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In Memoriam: Col. Wesley L. Fox

Col. Wesley Fox

Col. Wesley L. Fox

By Col. R.S. “Rock” Roszak ’71, U.S. Air Force (retired)

Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Marine, and former deputy commandant for the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Col. Wesley L. Fox died Nov. 24, 2017, in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was 86.

Fox enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1950 at the start of the Korean War. Months later he deployed to Korea as a rifleman, the first of many deployments in his 43-year career in the military. He spent the first 16 years as a noncommissioned officer, and, in addition to his combat assignments, he worked as a drill instructor, a recruiter, and as a military police officer.

In 1966, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

On Feb. 22, 1969, while serving as the commanding officer of Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division in the A Shau Valley, Vietnam, Fox’s unit was attacked. Despite injury, Fox led his men as they advanced through heavy fire. They eventually forced the North Vietnamese troops to retreat. Wounded again in a final assault, Fox continued to refuse medical attention and instead ensured that other wounded Marines were tended to and evacuated.

 “His indomitable courage, inspiring initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger inspired his Marines to such aggressive actions that they overcame all enemy resistance and destroyed a large bunker complex,” according to the Medal of Honor citation read by President Richard Nixon.

I will always remember that whenever he spoke of the honor, Wes always said there were those under his command who were more deserving and he was humbled to represent the sacrifices they made on that day.

Col. Wesley Fox shakes the hand of a cadet.
From 2001 to 2016, Col. Wesley L. Fox spoke to every first-year cadet class and took the time to shake the hand of each cadet.

Fox retired from the military in 1993 as a colonel and came to Virginia Tech, where he served as the deputy commandant of the corps’ 1st Battalion from 1993 to 2001. I had the privilege of working with him from 1994 until his retirement and being his friend from the day we met until his death.

Fond memories I have of Wes Fox, the man, are how he could still leave me in the dust on a staff run when he was 70 and him “cutting a rug” with his beloved Dottie Lu at countless Military Balls over the years to the joy and amusement of everyone there.

After his retirement from the university, he remained a fixture within the Corps through leadership advice and mentorship to hundreds of cadets. A highlight of every cadet’s time at Virginia Tech between 2001 and 2016 was hearing Fox speak during their first year.

The life and leadership lessons Fox spoke of in those sessions exemplified what the aspiring young leader should strive for. He described Marines he worked under during his early years, comparing the authoritarian “leader,” who wielded power in a way that only produced fear and intimidation in his followers, with the true leader, who put the needs of his followers first and inspires his Marines to live up to his expectations.

“Colonel Fox will long be remembered for his love of country, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets,” said Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, commandant of cadets. “Through his books and presence, he continued to touch every class that came through the corps. His friendship and mentorship will be greatly missed.”

Fox also traveled tirelessly as the living embodiment of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, acting as its regional director from 1999 to 2003 and again from 2007 to 2011.

Fox was the author of three books: “Marine Rifleman: Forty-Three Years in the Corps (Memories of War)” in 2002, “Courage and Fear” in 2007, and “Six Essential Elements of Leadership: Marine Corps Wisdom from a Medal of Honor Recipient” in 2011. His leadership book remains required reading for all first-year cadets.

Fox’s impact on a generation of Corps graduates is immeasurable, and I have never known a more exemplary symbol of the Semper Fi concept of honor and service.