West Point Memorial Speech
It has been almost 6 decades since 721 of us entered these gray walls. We came from every state in the Union and foreign countries, every walk of life, every ethnic background, various levels of education and experience. Some came with family history of graduates, some for the free education or their father knew the congressman and insisted. Some like me who knew only that Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard went here and they always beat Navy. No matter - we all dropped our bag and picked it up as ordered. By the end of the first fateful day we were in uniform and had taken an oath which we would later learn meant that we could be issued a one-way ticket. We shared a common experience. That is why reunions occur - whether bomber crews, championship football teams, Boy Scout troops, former divisions, schools of all types, adventures together or families. It is the sharing of the common experience that binds, and no one shared more of a common experience than we did. We all dressed alike - in fact had the same tailors. We ate the same food and learned to like Slum and Gravy. We slept on the same kind of mattresses. We folded our underwear exactly the same. We went to the boodlers, dragged, got quilled. We stayed at West Point for plebe Christmas. We vacationed together on the beach at Lake Popolopin. We found out that the rifle we had so carefully cleaned and carried kicked when we pulled the trigger. We were physically developed by easy going men like Punchy Creighton, Joe Palone and John Kress. We absorbed the same academic curriculum whether high school or college graduates to develop our minds. Unforgettable tactical officers and many others instilled discipline and an honor code that gave us unusual trust in each other. Our travel agents arranged the same trips to explore historic military posts for summer vacations. We began to grasp the meaning of Duty, Honor, Country and finally were charged with bringing on the following classes. We got our cherished rings, were proud that we were West Pointers, finally had enough weekend leaves, drove our cars but had enough energy left at Graduation Parade to allegedly have Colonel Julian J. Ewell, with his very distinctive voice, say to General John L. Throckmorton, our Commandant, “Well Throcky, here they come.” After a few anxious hours and a long night General Maxwell Taylor handed diplomas to 546 of us who had survived the 47-month common experience. We had also taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution which would bind us forever. As we parted and the common experience ended, we knew that a part of every heart would linger here.
Then the common experience did end. Twenty-five percent went in the Air Force. The Army were off to basic courses in infantry, armor, artillery, engineers and signal corps. Then some to ranger, airborne and flight school and to stations around the world. Losses began when one was killed in flight training. The obligated 3-year service over, some started other careers from returning to the farm, to large corporations and family businesses, medicine and law. Eleven gave the last full measure of devotion in Vietnam. We would later commemorate their service as a part of the class gift of the Honor Plaza. Some were returning to teach at the Academy and a drift to the Pentagon began as careers advanced. When retirement was possible the ranks began to thin again as new careers were offered. By then we had reached an age where natural causes claimed our friends. But periodically through those years we returned to West Point for reunions, football games or funerals and to share again the memories of that common experience. Now in out twilight years we have returned again to West Point and in this hour to remember our classmates who are gone.
I would like to conclude with words from Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth when the King, outnumbered five to one before Agincourt, wishes not for another soldier but fires up those he has with this speech:
That he that hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart. His passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse.
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the end of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today who sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day will gentle his condition;
And gentleman in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
We will soon begin our seventh decade together. For many it will be the last decade. May those who gather then, say of us, as we now say of our classmates already gone: You fought the good fight. Well done. Be thou at peace.