Ira Dorsey died 30 Mar 1987, suffering a heart attack while walking through the central courtyard of the Pentagon. Ira was the only African-American graduate in the Class of 1960, and his death marked his 27th year of exceptional service to this nation. Some 20 years later, we, the living members of his cadet company, Company K-2, continue to miss his presence among us.
Ira was born 25 Jun 1936 in Shaw, MS. His family was large. He had three brothers and six sisters, and Ira became an inspiration to all. The family moved to St. Louis in 1942, where Ira attended and excelled in public schools. He graduated from Vashon High School in 1955 as a scholastic honor student. Ira then attended Harris Teachers College prior to entering West Point in 1956.
As a cadet, Ira was an inspiration to all cadets who were members of Company K-2. His roommates remember him as a “landmark” on which they could depend for guidance and stability. His quiet form of leadership led to his unanimous selection to the class honor committee. He excelled in intramural athletics and became the brigade boxing champion in his weight class. He was also a musician noted for his excellent jazz interpretations, which he played on his saxophone often to entertain any of us who had time to gather and listen. As a cadet, Ira did well, except for math. He struggled mightily with the subject and could be found many evenings in the sinks being tutored and studying with others in the same predicament. Ultimately, he succeeded.
Ira inadvertently introduced many of us to racial prejudice. His years as a cadet and the initial years of his active duty service occurred before many deep changes came about as a result of our nation’s own struggles with race. In those years, the minute Ira stepped off base, particularly in travels to our Southern military bases, he experienced the separateness and discrimination which existed. We became part of his experience whenever we accompanied Ira. Much to his disagreement, we all left any establishment which refused him service or required the use of separate facilities. We are unaware if these slights ever bothered Ira, since he always seemed to act above the situation, and we all were able to find common ground to be together. Regardless, we suspect these slights influenced Ira and his family for his entire life.
Ira was commissioned in the Field Artillery and served three tours in Germany. The final tour, in 1977, led to his assignment to command the 1st Battalion, 80th Artillery, a Lance Missile unit. Ira also served two tours in Viet Nam. After his final tour in Germany, Ira returned to Washington, DC, where he served in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisitions. In this assignment he earned a Legion of Merit and, in 1982, the Pace Award for the Army’s most outstanding staff officer. The Pace Award included a Sloan Fellowship at MIT, and Ira earned his Master of Businees Administration degree. He returned from Boston to the Pentagon, where he was assigned to the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supporting the U.S. delegation in Geneva for Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty negotiations. It was during these intense times that Ira died at the Pentagon.
Ira’s battalion command came at a time when the Army and the U.S. Army, Europe, were learning to train again after the war in Viet Nam. Battalion command tours were short and caused leadership to be turbulent and difficult. It was a difficult time to be in the Army, let alone in command. The officers who served with Ira all agree he was a fine commander. He developed his subordinates by giving them challenging assignments which, in turn, helped him solve the many knotty problems the battalion faced. He led by quiet example, knew his craft well, held himself accountable, and listened to subordinates before making important decisions. Ira was noted for being a patient man and one whose integrity and almost judge-like temperament influenced everything he did.
Ira’s military career and his experiences growing up in St. Louis led him to be greatly involved in African-American activities in the Washington, DC, area. He spent much of his time outside the Army working through the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and assisting African-Americans to successfully start up small businesses. He also worked tirelessly with young blacks, assisting them in preparing for college and finding scholarships. For his efforts, the local fraternity chapter provides scholarships in Ira’s name through The Ira Dorsey Scholarship Endowment Fund.
Ira’s death left a loving wife Evelyn and a son Barry, of whom Ira was very proud. Ira also touched us all. As classmates, he provided us with leadership in many subtle ways. We learned from him the importance of fairness and standing up for social responsibilities, In Ira’s quiet and determined manner, we too have joined our communities to improve the world around us. We miss him greatly.
—His Company K-2 classmates
- Ms. Evelyn J. Dorsey (W '60)