Remembering Today Reilly Family Members Who Gave the Last Full Measure of Devotion
Three Dot … 137
Remembering Today Reilly Family Members Who Gave the Last Full Measure of Devotion
Three Dot … 137
As a child growing up in Lindenhurst … on the south shore of Long Island … we had a dog … a mutt, really … named Ranger.
Ranger’s mother … Lucky … wasn’t. She was hit by a car and killed not long after Ranger’s litter was born … and they weren’t even weaned yet … my mom had to hand feed them until they got big enough to eat on their own.
I was five at the time … and given my choice of which of the puppies we would keep … I picked the runt of the litter … and named him Ranger, after the lead character of a children’s TV show that I liked to watch … Ranger Joe.
Ranger became my faithful companion from then until I left home to go to West Point 13 years later … other than school, he went pretty much everywhere with me … and particularly enjoyed loping along next to my bike when I did my paper route … and running along with me when I did laps around the block as training for cross-country and track.
Eventually, he got too old to do the running … instead, he would lie on the grass in front of our house … and follow me with his eyes as I ran by each time.
Despite his small size, Ranger was fearless … too fearless, as it turned out. One day in March of 1964, he was with my mom and two younger sisters as they walked to the neighborhood grocery store. A much bigger dog came out of the Narrangansett Inn, a local restaurant and reception hall … thinking the dog was coming after his humans, Ranger ran to intercept him … and got into a fight which resulted in injuries so severe that he had to be euthanized.
Mom called me at West Point to give me the news … and I cried myself to sleep that night.
But, that isn’t the main point of this story … which is really about the dog I fell in love with three years later and who was going to be my next “Ranger”.
My Aunt Ethel and her family lived in West Babylon, not far from where we lived in Lindenhurst … and I visited there frequently after my family moved to California in mid-1964, shortly after Ranger’s death. They had a female dog named Queenie … and, coincidentally, she had a little of puppies in April 1967 … just a couple of months before I was due to graduate from West Point.
In my journal for May 6, 1967, I wrote that I had picked up Jessica Poulson, who I was seeing at that time, and then … “we drove out to Aunt Ethel’s. Queenie had her puppies. I picked out one for me — it’s all black with 4 white feet, a white-tipped tail, a white ring around its neck and a white face.”
I had just that week also finished reading Boris Pasternak’s book Doctor Zhivago … and Jess & I went to see the movie based on the book that same night. I decided that I would name the puppy Yurochka … the affectionate name that Larisa Antipova calls Yuri Zhivago … and then ended up calling him Yuri for “short” (even though in Russian Yurochka is the diminutive of Yuri).
On Saturday, June 3rd, Jess and I were back on Long Island … and I picked up Yurochka …
… to take back to West Point with me for a few days. In retrospect, he was probably a bit young to be separated from his mother … but he enjoyed the visit … particularly sleeping with me on my brown boy (our plush comforter). Needless to say, it’s a good thing no one in authority saw him there in my room!
We graduated on June 7 and I spent the first three weeks of graduation leave hanging around with family on Long Island and visiting with high school friends and teachers … while Yuri was back at Aunt Ethel’s with his mom.
On June 28th, I finally left New York … driving to Washington DC, where Yuri and I stayed at a Holiday Inn. The next day, I visited the Pentagon and confirmed that I would have a few weeks temporary duty at the Pacific Mine Force headquarters before going to the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, in the fall … then on to Saigon, Vietnam, in November.
While driving, Yuri would sit in the passenger seat … or, if I had the top up on my Corvette, would lie on the convertible top cover, just behind the seats. When in the passenger seat, he was too small to see over the doorframe or hang his head out the window … so I usually turned the vent window in so that wind would blow on him while driving.
The third day of our trip, June 30th, Yuri and I visited my high school track teammate George Brown in North Carolina … then went on to Merritt Island, Florida, to visit with my best friend from high school, Jim Clark. We spent five days there, then on July 5th started the drive across the South … headed for Memphis, Tennessee, to visit with my West Point roommate & best friend, Jim “JO” Vance.
On Friday, July 7th, JO and I had dates with two sisters who lived in the Whitehaven section of Memphis … my date that evening was Sandy Douglas … and, as they say, the rest was history …
… regarding which, see…
After two days in Memphis, Yuri and I headed to Oklahoma, where I hoped to see my former girlfriend … Candy Sayes (ah, yes, a whole other story for another time). I was able to visit with her and her fiancée, Joe Davis, for about an hour … then drove down to Lawton, where I planned to see another of my West Point friends, Norm St. Laurent, at Fort Sill.
After visiting with Norm, I decided to drive straight through from Oklahoma to California … in part because I didn’t have any friends living between the two. On Tuesday, July 11, I got on the road about 8:00 am and drove until 3:00 … slept on the side of the road for about an hour … then hit the road again.
I stopped again about 10:00 and called home, then decided to continue driving until I got home … which I expected to do about 2:30 or 3:00 am. For most of the trip from Oklahoma to California, I was driving on either I-40 (which was not yet complete) or the old Route 66 … which connected the completed sections of I-40 at the time.
Shortly after midnight, I stopped in Barstow, California, for gas … I had the top up and Yuri was sleeping on the convertible cover behind me … I pulled up to a pump, got out and began pumping gas.
Perhaps a minute later, a woman from another car at the station asked me, “Is that your dog?”, while pointing toward the highway. I turned to see where she was pointing and saw Yuri … just as he was hit by a car speeding along the highway.
I immediately ran out to Yuri … and when I got to him, knew instantly that, although not yet dead, he would be soon … I picked him up and carried him back to the car … by the time I got to it, he had died.
I wrapped him in my lightweight West Point grey jacket … borrowed a shovel from the gas station attendant … and took Yuri out into the desert to bury him. I dug a hole about three feet deep … laid Yuri in it … and filled the hole. The driver of the car never even stopped.
