and Virginia in Lexington, when I was barn-storming the Commonwealth in 2005. Needless to say, he didn’t vote for a lot of Democrats — but he was always there to help me.
He told me that he’d bet a bottle of whiskey I’d be Governor of Virginia one day. I failed to cash that one in for him.
By that time, he was slowing down but he still had opinions. Lots of them. I’m sure he’s sharing them with The Man Upstairs right now and heaven will be a better place for it.