When I began to think about “What West Point Means to Me”, for some strange reason I had a flashback of that songs by the Animals, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” I know that sounds terrible, but I could also see everyone rushing to the dance floor and we still dance to it at reunions. Was it really that bad or were we in such a hurry to get on with our lives? Maybe a little bit of both.
For the guys, it may have been the restrictions, especially for the times when many former high school classmates were having an entirely different college experience. For most of the ladies, completing our degrees, starting a career and maybe a wedding, were what we saw in the not-too-distant future.
Our first assignment was the Armor Basic Course at Fort Knox, KY, distinctly different from West Point. I was definitely out of my element, a newlywed, living far from home, learning what was expected of an army wife. I read Mrs.Lieutenant from cover to cover, and it didn’t make me feel any better. Maybe, West Point wasn’t that bad after all and maybe because it was familiar. Everyone from Cadet Company A-2 was dispersed to their basic courses or grad school. I did enjoy meeting new people but missed those faces that I became so attached to and treasured. Most of the wives were just as uncertain about Army life as I was, so there was a common bond we all tried to appreciate. Hats and gloves were the order of the day and we looked like those old Avon Lady commercials. It was 1969-70, for goodness sake. No one wore hats and gloves. Bell-bottom pants, fringed jackets and love beads were what civilians wore. Somehow, we managed to pull it off for those important receptions we were expected to attend. We donned our post-wedding going-away outfits and a wretched hat that didn’t match anything.
In late 1971, we returned from Germany with infant twins and Denny left for Vietnam. I chose to live at a former air force base that was now called Stewart Airport. Much of the military housing left behind was set aside for “waiting wives,” my new title apparently, not much better than “dependent.” That little community also included professors and their families who were waiting for quarters* and any other overflow military folks that could not be accommodated immediately at West Point. It turned out to be a good experience. My parents lived nearby, and I was 20 minutes from the gate at West Point. The Army maintained my adequate quarters. At Stewart Airport, we had a small commissary** and PX***, nursery/daycare and a medical clinic headed by a pediatrician which was very convenient. The Military Police would circle the housing area at least once every hour and our long-haired dachshund was often picked up by them for wondering off the tiny lawn. It was always a little disturbing to see a big, tall MP standing at my door with Oscar sitting calmly beside him. I couldn’t always get everyone inside in a timely fashion after a walk – two babies and a twin stroller that refused to collapse easily; maybe, that poor dog was just forgotten in the turmoil.
Occasionally, I would go to the larger facilities at West Point and just driving through the post brought back fond memories and even some comfort for a “waiting wife.”
It seems like so long ago. Those infants are now 50 years old. The unique experience of West Point still pulls us together as a couple, along with the Company A-2 “fraternity,” and all the other classmates and grads we have met along the way. I’m so proud that my husband attended one of the highest-rated colleges in the country leading him to a 20-year military career, but it means so much more.
And finally, full disclosure, I listen to a 60’s station on my car radio and when I hear the first few bars of that song by the Animals, I still get a big smile on face. I can’t help it!
*term used for residential housing on a military post or base
**Army grocery store
*** post exchange – a small department store
Bill Jones says
Beautiful memories and great to see it from a wife’s perspective. Loved the contrast ( so accurate) between the bell-bottoms and fringed jackets and hats and gloves).. Thanks. So representative of the military in those times.
Pat Wance says
Thank you those kind words. It was a difficult time to be in or associated with the military in those days of protests brought on by the conflicts in Southeast Asia. Today we revere our service men and woman as it should be. A change for the better.
DENIS GULAKOWSKI says
Great story Pat. My wife JoAnne was from the local area also, so we had a similar affiliation for West Point. She however, lived with her folks in Highland Falls a little and went to grad school at the State University of New York, at Oneonta, while I was in Vietnam. Occasionally during my career we would go back there for a family visit, especially when we lived within a reasonable driving distance.
PATRICIA WANCE says
At the time, I thought about working part time at one of the local hospitals or even going back to school but I was so sleep deprived, taking care of babies was all I was capable of doing. My parents had a small home and they both worked so Stewart was the best alternative and my mom would stop by many evenings to lend a hand. The mid-Hudson area is a beautiful place to visit (especially in autumn), along with the views from Trophy Point.
