On the 40th anniversary of my graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, I worked a 17 hour day at Carlisle Barracks, PA. I was supporting the Army Future Wargame, Unified Quest 2012. Grateful to be still working to be still serving the U.S. Army. Nonplussed about what to say on the position of my servitude. Actually, conflicted about what to say - because I’m unlikely to communicate the mixed messages with any thematic clarity to strangers. And, above all, still breathless about how that one day was one of the most defining demarcations in my life.
Frankly, my life is pre-West Point and post-West Point. Even pre- and perservering marriage lines of demarcation are in the context of post-West Point. Likewise, pre- and perservering fatherhood timelines fit into the framework of life post-West Point. I was baptized a Christian when I was 12, but I became a Christian man at West Point – and it wasn’t on a single day. I became more devout when I started daily Bible reading in my teaching tour at West Point.
July 1st, 1968 was the day I stepped off the side of the earth and fell into the black hole at West Point with our class of 1244 New Cadets. June 7th, 1972 was the day 800 of our 822 graduates were released from confinement there. Second most intense day of my life.
I’d call it the second best or happiest, but that beggars too many fine lines of telling one happiness from another joy. The most intensely wonderful day of my life – and great joy – was the birth of our first child. How absolutely wonderful – despite the quick moments when we almost lost her and my wife was severely injured giving birth.
I can recall the whole day, 7 June 1972, hour by hour. My memory recalls every sense’s record – heat, smell, feelings as well as hearing and seeing events. I can do the same for wedding, births, deaths, funerals and few other days in my life – since November 1950. 1 July 1968 is one of the few others.
I was so happy to graduate, get the hell away from West Point, and get on with life. Start life. As an Army Officer and as a man. Had hopes that my instructor, Major Tom Foley (USMA 62), would pull the strings to get me to Vietnam as an advisor in June or July 1973 after a few months in the 82nd Airborne Division. Pumped and pysched for 60 days of leave. Solo road trip across America, with 2 classmate weddings enroute, hop over to Hawaii, back across America, family reunion in West Tennessee, find a place to live in Columbus, Ga for classmate and me, and back home to Virginia for a bit before reporting to Infantry Officer Basic Course.
I was bursting with joy. Relief. Excitement. Determination. Wonder and curiousity. And more.
A touch over 6 foot tall and 176 pounds. Hungry to learn the Infantry trade. Ready to be tested in Airborne and Ranger Schools. Expecting to get to Vietnam and fight – even though the last infantry battalion folded its colors to go home this same week. Looking for love. And, truthfully, lust. Inwardly prayerful and devout believer in Lord Jesus Christ. Full of life.
The day cascades over me as the memories unfold like the big nets with balloons at presidential conventions. Too much to tell and not bore. Except one funny, to me, story.
My grandmother, Lillian Susan Bowden League – age 79, and post heart attack or two came to graduation. My uncle, Stanley Bowden – WWII vet (34th Infantry Division in Italy), was there with my old professional soldier (1941-1969) father, mother, one sister and her husband. They drove home to Arlington, Virginia after graduation. I followed a few hours later after turning in my sword, signing out and attending one classmate’s wedding.
Late that evening at home, my grandmother – we called her “Namoo” – approached me as I sat the couch basking the tired glow of the day. I stood up, as was appropriate when she called, “Bubba.” She drew herself up to her full 5 foot 2 inch height and pointed a loaded finger up at me. “I just want to tell you something.”
I smiled. I anticipated a tale of family heroics or faith from the Bowden-Maley Scot-Irish Clan of Tipton County, Tennessee - once removed from Isle of Wight County, Virginia long ago.
Grandmother gave her guidance and heritage best befitting the moment. She said, “No Bowden ever went to jail.”
I laughed. “Namoo, they hung them first.”
She sputtered my father’s name, “Albert, Albert! Where did Bubba hear this? What do you mean?”
My wonderful father hustled in. I back pedaled fast. “Namoo, I was just kidding.” Daddy ushered her to the kitchen before she got ‘vapors’.
Ah, such a legacy and high station to reach. Don’t go to jail.
Considering that ancestor John Bowden was a criminal transported from the docket at Kent County, England in 1752 and all five of his sons served in our American Revolution – and none of his line to our branch had since been sent to prison – it is a fine mark to make indeed. Thanks, Namoo, for sharing.
Now, 40 years later I can attest to at least that measure of family expectations. I haven’t gone to jail – yet.
And, I must add - I am glad I graduated from West Point. It was good preparation for demanding days in the Army. I hated so much there. It was a time for me to grow up. I never let school get in the way of my education. I learned a lot. West Point gave me the focus I served to the best of my ability – whatever failures and success that seems to other’s eyes – it was my best always.
For Duty, Honor and Country. For Duty, Honor and Family. For Country, Commonwealth of Virginia and Community. For our beloved South.
40 years for The Army in one way or another.
Above all for Father, Son and Holy Ghost – in the name of our living Lord Jesus Christ.
And in His Name, I give thanks for my band of brothers, my classmates from the bottom of the barrel class, the Proud and True, 1972. I like being counted as one with them.
40 years after – so much has happened and so little has changed in important ways in this one – my – life.