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If you like Sam Donaldson's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
David Halberstam,
Nicholas Kristof,
Charles Kuralt,
Peggy Noonan,
Dan Rather,
Neil Sheehan
Mike Wallace and
Bob Woodward

Sam Donaldson's recommended reading: Plutarch's Lives

Sam Donaldson also appears in the videos:
Perseverance and the American Dream
Advocacy and Citizenship: Speaking Out for Others

Related Links:
University of Texas

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Sam Donaldson
Sam Donaldson
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Sam Donaldson Interview

ABC News Correspondent

June 28, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Sam Donaldson

Sam, let me start by asking you where you grew up, and where you went to school, and a bit about your early years.

Sam Donaldson Interview Photo
Sam Donaldson: Well, I was born in El Paso, Texas, it was in the nearest hospital to the family farm. When I was three days old my mother took me home and I was raised in southern New Mexico, below Las Cruces, above El Paso.

I was a typical farm boy. I liked the farm. I enjoyed the things that you do on a farm, go down to the drainage ditch and fish, and look at the crawfish and pick a little cotton. Although I never was a terrific cotton picker, you understand.

I had a horse, always, and I'd ride the horse in the summertime, sometimes bare back -- gentle horse, you understand. Go out in the corn patch, pick some corn. You really get the most out of sweet corn if you pick the corn off the stalk and rush it to a pot of boiling water. The longer you wait, the more sugar you lose. But if you get it in the first half hour, that is the sweetest corn ever.

When I got a little older, I played with a BB gun, things like that. But as a young kid, I never did, really have an ambition to be a farmer. I never thought, gee, I would like to farm, and I want to raise these crops. I didn't quite know what I wanted to do.

But in 1941, on December 8th, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, my mother bought a radio and we listened to the war news. We'd not had a radio up to that time. I was born in 1934, so I was seven years of age.

There's a picture of me at age 8 in a Cub Scout uniform holding a crystal microphone, obviously pretending that I was reading the war news. Don't ask me why I thought I wanted to do that, but I did. My mother had taught me to read, had read to me. She clearly was pushing me to try to do something with my life. And I began to read the newspaper and pretend I was reading the war news. This is the earliest known point at which something in my mind said maybe I wanted to be in the news business. But believe me, at age eight I had no idea of what the news business was like, nor did I have any feeling of the public's right to know, or the First Amendment. That would be revisionist history. I was just getting a kick out of it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Sam Donaldson Interview Photo
My mother did all she could to control me, but at age 14 she sent me to a military school. Now, the choices were to send me to reform school, or send me to the military school. I hadn't done anything felonious, you understand, but at that age I thought life owed me something. I thought life was meant to have a lot of fun in it, and that I should do what I wanted, and not have to pay attention to what people thought I should do.

Military school is a great device to take that out of a kid. In military school they said, "No. You're not going to do what you want to do, you're going to do exactly what you're told. You're going to understand something about discipline. You're going to polish that brass, you're going to shine those shoes, you're going to get up on time, you're going to make your bed, and you're going to go to class." Well, I hadn't gotten it.

In my first year at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico I was the saddest new cadet I suppose they've ever had in their history. I got more demerits. I had to walk with my rifle every Saturday afternoon around the quadrangle, walking off tours. I got confined to the campus every weekend, because I had all these demerits. I mean, I really was in sad, sad shape. And at the end of the year, when so many of my classmates got promoted to come back -- you see, their second year they got to be private first class and corporal -- I didn't get promoted. Well, that summer between my... it was really between my sophomore and junior year, because the military school didn't take freshman in those days -- something happened. I can't tell you what happened. I didn't have some mentor who sat me down and say, now... I just sort of said to myself, "I don't like this. This is not fun, being the saddest cadet at New Mexico Military Institute. Getting all these demerits, not getting promoted." And so I went back that fall and I said to myself, "I'm going to go with the winners. Clearly, the winners polished the brass, and the winners polished their shoes, and the winners got out to reveille on time. And the winners make their grades. And I did it. I found it wasn't heavy lifting. It was just as easy to polish the brass as it was not to polish the brass.

At the end of that year I was promoted to sergeant. Only five or six of us got promoted to sergeant for our final year in high school. I learned a couple of things there. One, that it's better to be with the winners than the losers. And second, that everybody needs to understand something about discipline.

Now, discipline doesn't mean that you're a martinet, and discipline doesn't mean that you have to do everything anyone in authority tells you in lock-step because you can't think for yourself. But discipline means that you've got to organize your life in everything you do, for your own benefit and for the benefit of people around. If the appointment is at four o'clock, you ought to show up at four o'clock. If you're unavoidably late a few minutes, okay. But the person who shows up at five o'clock or six o'clock and doesn't think anything of it, that person is an undisciplined person. Also, that person is a person who says, "Hey, my time is much more valuable than your time." And none of us likes to hear that. So military school taught me that. And really, the basis, I think, of achieving some success in what I want to do today comes from my mother's push to get me to read and to make something of myself from the standpoint of an education. And from a military school which taught me that to fit into society, you can't just do anything you damn well please because it will suit you. And that it's much better to be with the winners than it is with the losers.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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