Home Index Page

 

Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

 

Chapter Six (01)

 

Three Down and One To Go

About a week after I awoke with the news I was going
back, I reported for duty at West Point as a First Classman.
While they were still processing me in, I managed to catch
some of the high profile action going on at the West Point
gym in early August - the 1972 Olympic Boxing trials. Fresh
off my own media circus, suddenly I inadvertently entered
another. While hanging out with my teammate buddy Bobby
Hines, the starting Army halfback and cadet heavyweight
boxing champion, watching Duane Bobick win his heavyweight
match to qualify for the Munich Summer Olympics, suddenly
Duane was upstaged by the most famous boxing champion of all
time. Putting on his usual show for the press, Muhammad Ali
abruptly appeared on the scene, “Where’s this guy who thinks
he’s the ‘champ-peen’ around here.” Somebody pointed to
Bobby and that’s all it took for the Champion of the World
to begin hamming it up in front of all the cameras with a
little sparring action outside the ring. Flashed there in
the media crowd between Bobby and Ali going at it with the
world watching was not exactly what West Point had in mind
for me. Then moments later came that famous scene when Ali
began playing with Howard Cosell’s toupee.


World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali
toys with the finely combed toupee belonging to
television sports commentator Howard Cosell
before the start of the Olympic boxing trials at
West Point on August 7, 1972


