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.

Mom at Dad's grave in the West Point Cemetery. This will be her final resting place, because she served too, damn it.

Mom at Dad’s grave in the West Point Cemetery. This will be her final resting place as well, because she served too, damn it.

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.

When I say "cocktail party", I mean cocktails. Nearly every eighty-something hand held real classic cocktails. Here Mighty Thor guards my mother's Old Fashioned.

When I say “cocktail party”, I mean cocktails. Nearly every eighty-something hand held a real classic cocktail. Here Mighty Thor guards my mother’s Old Fashioned.

The lovely lady on the right, a lifelong friend of my mother's, was using a walker. But she outfitted it to hold her Chardonnay.

The lovely lady on the right, a lifelong friend of my mother’s, was using a walker. But she outfitted it to hold her Chardonnay.

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.

Whether they used canes or walkers, every grad got himself into the review line and stood at attention to review the Corps.

Whether they used canes or walkers, every grad got himself into the review line and stood at attention to inspect the Corps. Although in previous years, they would have marched onto the field in formation.

One of my favorite parts of a reunion is after the review, hearing the Old Grads’ evaluation of the youngest crop.

The consensus: this year's cadets are much better than those 5 years ago. But, as one '51er put it: "Not a patch on us back in the day."

The consensus: this year’s cadets are much better than those 5 years ago. But, as one ’51er put it: “Not a patch on us back in the day.”

While you still see plenty of the classic handsome cadets, from the voices of the company commanders, it was clear female cadets are in many of the leadership roles. The Old Grads approved.

While you still see plenty of the classic handsome cadets, from the voices of the company commanders, it was clear female cadets are in many of the leadership roles. The Old Grads approved.

A thrilling demonstration by the West Point skydiving team, then back to the Thayer for the next round of cocktails and dinner.

A thrilling demonstration by the West Point skydiving team, then back to the Thayer for the next round of cocktails and dinner.

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.

Old Doug (his feet shiny from where cadets have rubbed his boots for luck) would understand completely.

Old Mac (his feet shiny from where cadets have rubbed his boots for luck) would understand completely.

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