“We leave but one legacy. It is the spoken and recorded
history of our lives and we cannot alter it. We can only
look back upon it—and trust that we have lived it with
Arthur William Reed
A Warm, Sunny Afternoon
It was a warm, sunny June afternoon in 1981, the Friday just before the Fourth of July weekend. A gentle breeze was blowing across Summerall Field at Fort Meyer, Virginia, as I stood at attention on the reviewing stand watching the ceremonial 3rd Infantry “Old Guard,” the U.S. Army’s elite ceremonial unit from the nation’s capital, pass in review.
This was the first—and only time—in my long military career that I would have a two-star General lead the nation’s Honor Guard and the U.S. Army Band past the reviewing stand, order “Eyes Right” and salute me.
As I stood watching the 3rd United States Infantry Regimental Drum and Fife Corps march by in their historic Continental Army uniforms, marching in the same unique cadence they had marched to more than two hundred years earlier, my mind wandered briefly as I thought about the thousands of retirees who had previously stood where I was standing—and of the thousands more who would follow.
As I recall, there were five or six of us on the reviewing stand that afternoon. I had not previously met the Sergeant Major who stood to my immediate left, but more than a decade earlier, I had encountered the full colonel who stood to the right of me. I went up to him, saluted him and said, “You probably do not remember me, Colonel, but we met a decade ago in Korea.”
I first ran into him in the summer of 1970 when, as a young Major, I commanded the 38th Replacement Battalion in Korea. He was then a Lieutenant Colonel assigned to the Office of the Inspector General at the Eighth U.S. Army Headquarters in Seoul, Korea.
He smiled and returned my salute. “Yes, young man,” he replied, “I definitely do remember you. I am amazed you got out of Korea alive.”But that story can wait until later. For now, all I could think of was, “What a memorable way to end a long and exciting military career!”
As the Old Guard, the colors, the President’s Honor Guard Band and the military units passed in front of us, I could not help but feel “goose bumps” as I stood there proudly thinking of that day in Chicago, more than twenty–seven years earlier when I had raised my right hand and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
A myriad of thoughts passed through my mind as I tried to keep my thoughts focused upon the ceremony itself. Had I made a mistake in retiring? I was one of the first to use the new Department of Defense (DOD) policy of applying for retirement a full year before the actual retirement date.
I had no sooner put in the retirement application than I was notified I had been selected to command a battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Should I have accepted the opportunity to again command a battalion? Should I have followed the General’s advice and accepted the command assignment, and then awaited the results of the upcoming “Colonel’s” promotion board? I recall when I told him I was too old to be promoted to full colonel, the General smiled and said, “But you never know who is going to be on that promotion board!” A few years later, someone told me he was the chairman of that promotion board.
Several days later, I officially declined the command assignment in writing. I had promised Judy our two daughters could finish growing up and graduate from her old high school in Enid, Oklahoma. A decision I have never regretted!
Judy and our two young daughters, Molly and Cathy, were seated behind me at the rear of the reviewing stand and after the ceremony for the military retirees, Judy was presented with a certificate of appreciation for her years of loyalty, dedication, and service also.
Some years earlier, I had worked with Major Tony Nolan, who was one of the Australian Liaison Officers at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Tony and his lovely wife Gloria were also seated in the reviewing stand as my guests, along with several other old military friends with whom I had served in Germany a few years earlier. They had planned a surprise retirement party for me at the Nolan’s home after the ceremony was over.
We had many interesting and fun times with the Nolans at social events at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. in the years just before I retired, and Tony and Gloria had become good friends of ours. We have kept in touch over the years and enjoyed a visit from them in Oklahoma several years after he had retired and returned to Queensland, Australia.
But today was different. Today, while a joyous occasion, was also a sad one for me. I was leaving the military service I loved so much, a profession in which I had spent all of my adult life—and I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to retire. Judy was, however, most understanding. She was a real trooper for allowing me to pick the place for our retirement.
She had on more than one occasion shown her support for me by telling me, “Honey, you can retire anywhere in the United States—within the city limits of Enid!”I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what I was going to do in Enid, Oklahoma!
What could possibly interest me there? What was there that could challenge the experiences and excitement I had already encountered? Before I was even twenty years old, I had jumped out of military aircraft from more than twenty thousand feet and flown free through the dark of night, like some giant bird, at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour! I had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a submarine, learned how to blow up bridges, climb mountains, and then rappel down them.
I was also fortunate to have served with some of the Finnish Freedom Fighters who had escaped from the Russians after WWII; and with other young men—yearning for freedom who had escaped from behind communism’s “Iron Curtain” that had swiftly encircled Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Balkan countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
Together, we had survived the rigors of Special Forces training, weeks of survival training in the Pisgah National Forest and the Okefenokee swamps, endured the bitter cold of the Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command at Camp Hale, Colorado, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and later had more harrowing experiences together in other parts of the world.
But this was three decades and thousands of miles later. The sound of the passing band brought me back to reality as I raised my right hand and saluted the colors as they passed by the reviewing stand. The goose bumps returned.
To this day, whenever Old Glory passes in review, I still get that same warm feeling—a feeling of deep pride and patriotism—a feeling that started one bright sunny August morning almost thirty years earlier.