The Ira Dorsey Scholarship Endowment Fund, Inc. is named in honor of Ira Dorsey, who was one of 34 charter members of the Xi Alpha Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
He had a distinguished military career and was very active in the Fraternity and its many educational initiatives. He was an ardent supporter of higher education and he worked with young people to prepare them for college and find scholarships. Those who knew him – his family, his fraternity brothers, and others he served with in the military – all say that he was an inspiring man, determined to be successful in his endeavors.
The Early Years
Ira was born on June 25, 1936 in Shaw, Mississippi. His family was large. He had three brothers and six sisters. 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. He entered West Point in 1956.
Life at West Point
As a cadet at West Point, Ira was a member 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 the other cadets 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.
There were few blacks at West Point in the 1950s – 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 America’s own struggles with race. Ira’s Company K-2 classmates say that in those years, the minute Ira stepped off base, particularly in travels to southern military bases, he experienced the separateness and discrimination which existed. Much to Ira’s disagreement, they remember, they would all leave any establishment which refused him service or required the use of separate facilities. Although his fellow cadets note that they were unaware if these slights ever bothered Ira, since he always seemed to act above the situation, they all were able to find common ground to be together.
Ira graduated from West Point in 1960 and was the only black graduate in the class.
Active Duty Service
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 Vietnam.
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 Vietnam. 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.
After his final tour in Germany, Ira returned to Washington, D.C., 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 Business 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.
Ira died on March 30, 1987 – he suffered a heart attack while walking through the central courtyard of the Pentagon. His death marked his 27th year of exceptional service to the U.S. He is buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
Ira’s death left a loving wife Evelyn and a son Barry, of whom Ira was very proud. His Company K-2 classmates remember him as an amazing leader who taught them the importance of fairness and standing up for social responsibilities.
This biography was adapted from a memorial compiled by Ira’s Company K-2 classmates. To see this biography in its original context, visit the West Point Association of Graduates website.
In addition, personal eulogies of Ira are posted at http://defender.west-point.org/service/eulogies.mhtml?u=23190.