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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

 

Chapter Six (03)

 

Three Down and One To Go

That was the most brutal punishment I
ever took as a boxer. But after ten seconds of reeling, I
was able to shake it off and come back at my opponent with
my own dose of punishment. I personally felt like we fought
to an evenly matched draw. But knowing the prejudice I was
up against, I knew I would lose. But fortunately because our
team had more victories than theirs, we were the champions.


Company D-3 Brigade Boxing Champion

I gained a lot of respect from not only Major Gavin but a
lot of my company mates and other cadets and officers alike
who knew my storied plight. So as much as I hated having to
beat on others and sometimes get beat on myself, it was
definitely well worth the cost. And it was the springboard I
needed to get an early out on serving less than my full time
in confinement... three weeks off for my good behavior.
But before I could finally drive my very first car as a
senior, I had to wait for my brand new fire engine red 1973
Lotus Europa to leave the repair shop. Unfortunately a
junior in my company that was on both my football and boxing
teams asked me for the huge favor to borrow my never before
driven car that had just been delivered that early spring.
So even though both he and I could have gotten into trouble
for it, I let him do the honor of christening my little
unused toy. A brand new car, much less the manufacturer of
the James Bond’s sports car, should never overheat and fry
an engine on the very first drive. But that’s what happened
when my buddy drove it. So I was stuck dealing with getting
the car towed back down to the Bronx dealership to get it
fixed. They had the audacity to give me a hard time about
it. But they finally accepted responsibility for its repair,
supposedly replacing the destroyed engine with a brand new
one. However, I seriously have my doubts as I repeatedly had
overheating problems with that vehicle as long as I owned
it. But being a mechanical dunce, I just accepted what came.
And what eventually came was my mid-May freedom prior
to my June 6th graduation to enjoy what little time I had
left at the Point with my newfound freedom Europa.
Originally I had planned on being like the sixty four other
classmates that year who selected as their car of choice the
Corvette. But as soon as I laid my eyes on that Lotus Europa
on display at the car show they had given me a special “get
out of jail card” for an hour to attend, I fell in love with
its sleek design, that little wide body so low to the
ground. Unconsciously I think it must have reminded me of
myself. I’d later learn that it miraculously hugged even the
sharpest of curves and corners along Mulholland Drive in LA
at eighty miles an hour. And the blazing, “look-at-me” red
crimson perfectly fit my fantasy as the sure eye-catching,
eye-dazzling chick magnet. Since I was never much good for
letting my words draw the women to me, I figured I’d let my
car do all my talking.
Another important milestone for a senior cadet was
choosing his future branch assignment as an officer-to-be.
Of course as mentioned earlier a few times, throughout my
Military Academy career I had always planned on being
commissioned an ensign in the US Navy upon graduation. My
father’s branch of service was mine, despite Navy and
Annapolis supposedly being a West Pointer’s archrival and
enemy camp. But after my high profile court case, I felt
going Navy would always be the ace up my sleeve from the
blackballing I knew I would be contending with in the Army.
So I enthusiastically received orders for my first station
assignment on a destroyer located out of Jacksonville,
Florida. And I was even more jazzed when I purchased my
ensign uniforms. My dream to follow my dad’s naval footsteps
suddenly came crashing down on me [and my dad]. Just five
days before I was graduating, the Department of Navy in
Washington DC contacted West Point to inform the Academy and
me that I was not ever going to become an officer in the US
Navy. So my fear that my troublemaking reputation would
precede me wherever I go in a military uniform was now
confirmed as my cold hard reality. By default, the Army was
stuck with me after all. And so close to graduation, all the
selections were already picked over so I was left with
either being an Infantry grunt or the Field Artillery (FA),
the big guns of the military war machine. So by default, I
chose Field Artillery and my first post-graduation
assignment was at the home of the FA, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I
was not a happy camper.
I established a list of unprecedented firsts at West
Point. In addition to being the first cadet to beat the West
Point system in court, be the first railroaded out and then
brought back to graduate, and the first to qualify yet be
denied an officer’s commission in another branch of service,
I was also the first and likely only West Point graduate
given a Reserve Army commission rather than the standard
