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Armistice Day / Veterans day

By Mickster269 ·
First, I'll preface this with the comment that I am a Veteran. I served in the XVII Airborne Corp as a Computer Programer. That story is for another day.

Second, I have been, and still am opposed to the US war in Iraq. That too, is for another day.

What I AM wanting to bring to you, is the people that make up our military, and what they give. And for those that never came home.

With that said, I offer this:

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TAPS VIGIL

In the middle of winter .. in the dead of night ... A single cadet emerged from the Normandy sally port and silently crossed the concrete apron, stopping inches from the snow which still covered the Plain. He stared northward into the frigid blackness, past Battle Monument and on up the Hudson Valley. He stood at Parade Rest, bracing himself against the biting wind that bore down the river, picked up speed through the narrow weir formed by Storm King Mountain and Constitution Island, slowing as it crested Trophy Point, and finally picking up speed again as it raced across the Plain.

A few seconds later, another cadet stepped forth from the Corridor sally port to the West, crossed the apron and took up on eastward vigil. Soon others, from plebes to First Captain, followed by ones and twos. The numbers of cadets staring out over the Plain began to accumulate gradually, like snowflakes during the first minutes of a storm, until they were standing more than ten deep from MacArthur Monument at one end of the barracks to Eisenhower Monument at the other.

Except for the few who were away on leave or official business, virtually the entire Corps of Cadets were present, and, despite the bitter cold, they were dressed in Dress Gray, the most traditional of cadet daily wear. There were no overcoats or parkas to keep them warm. They were not here to be comfortable. They were here to pay tribute to two of their own, Spencer Dodge and Curt Sansoucie, recent graduates who had themselves succumbed to the cold while in training for the profession of arms which these cadets would enter in the near future.

I stood with a small group of alumni in the shadows by the main door of Washington Hall. The First Captain had invited us to attend this special remembrance. We had no idea just how deeply each of us would be touched.

The outpouring of gray from the sally ports stopped as if on command. There was no rush of stragglers trying to beat the sound of Assembly, as there might be for a parade. This was a strictly voluntary formation, and they were not about to be late.

At precisely 2330 hours, the first crisp note of "Taps" cut through the darkness from a trumpet somewhere to the east. The cadets came to Attention and Present Arms without sound or signal, yet with a precision equal to the daytime crispness of a full dress parade. As the first three notes began to fade, a second trumpet, farther away, sounded the echo known as "Silver Taps." As the last notes rose into the night sky, the cadets returned to Order Arms with the same silent precision as before.

A group of about thirty cadets stood apart from the rest at the foot of the steps of Washington Hall. From their midst, there arose a soft hum that grew into the full, rich harmonies of the Alma Mater. In a single motion, all heads were bared in homage. At the third verse the volume rose with the phrase, "And when our work is done, our course on earth is run, may it be said, 'WELL DONE!' " The last two words were clipped off abruptly, sending another echo into the night sky before concluding softly, "Be though at peace." The final strains drifted over the Hudson.

Once again, silence fell over the apron for a brief moment until yet another sound came out of the darkness at the center of the Plain. A shrill, discordant wail rose as the drones of a bagpipe were pumped into action. The moment and the melody matched perfectly as the plaintive cry of "Amazing Grace" rang out through the night, first by just a single piper, then again with four pipes, as if to underscore the loss that was felt by all those assembled. The refrain was repeated one last time by a solitary piper as a universal air to bear two souls to heaven.

The silence returned, and the gray clad figures seemingly evaporated back through the sally ports. A few lingered, standing with heads bowed. One cadet knelt in prayer for his departed brothers. Finally, they too drifted away, and, as the scene returned to total stillness, we were awestruck by what had just taken place: a simple stark ceremony that spoke volumes about the bond among West Pointers and the sense of loss when members of the Long Gray Line are taken before their time. The cadet farewell is surely one of the most poignant, meaningful ceremonies held at West Point. I felt immensely privileged to have been there for it. Thank God it isn't repeated often.

Frederick C. Rice '60
(May 1995, Assembly)

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Here's to all of my fellow Vets out there. Thanks.

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