The King…Is He Here? 1980
In 1980, we were living in Belgium, where Karl was assigned to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe). I suppose, it was a reward for having served two years at Grafenwohr in Germany.
Karl was eleven years out of West Point, and we assumed that it was safe to attend the Founder’s Day dinner. But as “Murphy” would have it, Karl was the youngest grad and therefore would have to give a speech and we would have to sit at the head table. So what had been imagined as a fun night out, a chance to get dressed up, a night away from my two babies, turned into an anxiety-filled event, as I too, would have to sit at the head table, and make polite conversation, about something other than potty training and breastfeeding verses the bottle.
Having two children in diapers did not leave much time for the study of current events (or anything else), but I made an effort to read the latest Time and Newsweek magazines, to have some basis for conversation with whomever I was seated next to at the Head Table. Karl worked on his speech and practiced it several times in front of me and seemed confident that he could get through the event. When the day arrived we drove to NATO in Brussels where the event was to be held and made our way to the formal dining room.
During the cocktail hour before the dinner, Karl pointed out to me the three US four-star generals who we would be sitting with us at the Head Table. GEN Knowlton had been Superintendent at West Point and was the top US general at NATO. GEN Bernie Rogers was the SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) or top Allied general over all NATO nation’s military forces. And there was USAF GEN William Y. Smith, Chief of Staff at SHAPE. There were also several three-star generals including LTG Tom Rienzi, and many one and two-star generals. We also saw generals and high-ranking officers from other NATO nations who had been invited. I think the number of attendees was close to a hundred including wives.
I was seated at one end of a very long table, between the wife of an Army four-star general and an Air Force four-star general. Karl was at the opposite end. My anxieties were unnecessary as my dinner companions could not have been nicer. I think they could tell how nervous I was and went out of their way to relieve my worries. Then the mandatory toasts began, first to the President of the United States, then to the King of Belgium. I thought “Wow the King” but then I realized we were in the capital, his castle probably wasn’t too far away. I very excitedly turned to the General and whispered, “The King, is he here?”
The General chuckled and explained with a smile saying, “No, it is customary to toast the host nation’s leader.” Boy, was I embarrassed thinking how silly I must have appeared. However, for the remainder of the dinner, both of my table companions graciously including me in their conversations and inquired about our family while completely overlooking my faux pas.
Karl did a great job with his speech. He had everybody laughing as he imitated one of the Italian tailors who fitted the new Cadets into their uniforms.
But then he balanced the humor with serious comments on threats facing the US and its Allies during the Cold War. It was well received and after the dinner, he had many come up to the Head Table to compliment him on the speech.
On the way back to SHAPE I told Karl what I had done and how foolish I had felt. We had a good laugh over that and realized that the evening had turned out very well for us both, in spite of our anxieties.
From that day to the present, Karl (and our now grown children who have heard of the events of that evening) will never let me forget what happened that evening. Whenever I say something which is naive or just not well thought out, they always repeat back to me with somewhat raised voices,
“The King……… is he here?”
I, still, to this day, do not think the question was that stupid.
Ray Dupere says
Sally, my wife and I enjoyed your story. We both laughed at the idea that your kids now use the phrase to poke fun at you. That’s what so great about “The Days Forward” … it’s a great place to record these stories for posterity. I wish more of our classmates would take advantage of it.
Janie Taylor says
Sally, my husband, Mike Taylor from ’69, was the aide to the commander of the 3rd Armor Division our last year in Germany in the early 70s. I, too, was thrown into many social situations and trips with top brass and foreign dignitaries at the ripe age of 25. How I related to you story with a smile and fond memories. They are now worth more than money can buy. God bless! Janie Taylor
Geoff Moran says
Thanks, Sally, for a good vignette which will certainly spark memories of other formal affairs. I remember going to my first Founder’s Day dinner as a 2LT riding in the back seat of a car driven by a 1LT from my unit. As we drove, his wife was in the front seat painting over his gold bar stitching on his dress blues with silver finger nail polish.
Eric Robyn says
Well done, Sally! Your article brought back many memories of FD Dinners over the years, although during my SHAPE years (’83-’85) I don’t think I was ever in town to attend with my Sally. No question is stupid. Keep writing!