I just sent a congratulatory e-mail to Jim Webb, who has been projected as the winner in the hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. In narrowly defeating the incumbent, Senator George Allen, Webb tips the balance of power in the U.S. Senate to the Democrats. Yet Jim Webb is anything but a prototypical “liberal” Democrat. A graduate of the Class of 1968 of the United States Naval Academy, Senator-elect Webb served in the past as Secretary of the Navy, after a distinguished combat career in Viet Nam.
I was introduced to Mr. Webb a few years ago by my friend and Jim’s Annapolis classmate, Capt. Bill Boykin (USN Retired). In addition to his career in the military and in public service, Jim Webb is a prolific and engaging writer. If you would like to understand what makes our nation’s newest Senator tick, I commend to you two books – one by Jim Webb and the other about him and some of his famous fellow Annapolis graduates.
“The Nightingale’s Song” by Robert Timberg, tells the fascinating tale of five Annapolis graduates who fought in Viet Nam and some of whom eventually ended up in the Reagan White House and embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandals. The names comprise a litany of familiar household names: John McCain, Bud McFarlane, Oliver North, John Poindexter and Jim Webb. This book offers tremendous insights into why men like McCain and Webb would eventually find themselves called to serve in the Senate.
Jim Webb’s novel, “A Sense of Honor,” is a stunning roman a clef that tells of Webb’s experiences as an Annapolis midshipman in the 60’s – told through the eyes of his fictional protagonist, Bill Fogarty. The controversy that followed in the wake of this novel’s publication resulted in Webb being banned for a time from stepping foot on the Annapolis campus.
I owe a debt of graduate to my good friend, John Byington, for making me aware of these two extraordinary books. John once said to me: ”If you really want to understand those of us who have graduated from the Naval Academy, then you should really read ‘A Sense of Honor’ and ‘The Nightingale’s Song.’”
It will be interesting to watch how Webb and McCain – whose early careers were so closely intertwined – will interact from opposite sides of the Senate aisle.
One thing more - did I mentioned that James Webb was a platoon commander in Delta Co./1st Battalion/5th Marines?