The rest of the drive home took about two-and-a-half hours … during the entirety of which I was crying so hard that I had trouble driving … and which makes me cry even now thinking about it. My mom had stayed up, waiting for me to arrive, and I fell completely apart when I got there.
To this day, I do not know for sure how Yuri got out of the car … the convertible top was up … and the windows were up high enough that I don’t think he could have wiggled through the opening of either window. The only thing I could … or can … think of is that he must have awakened as I opened the driver’s door, then jumped down onto the seat and out the door behind me as I closing it.
However he did it, it took just a matter of seconds … no more than two or three … and, because I was concentrating on pumping gas, I never saw that he was out of the car until it was too late.
It is nearly 49 years since Yuri was killed, but the guilt I feel over his death burns my heart every time I think of it … which is still often. My journal entry for that day ends with the comment, “He trusted me so & I let him down in the worst way possible.”
I was motivated to write about Yurochka by the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo which resulted in the death of the silverback gorilla Harambe … and the resultant outpouring of animus and vitriol toward the mother of the child who got into the gorilla enclosure.
To the Christians among the vocal critics of the mother, I commend Matthew 7:1-3, King James Version (KJV):
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
In other words, clean up your own act before you judge the actions of others … and once you do, perhaps it would be best to help those others, rather than judging them.
Or John 8:7 (KJV): He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
In the context of the gorilla discussion, it is a certainty that everyone, without exception, has at one time or another, been distracted in such a way as to lose track of a child … even a small child … for a short period of time. Most people are lucky in that nothing untoward happens during that momentary distraction … the Cincinnati mother … and I … were not so lucky.
Apparently, the Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor will announce tomorrow whether or not he is going to file criminal charges against the boy’s mother. The legal standard in Ohio for filing charges is whether or not she acted “recklessly” or created a “substantial risk” to the health and safety of her child.
Factual circumstances likely to play a part in the prosecutor’s decision include the child’s background and any history of dangerous behavior, risk factors at the zoo, and … perhaps most significantly … the length of time that the child was out of the mother’s direct sight and why.
A few more pictures of Yuri
Three Dot … 127
A West Point classmate found and made me aware of a great article about what the author, Nathaniel Barr, calls Internet Bullshit. The article, which is worth reading in its entirety, is available here:
What Barr has to say is so true … and is the essential motivation for many of my comments, both on Facebook and in my email correspondence, in which I debunk factually inaccurate comments, arguments and discussions by others.
The Barr article also inspired me to coin the term “inbush” to describe INternet BUllSHit, a term used for the first-time here.
Couple of notes:
Thanks to my friend Rich Estes for making me aware of the Barr article …
… and just want to make clear that it is total coincidence that my term for internet bullshit shares the last name of the worst president of my lifetime:
Three Dot … 118
Most of my first day as a West Point cadet … July 1, 1963 … is a complete blur in my memory. About all I can say for certain is that I still consider it one of the most miserable days of my life … so, I wouldn’t normally blog about it … except for one thing.
Because we lived in Lindenhurst, on the south shore of Long Island, I was one of the fortunate New Cadets who was taken to West Point by family … and the whole crew made the trip … Mom & Dad, Larry Jr., Jerry, Luanne and Suzie (who was then just four years old and with whom I was particularly close).
Once I left the family to “report to the man in the red sash” and begin my life away from home, the rest of the family participated in various activities designed to help them understand what their now departed sons (no women yet at West Point then) would be doing for the next four years.
Eventually that day, the upper class cadre trained the 800+ newest cadets well enough for us to march in our first parade … and to be accepted into the Corps of Cadets. And then it was time for the families to leave … which mine did, beginning the drive back down to Long Island.
It wasn’t long, however, before Suzie realized that I wasn’t in the car … and she cried out, “We forgot Jimmy” … when told that I wasn’t coming with them, she cried most of the trip home.
Little did she … or I … or any of the rest of the family know that by the next time I would visit home, in June 1964, Dad (a Navy Chief) would have been transferred to Long Beach and they would have moved to Garden Grove, California … and that I would not again set foot in my childhood home until invited in by the current owners when I visited the old neighborhood nearly 46 years later in March 2010.
Three Dot … 112
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!
… the second of this week’s major rock & roll anniversaries was on Friday, February 7th … the 50th anniversary of the arrival in the United States of … the first wave of the “British Invasion” … THE BEATLES.
The Beatles, of course, changed rock & roll forever … and in the process profoundly changed the United States in ways the consequences of which continue to this day.
John, Paul, George & Ringo … last names not necessary … came to the U.S. while the country was deep in mourning over the then recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy … and provided, at least for the younger generation of Americans, a welcome diversion from the melancholy which had gripped the country.
Because I was in the midst of “gloom period” (the post-Christmas leave, mid-winter period of cold, snow & early darkness) of my plebe year at West Point, I was not a spectator … either directly or even by way of television … at the arrival of the Beatles.
But, thousands of Americans … mostly teenagers or journalists … greeted the band on its arrival at the recently renamed John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.
After their arrival, the Beatles participated in a press conference with New York disc jockey Murray Kaufman … “Murray the K” … who came to refer to himself as “The 5th Beatle”. Kaufman hosted the “1010 WINS New York” evening time slot … and was (along with Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow) one of my favorite DJ’s of the rock & roll era.
The Beatles went on to make American television history with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9th … with 73 million viewers … a staggering 40% of the total American population … and the largest recorded TV audience for a single show ever up to that time.
Like many young Americans, I bought every Beatles album as it was released … at least until I graduated from West Point … at which time I unwisely sold most of my record albums, including all of my Beatles albums, to underclassmen.
Although I was never as much a fan of the Beatles as I was of others who they credited with making their success possible … including Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley … and did not like most of their post-1966 recordings … I do, to this day, enjoy their early recordings … such as …
“I Want to Hold Your Hand” … “Love Me Do” … and “I Saw Her Standing There” … which provided temporary relief from the drudgery of life as a West Point plebe … and which still bring a smile to my face when I hear them.
