Next week I go to the Hotel Thayer at West Point to teach a class to some mid-level executives. Planning another trip back down memory lane (see http://jatticus.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/week-at-west-point/) and the 9-11 ten year memorial combined to make me consider the two pieces I wrote after two class reunions.
Here are the words I wrote after my West Point class 30th Reunion and 35th Reunion. This time next year, Good Lord Willing, I’ll be at our 40th Reunion.
One Place In Time
30th Reunion in 2002
The place in time for my 30th college reunion was one weekend at West Point, New York. Our time together in one space was perfect. Our reunion may have appeared as another yuppie college class. Yet, it wasn’t. The stories about West Point, the Army, and Life-After-Army provided a different perspective on one generation’s place in time. We talked a lot, but it wasn’t the usual self-absorbed blathering of baby boomers.
The United States Military Academy (USMA) Class of 1972 is the ‘bottom of the barrel class’ and proud of it. Every fully qualified applicant who self-selected himself away from the better colleges’ hatred of the Vietnam War was admitted. Every class before and since has turned away willing, able candidates. We were the hard core t0 swear an oath to defend the Constitution on a beastly hot July 1st, 1968 – expecting fully to fight in Vietnam four years later.
Throughout our officer incubation, which was more incarceration than matriculation, one large board and then another at the entrance to our main academic building filled with names on business card-size brass plates. We measured the progress of the war in West Point dead and estimated the spot for our class reservation on the monument. We graduated after a big communist offensive. Then, the Vietnam War was cancelled, due to lack of interest, during winter Ranger school.
For the next five to thirty years, each to his own, we built the armed mob of 1972 into the finest Army – the pre-eminent and decisive Land Force of the World. We were Hooah. Our Cold War soldiering, like the world, crumbled into the firefights and short combats of the new era. The seniority of those still-serving on active duty and our great luck kept any classmate from dying in combat. Good serendipity.
What is our measure of our 30 years after if our tales of ‘So, there we were’ and ‘you aren’t going to believe this s…’ are different paeans from the sacrifices of other classes? Our mark is the Army today. Our mettle was the willingness to do the harder right with
intensity. Even our classmates who left for greener fields after their five year Army indenture served well when rewards for duty were few, small, and slow in coming. The rest of the class served with absolute dedication until the Army said, “You should
go now.” Only one classmate dishonored us.
Our uncompromising, insensitive, brutal West Point experience, which is so amusing in the past tense, hardened us. No Army challenge ever compared to our time at West Point (although Ranger training set the standard on physical pain). Our place for four years was the cauldron of manhood for one band of brothers – bloodied only by the attempted suicides of ex-classmates during our first year. We may look the same, but we feel different from our peers who went to college in those years.
We are at the edge of old. Surely, the class survivors at the 60th reunion will scoff that 50ish was young. But age clearly contends with our vigor. The actuarial tables are about to kick in. The fast track of the military priesthood is almost run. Even our General Officers are retiring. Soon, every classmate will be accumulating years of civilian service. We will all be in it together again – with ambitions and success the twins of disappointments and failures unremarkable from others. Our distinguishing characteristic should be the quality of service. Not so much for its brilliance, but for its determination and dedication. Our doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, teachers and ministers make work a mission. We serve without complaining, where we are, whatever station, regardless of demands. If someone is slack, I don’t know him. We are normal as divorce, dysfunction, disability and death reap our ranks in uneven swaths.
The measure for our final 30 years is this – more Duty, Honor, Country. Our duty to our families will be foremost as relationships triumph over things. Our performance of duty will reek of loyalty. Our honor is personal but transcendent. My honor is calibrated in the eyes of my classmates and theirs by mine. Our Country likely will wage a World War Against Islamist Terrorism all the rest of our days. The magnificent mural of the history of the world in the Cadet Mess Hall celebrates victories only of the West over Islam – since Charles Martel at Tours. There will be more.
We will contribute our treasure as we have it, maybe our children, and our unswerving loyalty to the United States of America. Perhaps, for some, we provide an example. As new fractures in long wars – the clash of cultures at home and abroad – divide Americans, we, who are liberal to conservative in our politics, will stand shoulder to shoulder, despite our declining stoop, for the U.S.A. We can do no less.
