Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Avalon Chronicles #88: "Old Soldiers, Young Stories"

by Allen B. Clark

After my 50th reunion at West Point, I pondered whether I would attend my 55th. This past weekend I did for a very emotional trip down memory lane. My 1963 class at West Point graduated 504 cadets, 134 have passed on, therefore we have 370 remaining. Approximately 100 attended this 55th celebration at our Alma Mater plus spouses, children, and even an adorable 5 year old grandchild, Cora. Our name tags had our cadet pictures. Nice touch and most helpful!

It was incredible! My class of 1963 can be defined as a "war class." The vast majority of us served in Vietnam as junior officers, lieutenants and captains, with 20 of us killed in Vietnam. At least one war widow attended plus several more of those married to classmates deceased in recent years. Our reunion included attendance by one very special person, a daughter, Christine, who came with her son, Ryan. She never knew her father, who was killed in action. This was her second to attend and throughout our days she was busily engaged, constantly visiting her father's friends and receiving many warm embraces. Our war deaths left about 20 children, who never knew their fathers. The twin sons of a company-mate of mine attended and both Linda and I spent some time with these two terrific guys, sons of proud parents. In a culture with high divorce rates it was heartening that the other four of my company-mates attending are married to the same women they dated as cadets!

Our final ranks as general officers, successful businessmen, or decorated combat warriors made no difference to any of us. We are all mellowed out. Some walked very haltingly, some were in wheelchairs, some talked about illnesses and injuries, some from our common war, but, we were all bound together in the commonality of our long ago cadet days and times at war, when we were young. Many of us produced sons and daughters and even grandchildren, who joined the "family business," our nation's military.

We have lost 30 since our 50th reunion. Our first event was the Memorial Service for our departed classmates, held in our magnificent Cadet Chapel, rising majestically high on the hillside above the cadet area. This was followed by many of us walking amongst the grave sites in the West Point Cemetery, where our classmates and friends are in their final places of eternal rest. Our last day at the Academy was, as always, very poignant and emotional. We stood in two ranks on the parade field, marched on by ourselves innumerable times as cadets, while our current Corps of Cadets passed in front of us, literally feet away. There were murmurings about how "young" they looked. One can but imagine in our graduation year of 1963, when the class of 1908 watched us at their 55th, and probably made the same observation about how "young" we looked.

The class of 1908 graduated 108 cadets. Their 55th would have been sparsely attended, but, just as our "young" stories were of the Delta, Cu Chi, Parrot's Beak, Dak To, Ashau Valley, and Tet '68, theirs would have been of the Punitive Expedition to Mexico under General Pershing chasing Pancho Villa, the Moro Expedition to the Philippines, the trenches of Europe in WWI with the Expeditionary Force, Meuse-Argonne, Soissons, China, and Siberia. Some of them served in World War II. Our training camp at West Point is Camp Buckner, named after one of their grads as well as Hickam Air Force Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, also a namesake of a class member of 1908.

When I boarded the bus after lunch in our massive dining hall, where we ate beneath the time-honored mural of past military history, I scanned across to Trophy Point and Battle Monument, dedicated to the 2,230 Regular Army officers and soldiers, who died for the Union in the Civil War. Amidst captured cannon from the Revolutionary War to the Spanish-American War, there are links of the original chain laid across the Hudson River to deny passage up the Hudson River to the British in our American Revolution, so they could not separate our colonies. Many memories flashed through my mind of when we were young, but I exulted in the current reflections of my fellow "old soldiers" and classmates and wondered, if I would be able to attend the 60th. My Lord willing, I will walk again the sacred grounds of this bastion of our nation, knowing that I was a proud soldier of the United States of America, bloodied in war, but, a soldier, who did my Duty as I was called to fulfill it for my personal Honor in service to my Country.