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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

 

Chapter Six 02

 

Three Down and One To Go

 

The Piscean dreamer dreams on...
Guess I was also getting drawn into the novel, life-
changing experience of finally having a real bona fide first
girlfriend. Those fleeting moments spent on dates with other
girls didn’t really count. But from the start I noticed that
Holly was extremely sensitive and insecure, a sign that did
not bode well for our future together.
On Halloween West Point lost its appeal and had the
choice to try and take it ultimately to its final stop the
US Supreme Court or ultimately give up and accept defeat
that cadet Hagopian had won... trick or treat? The Point
opted for the latter, taking one more crack at me with
that promised “fair hearing at West Point” that the judge
stipulated as a post-condition to my reinstatement. Though I
was given a competent military lawyer to help me prepare my
case challenging all the unjustified and false demerits,
once I entered that hearing with members of the Academic
Board (all the same colonels and generals that separated me
six months earlier), I was all alone to duke it out with
West Point’s top brass. By the time we actually convened for
this so called “fair hearing,” it was only a few days prior
to Christmas break 1972. I went in at nine thirty in the
morning and underwent a heated twelve hour interrogation at
the hands of my adversaries (all but two or three) and at
nine thirty at night I emerged once again the victor while
they emerged eating crow having to rescind eight Webb-issued
demerits (needing at least five) and admitting I was in fact
proficient in military conduct after all. It was good to
know that I did have support from two or three academic
department heads out of the twenty high ranking officers in
the room. One on my side that grew tired of the Commandant
General Fier’s relentless onslaught trying to poke holes in
my factual account ended up falling asleep the last few
hours.
My protracted legal ordeal was finally done, history.
The key to my success was my key witness that day at my
marathon hearing - my ex-roommate Paul who had witnessed
that stained dress coat coming back from the cleaners still
stained. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you
the most my fellow Bay Stater. West Point was forced to
rescind those demerits for “failing to respond to a repeated
correction” because I had eyewitness testimony on my behalf
proving I did respond. Also the double punishment with the
back-to-back “in need of haircut” at both breakfast and
lunch formations was thrown out since it was impossible for
me to get a haircut in that short four hour window while
attending classes. Joe also managed to get a sufficient
number of demerits rescinded that made him proficient in
military conduct as well. I am grateful to a couple of
standby character witnesses who were not needed or called in
to testify on my behalf. One was my fellow Armenian friend,
Army teammate and football captain Steve Bogosian, now an
orthopedic surgeon practicing in upstate New York. Another
is Major Bill Carpenter (now retired general) who was then
one of our Army football coaches. He gained prominence while
playing for Army as the All American “Lonesome End” when
back in the late 50’s he lined up near the far sideline
without huddling. He also played on the last undefeated Army
team alongside the last Army Heisman trophy winner Pete
Dawkins. In Vietnam he gained more fame when he saved his
company by directing air strikes on his own position. He was
a great coach, officer and man who was willing to step up on
my behalf and face the West Point establishment that was
gunning to defeat me at all cost. I appreciate both his
moral and legal support. I want to emphasize that I did
encounter a minority of military officers in my time that
were outstanding people and leaders. But again, they were
the relatively small minority.
Since West Point had finished its legal challenge, it
was time for me to serve months and months of accumulated
punishment from the year before, starting with no holiday
leave for me. It was a very lonely Christmas in that ghost
town. And it would be a very lonely time living in prison
so to speak the remainder of my days at the Point. I would
of course continue attending all my classes, participate in
mandatory intramural sports, parades during the spring, and
otherwise live out the rest of my days as a First Classman
confined to my four walls. On weekends I walked with my
rifle on my shoulder back and forth with the other bad boys
for hours on end as additional punishment.


