Saturday, May 24, 2014

West Point Graduation

"Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen." - Mark Twain

Man--was it really a quarter of a century ago?  May 24, 1989--let's see, 2014 minus 1989 is, um, well, borrow a one there, and another one there, and, oh gosh, yes, the answer is indeed 25.  Twenty five years it has been, then, since I and over a thousand of my fellow classmates stood on the field in Michie Stadium at West Point, got ourselves completely drenched, watched the Vice President of the United States of America become Yet Another Graduation Speaker Whose Speech Is Entirely Forgotten (we didn't have Youtube back then, see...), and completed our journeys through the hallowed halls of the United States Military Academy. 

Boy, what a journey it was.  Papers could all be hand-written back then, because there weren't a lot of typewriters and computers were only used for signing up for classes and for learning to program in Pascal. The Soviet Union was still a big, bad enemy at first--we all got to hear "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" from our tables in the Cadet Mess Hall.  Guns 'n Roses and Bon Jovi were still fairly new rock groups. 

We learned to march--badly, at first.  They lined us all up a few days after we'd gotten there for the annual Fourth of July parade.  Then they made us all march out onto the nice, comfy grass of the plain in the heat of July and invited us to stand at attention while they fired fifty long, slow volleys from the cannon, one per state (but you probably guessed that).  As the sweat dripped and knees locked, the grass started looking even more comfy.  I have no idea how many of my "new cadet" (we weren't even called plebes yet) classmates took the deep green horizontal up on its invitation--no, I wasn't one of them--but I do remember hoping that it was just a haze-the-new-cadets thing.  Surely they wouldn't do "parade till you drop" throughout the year.

Answer: yes.  Yes, they did.

Some of us got in trouble as the years went on.  Sometimes it was for a little thing, like not doing homework, and we either received a few demerits or, perhaps, a few hours of walking back and forth between the barracks buildings to think about it.  Sometimes it was for a big thing, like--well, like bouncing a check.  I accidentally bounced one once.  It was to the Post eXchange in Mannheim, Germany, while I was over there on Cadet Troop Leader Training.  Not only did I receive twenty hours of marching across "the area" to think on my transgression, but I also got to see my tactical officer's face turn red and his veins bulge out as he showed me the "find this bad boy" slip that had been signed by every commander up to, and including, the corps commander in Europe, then the Superintendent of West Point, and then every person down from The Supe.  Headlines, he screamed.  Woo hoo.

We took classes in all sorts of things: calculus, Shakespeare (and I still shudder at that), political science, counseling, quantum physics, aerospace something-or-other, military science I, military science II, military science VIII, close quarters combat, volleyball, and--well, you know.  Four thousand students, lots of majors, lots of good academics going on there. 

We were athletes.  In addition to our required PE classes, we had to participate in intercollegiate or intramural sports.  Usually I sucked down pool water with my intramural swim team, but one time I was asked to be a judge for the intramural boxing league, and another I got to be the coach of the intramural racquetball team (which kicked butt, I have to point out). 

We did a whole lot of other stuff too, but there aren't enough bits left in this post to scratch the surface of all that.  It all came to an exciting, highly anticipated end on May 24th, 1989.  We lined up in our sparkly Full Dress Grey Over White uniforms and marched in to sit on the football field.  Vice President Dan Quayle walked up to the mike and spoke, about--um, something. 

It rained. 

Rained, hell: the firmaments opened and poured great big gumball-sized drops of water down upon us.  Most of us knew the legend that a class whose graduation was rained on would see classmates fall in battle--a legend that, sadly, has come true for us.  That said, we sat there bravely, stoically through the deluge, ready and willing and able to face the challenges ahead. 

We all stood at one point and took our turns walking up and through--not across, as is more often done, but straight back through--the stage.  VP Quayle personally handed the diploma to each of the "Star Men"--the top 5%, which included women, too, if you were curious--and then retreated out of public eye to stand in the shadows and shake the rest of our hands.  I didn't see him, in fact; I blasted right by the Veep and had to back up sheepishly to receive his congratulations.  Oops, yes, but at least, I thought, I hadn't worn "non-regulation" undies.  Several had, in defiance of the uniform policy, and once the rain turned the thin white linen of our trousers see-through those great big blue polka-dots (and other designs, but Blue Polka-dot Cadet was in front of me) blazed like beacons.

I had a lot of good friends in that group.  There were others, of course, who really weren't anything I'd call friends at all.  That said, friends or not, in my circles or no, I'm proud to call every one of them a classmate. 

'89: We Strengthen The Line.

And--no, seriously, guys.  Twenty-five years?  Really?  I'm not that much older, am I?


No comments:

Post a Comment