Regular Army one. Because the Navy rejected me so close to
graduation, the Regular Army commissions that West Point
graduates normally receive result from an act of Congress.
And there was too little time to get Congress to act in
time, historically an all too familiar and painful
phenomenon especially in recent years. So again by default,
I became an Army Reserve officer on June 6th. Another
possible first could be that I’m probably the only West
Point graduate who opted not to possess a class ring. Though
I had my birthstone bloodstone on order as a junior, when I
got kicked out my order was cancelled and upon my return, I
chose not to own or wear a West Point ring. Hard to flash
with any pride the same institution that just rejected you.
Finally, I may be the only grad still possessing wisdom...
teeth. Standard practice at the Point senior year is to pull
every wisdom tooth belonging to every First Classman. But in
my case, they “lost” my dental records and of course to this
day I am proud to say I’m still living comfortably with my
wisdom teeth. I’m certain that a lot of other firsts are
mine that I may not even be aware of. Sure feels good being
original and so different from the typical cookie cutter
machines historically cranked off the brass factory assembly
line.
Four years ago Washington Post journalist Thomas E.
Ricks wrote an article entitled “Why We Should Get Rid of
West Point.” After covering the military for twenty years,
he concluded that West Point graduates do not make better
leaders or officers and are not worth the federal expense of
keeping the three major service academies open and running.
He cites the hefty price tag of an Academy education costing
more than twice that of a Reserve Officer Training Corps
(ROTC) education. In this modern budget deficit economy,
Ricks suggests that doing away with West Point, Annapolis
and the Air Force Academy could trim an enormous amount of
money while simultaneously improving quality of the
military. He makes anecdotal reference to many field
commanders preferring ROTC produced officers to Academy
grads “because they tend to be better educated and less
cynical about the military.” Rooks reasons that since most
of the West Point faculty do not hold doctorates, cadets are
receiving community college-level educations. By attending
top notch civilian schools “alongside future doctors,
judges, teachers, executives, mayors and members of
Congress,” it would benefit both “the military and society
it protects.” Though I cannot endorse Ricks’ assertion that
the quality of my West Point education ranks at the same
level as just another community college, I do concede that a
PhD level faculty comprised at least partially of civilian
professors would likely enhance the overall quality.
As a point of both reference and contention, every year
a number of independent organizations come out with their
college rankings, the Princeton Review, Forbes and Newsweek
among them, and the US Military Academy has consistently
ranked either first or in the top ten right alongside the
best of the Ivy League schools. So the strong consensus of
supposed neutral judges would also not agree that West Point
offers a junior college level education. As an aside, West
Point also ranks fourth just behind the top three Ivies
Harvard, Yale and Princeton in producing Rhodes Scholars. So
they must be doing something right - quality-wise that is.
As mentioned earlier, three years ago a similar article
in the New York Times was written by Annapolis English
Professor of twenty-three years Bruce Fleming entitled “The
Academies March Toward Mediocrity.” Fleming similarly
asserts that the service academies are a huge waste of
taxpayer dollars, only he maintains the cost per student
closer to half a million - four times the ROTC price tag. He
observes that cadets and midshipmen typically find the
reality of their academy life fails to match their
reputations. I mentioned this before as well, the hype
failing to come close to their daily living reality.
Fleming’s ongoing interaction with Annapolis midshipmen over
the past two plus decades shows that they enter what they
believe to be “a military Camelot” but when they realize it
is not what it’s been cracked up to be, they quickly become
“burned out.”
Their disillusionment comes from finding “a maze of
petty rules with no visible future application.” My
sentiments exactly. This very criticism has been the prime
theme of my entire Academy presentation... bullshit rules
given misplaced top priority that is then mistakenly used to
measure leadership based solely on level of compliance and
enforcement. Fleming blames the Academy administration for
enforcing petty rules inconsistently and arbitrarily,
compounded every few years when each new Superintendent
comes to town with a whole new agenda and different focus.
Similar to Ricks, Fleming concludes that the academies
need to either be “fixed or abolished.” He and everyone with
whom he confers also believe ROTC generated officers are as
effective leaders as Academy graduates. Professor Fleming