Pete Grimm says
Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Pat.
Jane Taylor says
Your story seems so familiar except we were artillery instead of armor. In and out of Ft. Sill several times plus Ft. Benning. But the gloves and etiquette books were all the same! After Germany and graduate school at Duke we were also at Stewart for four years while Mike taught in the English Dept. I even taught at the preschool there. And now my oldest is also 50! How did this happen so quickly? Thanks for the stroll down memory lane, Pat.
PATRICIA WANCE says
For some reason, those memories are burned in my brain, especially of the early years. The time has just flown by and we all feel way too young to have children 50 or older :).
Sally Robyn says
Pat, thanks for sharing. Your story brings back memories – reminded me of a visit to you and Denny in your quarters at Ft. Knox, early career days. After living on the third floor of a stairwell in Germany, your ranch style quarters were a dream!
PATRICIA WANCE says
We were on the 4th floor in one of those stairwells in Baumholder so the ranch style duplex was fine by me. There was also a playground directly behind our quarters which was nice. Memorable days.
Bob Baldwin says
Great memories, Pat! Thanks! Your story about 1st assignment after graduation leave made me recall the group of bachelor classmates gathered at Ft Benning for Airborne/Ranger schools who rented apartments just outside one of the gates (name I can’t recall since I was Armor but near the Black Angus restaurant famous for Ranger graduation celebrations). Somehow, a Grolier Encyclopedia salesman got in our apartment shared by at least 5 of us and sold us all a set with The Great Books thrown in. That added 4 book boxes to the ’69 muscle car trunks we were living out of. I can’t remember his sales pitch! Hypnotism? But I can still see those great books on my bookcases! That was a salesman!
Stewart Bornhoft says
220 years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new Academy, dedicated to the proposition that we need to develop leaders of character.
Actually, they established regiments of artillery and infantry, and a school for Engineers, but we know all that.
The best part … they laid the groundwork for the Best of the Line. Thanks for your post, Pat. You stirred foundational memories.
Ron Male says
Pat, the first time I saw Denny after graduation was at Graf as he commanded a tank down the street across from the O’Club. My first thought was, “Finally, this means a home-cooked Italian meal.” Instead, as Denny shouted above the noise of the tank, he laughingly announced that you were pregnant with twins and delivery would be “any day now.”
PATRICIA WANCE says
Ron, good thing he was so excited about twins because I was terrified, happy, but terrified.
Jim O'Toole says
HI Pat …… Gosh darn it – I like Bornhoh’s response 👍😁; and, I remember well & fondly the good fun we had @ Ft Knox Advanced Course …
And, as time moves along, the memories often become even more vivid …. Big Hugs – Much Love to you & Denny !🙏🤗.
Cheers, Jim & Gail / Denver, CO
PATRICIA WANCE says
It was a fun time as we look back and true, those memories become more vivid. Thanks for the kind words.
Eric Robyn says
Thanks, Pat, great story! The fact of our kids now being 50+ clearly hasn’t diminished our vivid memories. The A-2 fraternal bonds – and memories – continue.
PATRICIA WANCE says
We may see each other infrequently but stay close in our hearts and minds.
Dee Lohr says
You are such a good writer, Pat. Really enjoyed this story, as well as the last one!
PAT WANCE says
Thanks so much, Dee.
Stewart Olson says
Thanks Pat. Great article. I remember those days at West Point and you and Denny well.
Ray Dupere says
Pat, thanks for the stroll down memory lane. Now it seems that our memories outnumber our dreams. One thing struck me reading your story, and that was how ignorant I was of how alone my new wife must have felt being plopped down in Berlin less than a month after graduating from college in June of 1970. Looking back it seems like she managed ok but quite honestly I don’t know how true that might be or not. At least for her when I went to Vietnam she was able to go back and live with her parents in New Jersey while teaching school nearby. Thanks again for choosing to write down your thoughts for the rest of us.
Bruce Wheeler says
Pat thanks for sharing your observations. Speaking of hats and gloves, it seems to me that wives were expected to wear dresses or skirts, no pants allowed in the West spontaneous commissary and PX.