September 4th, 2018
My Old School from Steely Dan
When you put me on the Wolverine up to Annandale
It was still September
When your daddy was quite surprised
To find you with the working girls in the county jail
I was smoking with the boys upstairs when I
Heard about the whole affair, I said oh no
William and Mary won’t do…
Could be so cruel
And I’m never going back
To my old school”
I just stared at the name of the sender of the email. It was from John. I didn’t open it. I was curious as to what the message would say, but I also suspected that its contents would cause me endless frustration. The email was in response to one of mine, and I kind of sensed where this interaction was going. I have often traded messages with this person in the past, and most of the time, our exchange of words has been amicable. The exception to that is when we start talking about our alma mater, West Point.
John and I both graduated in the Class of 1980 from the United States Military Academy (USMA). We were actually in the same company, B-4. We were in daily contact with each other each and every day for four years. We came from radically different family backgrounds, but we were (and are) friends. John and I spent much of the summer of 1978 together in Alaska, courtesy of the U.S. Army. Over the years, we have maintained an intermittent Internet relationship. We haven’t seen each other, or heard each other’s voices, in thirty-eight years. In a way, it is remarkable that we have any relationship at all. Perhaps, in truth, we don’t.
Our paths diverged upon our graduation. We were both Army officers, but John went into Field Artillery, and I went into Aviation. At the end of John’s service, he moved into a position in the defense industry; not an unusual transition for a West Point grad. When I got out of the Army, I got a job in trucking, and then I became an anti-war activist; a very unusual transition for a West Point graduate. One of John’s sons went to war in Afghanistan. My eldest son, Hans, went to war in Iraq. John seems to be okay with the fact that his son fought in a war. I am not. I am proud of Hans, but I wish to God that he had never enlisted. I don’t think the war did him no good at all.
John has stayed very connected with our old school. He is involved in many activities with alumni and current students (cadets). He really likes to maintain that connection with USMA. More power to him. Somebody should keep the faith with the Long Grey Line. However, that person is not me.
I have not set foot on the campus of West Point since 1981. I have no plans to ever do so. Karin and I traveled up the Hudson River Valley a year ago, and there was a clear opportunity for us to stop at my school. I declined to do that. There is nothing there that I miss. There is nothing there that I want to remember. Karin didn’t know me when I was a cadet. It is probably best that she doesn’t know that experience, even vicariously.
West Point is a strange place. The experience of a student there is a cross between attending an Ivy League college, and doing time in prison. For me, it was a four-year-long mind fuck. After nearly forty years, I am still a bit off kilter.
Oh, back to the email…
John cannot understand my feelings toward USMA. He truly cannot. He writes to me about West Point and the alumni functions, and I, like an idiot, respond by saying that I want no part of such affairs. Then we get on to a seemingly endless exchange of emails, where John tries his best to convince me that I should revere our alma mater, and where I tell him to go pound sand. It never ends well.
In my last message to John, I told him, “I was there, things happened, and it’s over.”
The message from him, that I refused to open, no doubt had a pithy response to my statement.
Keep in mind that John is a very good man, and that he is smarter than I am. He really is. I am helpless against his logic and reasoning. The problem is not that John chooses to be the keeper of the flame for our old school. The problem is that he expects me to do the same. I can’t and I won’t.
I agree with John that our time at West Point changed our lives immensely. There can be no question about that. The real question is: “How were our lives changed?”
John became a staunch defender of the status quo with regards to the U.S. military. I became a pacifist and a friend of the Catholic Workers. I am still both those things. How did this all happen? I have no idea. It just is.
I deleted John’s email. It was a cowardly act. I just couldn’t deal with it.
I plan to write to John in a month or two, and pretend that I never received his email. We can start over. Maybe.