Saturday, May 23, 2009


Graduation Day.

Memorial Day.

Graduation Day.

Memorial Day.


OK. This year, West Point graduation is on Saturday, May 23rd, and Memorial Day is on Monday, May 25th.

I honestly don’t remember Memorial Day being all that close to West Point’s graduation day when I graduated, but I am sure it must have been……

May 22, 1985.

Graduation Day.

I think it was a Wednesday. But that doesn’t make any sense.

Does it?

Here, let me check… (the beauty of the Internet and calendars/time throughout the ages!)

Hmmm… yes, May 22 did fall on a Wednesday in 1985.

Memorial Day was on Monday, May 27th, which would have been light years away from Wednesday, May 22nd,


light years ahead of Saturday, June 1, 1985.

Wedding Day.

But I digress...

May 22, 1985.

Graduation Day.

The anniversary, on Friday, was noted by several of my West Point classmates on Facebook. Twenty four years ago today, they said. And they remembered…..

A dad or mom who pinned their 2nd LT bars on.

A parent to whom they gave their West Point saber.

The day.


They remembered it.

And Memorial Day?

Several of my classmates and friends have pointed out the importance of Memorial Day, whether it be thanking soldiers for serving, remembering those who have served and sacrificed, or acknowledging those who have died while serving their country.

Or tipping one’s beer in a toast whilst imbibing at a picnic.

The sentiments vary.

This is what I remember about Graduation Day….

This was the day I had waited for FOREVER. We had counted down for four years to this day. We were going to graduate, be commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the Regular Army, leave West Point, and go out and do stuff.

My parents were there. My sister. My aunt from Alaska, my aunt from San Francisco (well, they had come East early for the big wedding that was going to be happening soon). My aunt and uncle on my mother's side, from Pittsburgh.

We had had all sorts of festivities: a graduation banquet, a graduation parade, award ceremonies, company parties. It is all really just a big blur.

But I do remember graduation day. It was hot and sunny. We were wearing full dress over white. It was hot. We were in Michie Stadium. We were all lined up. We were sitting in order. We were ready to toss up our white caps and be done with it. The Honorable John O. Marsh was the speaker. Who???

I got my diploma. I sat down. We tossed up our hats into the air. And cheered and cried and hugged each other. Did we really realize we might not see each other ever again? Or at least not for a very, very long time?

We changed into our Army Class A greens for the commissioning ceremony. Company A-2 had theirs up at Fort Putnam. Overlooking West Point and the Hudson.

I had assumed that my father would administer my oath of office. I had never asked him if he would do this; I had just….assumed…. My tactical officer had assumed.

I mean, why wouldn’t he????

But there, at Fort Putnam, on the top of the hill above West Point and the Hudson, and all of the history of the military academy and the Revolutionary War and every other war since, he said…


I couldn’t believe it. Surely, I had heard wrong. Surely, he would be honored to help commission me as an officer in the United States Army, to administer the oath and pin those gold second lieutenant bars on my shoulders.

wouldn’t he…?

He had gone to West Point himself, a Nebraska farm boy from the Depression era who had made his way, arduously, to the US Military Academy and graduated with the Class of 1939. He had served in World War II.

But he said, no.

I don’t think I have ever been so incredibly devastated in my life as at that moment in time.

I had been through so much. I had done everything, EVERYTHING to win his approval. I had been through hell at West Point, as so many of my classmates, both male and female, but probably more so female, had. I could not possibly have done any better than I had.

And he said… no.

That was it.

I was stunned.


Punched in the gut.

In retrospect, twenty four years on, I honestly believe it had nothing to do with me. I am not sure, exactly, why he said no. But I think it had more to do with him. His thinking you had to be a career Army officer, or an officer still on duty at the least. Or something. I don’t think he realized that it was an honor, a request. And I had surprised him, caught him off guard. I had not talked with him about this beforehand, because… well, I had just assumed he would do it!

I don’t know.


I really have no idea.


I just cannot believe that honestly, truly my father could have ever done something so cruel and hurtful. Intentionally.

I remember standing there, on top of that mountain, in the ruins of this Revolutionary War fort, in my new Army greens, in the hot, hot sun, the breeze blowing by us all, surrounded by all of my classmates and their families, everyone so proud and excited and chattering and laughing.

And feeling so alone.

Lower than low.

Completely deflated.

I had to fight back the tears.

Of course, I was used to that. After four years at West Point. I was used to being strong and stoic and showing… nothing. Because for a woman to show emotion, that was the worst possible thing you could do. For a female cadet to cry, that was anathema.

But I was not a female cadet. I was a second lieutenant in the United States Army. And I was proud to serve my country.

I would NEVER cry about something so silly as my own father refusing to commission me! That was childish, ludicrous.

My aunt, my father’s sister who was closest to him in age and closest to me in personality, was one of the few people who had witnessed what had just transpired.

I stepped to the edge of the stone ruins to regroup. And she came up to me. She spoke to me. She knew exactly what had just happened.

I almost lost it. Tears were overflowing, no matter how hard I fought to keep them back.

“I did everything,” I said. “I did everything for him. You have no idea what I have been through. This was all for him!”

“I know,” she said slowly and nodded. “I know. But he doesn’t. And he doesn’t mean to….”

The wind rippled by us.

She gave me a long, hard hug.

And I sucked it up.

My tactical officer, a captain in Air Defense Artillery and a nice enough guy, if one is to like one’s tactical officer, administered the oath of office on the top of the hill, on Fort Putnam, overlooking the Hudson River, in the hot, hot sun on Wednesday, May 22, 1985.

Someone’s younger brother, a cadet at VMI or the Citadel, in his institution’s West Point-imitation uniform, caught me as I was leaving Fort Putnam and saluted me. I saluted back and gave him my Eisenhower silver dollar. It was a tradition. A new second lieutenant always gives a silver dollar to the first person to salute him or her.

And I was indeed a new second lieutenant….


Blogger S. Woods, SPS said...

I enjoy your thoughtful, well-written blog. What an emotional memory. I almost went to West Point myself (I graduated from college in 1988) but they didn't offer varsity sports in my sports so I went a different direction. A good direction, but I do occasionally have some of those 'road not taken' thoughts.

2:09 AM  
Blogger delta said...

Thanks for the feedback! I never know if anyone ever reads my blog or not, which tends to make me more forthcoming than I might ordinarily be.

12:43 PM  

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