also laments the lowering of academic standards in the
Academy’s push to graduate its students. Rather than accept
the academic and moral decline at the academies as a
consequence of across the boards diminishing military
standards in both recruitment and ROTC, desperate to fill
ranks fighting wars on multiple fronts, Fleming calls for
“embracing the former level of excellence that has been
abandoned.” He encourages feedback from academy students (as
well as graduates and military services at large) in an
effort to empower cadets to get more on board with aligning
with the explicitly defined academy goals and mission. He
concludes that currently “we’re just frustrating the
students and misleading taxpayers.” Change will not come
from within he insists. The Academy establishment is far too
conservative, myopic in its shortsighted vision, and too
invested again in “keeping the hype going.” Fleming hates
hearing his most gifted Academy students constantly
complaining, “Sir, this place shows you what not to do.”
Both of these editorials critical of the service
academies have been met with stiff opposition from many
responders loyal to the major service academies. My personal
view is they’re right on target with most of their points,
both providing plenty of food for serious thought and
consideration. There’s no denying, civilian universities do
provide a far more open minded, progressive, balanced and
well-rounded educational experience and intellectual
perspective that the regimented rigidity and narrow-minded
dogma propagated and reinforced at the Academies all grossly
lack. The hypocrisy encountered by cadets and the resulting
disillusionment in seeing the Academy for what it really is,
never measures up to its loftily inflated reputation.
Getting back to my day, I was both relieved and excited
that graduation was fast approaching. After finals at the
end of May, it was all good times and celebration during
grad week.
The secret trysts interspersed between the months
of forced separation actually brought Holly and me closer,
illustrating the old adage that hearts do grow fonder when
apart. By the time I was “legal” again with my own wheels,
we were reuniting daily during graduation week with trips
back and forth between West Point and New Jersey. I loved my
new car, my accomplishment of graduating, and sharing it
with my first real girlfriend. The pinnacle of our shared
happiness together climaxed when we attended the formal
graduation hop. It was great to share this special once in a
lifetime feat with a young woman I really cared about
despite the warning signs that it would not last. To
complicate this high point of my young life while driving
back from Woodcliff Lake one night, I saw the fork in the
road at the Palisades Parkway and the Tappan Zee Bridge
exit. I started taking the bridge exit before realizing at
the last second I was heading down the wrong path and while
trying to get back onto the Palisades Parkway north, I hit a
big six inch pot hole between the fork. Driving about sixty
miles an hour upon impact in my low to the ground Lotus spun
my car completely around before it came to a dead stop.
Thank God I didn’t hit any other cars or poles or it could
have been fatal. But serious damage was done to my steering
column and I slowly limped back to West Point that night
knowing I’d have to take the car back down to the Bronx for
yet more repair work a second time in as many months. With
graduation just a couple days away, I decided to wait until
I was officially finished at West Point when, as a free man,
I could drive the car down to Holly’s and we’d both go into
the City together to drop it off for repair. Holly was happy
with this arrangement as I would be her captive houseguest
for the duration the car was getting fixed. Seemed like a
win-win to me as it would be convenient for me to be able
to stay close by in New Jersey with Holly while the car was
being worked on. Graduation finally arrived.
With my super proud mother
and father in the audience at Michie Stadium that day, this
proud young warrior took his place among the Long Gray Line.
Admiral Moorer, the then Chairman of the Joint Chief of
Staff, was the guest speaker. Can’t remember a thing he said
probably because I was too excited to bother listening to
his boring speech anyway. The moment I most vividly recall
was when my name was announced over the loud speaker as I
stepped forward to receive my diploma from the very same
bastard that six months earlier had led the charge against
me at that twelve-hour “fair hearing” interrogation, General
Fier. At the moment of our handshake and diploma exchange, a
photo was taken for posterity capturing my total look of
defiance. You can see it in my eyes and twisted smile saying
“fuck you loser” as we were shaking hands. At that moment of
glory, you could also read plain and clear that I was giving
him my parting shot, looking him straight in the eye and
telling him I would never let him or any other bastard ever
get me down. That picture still paints a thousand words.

