Tuesday, July 1, 2008

R-Day

Such a day. We should have been in that "early to bed, early to rise group," but at least we got it half right. Up dark and early to make sure we had time for breakfast at Captain Jimbo's in front of our hotel. We weren't sure when we would have another chance to eat, and like mom says, "Food is like religion. You have to take it when you have it because you never know when you're going to need it." Good advice.

So just after 4am we were off to breakfast, carefully scrutinizing all nearby bushes and other likely places that might be harboring a renegade skunk. We didn't see a one, but I'm guessing they were probably fast asleep, considering that party they had going the night before.

In the otherwise deserted restaurant, we were greeted by a perky little waitress in black tights and a short black skirt, topped by a white shirt, perky green bow tie, and matching green suspenders. She handed us menus and went off to give us a few minutes to wake up and decide what we wanted.

It was a big decision, but we finally settled on...something...most of which ended up as leftovers. We should have gotten just one breakfast and shared. I hated not to take a doggy bag, but I couldn't really feature what that mushroom omelet was going to be like after a few hours stuffed in my purse, except that I was fairly certain no one would have the remotest interest in eating it. I did take my rye toast wrapped in a napkin, but it was never to be seen again. I didn't eat it, but other than that, I can't say what happened to it.

After our non/breakfast, we got in the car and took off down the mountain for our meeting with M's future. The sun was just beginning to come out (It comes out early up that far north and east in the time zone.) when we reached a clear spot at the side of the road, and there, through the middle of a cloud of fog coming up off the Hudson River, rose the magnificent slate and granite castles of West Point. It looked like a medieval fortress, which, I guess, isn't actually too far off.

We did not see many cars on the road, but they were somewhere out there, because by the time we arrived at the aptly-named Stony Lonesome Gate, there was a bit of a line to wait through, even 30 minutes early. Thanks to the early report time, we were able to get a spot in the closest parking lot, for which we were very grateful later in the day. Across the parking lot we trudged, down a steeeeeeeeeep path, and across another lot to line up and board the waiting shuttle buses.


After the short ride to Ike Hall~the only brick building on the place~we got off the bus and were greeted by a cadet shouting, "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY. IF YOU HOLD A BLUE CARD, LINE UP ON THE RIGHT FOR IN-PROCESSING. IF YOU ARE HOLDING A YELLOW OR SALMON CARD, GO LEFT TO THE CREST-SOMETHING-OR-OTHER FOR A SHORT ORDER BREAKFAST" (M looked at us incredulously... breakfast? Had we but known...it wouldn't have helped us, as we were the holders of a blue card.). We heard that speech repeated often throughout the morning with the arrival of each new bus.


Well, "the long grey line" begins right here...down the sidewalk it goes, down one flight of stairs, around the corner, and down another flight of stairs. Then back on itself and under the stairs into a steamy tunnel in the bowels of Ike Hall (once again we were thankful for the early, cool-morning report time), around a U-turn, and finally into, ironically, a door marked "No Entrance." We learned later that we were being ushered in in groups of 44 cadets (# of seats on a bus) plus entourage.


When our turn came up, we were taken into the 4,500-seat auditorium, where we were given a lecture by a regular Army officer. All I remember from that lecture was, "They have what it takes." This is going to be my mantra/motto for the next 47 months. The honors were then turned over to a Cadet officer, and all I remember from her speech was, "You have 60 seconds to say good-bye." WAAAAIIT A MINUTE!!! We have just been gypped out of 1/3 of our seconds! We want our 30 seconds back!!!


Sorry, but in the Army our wants mean very little, more like nothing, so, we got our 60 seconds of smiles and tears, and then off went our now "new cadets" out the front door to the buses which would take them away to get haircuts, physicals, uniform fittings, etc, etc. The rest of us were directed to exit out the rear doors, where yet another Army officer handed out small packs of kleenex as he instructed the weeping horde to "Have a nice day." You bet.

The high point of R-Day came with spectators lining up to witness the parade late in the afternoon. The new cadets had spent the day being transformed, and it showed! Out of the sally port they came, down the street in front of "the supe's" house, and then a sharp right to march down to stand in front of the Battle Monument where they would be sworn in.

That was one sharp-looking parade! First the band, followed by the new/cadets, split into their companies. Each company was led by the infamous cadet in the red sash and the rest of the cadre in white, followed by what every spectator was here to see: our NEW CADETS! They were marvelous, shaved heads, BCG's, and all, and we were absolutely amazed to see what wonders West Point had wrought in just one day. Of course, we had to remind ourselves that, while West Point may have wrought wonders, West Point had nothing but the best to work with. I'm sure that probably made their miracle-working a bit easier.

We had been advised that all new cadets look alike, and we should just pick one out and call him "ours." But I am very happy to say that we had no trouble whatsoever picking out our very own. It probably didn't hurt that he is taller than most and has shaved his head many times in the past, so he didn't look all that strange to us. As his company marched up and turned to face the Battle Monument, I saw him cutting his eyes back and forth, even while facing straight ahead, and was suddenly rewarded with a WINK! I can see it still.


After the oath was given and taken, shouted orders brought the new cadets to face front once more and continue their march down the road, across the parking lot, past The Plain, behind the Eisenhower Barracks, through the sally port, and up the steps into Washington Hall, never missing a beat. After the last new cadet was safely inside, the last of the cadre turned to close the massive doors. They thundered shut, followed by a quiet I will never forget. I am humbly, sincerely impressed.

GO, TEAM!!!

1 comment:

grammaw marina said...

What a great article, with great photos too! I like the part about getting a sneaky wink, that was really good. 47 months huh?