Walking the area

We could not talk
to each other or otherwise make the time go by any faster.
The isolation of killing time for months on end while my
peers were busy leaving every weekend on passes and enjoying
their senior year with additional privileges of course made
it that much harder. But I was grateful for my time those
earlier autumn months when I too enjoyed a life away from
the Academy with a girlfriend. But whatever good life I
tasted briefly was over the rest of my final year. It was
enduring the drudgery of outlasting the waiting game, while
not getting into deeper shit, and passing all my remaining
classes to be eligible for June graduation. I had persevered
through so much stress and deep shit for so long, three and
a half years of it, that just the half year left in prison
was do-able enough to know I would survive. West Point,
however harsh, however vindictive, was not going to beat me.
I realized then that my West Point graduation would be the
most gratifying parting gift of all to the Academy that
neither wanted me nor could defeat me as hard as they tried.
In January 1973 I was toiling through another
engineering course. My final examination could not have come
at a worse time. My pregnant three year older sister when it
came time to give birth suddenly began to suffer internal
hemorrhaging. As a Jehovah Witness, her religion prohibited
her from accepting blood transfusions. She was losing lots
of blood. Initially even her Jehovah husband who lost his
mother at a young age wanted her to undergo a transfusion.
But their religious faith and influence of a Jehovah leader
convinced both my sister and her husband to hold the line,
leaving it up to God. In the meantime, my alarmed parents
would go to the hospital and attempt to see their daughter
but could not because the Jehovah leader was always with her
ensuring that her faith would not waver. So my extremely
frustrated, distraught parents would drive the hour west
from the western Connecticut hospital to see me. This family
crisis came right in the middle of finals week. I was so
worried and upset myself about my sister’s dire predicament
after learning she had already lost half her blood supply
and was on the verge of death, I could not focus on studying
for my final exam. And I flunked the final so badly that my
overall grade passed by just three thousands of a point. I
was that close to failing the course that again would have
permitted the Academy to declare me academically deficient
and rid me on those grounds. God was on both my side as well
as my sister’s as she finally began clotting, gave birth to
a healthy daughter and started her slow gradual recovery to
full health. Though my parents and I were understandably
upset with the Jehovahs for being responsible for my
sister’s potential death, we were just thankful and grateful
for God sparing her life. Since we all believe in one God,
regardless of the monotheistic religion or faith, it must
have been that same God that saw fit to heal my sister and
bring her back from the near dead. And obviously the miracle
only reinforced my sister’s and her husband’s faith in
Jehovah. And though I choose not to be a member of any
religion, it reinforced my belief and faith in God as well.
A month or so after that family/academic crises,
another significant event occurred that was both legal and
religious in nature. The US Supreme Court ultimately ruled
in favor of the First Amendment when they outlawed mandatory
chapel at West Point. Every Sunday morning as a cadet I had
been forced against my will and spiritual beliefs to attend
a Protestant chapel (though it could have been Catholic or
Jewish), like it or not.


West Point chapel
Where I was forced to worship against my will and
constitutional right