The Beatles on Wikipedia:
The Beatles arrive in the U.S. on Wikipedia:
How popular were the Beatles albums?
My Mom, Marion Thomas Reilly, and my fiancée Candy Davis’ Dad, Thomas Havard Sayes, Jr., shared the same birthday, December 11th, albeit 8 years apart (Col. Sayes 1917 and Mom 1925). See Note 1 below.
Yesterday was therefore a somber and reflective day for both of us.
Candy’s Dad, a retired U.S. Army colonel, died more than 30 years ago (May 1, 1982) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he and Candy’s Mom, Margaret “Mimi” Sayes, had moved after his retirement. They had just returned from a visit with Candy’s family in Houston when Col. Sayes suffered a heart attack.
My Mom, on the other hand, has been gone just a little more than a year, dying November 30th last year in Syracuse, NY, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Candy & I are both fortunate in that we each have a long-lived, surviving parent. Mimi Sayes will be 88 the day after tomorrow and my Dad, Lawrence John Reilly Sr., will be 90 on June 18, 2014.
Col. Sayes was a combat veteran of World War II …
… Korea and Vietnam, who also served peacetime tours of duty in Japan and Germany. As result, of course, Candy and her siblings (my West Point Classmate Thomas Havard Sayes III, Morgan Sayes & Summer Sayes Purvis) enjoyed the peripatetic lifestyle typical of Army brats.
I met Candy and consequently her father while he was attending the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA, in 1963.
I was, at the time, a plebe at West Point and colonels were the next best thing to divinity (otherwise known as generals) in my world at the time. For a young man, the prospect of meeting any new girlfriend’s father is always daunting — for me, the prospect of meeting Candy’s Dad was terrifying!
The actuality proved less intimidating than the expectation, as the colonel accepted my felicitations for his daughter with equanimity. Truth be told, I ultimately discovered Mimi to be the more daunting of Candy’s parents!
Near the end of our plebe year … and upon completion of his War College studies … Col. Sayes was re-assigned to Fort Sill, OK, and he moved his family there in the Spring of 1964. I saw him on only one occasion thereafter — during a brief visit to Oklahoma in December 1964 while I was on my Yearling (sophomore) year Christmas leave. He was somewhat nonplussed to discover that, despite being 19 years old, I did not as yet have my driver’s license and therefore could not drive Candy anywhere while there.
The move of the Sayes family from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma was the second of two major transitions in my life that came only a few months apart.
In March of 1964, my Dad, who was a Navy chief at the time, was also transferred to Long Beach, CA, and my family moved from my childhood home in Lindenhurst to Garden Grove.
Despite the fact that Dad, like Col. Sayes, was career military, my Mom had a radically different life as a military wife than did Mimi Sayes. Dad had split service, doing six years during and after World War II.
Mom & Dad married in January 1945 and while he was overseas during the remainder of the war, Mom lived with her parents in Ozone Park, NY.
After the war, Dad had relatively brief assignments in Bremerton, WA, and San Diego, CA, and Mom moved to each of those cities with him (and their first born).
Dad left the Navy in 1948, rejoined as a reservist in the mid-1950’s, and his ship was called to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He then decided to remain on active duty and once transferred to California in 1964, he was thereafter assigned to ships home ported in or Naval facilities located in California. For the rest of his career, his overseas assignments were always sea duty, meaning that his family could not accompany him.
This, of course, meant that Mom continued living in the family home, which after a year in Garden Grove, was in Costa Mesa, CA, until Dad’s retirement.
All in all, Dad was away on sea duty or training assignments, cumulatively, for years … years during which Mom was essentially a single parent. And, by 1962, that meant five of us kids for her to care for … and four still at home after the move to California.
And yet, for the most part, Mom was undaunted by the separation, the anxiety and the difficulties attendant to being a military wife and periodic single parent. I never saw her feeling sorry for herself and while I know she worried about Dad when he was overseas (worry which was, as things turned out, all too justified), she rarely showed that, either.
In short, my Mom was a strong woman, capable of doing what had to be done, loving us kids unconditionally, disciplining us when necessary, and defending us fiercely if she felt we had been wronged by others (see Note 2 for an example of this).
She was also extremely proud of her children, grandchildren and great-children. She liked to recite the numbers … 5 children, 12 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren … and, as she always concluded, “Not a loser in the bunch”. (See Note 3 below.)
As her first born, I of course knew her longer than anyone in the family other than my Dad. She was particularly proud of my appointment to and graduation from West Point and sometimes expressed her pride, to my embarrassment, by calling herself “Mother of Jim”.
Dad even had a special California license issued for her car:
Which of course, stands for “Marion Thomas Reilly, Mother of Jim”!
The mental decline of her final years was heart-breaking as her memory failed and she lost the vitality which had always characterized the mother I knew.
Looking back now, Candy & I each love & miss our lost parent, but take pride ourselves in their lives well-led.
Note 1: The fact that two of our four parents shared a common birthday is a serendipitous coincidence, albeit one which has a precise mathematical probability, a probability which is actually the same as the likelihood that two people out of any group of four will share the same birthday. That likelihood, taking into consideration leap day every four years, is 1.64% (I’ll spare you the mathematical calculation, which is straightforward, but involves a lot of division, addition and multiplication, topped off with one subtraction!)
Note 3: Sadly, she will not know that the number of great-grandchildren has continued … and is continuing … to grow … and that there’s still “not a loser in the bunch”.
A viral email about the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers has been making the rounds since at least 2004 and recently showed up again on Facebook:
The guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns are truly inspirational.
However, based on my own experience as a Navy brat and 8 years in the military (4 at West Point and 4 in the Navy), some of this seemed too extreme to be true, even for an elite military unit. Therefore, I did some research when I first saw this chain email in 2004 and again when it resurfaced in 2011.
Unless otherwise noted, my responses below to the inaccuracies in this piece come from the FAQ page website for the Society of the Honor Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why? 21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
2. How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why? 21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1.