Needless to say,
after that I was shipped out immediately as far out of sight
as possible. And what better place than out in the woods of
Camp Buckner, summer training site for the yearlings. They
assigned me as a senior cadre member I think in some obscure
position with supplies. Anything to get me out of the
spotlight of the cameras and the press.
Despite my receiving the threatening phone calls, hate
mail and horrifically bad press, my court victory and
surrounding high profile publicity had been an enormous
embarrassment and blemish on the cherished and pristine,
squeaky clean West Point image. Hundreds if not thousands of
Army and military officers and conservative types around the
world hated me for what I’d done. And the media image of me
as the sloppy drunken derelict of a cadet only intensified
their hatred. So I knew my reputation as a rabblerousing
troublemaker would precede me everywhere I went in a
military uniform. But of course I was banking on steering
clear of the Army’s wrath once graduated as a Navy ensign.
So despite still having lots of pressure on me, I was
relieved fresh off my legal win and couldn’t wait for my
final academic year to begin as a First Classman.
Both Joe and I were not sent back to our old company
G-1. With Shot still presiding over the company as the now
infamous tac officer, West Point figured too much bad blood
had gone down between us to go back. So Joe was sent to live
out his final year in the most relaxed of all regiments the
Fourth while I was sent to D-3 in the Third Regiment. It was
pretty obvious and clear that the West Point establishment
cringed every time my name and face came up. But there were
a handful of officers who actually respected me for my
achievement. Amongst my fellow Corps of Cadets I found it
could be broken down into thirds. About a third of the cadet
population hated my guts for what I’d done. They of course
were the gung ho faithful, the “do what you’re told” and
enforce the rules with gusto crowd that included the higher
ranking cadet captains like Abizaid and Eikenberry. About
another third had little to no opinion of me, an indifferent
crowd too busy with their own lives as cadets to spend time
pondering my court case. And then the final third of cadets
saw the merit of what no other cadet in history had achieved
and actually came to appreciate having the right to due
process to protect them from being victims as well. This
crowd respected me for fighting back and beating the unfair
system. These guys were likeminded friends who also saw the
petty bullshit for what it was and hated it like me.
Within months of my unprecedented case against West
Point, a classmate of mine named Jim Pelosi was also carving
out a name for himself against the West Point honor code. He
had been originally turned in by a classmate who reported
observing Pelosi cheating on an Electrical Engineering exam.
The cadet honor committee urged the classmate to bring it to
the attention of the instructor. The next day at class the
instructor elected to give another exam and carefully
monitored Pelosi’s actions. The instructor’s  detailed
account claimed that he checked Pelosi’s paper upon his
“cease work” command to the class and noticed a portion of
Pelosi’s exam left blank and incomplete. Then the instructor
explained the exam solutions to the problems on the
chalkboard and then went back to Pelosi’s paper to discern
that the incomplete sections before were now filled in. The
instructor then turned Pelosi in for what he figured was a
clear honor violation, sharing his opinion with the honor
committee. Thus, the twelve honor committee members
unanimously found Pelosi guilty. Pelosi elected to appeal
before an officer’s board to review and adjudicate the
case. But Pelosi’s attorney cited “command influence” and
the board of officers made the recommendation that the
matter again go before the cadet honor committee, which made
the decision to not retry the case. Superintendent Knowlton
agreed with Pelosi’s attorney but neither the officer board
nor cadet committee re-considered the case again. And
because the honor committee had already found Pelosi guilty
yet Pelosi was never dismissed and remained a cadet, the
committee upheld the century old tradition to silence any
cadet found guilty of an honor code violation.
The media had a field day covering the Pelosi case.
Virtually every newspaper in the country that ran the story
got the facts wrong. Of course nothing new about that in
view of how they obliterated the truth in my legal case.
The newspapers typically reported that Pelosi was found
guilty due to allegedly still writing on a test after the
class was ordered to “cease work.” In its coverage of
Pelosi, newspapers painted him as a hapless victim of the
cruel Corps of Cadets for engaging in such barbaric and
abusive mistreatment toward Mr. Pelosi. Unlike my case, the
press was sympathetic to Pelosi, portraying a black and
white scenario with Pelosi the poor, seemingly innocent
victim and the entire big bad Corps of Cadets that ganged up
on him as evil monsters making his life a living hell.
Again, life is more often made of shades of gray. It is true
that fanatical asshole cadets, largely the same crowd
despising me, were guilty as charged of mistreating Pelosi.
And they were wrong as they almost always are. But I for one
and in fact a large number of cadets, I would venture to
estimate that that same one third that supported me, also
supported Pelosi and did not believe nor adhere to that
fucked up traditional practice giving Pelosi the silent
treatment. The press got it all wrong again just as the John
boy Walton version did in the forgettably bad 1975 TV movie
“The Silence.” In response to Pelosi’s favorably biased
coverage, the American public was outraged, overwhelmingly
sympathetic and supportive toward cadet James Pelosi. If you
detect a tinge of resentment for how the press favorably
distorted facts for Pelosi as an honor code violator turned
victim while holding me in such contempt with negative
judgmental bias bordering on slander, your detection is
absolutely correct. In any event, fortunately three months
