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Focus on Faculty: Dr. Wallis Sanborn III

In post-Vietnam America, Wallis Sanborn III understood the nation’s mood for peace. He also knew his family’s history in battle.

One grandfather served in World War I, the other in World War II. His father spied on North Korea as a Marine communications officer in Japan and South Korea.

At home, young Wallis held his father’s officer’s sword and swagger stick. He wore remnants of his father’s uniform: dress greens and dress blues, sundry patches and medallions. He read books filled with photos on Marine Corps history. He listened to stories – tales that took place in Iwakuni, Okinawa, South Korea, and New Zealand.

After high school in Taylor – outside of Austin, the pull of genetics and Marine Corps paraphernalia proved irresistible. In 1984 at age 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines as a reservist.

“I entered the reserves because I wanted to be a commercial diver and work offshore,” says Sanborn, an assistant professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University. “I joined the Marines very much out of a sense of loyalty to my father. I thought at the time that that would be enough. But the 49-year-old me looks at the 19-year-old me and kind of castigates him a bit. I feel I should have done more and I carry a great deal of guilt because of that.”

Part of Sanborn’s mission is to help military veterans in college. At OLLU, he serves as chairman of the Veteran’s Day Ceremony Committee.

Sanborn completed six years in the reserves and became a commercial diver. He earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in English from Texas Tech. He took a job teaching at Angelo State before coming to OLLU in fall 2013.

When he entered the reserves, Sanborn was trained as a rifleman and machine gunner one weekend a month and for two weeks during the summer. After transferring to a STA platoon – Surveillance and Target Acquisition – in Houston, he learned scouting and sniper skills. “You had to be able to plot a six point grid on a map,” he says. “You had to be able to use a compass. You had to be able to shoot. You had to be able to use a radio. You’d be surprised at how few people can do all those things.”

In Houston, Sanborn attended commercial diving school while serving in the reserves. After completing the school, he joined a program that allowed him to complete a year’s worth of reserve duty in about one month per year so he could work as an offshore diver.

Six years after joining the reserves, Sanborn went on inactive duty in 1990. Two years later, he received an honorable discharge at the rank of corporal. Though Sanborn never saw combat duty, he emerged with a compelling experience that reflected pre-911 America.

“When I went in in 1984, the shadow of the Vietnam War was still very heavy upon the United States and enlistment was down,” Sanborn says. “Going into the military was not a very popular thing. When we went to boot camp in the Marines, we still had Vietnam era equipment. Steel pots for headgear. M16A1s (the primary Vietnam infantry rifle), Colt 1911s (the standard .45 caliber sidearm). We were still using Vietnam era tactics. Ivan was our hypothetical enemy. We were training against the Soviet Union, while concurrently and paradoxically, we were still on the back end of jungle warfare. Terrorism was not even on the horizon. But for the bombing at Beirut in 1983, which occurred before I enlisted, I don’t ever remember talking about what was going on in the Middle East while I was in uniform. It was the Cold War and the Cold War era.”

As a reservist, Sanborn learned discipline, which he defines as, “Doing the thing that needs to be done when it needs to be done.” He also learned patience and goal-setting.

As a professor, Sanborn shares those life lessons in class. “Students need to understand that life takes endurance and life takes patience and life takes a plan,” he says. “It also takes discipline and goal setting, both long term and short term, to achieve things.”

He is especially sensitive to first generation students who don’t have parents to explain the discipline required to fulfill a long-term goal.

Sanborn: “I make the analogy: Look at the military. If you want to be an NCO (non-commissioned officer), that’s a multi-year process. If you want that bachelor’s degree, you’ve got to think multi-year process.”

As chair of the Veteran’s Day Ceremony Committee, Sanborn is eager to recognize those who have served in the military. “There have been 29 Medal of Honor winners who are from San Antonio and South Texas,” Sanborn says. “We’d like to honor those veterans as well as all our vets who are on campus.”

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