Inaccurate. The Guard site response: “He does not execute an about face. He stops on the 21st step, then turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. Then he turns to face back down the mat, changes his weapon to the outside shoulder, counts 21 seconds, then steps off for another 21 step walk down the mat. He faces the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until he is relieved at the Guard Change.”
3. Why are his gloves wet? His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.
4. Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not? No, he carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face, and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.
Mostly correct; see response to #2 above.
5. How often are the guards changed? Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
Inaccurate. The Guard site response: “The Guard is changed every thirty minutes during the summer (April 1 to Nov 1) and every hour during the winter. During the hours the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every 2 hours. The Tomb is guarded, and has been guarded, every minute of every day since 1937.”
6. What are the physical traits of the guard limited to? For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5’10” and 6’2″ tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30″.
Possibly inaccurate. The Guard site does not contain the physical requirements. The “Home of Heroes” site for the Guard at …
… gives the requirements as: “Each soldier among them is physically fit for the demanding responsibility and between 5’10” and 6’4″ tall with a proportionate weight and build.”
6. (cont) Other requirements of the Guard: They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.
Complete nonsense (the patent silliness of this and some of the following “requirements” prompted me to check on this to begin with).
The Guard site response: “False. The average tour at the Tomb is about a year. There is NO set time for service there. The Sentinels live either in a barracks on Ft. Myer (the Army post located adjacent to the cemetery) or off base if they like. They do have living quarters under the steps of the amphitheater where they stay during their 24 hour shifts, but when they are off, they are off. And if they are of legal age, they may drink anything they like, except while on duty.”
6. (cont) They cannot swear in public FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES …
More nonsense, to which the Guard site responds: “False, how could that be enforced?”
6. (cont)… and cannot disgrace the uniform (fighting) or the tomb in any way.
Inaccurate. See response to following item re the guard badge.
6. (cont) After TWO YEARS, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.
Inaccurate. The Guard site response: “The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is awarded after the Sentinel passes a special test. The Badge is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has served 9 months. Currently there are 525 awarded. And while the Badge can be revoked, the offense must be very severe, such as a felony conviction. But you can drink a beer and even swear and still keep the Badge. And the Badge is a full size award, worn on the right pocket of the uniform jacket, not a lapel pin.”
Note: I checked today and determined that the current number of badges is 610. See:
6. (cont) The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt.
Partially accurate. The Guard site response:
“The shoes are standard issue military dress shoes. They are built up so the sole and heel are equal in height. This allows the Sentinel to stand so that his back is straight and perpendicular to the ground. A side effect of this is that the Sentinel can “roll” on the outside of the build up as he walks down the mat. This allows him to move in a fluid fashion. If he does this correctly, his hat and bayonet will appear to not “bob” up and down with each step. It gives him a more formal and smooth look to his walk, rather than a “marching” appearance.
“The soles have a steel tip on the toe and a “horseshoe” steel plate on the heel. This prevents wear on the sole and allows the Sentinel to move smoothly during his movements when he turns to face the Tomb and then back down the mat.
“Then there is the “clicker”. It is a shank of steel attached to the inside of the face of the build-up on each shoe. It allows the Sentinel to click his heels during certain movements. If a guard change is really hot, it is called a “smoker” because all the heel clicks fall together and sound like one click. In fact, the guard change is occasionally done in the “silent” mode (as a sign of devotion to the Unknowns”). No voice commands – everything is done in relation to the heel clicks and on specific counts.”
6. (cont) There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.
Could not find any information on this, though it seems reasonable to expect that the uniform pants would be creased front and rear.
6. (cont) The first SIX MONTHS of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
More nonsense. See response above re living under the tomb and drinking alcohol.
6. (cont) A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred.
This much appears to be accurate, if somewhat understated. “From the Home of Heroes” site: “In addition to extensive training in the manual of arms, the guard change ceremony, and the intricacies of military ritual, the new-soldier is required to memorize additional information on Arlington, including the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans.”
6. (cont) Every guard spends FIVE HOURS A DAY getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.
Inaccurate. The Guard site states: “Currently, the Tomb Guards work on a three Relief (team) rotation – 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 96 hours off. However, over the years it has been different. The time off isn’t exactly free time. It takes the average Sentinel 8 hours to prep his/her uniform for the next work day. Additionally, they have Physical Training, Tomb Guard training, and haircuts to complete before the next work day.”
Thus, they are on duty three days on out of each nine day cycle. Eight hours of uniform prep for each work day equals 24 hours every nine days, or an average of 2 hours and forty minutes a day.
The widely reported refusal of the Tomb Guard to stand down during Hurricane Isabel IS a great, inspirational, and true story.
However, the final reference to the Tomb being guarded 24/7 continuously since 1930 is erroneous. As noted above, the 24/7 guard was instituted in 1937. By the way, to date there have been 3 female tomb guards.
Today is the 13th anniversary of the day my sweet Sandy lost her long, heroic battle with breast cancer. Shortly after she died, I wrote the following as a tribute to her and, I hope, an inspiration to others.
Could I Have This Dance …
I’ll always remember the song they were playing
the first time we danced and I knew.
As we swayed to the music and held to each other,
I fell in love with you.
My wife Sandy and I started our life together with a classic “How We Met” story. It was Friday, July 7, 1967, exactly one month after I graduated from West Point and was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy (a whole separate story for another time).
I was in Memphis, Tennessee, to visit one of my classmates, James O. Vance. He had arranged dates for us for the evening, but the mother of one of the girls got sick, so they canceled at the last minute. Casting about for a way to save the evening, he remembered that his dad and the mother of a Memphis State coed named Sandy Douglas had been trying to get the two of them together for a couple of years.
J.O. said he’d never met Sandy, but knew she had a younger sister. Deciding we had nothing to lose, even though it was already 9:30 pm, he called and asked Sandy if she and her sister would like to go out that night. To our surprise, they promptly said yes.
