Sunday, April 10, 2016

West Point: Two Books, a Ring and Friends

Rochester, New York was the site of another West Point Class of 1968 L2/E4 gathering.  The occasion was the 70th birthday of Jack Gerke.  Great party, great guy, great family and great friends. Six of us came from Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Montana with two wives- Ann Laughton and Sandy Tucillo- to celebrate Jack's 70 years.  (OK, a total of 7 L2/E4 graduates from 1968 were together at one time) Don Davis, Alan Aker, Steve Frushour, Nellie Laughton, Ralph Tucillo, Pat Jonas and honoree Jack Gerke shared stories (including Norm Miller, BG Weeks, Howard McElroy and especially Stosh Parker but also Ollie, Toz, Nick, George G, Bullet Bob, Tom, Jon, Denny, Malcolm, Frank, Mike K., Bill M, Rich, Joe, Jim M, Mike G, George Z).  Not to mention Smiling Art, Al Haig, Norm Schwartzkopf, Gen. Bennett, Bernie Rogers, Maj Waters, The Long Gray Vine, etc.

Mary Ellen Gerke and daughter Sam (proud Purdue grad and mother of an eight month girl who is included in the photos) and son Steven pulled off a great surprise for Jack and we added by singing On Brave Old Army Team as we shocked Jack with our entry to a party already packed with Jack's family and friends.  A Bullet Bob antic couldn't have surprised Jack more than we did with the E4 spirit (and even Nellie sang).

Of course, I spilled the beans about Jack's 6 month confinement and 144 Punishment Hours and reduction in rank from cadet lieutenant to private for owning a car, driving it on post before it was allowed, running a stop sign and trying to evade the MP's.  He got a standing ovation from the entire Corps of Cadets in 1967 when the punishment was read from the "poop deck" at supper.  His pent up energy was put to good use on our company football team (that I humbly coached) which almost won the regimental championship, until someone broke our quarterback's arm.

Mary Ellen and Jack were surrounded by family and friends as Jack was serenaded by a special song written by Mary Ellen, covering Jack's entire life to the tune of "Davey Crockett".  His sister Alice reflected on how Jack was as a big brother.  All present were honoring of Jack's humility, loyalty, dependability, mentorship, etc.  He also laughed at jokes told by others-- for decades.  Thanks, Jack.

The L2/E4 accolades for Jack also emphasized the uniqueness of our West Point friendships.

What makes it special is the glue that holds us together as Brothers.  How did it happen?  An array of shared experiences, many under the unique duress of West Point.  Much of that experience is symbolized by two books and a ring.  Two books that we were given on arrival at West Point July 1, 1964.  A ring that was earned by perseverance and commitment.

While the Bugle Notes contained the history of West Point and the United States Army and all the information that we had to memorize, The Holy Bible ("presented by The American Tract Society to the Fourth Classmen at The United States Military Academy") topped it with a message of increasing importance at West Point and beyond.

A ring with our Class Crest, The West Point Crest and the central message of the United States Military Academy: Duty, Honor, Country is our daily reminder.

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