A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how my family threw a West Point themed birthday party for my dad, who graduated from West Point back in 1970. Well, little did I know, that one little post would be the start to what has been, by far, the coolest experience I’ve had since starting my little blog with approximately 6.2 readers.
Since their graduation, many of my Dad’s classmates have stayed very close and have been getting together for class reunions every 5 years. Another of his classmates, Rick, had been out of touch with the rest of the class, but recently reconnected and went to his first class reunion. While reminiscing with his classmates, they began to talk about the ones who weren’t there, one of them being my Dad. The other guys said they had tried several times, but had not been able to locate him; Rick heard that as a challenge, and took it upon himself to find Dad, which, amazingly, led him to find my blog post. He contacted me through my blog, got in touch with Dad, and also put Dad in touch with some other classmates who had been asking about him.
Well, a few weeks later, Rick let me know that he and a few other classmates wanted to come out and visit, so we emailed back and forth trying to make plans. The idea was to make it a surprise for him, but we actually did tell him just a few days in advance so that he could prepare emotionally, because remember, these were people who were special to Dad, but he had not seen for 45 years!
So this past Saturday, Rick, Nick, Bill and Bruce came to visit. If you know my family at all, we’re not exactly known as extroverts; in fact, most of us err on the side of socially anxious, so we worried a little bit what we would do to entertain these big hotshot West Point grads. Ha! The minute they walked in the door (handing my Mom flowers…so sweet!), they just filled the room with their laughter, warmth, amazing stories, and kindness to my Dad. For a full two hours, we heard story after story about their escapades at West Point, and I got to hear some colorful stories about Dad that I had never heard before.
To start off with, when they walked in the room, they said, “We heard you had a little trouble speaking, so we made you these cue cards you can use to answer us.” A little bit of an inside story at West Point, these cue cards were based off of the only responses they had been allowed to give to upperclassmen and officers when they were plebes (or first year students) at West Point, and a few made up ones at the end thrown in there just for Dad’s amusement. We all had a good laugh over that. I’ve heard my Dad tell me all my life about how they were only allowed to say “Yes sir, no sir, no excuse sir.” If they had just been forced to jump in the pool full gear, and had a uniform inspection as soon as they got out of the pool, if their boots were not polished to standard (which obviously they weren’t, they had just been in water), they could only say, “No excuse, sir!”
One of the guys, Bruce, or “Ski”, recounted how, during their Recondo week, when they had a strenuous hike in full, heavy gear while carrying a machine gun and 30 pound ammo, he didn’t think he would be able to make it any farther. He stopped and set his gun and ammo down, thinking he would give up, and my Dad (“strong and silent Barry” as they called him) came by, picked them up and said, “I got it, Ski,” and without another word, carried it the rest of the way. Bruce said he knew at that point that he couldn’t have made it to graduation without Dad’s help. In fact, when you think of these tough, military officers, I typically think of them as being strong and independent, self-made men. But every one of them has a similar story of someone who helped them at some point, who they credit for their being able to finish the course and graduate from a place like West Point. They told us that the “powers that be” at West Point actually made the course so difficult that they had to rely on each other as a team to make it through, and even recounted a story where one of them was carried for 2 miles by different members of the group when he hurt his leg just so that he could finish. This brotherhood is what would cause such a tight bond that four roommates would come from 4 different states to see a man they hadn’t seen for 45 years just to spend a day with him and his family. That really made an impression on me, and I think there is a very strong message in that for all of us Christians.
I also got to hear about how my Dad called a Ranger a name, thinking he wouldn’t be heard…big mistake! The Ranger did hear it, and made my Dad drop on his face in the mud over and over again. They then had a 2 or 3 mile run up the mountain, and the Ranger ordered my Dad to run around the whole group while they were running double time, all the while holding his rifle over his head, the entire run. And, according to his classmates, when the run was over, my Dad said, “What’s next?”
One of the things I loved most about being able to meet and talk to these guys who had not only been Dad’s classmates, but roommates, was the admiration and respect that they had for each other. All of these guys have done amazing things, with very impressive resumes, but the respect they had for each other was really special, each of them holding the other in higher esteem than himself. Bruce said he had read up on all that my Dad had done in the Air Force for 22 years (although West Point is the Army Academy, he was able to choose to go into the Air Force when he graduated), and then teaching at Crown College, and he said, “Hell of a job, Barry. Hell of a job.” I just thought that was a really special moment.
After a few hours of stories and laughter, they left for a few hours to give my Dad a little break. When they came back later, all of my brothers and sisters who were in town were able to come over, and we put a little dinner together for them from Savelli’s (excellent food and service…would highly recommend!). So we just sat around the dinner table, heard story after story, laughed a lot, and had such an awesome time with these very special “old war guys” (their words…not mine!).
To Rick, Bruce, Nick and Bill, thank you so much for coming all that way to see my Dad. To see the smile on his face, to see him thoroughly enjoy catching up with all of you who meant so much to him and hear about your lives and accomplishments, and to be able to experience such an important part of his life through your stories and memories of him, are just a priceless gift. You’ll never know how much that meant to all of us, and a special thanks to Rick for locating us, getting in touch with us, and planning this trip!