We showed up at their house about 10:15, dressed casually. They, of course, had fixed themselves up in nice dresses and fancy shoes. We were off to a bad start. Sandy and her sister Penny went back to their rooms to change, while J.O. and I discussed the situation. During our four years together at West Point, we had double blind dated on several occasions, always with the understanding that J.O. (who is six feet tall) would get the taller of the girls, while I (5″6″) would get the shorter. Eliminated a lot of arguing over who got the blonde, who got the cute one and so on.
Meanwhile, the girls were having their own conversation. When J.O. called, they had assumed he would be Sandy’s date and Penny mine. Penny, however, is 5’9″, and she was telling Sandy (5’3″), “I’m not going out with that shrimp.” Sandy told her that for one night, she would just have to put up with me.
By the time they were ready, it was about 10:45 and the girls had a normal curfew of 12:30. Looked to be a short date until their father, much to their amazement, told them, “Have a good time and stay out as late as you want.” A World War II vet who had landed at Omaha beach on D-Day, Joe Douglas apparently thought he could entrust his daughters to two recent West Point grads.
When we got out to J.O.’s car (a 1967 Ford Mustang), we maneuvered the girls around so that Penny got in the front and Sandy the back, then J.O. took the wheel and I got in the back with Sandy. With that, she realized that she would be my date that night. To her credit and my never-ending gratitude, she made not so much as a single murmur of complaint.
In those days, they pretty much rolled the sidewalks up at eight o’clock in Memphis, so there wasn’t much to do by the time we got going. We finally ended up at the local bowling alley and had such a great time that I asked Sandy for a date the next night, even though I had planned to leave Memphis in the morning. Not only did she say yes, but Penny agreed to make it another foursome with J.O.
For this second date, J.O. and I each drove our own cars, so Sandy got to ride for the first time in my maroon-with-white-top 1967 Corvette Stingray convertible. We went to a local amusement park called Lakeland, rode the roller coaster and played miniature golf. By about 11:00, Sandy was tired (she had been up at 6 am to go to work for the day), so she & I went back to her house, sat in the living room and talked for a couple of hours, while J.O. and Penny went to a movie.
I left Tennessee the next morning, heading home to California. Over the next several weeks, Sandy & I wrote to each other almost every day and talked on the phone a couple of times. I couldn’t wait to see her again.
For my first permanent duty assignment, the Navy had ordered me to Vietnam. First, though, I was to attend a two month training program at the Defense Information School, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, which started on September 1st. I could visit Memphis again on the way to Indiana. So, I left California at midnight on August 23rd and made the trip in 38 hours, with only one brief stop to sleep for a few hours in the car.
When I arrived in Memphis Friday afternoon, Sandy was at work and her Dad was the only one home. Although I looked like hell from the trip, he promptly invited me to stay at their home during my visit. “Sandy can sleep with Penny and you can have Sandy’s room,” he said. Needless to say, Sandy was horrified when she learned of this arrangement. Besides being dispossessed of her room, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to have me living in her home for the better part of a week while she tried to figure out exactly what was the deal with the two of us.
Well, the “deal” worked out pretty well. For the next few days, we spent every possible minute together. By Tuesday, having known her less than two months (most of which we’d spent 2000 miles apart), I knew I’d found the woman I wanted to spend my life with. That afternoon, on the seventh day we’d actually spent together, I asked her to marry me. Without hesitation, she said yes.
Realizing that perhaps we shouldn’t share this news with her family just yet, I gave her my West Point ring to wear on a neck chain until we could get formally engaged. We later found out that her mother, Dorothy, had noticed right away that I was no longer wearing the ring and correctly surmised that I had given it to Sandy.
The next day, when it was time for me to leave for Indiana, we nearly decided to elope and make the trip together. Reason finally prevailed, but driving away that night without her was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. This was especially true because I would be too far away to drive to Memphis for weekends and weekly airfare on ensign’s pay was out of the question. We weren’t sure how often we’d be able to see each other before I had to leave for Vietnam in November.
The solution to that problem proved simple – and became one of those family stories that gets repeated often, even now. I had bought my Corvette by obtaining a personal loan, not using the car as security. So, I sold it and used the proceeds to finance trips to Memphis nearly every weekend in September and October. By the end of October, I had spent nearly all of the money and still had two-and-a-half years of payments to make on the loan! To this day, my sons think I was crazy (#1 is fond of saying, “No kids & keep the Corvette”), though my daughter thinks it was very romantic.
During one of my visits in early October, I took Sandy and her parents out to dinner and formally asked her father for permission to marry her. Sandy’s mother later told us that after I invited them to dinner, she told Joe that I was going to ask about marrying Sandy. He said he doubted that. But, when I did, he said yes, as long as we waited until I got back from Vietnam.
The first weekend in November, with my Indiana school finished and Vietnam looming, Sandy flew with me to California to meet my family (wiping out what was left of my Corvette). This time, however, emotion prevailed over reason and we did elope – running off to Tijuana, Mexico, and getting married on November 4th, less than four months after we’d met. Two days later, she returned to Tennessee and four days after that, I left for Vietnam.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner every night?
When we’re together it feels so right.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life.
I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a year apart after having been married for just two days. But, the time passed and I returned to the U.S. on November 24, 1968. After a short visit with my family in California, I flew on to Tennessee, where Sandy and I were to be married on Pearl Harbor day, December 7th.
Oh, yeah, we were already married. Well, no one else knew that yet. At least not on her side of the family. My parents suspected, but neither of them ever said anything about it. Eventually, when my little sister eloped to Las Vegas in 1980, we told her so that she could relieve some parental heat. Sandy’s family never knew until I mentioned it at the remembrance after she died.
We were married at Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis, then flew to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for our honeymoon. Shortly after the new year, we started our married lives together in Charleston, South Carolina, where I was stationed at the Sixth Naval District Headquarters. Later that year, I was transferred to Long Beach and we arrived in California in November 1969.