Our class ranks grow in numbers of devout Christians. The Christian guys love our Jewish classmates and our irreligious chums unconditionally. We even look to rejoice in death, ultimately, as the coming glory. Until then, there is work to do. No sniveling allowed. Hooah. And when our course is run, we, the Proud and True ’72, desire one eulogy: “Well Done.”
James Atticus Bowden
Another Place In Time
35th Reunion in 2007
Recently I reviewed a lifetime in 24 hours at my West Point class reunion. It was the 35th for Proud and True ’72. Five years ago I recounted my impressions from our 30th in “One Place In Time ” So, this was another place in time for one class. I noticed the more explicit link between the personal and eternal in our aging and our enthusiasm for a prayer breakfast. Not everyone shared such on either account. But enough of us aged so and are more evangelical in our Christianity to capture my eye. Far fewer fellows, wives and kids gathered for the 35th. That’s as predictable as it is to say we’ve aged five years. Yet, the mark of that aging, predictable as it is, is precisely what makes this gathering quite a different place.
Five years ago I wrote that we were at the ‘edge of old’. Today, we crossed that Army ‘line of departure’. There is no disputing our late middle age. It’s just a matter of perspective to say if we are old or not. So, why is this more than a flash of the obvious?
Because the obvious progress of our corruptible flesh is on the same long march towards our torch passing and our passage into what is incorruptible and eternal. The personal and the eternal intertwine as one generation hands intact institutions to another. Personally, each of us will retire or die in the harness working. Only a handful of classmates are still on active duty as General Officers, the Head of the English Department and one late-blooming chaplain. Many have ventured long and far afield from the Army and Defense contracting with full careers of commerce or professions. Yet, we’re dedicated to the institutional legacy of an enduring West Point and Army to serve the Nation. We care deeply about Duty, Honor, Country for West Point, the Army and America.
Some classmates still have children who are cadets, or about to become cadets. Others have children or their spouses serving, or completed service, in the Army and other Armed Services. Even those with no blood kin in any uniform feel a connection to future West Point graduates. We’re counting on future cadets to serve as magnificently as today’s graduates. We’re counting on the Nation to always be able to count on West Pointers to lead, bleed, and win throughout the long, long WW IV against Islamists. Furthermore, there’s a sense of everlasting ownership for all things Army – no matter our distance removed from wearing muddy boots.
From everlasting to everlasting really is only for God. We will walk through a door called Death. In an instant we will be alive somewhere else in a different form, but aware, conscious and remembering all in our identity. The many devout Christians among our class know this well. Our personal walk with Jesus is our testimony of how the eternal has already begun in our lives. Our open sharing of this faith fueling a way of life is as casual as breathing. It’s becoming as common as the laughter that marks our every classmate meeting. And the constant talking, story telling, joking.
One by one we’ll pass the torch of God and Country to family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and church family. It’ll take 40 years to whittle our class down to a handful of very old men. But, the process of the personal marching to the eternal is in full stride. And we’re still strong enough to sing ‘Jodies’ when we have to double time through tough times. Yet, I see the objective. I hear the sound of conflicts we’re marching towards.
Our last reunion event was breakfast in the Cadet Mess Hall beneath the huge mural that depicts decisive battles from the Babylonians to WW I. The battles and leaders that count are the ones that are important to American Civilization. The legacy of Western Civilization’s defining wars, none other’s, serves to inspire West Point cadets. Filling the very center is the banner of the Christian cross with the Crusader King Richard I. Richard, Coeur de Lion, dominates the mural, not Richard the multi-cultural, PC appeaser for Human Secularism.
America has a destiny. America, the Nation, is still an ascending idea. The West Point Class of 1972 serves its role. One by one. When will we hear it said, “Well Done?” I don’t know. But, I reckon my classmates will be talking in ranks and Charlie Frost* will ask a question.
James Atticus Bowden
*Since I wrote this piece, Charlie Frost has gone on to glory. Our loss to not hear his deep voice once again – asking, inevitably, the last question.