Snapshots of Ring Weekend, Class of 2007
It’s 0330 and my alarm clock is buzzing persistently, insistently. Shelley is up and in the shower. Fleetingly, I wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?” when I booked that earliest of the early flights to New York. But, very quickly, that passes and I buoyed by feelings of energy and expectancy as the first of our last trips from our home in Texas to West Point begins.
About two hours later: we are at the airport and sleepwalking to wards the departure gate when we hear our names being shouted from somewhere off to the left. We turn and see our son’s MALO, a great guy from the class of ’89 who has become a good friend since he led our son through the long admissions march four years ago. “Off to Ring Weekend, huh?,” he says. Yes, we say, swelling perceptibly with pride. We exchange the standard observations about the swift passage of time. “Give him my best, he is doing a great job, we are proud of him,” and then we board the plane. But this brief dialog brings home for me the strength of the bonds of mutual respect and affection that stiffen the Long Gray Line. How great it must be to be a part of that!
An uneventful flight and an on-time arrival. Then, disaster strikes: Rain, damned, sopping, torrential rain, and lightning to boot! Trapped on the airplane, inches from the gate at LGA, waiting for the lightning to subside, we are delayed 45 minutes and remain in frustrating cell phone communication – so close and yet so far - with our son’s date, who is waiting for us to pick her up for the drive up the Hudson. Then, injury compounding insult, delayed luggage, horrific traffic from the airport past the Tappan Zee and visions of impassable security at Thayer Gate conspire to drive my blood pressure inexorably upward as the second hand on my watch seems to race around the dial at breakneck speed. There is no way we are going to make it. All hope is lost! We are going to miss the Ring Ceremony! Why didn’t we just come up the night before?
We made it! With time to spare, even. A quick change of clothes, a successful handoff of date and her luggage to the care of our son and, loading into his DOD sticker-equipped vehicle, we sail through security. Knew it all along! No cause for alarm. I wasn’t concerned, no way.
But, another worry crowds out the sense of relief: will the fickle New York weather move the ceremony indoors and will the uniform be changed to white over gray? We’ll know by 1400. Now 1445, now 1500, now 1530. Around 1545 a cheer goes up, echoing off the walls in Grant Area, very near the forward base of operations we established at Grant Hall. It’s going to be Trophy Point and India Whites! This is the way they have always seen it. This is the way they want it. This is the way it is supposed to be.
A cool, but damp, walk towards Battle Monument allows us to see, greet and reconnect with other parents we have come to know over the last three years, not only from our home town but from every corner of the country. I also meet face to face with friends that I have only “known” through the magic of these forums. And as we all assemble between Battle Monument and the amphitheater, the excitement was palpable and the smiles on our faces are bright and wide.
1640. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 1700, isn’t it? My watch, the one that was running so fast during the New York traffic death march only a few hours a go, must have stopped. Our son’s date asks, “When will they be here?” “I expect that they will step off in about 10 minutes,” I confidently and expertly declare. As if on cue, the drum cadence begins to sound at that instant. The Class of ’07 can be seen across the Plain striding towards us in perfect step. What a glorious sight. Rank on rank, row by row they file in and take their positions. I catch a glimpse of my son and snap a quick photo or two as he marches by with his company-mates. I guess military bearing is not required today – he cannot suppress that grin.
During a nice speech by the Commandant, the cadets standing at a comfortable and attentive parade rest. And then the presentation of the rings by the TACs and TAC NCOs begins. And then the wait. And the wait. And the wait until all of the class members are holding their rings in their hands. Then comes the permission to “don your rings,” and they do. But, any visible expression or demonstration of elation is held in check while they remove their covers and stand at attention for the singing of the Alma Mater. And, finally, as the last chord of the last phrase of the last stanza of the Alma Mater lingers, pandemonium! It is a back slapping, classmate hugging, ring gazing, show-and-tell frenzy. They all seemed to have learned a new way to shake hands. A sure grip, followed by a sequence of wrist rolls to properly display the rings to on another. It seems to this observer that the unity of the class is secured forever in these few shared moments before the picture taking hordes descend.
Then there is the slow but deliberate meander back to the barracks. Conversation has now turned to the carefully planned escape and evasion tactics – tactics actually designed to fail – to outwit the waiting plebes. As we pass the Eisenhower statue, what had been a low rumble now becomes an audible, intelligible blend of massed voices. “Oh my God, Sir …” I didn’t see a single firstie escape the Ring Poop, nor did I see any try very hard either.
For us, the Ring Ceremony and the following frivolity was the weekend’s climax. The denouement – the Banquet and the Hop – were lovely, indeed. But they were the dessert, not the main course.
A final impression I will carry with me: My son has grown up. He is a leader. He is a man with a sure sense of self and purpose. He is where he belongs.
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