But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes Duty – Honor – Country.
Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.
I bid you farewell.
Those were the final lines of General Douglas MacArthur’s last great speech of his public life, delivered as he accepted the Sylvanus Thayer Award at his beloved West Point. He knew he had little time left — in fact he died less than two years later. This was his goodbye.
I just spent a weekend at a somewhat similar farewell. Perhaps not as dramatic, much more light-hearted, but still, in its way, a goodbye. The Class of 1951, including widows and family members, gathered to celebrate the class’s 65th reunion. The grads themselves are 83 or older. Their next reunion is scheduled for five years from now. I hope all of them make it back in 2021. But I’m not sure all of them will be as ambulatory as they are now or as able to travel. For now, most are walking under their own steam, they are ready and able to take to the field to review the current crop of cadets and they are up to the event-packed long weekend that West Point reunions always feature.
I should explain that a West Point reunion isn’t like any other college reunion. Especially with graduating classes before the mid-Sixties, their wives were, in their way, equal and important factors in the officers’ careers. Those children, like me, who had career Army officer fathers, felt we served, too. So the reunion committees have always actively encouraged widows and children to return to celebrate with the class. Although my father died over ten years ago, this is the second reunion my mother has attended as a widow. My brother and his wife (also an Army Brat), his daughter and I joined this time.
Which isn’t to say that we in the younger set were in the role of caretakers. In fact, we spent the weekend trying to keep our energy up as cocktail party followed cocktail party, class business and chapel services were held, Hudson River cruises and West Point tours were taken, and old friends talked and laughed into the night. Long before Sunday night, those of us in the family party were flagging. The octogenarian grads and wives seemed to draw energy from each other. Reconnecting with The Long Grey Line seemed to shave twenty years off their lives and add an extra spring in their steps. I can tell you, I headed to bed every night long before the wives and the grads.
After Thursday night cocktails, meetings and chapel services, and more events and cocktails on Friday, Saturday brought one of the highlights of a reunion weekend. This is the review — parade to you civilians — where the grads inspect the current crop of cadets. We had the luck of sun, but that meant our old grads had to stand out on the field for an hour as retirements were announced, the company moved into formation and the cadets marched by.
One of my favorite parts of a reunion is after the review, hearing the Old Grads’ evaluation of the youngest crop.
By Sunday, I was wondering if I had the energy for the long drive to Boston. But the lobby of the Thayer Hotel was filled with Old Grads and wives, hugging, talking and promising that they’d all meet again in five years. I hope they all make it back for the reunion in 2021, and then in another five years for their 75th reunion. They may just do it. One thing that became clear as the long weekend went on, they get energy from each other and from being back at West Point. As we walked out of the Thayer, they seemed ten or even twenty years younger.