Something New! I am using this edition of Despatches to introduce a new feature in the historiography of the Class of 1965 – “They Also Served” – in which we propose to publish stories about non-members of the Class who contributed invaluable support to one or many of us during our four-year struggle to prove ourselves worthy successors to Grant and Patton.
These could be family members, Plebe Pops, faculty mentors, or the friendly BP who smuggled in candy during Beast Barracks. The concept was conceived by Larry Neal.
The only requirement is that you write the article and provide (if possible) photos to accompany. I strongly urge you to participate. I also ask that you not attempt to do paste-up and layout but, rather, provide the narrative in a Word or plain text document and the photos as separate .jpg or .gif attachments. Believe me when I say that adhering to the aforementioned parameters will save your humble Scribe many hours of frustration as I attempt to format your submission.
It remains to be seen whether these They Also Served submissions will continue to be disseminated as issues of Despatches or archived on the Class Website, but they will definitely be made accessible to the Class as a whole and will remain as a tribute to the people you commemorate long after we are all doing PLFs off the end of the bar at Fiddler’s Green.
All three of this issue’s contributions involve Mike Lapolla’s family, and since mine is the shortest and I own the keyboard, I shall lead off. Mike and I were in the same First Company squad in Beast (he, Steve Paek, Joe Zurlo, Mike Teeters, Rich Boerckel, Lenny Norkin, and I, plus one other whose name escapes me) By the time we hit the fourth week and had post privileges, we were on the thin edge of starvation – I personally went from a buff 170 lbs. to around 145, due primarily to the requirement that if one Plebe sat up at a meal, all of us did, and poor Lenny Norkin was never cut out to be a Plebe, never mind one on Les Cargile’s table. The first Sunday we could go out in our uniform picnic (white shirt, white trou with belt but no loops, grey overseas cap … we looked as if we should be selling gelato), Mike’s parents came up from Peekskill with several metric tons of the most delectable Italian food imaginable, and repeated that performance on the three succeeding Sundays. They were wonderful people, and it is even to them that I owe the only photo taken of me in Beast, shown below.
L-R (only those w/ faces visible, Paek, Teeters, 3 unk., unk upperclassman., Gailey, Tyner, Lapolla, unk.
And now for the interesting stuff!
Ah, where to start. The origin of the Roman A.Smith Society is shrouded in the mist of time (how's that for an opening line?) The Society came into being the second semester of our senior year, born of the fertile Imagination of Larry Wiest (of Army). It was the product of boredom and a seemingly pointless discussion about who was really running things at the academy. The Superintendent and Commandant operated in a rarified atmosphere and didn't really seem to have much impact on the day to day routine of cadet life. The Tactical Department often worked at cross-purposes, was the object of fear and loathing, and was widely suspected of demonic possession. but Larry pointed out that nearly every official document that affected cadet life bore the signature of CW4 Roman A. Smith – our branch selections, our first duty assignments, and, significantly, all punishment tours bore the signature block of Roman A. Smith. Clearly, this guy had some juice! By this time in our cadet careers, all of us had some experience with punishment tours or confinements (or both), sent down over the signature of Roman A. Smith, so a natural constituency was already formed, just waiting to be named. And so it came to be.
Photo Right: Inaugural Dinner, Spring 1965. L--‐R: Roger Griffin ‘65, Bruce Andrise ‘66, John Gonzalez ‘68, Randy Guenther ‘65, CW4 RomanA. Smith, Larry Wiest ‘65, Mike Lapolla‘65, William Nash ‘68, and John Redmond ‘66. Photo by Henry Kelley ’65.
