There is good reason to conclude that the class lived up to its motto … “None Will Surpass” … with ’67 grads excelling in their military careers and civilian endeavors after leaving the Army … or, for three of us, the Navy!
For today, though, I just want to remember … through representative photos … what an experience it was for me to be a West Point cadet from July 1, 1963, until June 7, 1967.
Among my I-2 classmates were my two best friends, Jim Vance (3rd row, 2nd from left), who nearly four years later introduced me to my wife-to-be, Sandy Douglas, and Dick Waterman (upper left corner).
On October 19, 1963, another classmate and good friend, Tom “Trey” Sayes, introduced me to his younger sister, Candy. We dated throughout the rest of plebe year … and, after her family moved to Oklahoma the following year, saw each other rarely … and finally drifted apart. We saw each other one last time in July 1967, while I was on graduation leave … then not again until exactly 43 years to the day of our first meeting … October 19, 2006 … when I drove to Colorado to see her again … as they say, the rest is history … and we have been back together ever since.
By yearling (sophomore) year, we were more relaxed … and a smaller group, several of our company mates having departed.
I was a rabid Army football fan and festooned the door to my room … and the surrounding walls … with support for the team … and, along with the rest of the Corps of Cadets, enjoyed Army’s 11-8 win over Navy in the 1964 game … the winning margin of which came by way of a field goal by my classmate Barry Nickerson.
In April of 1965, near the end of Yearling year, my family visited West Point … and my Mom took this picture of me … my favorite of all of my West Point photos …
As a plebe, I had run on the plebe cross-country, indoor track and track & field teams … but was not good enough to compete intercollegiately as an upperclassman. As a result, I participated in intramural athletics … including football …
Eventually, as a first classman (senior), I was the coach of the company intramural football and wrestling teams … and finally was designated Athletic Sergeant for the company … my official rank upon graduation.
Between our yearling and “cow” (junior) years, the corps was re-organized from two regiments to four … and we were re-assigned to new companies. I was assigned to Company D-2 and housed in the old Central Barracks (which were later demolished to make room for new cadet barracks). Among my D-2 classmates were my roommates our last 2 years as cadets … Bob Unterbrink (front row, third from left, next to me) … and Rob Walker (4th row, right end).
Two of my D-2 company mates went on to become Army generals … Chuck Sutten, (front row, 4th from right, directly in front of me) … and Ed Smith (2nd row, 4th from left). Note in this picture Arnie Cano (from Panama) … holding in his right hand a small lizard!
First class (senior) year marked the beginning of our transition from cadets to officers … starting with receipt of our rings …
During the 1966 football season, Army played the California Golden Bears in Berkeley … providing me with the opportunity to visit for the first time Cal’s Memorial Stadium …
… a place I would later visit many times and grow to love as a fan of the Cal Bears myself (after #1 son attended Cal and worked as a student manager for the football team). Army beat the Bears 6-3 in the 1966 game!
Another major milestone came in March of 1967, when we were allowed to receive delivery of our new cars … mine a maroon with white top 1967 Corvette convertible …
Then came June Week … the traditional celebration of a graduating class of West Point cadets. The day before graduation, we had an academic award ceremony … at which I received the “Colonial Daughters of the 17th Century Award” as Honor Graduate (First in Class) for the Department of English …
.. the night before graduation, we had our graduation hop …
… and then graduation day itself … and my swearing in as a newly commissioned United States Navy ensign … a whole other story for another time!
And … finally … graduation …
… and liberation!
June is a busy month of historical and family anniversaries … today is a day on which the two converge … as one of the American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach at Normandy on D-Day was my father-in-law, Joe Marion “Pappaw” Douglas, of Senatobia, Mississippi.
In all the years I knew him, Joe Douglas talked about D-Day only once, describing for me what happened to him and others on his craft … a member of the venerated Big Red One … the 1st Infantry Division … he recalled nervously anticipating his first combat as his landing craft headed toward the beach.
He described feeling seasick as the landing craft bounced across the waves … and then the ramp dropped … and “all hell broke loose”.
His was one of the landing craft immediately taken under heavy fire from the Germans defending Normandy … several members of his platoon were killed in the first few seconds and those toward the rear of the craft, including Pappaw, had to either climb over their bodies and into the line of fire … or jump over the side into the breakers.
Although not much of a swimmer, Joe Douglas chose to jump … and nearly drowned himself in the process … to survive, he shed his pack and dropped his rifle … and then, once ashore, picked up another rifle and ammunition from a dead comrade … and joined the attack on the German defenses.
Several years after Pappaw described his experience to me, Steven Spielberg directed his Oscar-winning depiction of the invasion … Saving Private Ryan … and Pappaw went to see it with my sister-in-law, Penny Douglas.
He broke into tears during the opening scenes, one of the few times any of us had ever known him to cry. Joe Douglas was a gentle man in his personal life … but a tough one in combat. By April of 1945, he had fought with the 1st Infantry Division in all of its major battles … as the allies drove across Europe and into Germany.
Pappaw gave his imprimatur of historical accuracy … and emotional impact … to Spielberg’s recreation of the D-Day invasion … as it brought back memories he had long sought to keep hidden deep inside.
On this very special anniversary day, I salute Joe Douglas and all of the other men who made this momentous invasion an Allied success. Pappaw died on July 7, 2000, at the age of 76. He never considered himself a hero; the rest of our family knows better.
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For the Army.mil website about D-Day, complete with a detailed history, videos and photos, see:
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