West Point was cramming its
religious agenda down our throats. I hated it on the grounds
of it being a clear violation of my freedom of religion as
guaranteed all American citizens under the US Constitution.
And on a less high and might level, I hated having to wake
up early and be bored out of my gourd every Sunday morning,
not sleeping in my comfortable warm bed where my brand of
non-religion would have me be. So it was a moment to
celebrate even if it came nearly too late for me to benefit.
And of course had the court decision been made just one year
earlier, my “wrinkled white trou” on my way to chapel that
last day of the term would not have kicked me out.
Religion at West Point has been a controversial topic
as of late. In protest, senior cadet Blake Page just six
months away from graduation resigned and went public earlier
this year with his serious accusation that religious bigotry
runs rampant at the Academy. He maintains that if one does
not succumb to the overt pressures brought to bear on any
cadet who chooses to either be an atheist or not affiliated
with any Judeo-Christian denomination, that cadet will
suffer rejection, harassment and recrimination. Religious
zealots at the Academy are believed to impose their dogma
and punishment on cadets who are not buying into any of the
big three. Page felt his First Amendment rights had been so
violated at West Point that in good conscience he could not
continue as a cadet and soon-to-be officer. Prior to his
decision to resign, he was told by Academy officials that he
would not be held financially liable for his West Point
education. Yet as soon as he went public with his decision
and reason for resignation, the Academy suddenly went after
him aggressively to pay back up to $300,000, his so called
education price tag, or serve active duty time as a private
(similar to me). Ex-cadet Page is supported by Air Force
Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein as founder of the Military
Religious Freedom Foundation. His lobbyist group is at the
forefront against what it describes as “fanatical
religiosity, the Christian version of the Taliban” so
pervasive in the military and service academies today.
Also last December another group called Americans
United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint
with West Point for what it considers the unconstitutional
practice of citing prayer invocations at mandatory public
events held at the Academy. The secular group maintains that
cadets are forced to participate in events with prayers that
endorse religion. The age old battle continues between
fervent Christians feeling that their faith is under attack
from the atheists and secularists while they in turn
countercharge Christianity as being coerced on them. With
the widespread fundamentalist Christian movement across the
country in recent years pushing science and evolution out of
public schools in favor of Divine Intelligence and
Creationism, my view is there are far too many “holier-than-
thou’s” narrow-mindedly judging those who do not buy into
their particular dogma. And other than the Supreme Court
abolishing mandatory religious attendance while still a
cadet, I did not feel the same level of religious bigotry
that Page claims. But again, times have changed
significantly and in recent decades Christian fanaticism has
grown exponentially. So I would not challenge Page’s
convictions nor his credibility. And the tit-for-tat
pettiness of going after him for repayment is the same
vindictive aggression with which I too was targeted as a
dissenting cadet.
While serving room confinement those dark lonely days
at West Point, in Paris on January 27th, 1973 America and
North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accords. Meanwhile, an
Army colonel named William Benedict Nolde became the last
American soldier to be killed in Vietnam, tragically just
eleven hours before the peace treaty that ended the war was
signed. Our nation’s final count of American soldiers who
lost their lives in Vietnam stands at 58,282. But finally in
late January America’s involvement in that costliest of wars
was finally over. With the cease fire, the United States was
at last sending our final troops home from the decade long,
longest American war in its history. Three million American
soldiers had fought in that war. Nearly six hundred American
POW’s still held captive were agreed to be released. And
with the end of our Vietnam War, 1973 was the year that US
Congress finally abolished the military draft in favor of an
all volunteer Army. Hence, the enormous downsizing of the
military ranks had officially begun.
The lies and deception that propagated that war were
also winding down. But of course the cover-up of systematic
killing of thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians that
constitute secret war crimes were still being concealed from
the American public. And the fact that just two years later
the corrupt and weak South Vietnamese puppet government of
ours could no longer defend itself against the victorious
North Vietnamese Army should have closed the deal on waging
more counterinsurgency wars around the world. But it didn’t.
Our nation’s leaders so steeped in militaristic imperialism
as the long established foreign policy would only continue
making more devastating mistakes... right up to the present
with war looming over Syria next inviting World War III.
West Point winters are long, especially that one.
Filling up all my extra time on weekends was the hardest
challenge I faced in room confinement. I mean you have to be
really, really bored to strike a pose while staring at
yourself in the mirror for over two hours without moving so
that you can draw yourself. But that’s how I preoccupied my
time one Saturday night in boredom city. I felt the calling
every year or two to suddenly draw something, usually a
portrait from some photo. My last sketch brought up the bad
memory two years earlier when I sent a sketch to a girl from
Longmeadow I liked who rejected me when she went back with
her Annapolis ex. But there I was in my room with absolutely
nothing else to do on that particular Saturday night. After
running out of books and magazines to read and no TV, a
still life of myself in front of the mirror just seemed like
a good idea at the time.

