We met 35 years ago at a professional conference which Sam was attending as Department Chair to scout the crop of new PhD's. We hit it off immediately when he told me that he would try to excuse the fact that I am a Navy man. Perhaps he could sense that I would one day become a fan of his beloved Chicago Bears. This was the beginning of great professional things for me. He hired me, got me started in military studies, helped me get promotion and tenure, wrote three books with me, introduced me to his contacts, opened professional opportunities for me, and was a constant source of inspiration and guidance.
Sam Sarkesian was the epitome of a soldier-scholar. His military service began as an enlisted man serving in the constabulary force in Germany after World War Two. He returned for undergraduate studies at The Citadel, where he graduated cum laude after three years. Commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army, he was one of the first men chosen for the elite 10th Special Forces by its founder, the legendary Colonel Aaron Bank. He served during the Korean War on an island located above the 38th parallel on the west coast of Korea. I could never get Sam to tell me exactly what they were doing over there, but we found the island on Google Maps and I heard a couple of stories. It is now a North Korean naval base.
It was in Korea that he began to think about the opportunities and limitations of unconventional warfare, a subject to which he would return many times in his academic life. He joined the 11th Airborne Division for service in Germany and the First Infantry Division for service in Vietnam. He then taught a future generation of Army leaders as a member of the prestigious Social Science Department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Sam's decorations include the Bronze Star with Combat V Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit, and the Army Commendation Medal. He wore the Combat Infantry Badge and was glider qualified -- one of the last to receive this certification -- and a Master Parachutist with 85 jumps. He told me only a few years ago that he would gladly jump again if he could try one of the new steerable parachutes. He retired from the Army in 1968 at the rank of Lt. Colonel, and received his Ph.D. at Columbia University.
Military people understood Sam instinctively, because at heart he was one of them. He had walked in their shoes, thought the way they did, understood their lives, and would never do anything to compromise them. In a world where people often make snap judgments on limited information, based on political agendas or personal interest, Sam was a refreshing throwback to an earlier era of honesty, integrity, and devotion to duty. Professional disagreements were never personal for Sam, even serious ones.
Yet Sam was far too smart and much too subtle to be entirely predictable. Some of the things he did were hard to understand unless you knew the consistent basis for his decision- making: Sam would always do what he thought was right and honorable, not what was convenient or in his own interest.
Sam knew very well how the world works, so he was not astonished when confronted with the "postmodern" mindset that everything is relative and there are no fixed values. He never seemed to get over his disappointment, however. He would often say, "Well, when I hear that sort of thing I just have to scratch my head." If he was really frustrated or annoyed with someone, he would say, "With all due respect...," and you knew the rest of the sentence was going to be interesting. His highest compliment was that someone or something was "right down the line," meaning fair, sensible, and balanced.
After the Army, Sam turned with his customary energy to his second career as a full-time academician. Shortly after returning to Chicago, he fell in with University of Chicago social scientist Morris Janowitz, the founder of the discipline of civil military relations and of the Inter- University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society. He was Janowitz's choice to succeed him as IUS Chair and President when he stepped down in 1982, and he led our organization with great skill for five years as it became a truly international and interdisciplinary organization.
Sam's scholarly record is astonishingly prodigious, even without considering that he began publishing only after the completion of his Army career. It includes some 20 books and 25 articles and book chapters. The titles of these indicate the range and depth of his intellect and his contributions to scholarship: The Professional Army Officer in a Changing Society -- his first book, and one that still reads very well; America's Forgotten Wars: The Counterrevolutionary Past and Lessons for the Future; The U.S. Military Profession Into the 21st Century: War, Peace, and Politics (written with Rob Connor); The New Battlefield: The United States and Unconventional Conflicts; Soldiers, Society, and National Security; U.S. National Security: Policymakers, Processes, and Politics; and the recently re-issued classic, Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare: Theories, Doctrines, and Contexts.
There is a consistent theme running through Sam's scholarly work, as IUS Executive Director Bob Vitas pointed out when Sam was presented with the Morris Janowitz Career Achievement Award in 2005: the role of the armed forces in the defense of democracy. Sam was in the forefront of scholarship and public discussion of this issue and the ways in which the military can grapple with the new challenges of terrorism and unconventional warfare. No one has made a greater contribution to understanding these matters.
As chair of the Department of Political Science at Loyola, Sam introduced the then-novel idea that department chairs should tell their faculty members how they think they are doing and what they plan to tell the Dean about them. It was like an Army Officer Evaluation Report or Navy Fitness Report. A man of deep vision, he established the PhD program in our Department. He and his wife Jeanette entertained the faculty beautifully, just as a Colonel and his Lady would entertain the Mess -- or, in Navy terms, the Wardroom. It was wonderful. His mark on the Department and its students is recognized by the "Sarkesian Award," given to an outstanding graduating senior every year.
Sam was unexcelled as a mentor, and he leaves behind legions of former students whose lives were enriched by his example and his gentle but persistent encouragement. I consider myself among them. His students remain connected to one another and regard ourselves as the members of a very special "tent" with one condition of entry: being a student of the man we will always call "the Boss."
Despite all his achievements and accolades from two careers, it was easy to see that Sam's emotional center was neither the military nor academia -- it was his family. He was not given to public displays of emotion, but his love for Jeanette and their children and their families was always apparent and clearly the most important thing in his life.
For those who knew him, Sam Sarkesian was our example of what it meant to be an officer and a gentleman. I never knew a finer man, and surely Heaven is a safer place for his presence there.
John Allen (Jay) Williams
Professor of Political Science
Loyola University Chicago
Chair and President
on Armed Forces and Society