I don't know exactly who all made up the membership. Some of us proudly identified ourselves in the Howitzer, listing the society as one of our cadet activities. I lack the ambition to wade through the Yearbook and cull all the names of those listing the society. But it’s safe to say that anyone who came under the baleful glance of the Tactical Department was a member in heart if not in deed. Needless to say, there was no official list published over the signature of Roman A. Smith. Also about this time, for some inexplicable reason, seniors were granted the privilege of inviting guests to dine in the mess hall at the evening meal. And so it was that CW4 Roman A. Smith graced our table as our guest at the inauguration of the society that bore his name. We spent a pleasant time listening as he talked about his military career and his time at West Point.
Our second guest was Mike Lapolla’s Uncle Skip from nearby Peekskill. He arrived driving his ancient 1924 Ford Model T and wearing his trademark Amish hat. We got special permission for him to park on the road outside Washington Hall. His arrival attracted attention. After the meal he gave some of us a ride in the car. It actually worked.
Photo Left: Gabriel “Skip” Dziadik of Peekskill, NY – and 1924 Model T Ford.
There may have been other guests, but I don't recall any that matched the degree of celebrity of our first two. Our time at West Point was growing short; all of a sudden June Week was upon us, and it was time for the Society members to go our separate ways, sent off with official orders signed by Roman A. Smith. Looking at the picture, I can confirm that the gent in the green suit sitting next to Larry Wiest (of Army) is
in fact Roman Smith.
[Editor’s Note: Most of you now know that our Classmate Fred Smith was the son of Roman A. Smith. It is unclear how many members of the Society knew that, but Fred did not learn of either the Society or his father’s visit to the Cadet Mess until many years afterwards. Our parents’ generation had a rather austere notion of what sorts of events were worth mentioning to one’s offspring! S.T.]
And now the main feature of this edition of Despatches, by Larry Neal.
By Larry Neal
By the grace of God and my good fortune, I drew Mike Lapolla as my firstie roommate. Mike was pleasant, helpful, smart … all the things a good roommate would be, but … sorry Mike … it was his parents who changed my life.
Photo Right: Ray and Kathryn Lapolla, June 9, 1965
Ray and Kathryn Lapolla were the kindest, most generous, supportive, and caring people I have ever met and, I truly believe, shall ever meet. Through them, I learned life’s lessons about parenting, civic duties in Peekskill, service to others, Polish-Italian relationships, splendid food, and the enjoyment of life. Not insignificant for a kid from a Coachella Valley farm.
Through them I met John J. “shake the hand that shook the hand that shook the world” Scivoletto, proprietor of the Union Hotel and Restaurant with the finest skirt steaks and Italian food ever prepared. I met Postmaster Louie Pataki and wife Peggy; whose son George went on to become Governor of NY State thirty years later. I learned about civic pride and accomplishment and was present when Lapolla Little League was so named in Ray’s honor.
I met Skip and Ann Dziadik, Kathryn’s brother. Skip was a wonderfully crazy guy with a delightfully checkered past who taught me about smelt fishing, shooting rats at the dump, creating papers for K-9’s, and how to drive a Model T. Lapolla tailgates at Army football games were legendary. Lapolla hospitality was nonpareil and I can still smell the Easter bread fresh from the oven.
Photo Left: Mike and Carol Lapolla’s Belated Graduation Party, 2011, Bob and Kay Cato’s Home, Arlington, VA
Ruth and I were married graduation day, but we had no family to help with the planning and arrangements. Kathryn took charge. With Mike’s fiancée Carol’s help, Ruth was properly outfitted. Places to stay and rides from airports were found for relatives arriving at odd days and hours. A wedding cake was purchased and a reception (formerly known as Mike’s graduation party) was created. The bride was transported by Skip’s Model T to the Cadet Chapel and the newlyweds back to the Peekskill reception in same. Ray and Kathryn made sure organization and dignity were brought to what otherwise could have been quite ugly. We are eternally grateful.
I earlier made light of Mike’s role, but he and Carol have been true friends over the years. Mike inherited the generous, supportive and caring genes. A couple of years ago we threw a graduation party for Mike (thank you Bob and Kay Cato) to make up for his commandeered party but full recognition and repayment remain in our hearts.