The bored narcissist

Sometimes listening to my music
wasn’t enough, though music has always been my constant
companion and friend, and gotten me through some of the
toughest and lowest times of my life.
That was why to this day I am indebted to my D-3
roommate Jack who was conducting pollution experiments with
Hudson River water in the downstairs Bartlett Hall chemistry
lab. Jack was concerned over health matters and as beautiful
a landscape the Hudson provided to the area, it was horribly
toxic in the early 1970’s. Fortunately concerted efforts
have been made since then to clean it up considerably.
Jack’s research then was his little effort to bring more
attention to its effects on human health. And as a longtime
Veterans Administration physician in his home state of
Missouri, Jack has made health his calling in life. But back
then he had been given a key for easy access to his river
water experiment. And seeing my prison plight during those
long months our senior year, the humanitarian in him saw fit
to lend me that key any time upon my request. So I’d sign
out in the company departure book and head straight over to
Bartlett Hall, utilizing the loophole that a cadet on room
confinement was authorized to sign out to go to the library
and all academic buildings. I would use the key to gain
entrance to the chem lab and immediately walk the few steps
to the adjoining room that was a makeshift physics equipment
storage area. And that little room that happened to include
a mounted television on the wall then became my little
hideaway, my home away from home. So on those lonely
Saturday nights, I would frequently invite Holly up and I’d
discreetly meet her in front of Bartlett Hall as our secret
rendezvous point. Then we would even more discreetly enter
the building from the side door entrance to the basement
where our secret little hideaway awaited us for another cozy
night of cuddling in front of the TV, drinking wine she’d
bring, topped off with a couple more hours of making sweet
love, all for “legally” signing out to Bartlett Hall. Those
Saturday night dates at my home away from home provided some
of our best memories. The naughtiness of being able to get
away with taking such high risk pleasure only enhanced the
joy of being together under those uniquely strangely erotic
circumstances. And they allowed me some sense of normalcy as
a young adult male in spite of being trapped in West Point
bondage. Once again following the general’s orders, I was
not about to let the bastards get me down. Had I been caught
it would’ve meant they would have won after all. But fate
and God were on my side, smiling down on me on those cold
winter nights. Thanks Jack, and of course Holly, for the
sweetest of my West Point memories.
My new D-3 company tactical officer was Major Gavin, a
West Point grad from a long family line of Old Gray Lined
generals. He seemed like a fair-minded man who accepted me
without negative judgment into D-3. He knew I’d played
football and had a reputation as a tough guy who had done
some previous intramural boxing with G-1. And, knowing I was
still facing months of confinement, he offered me a little
light at the end of that dark winter tunnel, “Mr. Hagopian,
if you join the D-3 boxing team, I will see to it that you
see the light of day before graduation. So you can at least
enjoy your car and a little freedom as a First Classman.”
Though I personally hated boxing, I jumped at the
chance of a glimpse of freedom before June graduation, so I
did not hesitate in saying, “Yes sir.”
I weighed in at the one hundred fifty two pound weight
class and quickly became D-3’s boxer at that weight.


My senior class picture

Though
I loved the contact sport football, getting hit in the head
was not my idea of fun. I looked at boxing as an incredibly
brutal and primitive sport. And though I had taken to the
violence in football, I am not by nature a violent man. But
for the second time as a cadet I was “pressured” into
representing my second company in the highest profile
intramural sport at the Academy. Thankfully we only had to
fight for three rounds at three minutes each. Every time I
ever boxed, by the third round I was clinging onto my
opponent sucking for air. Simultaneously throwing and taking
so many punches wore me down and out very fast. As a bruiser
I had no style or finesse. I just went after the other guy,
trying my best to punch him into the ground before he did
the same to me, instinctively operating with the kill or be
killed mentality. I fashioned myself as a Jake LaMotta,
raging bull-type, being able to take a punch as punishment
and never going down. D-3 that year fielded a pretty good
boxing team as we ended up going all the way to becoming the
championship team out of all thirty six companies.
The road
to the championship was not an easy one for me. The judges
were West Point officers that no doubt hated my guts. So
there were about three or four matches that everybody in
that crowded room knew I had decisively won. But being the
infamous troublemaker I was, I came out the loser. That
final championship match I lost to the individual cadet
champion in my weight class. He was a quicker fighter in
better shape than me and equally strong. In fact, he got in
a flurry of punches to my head that left me seeing stars
dazed and confused.

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