after Pelosi and I graduated in 1973, in direct reaction to
all the bad press about the archaic one hundred two year old
tradition, the cadet honor committee finally elected to
abolish the inhumane West Point practice called the silence.
The silence as a tradition may have been abolished, but
the honor code of course still proudly remains at the Point.
And despite the major scandals going down at all three major
service academies in recent decades, as a tradition it will
likely always be honored and upheld. However, in view of the
changing times, West Point has somewhat revised the honor
code system, primarily its consequences for honor code
violators. Mainly out of the ongoing humiliation West Point
and the other academies go through with each huge honor code
scandal every few years, changes have been made that now
allow cadets reported for honor code violations to be given
a second chance. Unless a larger pattern of deception is
found implicating serious character flaws, a cadet found
guilty today still can remain a cadet but must undergo a
rehabilitative program. According to General Abizaid’s
special assistant while John was the West Point Commandant,
cadets guilty of an honor code violation but not dismissed
from the Academy “must perform community service for six
months, teach part of an honors course, write an analysis of
Army values, keep a journal of their ethical decisions that
are reviewed weekly with a senior officer.”  Silence no more!
To this day, “cadets cannot lie, cheat or steal, or
tolerate those who do,” less they violate their cherished
honor code. To me this seems highly hypocritical, since West
Point officers have been allowed to lie through their teeth
for centuries whenever they wanted to railroad a cadet out.
West Point officers high up both on the ground in Vietnam as
well as in the Pentagon repeatedly lied through their teeth
ad nauseum with false body counts, false denials of war
crime massacres as a war policy, false denials of any cover-
ups, and for years false claims that America is in fact
winning wars that it clearly is losing. Some things never
change, like the similar lies about making progress and/or
winning in Iraq and Afghanistan when both have been losing
causes for years. The fact that to this day a blatant double
standard has existed for cadets and officers is symptomatic
of the deception, hypocrisy and corruption that has long
been the American foreign policy for more than half a
century. Liars high up in government and the military are
placed on the same low rung of distrust with liars who are
used car salesmen. Only the latter fucks a few hapless
individuals while the former is fucking over the entire
planet. And that such a disconnect has long existed between
the masses that know they are systematically lied to every
single day by the powerbrokers is plenty reason for alarm.
Public impotence, apathy and complacence though have instead
long ruled the day. We have gotten so used to being lied to,
it’s now just accepted as the given norm. What does this say
about our moral decline as a civilization and American
Empire when its leaders have long been known to be
compulsive liars, much less the average everyday citizens’
utter sense of powerlessness to do anything about it?
Speaking of powerlessness, Captain Frank Oliver, a West
Point graduate from the Class of 1969, was powerless on that
fateful day before Labor Day, September 3rd, 1972 when he
became the last West Pointer to die on the battlefield in
that nightmare of a war in Vietnam. So that week over the
lunchtime PA, us cadets were given our final grim reminder
of the weekly sacrifices made during the prior decade of our
fellow brothers-in-arms who had fallen half the world away.
Just because I had won my due process case over the
summer and was reinstated by court order to West Point, I
was legally far from out of the woods. Predictably, the US
Military Academy was appealing Judge Brieant’s district
court decision in the higher appellate courts. Brieant sent
me back to the Point “pending the outcome of a fair hearing
at West Point.” That hearing was being deferred until the
Academy either gave up or lost its appeal. And as such, all
those months of unserved room confinement built up from last
year were also on hold until my legal status was finalized.
So until such time, as a senior cadet I was free on
weekends to leave West Point on passes. That Friday night at
the start of that very first fall weekend, and without even
a destination in mind, in civilian clothes I signed out and
by myself proceeded walking right past the gate into
Highland Falls and south onto state highway 9W. I had been
walking at least an hour and a half in the dark without a
clue where I would end up that night when suddenly a car
going in my direction slowed to a stop next to me. The
attractive young blonde in the passenger seat inquired,
“Where you going?”
“Not sure...,” I responded.
“Want a ride?” the girl asked invitingly.
“Guess driving to nowhere’s better than walking to
nowhere,” I replied observing the girl sliding over to make
room for me in the front seat, much to the chagrin of the
disapproving male driver. I got in the backseat anyway as
the relieved guy behind the wheel drove away.
“Hi I’m Holly and this is my friend Walter,” she said.
“My name is Joachim.”
“Are you a cadet?,” her inquiring mind wanted to know.
“Yeah... why do you ask?”
“I went with a cadet all last year but he graduated.”
Instantly I got the picture, she was like a Ladycliffer in
heat searching for her next prey, I mean cadet boyfriend.
Walter was a blue collar in glasses and, unbeknownst to him,
relegated to serving as the princess’ chauffeur for the
evening. Within minutes Holly was directing Walter to the
Snuffy’s parking lot, a favorite watering hole strategically
located just outside the thirteen mile West Point radius
where consuming alcohol any closer was prohibited. Many a
cadet got so drunk there they never made it back to their
barracks room or graduation having killed themselves en
route. But that unpleasant reality never much deterred
Firsties from gravitating to that pub every weekend. I had
never even been there but it was obvious Holly had. It was
