West Point. Duty Honor and Country. The Long Gray Line.
These words never fail to reverberate in me a profound sense of reverence each time spoken or heard. The reasons are many, but four stand out:
I. West Point was a goal I never imagined attainable as a youth growing up in Corsicana, Texas. My Mother immigrated from French Canada after marrying my father, a traveling salesman, and followed him to Texas. We were four kids, and my mother, as far back as I can remember, single-handedly reared us, for my father died young. Mom taught French around our breakfast table to supplement a meager Insurance allowance after his death. She told us kids: “Study and do your best and try to get a scholarship to college. I know you can! ” As a youth, I aspired to be a soldier, and to follow those heroes who led our Country in battle, especially those who had graduated from West Point. There must be a way, I imagined.” After all, a poor youth from the Mountains of West Virginia, Audie Custer, had done it, graduated and became the famous George Armstrong Custer.” I had read and almost memorized his biography in my adolescent years. Some elders from our town admired my mother for her diligence and enthusiasm in the face of hard work raising us kids, and collectively decided to support me in my dream. They provided the contacts, all I had to do was study hard and hustle hard and never give in…and at night I never finished my prayers without “Please Lord, help me get into West Point!”
II. West Point provided opportunity. It was my duty to use it to the best of my ability to further an education, establish a character, and perfect the skills necessary to serve the Country well. It was not easy. I was not always up to the task. My classmates and upperclassmen were a source of inspiration along with the talented and experienced faculty of officers. I perfected the mantra “learn it, do it, evaluate it, correct it, try it again!” Four academic terms and four training summers passed, and I graduated as a Field Artillery Officer. I applied the lessons of Bonaparte and left for 3rd ID in Europe to “march to the sound of the guns.” From there I found that the Air Cavalry particularly attracted me and I opted for Rotary Wing pilot training. Serving in the Air Cav with the 101st Air Mobile was a great experience, continued with the 3/158th Helicopter Squadron in the Delaware National Guard.
III. West Point has formed the foundation of my approach to life ever since. Lead and Follow. The two are inseparable. One cannot effectively lead if he knows not how to follow. I have applied this through my years in active duty, and the years that followed in Corporate business and the National Guard. Most importantly. I applied it and continue to apply it in the relationships I keep with my children and their children.
My son has followed on and built on a remarkable military career as a Special Operations Officer and a decorated combat commander in Middle Eastern theaters of war. He served as an Instructor in Department of Physical Education at West Point for 3 years and my first grandson was born in the old West Point Hospital on Post. In 2016 I proudly attended his promotion to Full Colonel after only 20 years in service. Most recently, he has been assigned to command Operations for the Cyber Forces Command. I am confident that his sons and daughter, as well as my daughter’s son and daughter, will follow and lead as their parents have done, and as I have done.
IV. West Point, in these passing years, is a source of deeply held memories. My classmates are still my best of friends, and we share memorable occasions by attending the various graduations and marriages and births. The words, West Point, Duty, Honor Country, and the Long Gray Line bind us indefinitely into the future.