Fast forward through the intervening years: #1 son Douglas was born in 1970; we adopted #2 son, Matthew, a Korean orphan, in 1975; daughter Larisa was born in 1977; and youngest son Sean snuck into the family in 1979. During this time, I left the Navy, went to Pepperdine University School of Law and became a deputy district attorney in Orange County.
For most of these years, Sandy was a full-time Mom, a role for which she was naturally suited. Nevertheless, she yearned to return to school (having finished only two years at Memphis State before I dragged her away) to obtain her teaching credential.
In 1984, we moved from Southern California to Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I opened a private law practice and Sandy worked in the office with me for the better part of the next ten years. She also spent countless hours doing volunteer work at the schools our children attended.
Sandy had a special way with teenagers in particular and our home was usually the “hangout” for our children and their friends. She was a wonderful cook and always made sure there was enough of whatever we were having in case extra kids showed up – which they invariably did. Because our children were spaced out over nine years, we had at least one and sometimes two in the local high school for 13 years, from 1984 until 1997. All four were high school athletes and Sandy rarely missed a football, baseball or softball game, track meet or wrestling match.
In 1993, with our youngest son in high school, Sandy decided it was time to return to school herself. She enrolled at Dominican College in San Rafael, dual majoring in history and political science. She became an honor student and her lifetime dream of becoming a teacher was about to come true.
I’ll always remember that magic moment
when I held you close to me.
As we moved together, I knew forever,
you’re all I’ll ever need.
The next year, however, that dream – and our entire life together – was put in jeopardy. Sandy found a lump in her right breast. On July 15, 1994, came the daunting confirmation; she had cancer and it had spread to her lymph glands. Further testing revealed a small spot on her liver as well. Stage IV cancer, the most advanced form and very aggressive.
The prognosis was not good. Her oncologist, Dr. Tim Crowley, told us that patients with cancer in this advanced state had approximately a 5% chance of living two years. I was stunned; Sandy was stoic. I was about to learn some things about her that 25 years of living together had not yet taught me.
Surgery would be necessary, but the doctor wanted her to undergo several rounds of chemotherapy first, to reduce the size of the breast tumor and halt the spread of the cancer in the liver, which was inoperable. “The chemotherapy will be very debilitating.” he told us. “You’ll feel sick and be very tired. I suggest that you drop out of school for a semester until we see how things are going.”
Sandy would have none of that. “I will NOT drop out of school,” she informed the doctor. “I’ll do the treatments on Thursdays. That way, the worst of the side effects will be on the weekend. When the time comes, we’ll schedule surgery around my classes.” Privately, the doctor told me, “I admire her determination, but she won’t be able to do this. It will be too much and she’ll have to give up school.”
Wrong, doc. The chemotherapy, traditional heavy-duty Adriomyacin, Cytoxin and 5FU, took a heavy toll. She was sick for days after each treatment, was tired and weak all of the time. Worst of all as far as she was concerned, her long, beautiful hair fell out.
But, she refused to give in. Her professors accommodated some missed classes, allowing other students to tape record the lectures for her to play back later. Her papers, though, were submitted on time and exams were taken as scheduled. Two of my sons and I shaved our heads in sympathy and support. Sandy soldiered on.
By late September, the potent chemicals were collapsing her veins. Surgery to implant a port-a-cath in her chest became necessary. This seemingly simple procedure (took less than 30 minutes) had unexpected complications. Infection set in and Sandy suffered extensive bruising and swelling. It would be more than a year before her chest wall and left breast returned to normal.
October and November brought more chemo – and more health problems – pneumonia set in and Sandy had to have fluid aspirated from her lungs. The lining of her stomach became irritated and she could eat only mild foods. Then she developed gallstones. Dr. Crowley said, “Now you have to drop out of school. It’s too much.” Sandy said simply, “No.”
Finally, in early December, after ten chemotherapy treatments, both the breast and liver tumors had shrunk. It was time for surgery – a modified radical mastectomy, including removal of several lymph glands, as well as a cholestectomy to remove the gall bladder. The surgeon told us, “No sign of unexpected cancer.” Good news for a change. Four days after the surgery, Sandy returned to the doctor’s office to have one of the drainage tubes removed from her chest. That same afternoon, she went to school to take a final exam. She got an A.
A full schedule in the 1995 spring semester would earn Sandy her coveted degree. She scheduled six classes, three history, two poli-sci and one economics. One of the history classes was her senior seminar, for which she would have to write a major thesis.
In mid-January, she resumed chemotherapy, receiving six more weekly treatments with the traditional chemo. By April, the chemo treatments seemed to have lost their effectiveness, so the doctor recommended interrupting them for a five-days-a-week, seven week course of radiation treatment. These daily treatments left Sandy feeling tired and listless. Nevertheless, she continued with school – final exams came during the 5th and 6th weeks of radiation. She graduated during the 7th week.
Through all of the medical procedures, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Sandy not only stayed in school, she earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in each of her majors and was also the #1 graduating student in the Department of History. Her graduation ceremony, on May 13, 1995, was a very proud moment for our entire family.
Still, there was the cancer. In June, Dr. Crowley recommended a new chemo treatment, using a drug called Taxol. This chemo had been effective in treating ovarian cancer and had just been approved for use against breast cancer as well. Unlike the earlier treatments, these would be given only once every three weeks, but would take half a day to administer.
And there was our daughter. Risa graduated from high school in mid-June. An excellent student, she was a National Merit Scholarship finalist and had been accepted at New York University. She had been offered not only an NYU National Merit Scholarship, but an NYU Trustee’s Scholarship as well. She worried, however, about leaving California while her mother was fighting cancer. Sandy said, “I’m very proud of you. You’ve earned this chance; go to New York and do your best. I will be there to see you graduate.”