also obvious Walter was very threatened by my presence, and
I had no desire on my first weekend leave to fight it out in
a triangulated mess of jealousy, hurt and anger. So as soon
as I got out of the car, I bid an early farewell, “Nice to
meet you both and thanks for the ride.” I walked in just
ahead of them, spotted a group of classmates and headed over
to their table. They were pouring down pitchers of beer on
tap and welcomed me to join them. A few minutes later when I
walked over to the juke box to select a tune, Holly snuck up
behind me to make small talk, “Which song you like?”
“Holly, you seem like a nice friendly girl, but aren’t
you with Walter?” I asked.
“Oh Walter’s in the men’s room now... he’s just a
friend of mine, he’s not my boyfriend.”
“But he’s your date tonight.”
“I told you he’s just a friend. Why don’t you come with
us back to New Jersey since you don’t have anyplace to go?”
“Holly, I don’t want any trouble...”
Just as I put Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” on, Holly
commented, “Oh I love this song!” Just then an irritated
looking Walter comes out of the men’s room, spots us talking
and reluctantly walks over, “Walter, we’re playing a song
for you, ‘Heart of Gold,’ since I know you have a heart of
gold.” Walter and I both felt even more awkward by her
shameless cajoling. “Walter, you don’t mind if Joachim comes
with us, he doesn’t have any place to stay tonight and I
know my parents would want me to be a good Samaritan in
offering him our guestroom tonight.”
“It’s not what I want,” Walter made it perfectly clear.
“Please Walter, be a sweetheart. I know you have a
heart of gold... please?” she begged. Walter’s look began
to soften as he acquiesced to her manipulative, push button
charm.
“Walter, you are such a sweet gentleman,” she rewarded.
I glanced back quizzically at my buddies and overheard
one of them yell from across the room, “Go get her Sheik!” I
gave them a nod as the three of us headed toward the exit
just as the “Heart of Gold” was ending.
It did not take long for Walter’s heart of gold to turn
into fool’s gold in his passive-aggressive display of road
rage. Losing his girl to a West Pointer quickly translated
into driving seventy miles an hour in a forty-five mile zone
on a wooded hilly dark road. Both Holly from the front seat
and I from the back yelled at him to “slow down!” When he
refused, I demanded, “Stop the fucken car!” He finally did
and I jumped out. Holly decided to follow my lead and a very
wounded angry Walter burnt screeching rubber in his reckless
departure. Holly and I then hitchhiked back to her Woodcliff
Lake, New Jersey home with a ride from a hippie couple in a
painted up Volkswagen bus. They dropped us off on the Garden
State Parkway and we walked the convenient short distance to
her parents’ home. I noticed the light on and a silhouette
pacing back and forth behind the living room curtain.
“What’re your parents gonna think with you going out
with Walter and then coming home with a complete stranger?”
“My mother’s in the hospital. But I’m sure daddy won’t
mind.” As we entered the home her father was still waiting
up for her at one in the morning. “Daddy, this is Joachim,
he’s a West Point cadet!”
“Oh great, a West Point cadet, hah? Holly, what
happened to Walter?,” Mr. Porter inquired.
“Oh Walter, he’s so crazy, he almost got us killed
driving like a madman. Joachim here protected me.” That was
all her father needed to hear, already accepting me as his
daughter’s newest West Point boyfriend while showing me
where I’d be sleeping in their downstairs guestroom. Though
it had been a very bizarre night with some rather odd,
disquieting moments, I was glad to at least have a roof over
my head and a girl wanting to be my girlfriend. I recollect
laying there in bed that night thinking that this weekend
was far exceeding any expectation I could have even imagined
on my very first pass as a senior cadet.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my final
academic year at the Point. The next morning my little
hostess brought me an eggs and bacon breakfast in bed. And
from that weekend on, I was faithfully with Holly every
chance I got. She would drive up from New Jersey and get me.
Sometimes we’d stay at West Point and catch an Army home
game there at Michie Stadium, like the season opening loss
to Heisman Trophy winner Johnnie Rogers’ Nebraska team. They
beat us in the worst drubbing in Army football history 77-7.
It was only a merciful ref that gave us our only touchdown
in the Fourth Quarter when our receiver Ed Francis actually
trapped the ball in the end zone. I finally met Holly’s
mother on my third weekend in New Jersey after she was
released from the mental hospital where she had been
struggling with depression. She was nice to me but seemed a
bit fragile and preoccupied with just trying to feel better.
Holly’s dad was a successful businessman who owned a company
in Montclair that afforded him, his wife and daughter a
comfortable home in upscale Bergen County. The Porters all
seemed happy to welcome me into their family as Holly’s
newest West Point beau. A bit spoiled and doted on as her
parent’s only child, Holly was used to getting her way as
their little darling princess. We did the typical dating
activities that young couples do - going to the movies and
dining a lot at the local restaurants. I remember that fall
seeing the beautiful film “Sounder” together. The grace and
dignity of family love able to transcend even the harshest
life challenges was a story I could very much relate to.
Funny how sharing a single cinematic experience with someone
can be so meaningful, immediately tightening our romantic
bond. Seems I have always been a film buff, allowing my
favorite films to offer an escape through such strong
emotional identification with the stories’ characters that
can have a deeply transformative effect on my life and
consciousness. This powerful unique experience has always
tugged at my creative aspirations to one day be able to
become a skilled enough storyteller myself through the
magical power of words that come to life off a page or big screen.

Go to Chapter Six (02)

Go to Index Page