Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 2011

President's Corner By Sam Thiessen '73
The beginning of 2011 has been somewhat of an emotional roller coaster ride, at least as I see it. As "military types," we're not (or were not) supposed to talk about our emotions. But that's going to be the topic of my message here. The end of 2010 was a happy time for most of us, as it usually is with the Holidays and all, even with the continuing economic recession. We soon found the relative calm of the Season shattered with the news of fellow graduate, John "Jack" Wheeler '66. He was murdered in Delaware, with his body found in a landfill the morning of December 30th. I knew Jack Wheeler, having met him when I was stationed in the D.C. area in the mid-1980s. Though I could not say we were close, I think most people who knew Jack would like to say they were his friend. As his classmate, retired Major General Bob Scales, said, Jack was a very empathetic person, and that he was. Jack made whoever he was around feel like their view was worth listening to. And in my experience, he always recognized the dignity of all, and especially the least among us. That being said, I can't say that I always agreed with Jack Wheeler. This is not something particularly remarkable, and others certainly disagreed with him as well. Older grads will recall the controversy surrounding the building of the Vietnam War Memorial. Jack was the chief fundraiser for the project, and as such he fell under criticism as the selected design of the memorial came to be described as "a gash in the
ground." I recall some describing it as an "ugly" gash. While my own opinion was reserved on the matter, I tended to think that a more traditional design was in order. At this point, however, I think that most who have been to the Vietnam War Memorial would agree that it is the right design; giving total respect to those who gave their all in the conflict, while capturing an element of the confusion in this country that accompanied the war. Perhaps as a gesture to the traditional inclinations of myself and others, human figures were later added to the memorial. I would have settled for "the gash," but think the figures enhance it. Speaking of confusion, when 2011 was barely a week old, another terrible event: the mass shooting in Tucson at the constituent event held by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The representative survived the attack, though gravely injured. Unfortunately, six people were killed, and the Nation mourns the tragedy. I guess the point that I'm trying to make is one that is best left as simple emotion, and not too clearly drawn out by analysis. Doing so would necessarily require dividing up the issues, with which people would take sides. I don't think it's my role as president of the West Point Society of Denver to draw such distinctions. But I do think it's the president's role to recognize that these distinctions exist and, when appropriate, to provide the society membership broad, basic observations around which consensus, or disagreement, can develop. The role of West Point Societies in the Long Gray Line is "evolving," just as the role of West Point and all service academies is evolving in meeting the needs of our Nation's military. Whether we like it or not, things are always changing, even when they're not. Which is to say, if something is not changing, it will be left behind in the change that surrounds it. Hopefully, our good faith efforts to change, while keeping the good that already exists, will continue to guide us aright. In all likelihood, this will be my last President's Corner. By convention, the WPSD President serves for three years, and believe me, I'm all for it. As my predecessor, Chuck Jones '68, pointed out as he passed the baton to me in 2008, "By the time the third year comes around, you know what you're doing and (hopefully) doing it well. But you're also ready to move on." Well, I am. Having been at the head of a number of volunteer organizations, I can say that this one is as demanding as it gets. I do not regret it in the slightest, and, indeed, have found it to be most fulfilling - truly an honor and a pleasure to be the top representative of such a distinguished organization. As a Life Member of the West Point Society of Denver, I look forward to continuing to serve this organization and the Long Gray Line for, well, the rest of my life.
Just to let you know, I'm not giving up the presidency tomorrow. As it works, the Vice President is typically the "president-elect." Though this convention is not formalized in our by-laws, it serves us well that we abide by it without denying the flexibility to modify it in extraordinary cases. And just to let you know further, Vice President Lindy Blackburn '69, is someone you should look forward to as the next President of the WPSD. Per our by-laws, Lindy will be in all likelihood elected by the next duly elected board of the Society to this position. (He's definitely got my vote!) The next board is elected at our next Founders Day Dinner celebration - Saturday, 5 March 2011. The board votes for new officers at the first meeting following the FD Dinner, probably late-March or in April, and those elected assume their positions immediately. So, I started with emotion, and I'll end with it, recalling that "there's no crying in baseball." I used to think that about the military, when I was much younger. A good friend of mine, Rennie Cory, received the DSC for acts of valor while serving in the Korean War. For those who remember, he was part of Task Force Smith. I told him that I regretted having been commissioned in 1973, and not being involved in Vietnam. Rennie said, "No you don't." He assured me that there was a lot of crying in war. I think those who are sacrificing in the low-intensity, but lasting war we are currently fighting understand this, too. God Bless them all as they fight to protect the rest of us from a broader conflict.