My parting shot shaking hands with General Fier


True to the end, I had to be different and probably did
another first when it came time for the iconic throwing up
our hats into the air at the final culmination of graduation
ceremony.


Grads traditional tossing their hats up in the air

Instead of the traditional tossing of my cap high
into the air like everyone else, in defiant disgust I threw
mine down to the ground with a vengeance in yet another
final, symbolic, “fuck you West Point!” gesture. No longer a
cadet, right after graduation ceremony on June 6th, 1973, I
triumphantly left West Point for good in my Lotus Europa as
a US Army Reserve Second Lieutenant.
Perhaps an observer might perceive a chip on my
shoulder still, displaying excessive anger and bitterness.
But my answer is walk the four-year mile in my shoes and see
how you’d feel. West Point tried to crush and destroy me
with everything it had, and that is not the least bit an
exaggerated fact. So to be able to survive their inhumane
game and everything they threw at me and actually still
emerge the victor, I think I have every right to be as angry
and bitter as I want to be. And here it is now forty years
later and those deeply intense visceral emotions still seem
every bit as raw, angry and bitter as they ever were.
In reflection of my entire West Point experience, I
found that words like the famous West Point slogan “duty,
honor, country,” even the West Point honor code itself and
a host of other cleverly worded Army slogans (i.e., “be all
that you can be”) to be mere lofty expressions of ideals
that sound good and look good both on paper and in theory,
but are rarely practiced in real life in the military. Those
words lose their luster and meaning when higher ranking
officers constantly get away with lying through their teeth.
In principle it becomes an extension of the old hypocritical
parental standby dictum, “Do as I say, not as I do.” As much
as anything, this gaping hypocrisy has come to characterize
my four year observation of the US Military Academy.
Then since my graduation the ensuing decades of buildup
of the military industrial complex, engineered and led by my
West Point classmates and peers, waging all their bloody
wars, their incessant killing of innocent people by the
thousands, justified by their evil lies and corruption, so
embedded in the American Empire war machine that West Point
is so closely merged with, and now more destructive and
uglier than ever before in our human history. I say it’s
high time we finally stop our culture of violence in this
most insidiously violent, armed and warring nation on earth.
It’s time for all of us citizens of the world to unite, rise
up and take back this precious ailing planet of ours from
those bent on destroying it once and for all before it
becomes too late. Just like they attempted to destroy me, we
must fight back now before they destroy us all.
Holly and I never lasted long enough to pick up my
repaired sports car from her place in Jersey. While there,
she turned on me for no good reason one too many times and I
had to get away from her unpredictable insanity. So I
hitchhiked home from Bergen County back to Massachusetts and
then a couple days later took a final Greyhound bus to the
Big Apple to pick up my Lotus on the same day just fifteen
miles away from where the racehorse Secretariat was busily
winning the Belmont Stakes to become the first triple crown
winner in a quarter century. A couple weeks later former
White House counsel John Dean began testifying before the
Senate Watergate Committee. More than any other single
figure in the Watergate hearings, Dean provided the most
damning evidence revealing in his words “the cancer on the
presidency” against the Nixon Administration. Of course the
White House in turn went after Dean to try and make him its
fall guy. North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin chaired the
Senate Watergate Committee that began on May 17th, 1973 and
ended more than a year later on June 27th, 1974, most of
which was broadcast on live television before the American
public. Corruption and cover-ups were unraveling the
nation’s top leader and his innermost circle of cloak and
dagger henchmen. A whopping eighty-five per cent of US
households watched at least part of that yearlong drama
unfolding, including mine while I was kicking back for the
next two and a half months on post-graduation leave at home
in Massachusetts.


My yearbook graduation photo

I was relieved and happy to finally have both West
Point and my ex-girlfriend behind me. And though what
lay ahead next at the home of the Field Artillery in
Oklahoma was daunting enough, for a few short weeks in June
and July I could just relax that summer, at last free of all
the stress and pressure I had been living under for so long.
I was now too busy enjoying my life as the West Point grad
with the bright red sports car.

 

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