The Taxol treatments continued through the summer and seemed to work a miracle. A CT scan at the end of August showed no sign of cancer. Even the stubborn tumor on Sandy’s liver was “non-detectable”. When remission was confirmed in September, she was referred to UC San Francisco Medical Center for possible participation in a peripheral stem cell bone marrow transplant study using a Taxol-based protocol.
And there was more school. Post-graduate study to obtain her California single subject teaching credential in history. Classes the fall semester, more classes (five days a week) and student teaching in the spring.
With approval of the Taxol BMT procedure delayed, Sandy resumed remission maintenance chemo treatments in October and continued them through the end of the year. In January, her doctor switched her from chemotherapy to Tamoxifen, which she took in pill form. No side effects and her hair grew back!
Not for long, though. In May, the Taxol BMT procedure was approved and she resumed preliminary Taxol treatments. On June 1st, she graduated from the teaching credential program. On June 13th, she entered UCSF Medical Center to begin the bone marrow transplant. Sandy was patient #1 in the study of this newly approved treatment. By the time the treatment was done, she had been in the hospital for 30 days. Heavily medicated, she slept most of the time, day and night. I slept each night on a fold-out bed set up next to Sandy’s hospital bed.
Though warned in detail about the debilitating nature of this procedure, neither Sandy nor I was really prepared for its effects. Four days of continuous infusion with massive doses of chemotherapy was followed by three days of “flushing” the system with cleansing medications. All the while receiving a stunning array of other medications necessary to keep the body alive while it is being bombarded with what would otherwise be a lethal dose of poison.
By the second day, the chemo was already making her sick to her stomach and she could not eat. The doctors ordered intravenous feeding. By the 3rd day, she had severe diarrhea and was vomiting frequently. The doctors ordered more medications; by this time, there were 10 bags hanging from the IV “tree” next to her bed.
When the chemo infusions were finally done and the flushing started, Sandy perked up a little. At the end of the first week, though, other side effects began to kick in, including a heavy mucus build-up and open sores in her mouth and throat. The doctors ordered Marinol (a marijuana derivative) for the pain. Sandy didn’t like it and said “creepy things” were chasing her around while she was sleeping.
The 8th day, they reinfused Sandy’s stem cells and for several days after she received infusions of platelets and whole blood (donated in part by me and youngest son Sean). Finally, on the 16th day she had a detectable white cell count (very low, but the count built up slowly over the next five days). By the 22nd day, she was able to get up and walk a little, but continued to suffer from extreme nausea and vomiting until the 26th day.
Finally, the 30th day, she was well enough to go home, though it was several more weeks before she was anything close to normal and months before she was fully recovered.
Nevertheless, when the 1996-97 school year started, Sandy was right back at it. The uncertainties of her recovery from the transplant procedure had made it impossible for her to apply for a permanent teaching position. So, she accepted whatever substitute teaching assignments she could get. And because she was so good at it, she soon had classes to teach almost every day. Our lives resumed a somewhat normal rhythm, with Sandy teaching all the way through the end of the school year.
In August, I closed most of my private law practice, which had suffered severely from neglect, and began working almost exclusively for companies owned by my brother and his wife. Sandy decided not to continue student teaching and accepted a position in the Advancement Office of her alma mater, Dominican College. Working at the school, she would be eligible for tuition-free enrollment in the masters program and she intended to take advantage of that opportunity.
Sixteen months in remission had also made us confident about Sandy’s health. With the consent of her oncologist, she decided to have the port-a-cath removed from her chest. With good luck, she would never need it again.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner every night?
When we’re together it feels so right.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life.
Just two months later, however, the good luck ran out. In mid-February, while doing a short walk on our treadmill, Sandy noticed some pain in her right hip. A few days later, one of our granddogs accidentally pushed against her right leg, which caused considerable pain. On February 24, 1998, a bone scan of her hip confirmed our worst fears. The cancer was back and with a vengeance. The integrity of her right femur and hip socket had been so compromised by cancerous lesions that a hip replacement would be necessary.
Follow up scans showed that the cancer was also in her left femur, her spinal column, some ribs, the skull bone and both lobes of her liver. The prognosis was, once again, grim. This time when Dr. Crowley told her that she would have to stop working, he actually expected her response – and got what he expected. “No. I want to live my life as normally as possible.” She was still hoping to return to school in the fall and wanted no interference with her ability to do so. She would no longer be able to drive, but by having me drop her off every morning and pick her up every evening, she would continue to work.
On March 5th, Dr. Edward DeMayo performed the hip replacement. Four days later, Sandy was able to come home, but still faced a long period of physical therapy and renewal of both radiation and the dreaded chemotherapy treatments. With little time to waste, the radiation treatments started immediately. As soon as they were done, another port-a-cath was implanted in her chest and on April 9th, chemotherapy resumed, using another new drug called Taxotere.
Within a couple of weeks, her hair started falling out again. Other side effects of the Taxotere were much more severe than those caused by Taxol. So after just two treatments with this new chemo, Dr. Crowley switched her back to Taxol. These treatments continued until January of this year, when a new set of scans showed that the bone tumors had been completely eliminated.
Through all of these travails, I had never seen Sandy cry out of sorrow for herself, or pain either. When we learned that the bone scans were clear, however, Sandy cried for the first time since she’d learned of the cancer. Me, too, though not for the first time.
We went through several more cycles of Taxol, then in March had another set of liver scans done. These showed that the main tumor there had grown larger and some new nodules had formed. More grim news. Dr. Crowley surmised that the cancer had grown resistant to the Taxol and recommended another switch, this time to Navelbine, which would be given weekly, three out of four weeks each month.
Not long after the start of the Navelbine treatments, Sandy kept her promise to our daughter, attending Risa’s graduation from NYU in May. This was undoubtedly the happiest moment of the last five years of her life, watching Risa graduate cum laude, with a dual major in history and journalism. The ten day trip, which included visits with family on Long Island and in Syracuse, as well as excursions to New York City and West Point, proved physically taxing, however. She was happy to return home to California.
In July, Sandy passed a considerable milestone – 5 years since her initial diagnosis. Less than a week later, though, she suffered another blow. Her mother, also suffering from cancer, had suffered a dramatic downturn in her condition. We rushed to Memphis, barely in time to be with her mother when she died on July 22nd.
And still Sandy continued working and having her regular chemotherapy treatments. The room in which they were given seated two patients; almost every week Sandy shared the room with a different patient, frequently women just starting their fight against cancer. This was no accident. Dr. Crowley’s nurse, Dana Monroe, intentionally scheduled first-timers for their treatments at the same time as Sandy. No matter how bad they thought they had it, they were invariably amazed to hear what Sandy had been through. Many gained confidence and determination from Sandy’s encouragement.
One thing I particularly noticed was that while some of the other women had a support person with them, it was always a child or a friend. Not once in five years did we see another husband accompanying his wife to treatment. While I missed an occasional treatment, I did so rarely and with great reluctance. Nothing was more important to me on those days than being with Sandy. Dana Monroe called us “The A Team”. Mostly, though, it was Sandy’s dogged determination that kept her – and me – going.
Over the summer, Risa decided to take her masters at Dominican. She and Sandy signed up for the same classes and on August 31st, began their masters programs together.
Sandy, however, didn’t seem to take to school with the same enthusiasm she had previously shown. She tired more easily than ever and was having trouble concentrating. By the time of her regular chemotherapy treatment on October 1st, she had begun to have trouble speaking and had fallen once for no apparent reason. The doctor gave her some preliminary neurological tests and ordered a brain scan, which was performed on October 8th.
This scan showed a really alarming spread of the cancer to her brain. Several tumors in the cerebellum and one large tumor on the brain stem. A self-defense mechanism called the “blood-brain barrier”, designed to prevent toxins in the body from damaging the brain, had instead prevented the chemotherapy from killing cancer cells which had migrated to Sandy’s brain. Unchecked and undetected, they had grown into potentially lethal tumors.
An immediate three-and-a-half week course of full-brain radiation was started and the doctors remained hopeful that the tumors could be completely eliminated by this treatment. Initially, it appeared they might be right, as she seemed to improve. Then she developed an unrelated inflammation of a bursa sac in her right hip, which was extremely painful and required an injection of novacaine and cortisone. This kept her from working for nearly an entire week.
By Sunday, October 24th, her leg was feeling better. But, she told me that day that she thought she should take disability leave from work, as it was getting too difficult. I was not surprised, as I had been suggesting it for some time. On the other hand, I was concerned; she had never before shown a sign of giving in. Nevertheless, she insisted on going to work the next day. On Tuesday, she was worse again and stayed home, but returned to work again on Wednesday. This proved so taxing, however, that she stayed home again on Thursday, October 28th.
That night, she also told me that she thought she was going to have to drop out of school because she could no longer keep up with the work. More than anything else, this told me that she was feeling much worse than she wanted to let on.
Saturday, she was extremely tired, something we had been told to expect from the brain radiation treatments. When she woke up Sunday morning, though, she could not stand or walk without help and couldn’t say more than a few words at a time. Truly alarmed, I called the doctor and, against Sandy’s wishes (“I just want to lie down on the couch and go to sleep”), took her to the hospital. She was immediately admitted and they found that her blood pressure was dangerously low.
They also found the reason for the dramatic decline in her condition – her kidneys had stopped functioning and her body was slowly poisoning itself. She had long ago told me that when the time came, she wanted no machines keeping her alive. In a barely audible voice, she affirmed this desire at the hospital, telling me “DNR”.
I called our children to the hospital and they all came, three with their significant others. While we were all in the room, I told them that if I had realized what was really going on, I would have brought her to the hospital sooner. Heavily medicated by this time, Sandy nevertheless heard this, opened her eyes and said, “No second guessing”, then lapsed back into a semi-comatose state. Right to the end, she wanted to spare others – me in particular – from any self-blame for her condition. I was glad that the kids had been there to hear Sandy say that, as each of them was also having guilt feelings for one reason or another, especially Risa, who had been away from home most of the time Sandy was sick.
A kidney specialist called in for a consultation told us that it was unclear whether the kidneys would resume functioning, but that we would know in “a day or two”. Since she seemed stable, I told the kids to go home and laid down on the couch in the hospital room to sleep myself.
About 1:30 in the morning, Sandy’s labored breathing awakened me. I called for the nurse, who checked Sandy’s vital signs, then called the doctor. She then told me that Sandy’s condition was critical and that I should have the kids come back. I was able to reach the boys quickly, but Risa was sleeping so soundly that it took several tries before the phone woke her up.
Our sons arrived quickly, but it was sometime before Risa made it back to the hospital. During the delay, Sandy had grown increasingly agitated and distressed. Then, within a few minutes after Risa arrived, Sandy’s breathing calmed and began to slow. I am certain that she knew, subconsciously at least, that all of her children were there.
At 2:45 in the morning, November 1, 1999, my sweet Sandy lost her long fight with cancer and died peacefully in her sleep.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner every night?
When we’re together it feels so right.
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life.
Sandy wanted no memorial services, but we held a “Personal Remembrance” on the Dominican College campus the Saturday night after she died. We displayed numerous photos of Sandy, as well as our wedding album, family scrapbooks and other personal mementos. A large group of family and friends gathered to remember Sandy and her life. For nearly an hour, we took turns telling the group stories about her and the effect she’d had on each of our lives.
I also had printed up “Remembrance Cards” for people to write out their favorite memories of Sandy. On one of them, my Mom wrote: “When we all first met you, we told you how lucky you were to get ‘our Jim’. Over time, you showed us that it truly was Jim who was lucky to get you.”
Mom was right. I was truly lucky to have found something everyone wants and all too few find. A companion with whom I could share a lifetime commitment, unreserved love and all of the joys and sorrows that come with such love and commitment.
… For the Rest of My Life
“Could I Have This Dance” by Anne Murray was our song.