So, there you have three articles that illustrate what we are striving for in proposing They Also Served. In this instance, all three articles involved the Lapolla family, though the second was about Roman Smith. I suspect that there are many other candidates for commemoration out there, so get busy!
Submissions should come to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will take care of formatting, the editing of glaring errors, and dissemination by whatever means the Leadership Team ultimately resolves to use.
In the interim, wash your hands, wear your mask, and fall out! Strength and Drive,
The End of the Trail. The earthly remains of our late, cherished friend and Classmate, Omar Rood, were installed in the columbarium of the Fort Snelling National Cemetery on 26 June. Below is the report from Marshall Schwartz, our POC to the Rood family.
Photo Right: Military honors being rendered
“An inurnment service honoring our classmate Omar Rood was held June 26, 2020 at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota. Omar passed away on October 24, 2019 in Arizona. Ken Hjelm, my wife Judy, and I were present at the service. The Class of 1965 flag was posted in the roadside pavilion where the dignified service was held.
“Omar was movingly eulogized during the service by his brother, Joel Rood, and beloved friend Monica Manning, who had been by his side at the time of his passing at the Casa De La Luz Hospice in Tucson, Arizona. Joel’s tribute, which noted the presence of Omar’s two classmates and the important role West Point had played in Omar’s life, concluded with an emotional excerpt from the Cadet Prayer. Monica’s touching tribute acknowledged Ken’s and my presence and emphasized the lasting impact of Omar’s West Point experience.
“A rifle salute, playing of Taps, and flag presentation were performed by a detail from the Minnesota National Guard. I arranged for the participation of the Guard through my role as class Point of Contact. The trifold American flag was respectfully presented to Omar’s two children, his daughter Erika Rood-Regier and son Charles Chevalier-Rood, with Erika being the official recipient.
“After the inurnment service was completed, Omar’s cremated remains were secured for entombment in an aboveground-niched structure in the Columbarium Section of the Fort Snelling National Cemetery. A post-service luncheon at a local restaurant had been cancelled earlier due to assembly restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Due largely to complications tracing to COVID-19, an unexpectedly high quantity of emails and companion phone calls (no fewer than 120) were initiated or received over a 16-day finishing span in order for me to fully carry out the Point of Contact duties leading up to and at Omar’s service. The challenge was made far easier and more pleasant by the assistance of Omar’s special friend Monica Manning and his sister Lori Larson. The three of us smoothly progressed to our shared goal as a team.
“The progression proved substantively more complex than it otherwise would have been because of the prevailing COVID-19 milieu. The most impactful impediment, a 10-person ceiling on the number of individuals who would be allowed to attend the rite, was removed when the number was raised, just four days prior to the service. Monica had received an alert through our classmate Ric Shinseki a week earlier that this not-yet-announced change was forthcoming. In the end, 24 relatives and friends, all wearing protective masks, were present for the service.
Photo Left: Marshall Schwartz with USMA 1965 Class Flag
“A second pre-service complication created by COVID-19 was related to the class donation to be made in Omar’s honor. The process became entangled in procedure when the WPAOG office was temporarily shut down, and nobody was available to sign official donor checks. A decision was ultimately reached to bypass proposed alternatives and place the donation to the Casa De La Luz Hospice on hold until circumstances permit the WPAOG facility to reopen.
“This after action narrative will conclude with (a) a personal experience worthy of being shared, and (b) an attestation regarding the relevance of our class flag.
“a. My son was a principal speaker at his Coast Guard Academy class’s graduation banquet. The theme of his speech was, regardless of what course they took, the class members would forever share a special camaraderie as classmates. That memory came back to me as I drove home from the cemetery after Omar’s service. We had not seen each other for 55 years; but Omar and I were and always would be West Point classmates. That lasting bond was made even stronger by the opportunity for me to contribute on behalf of our class to and participate in the beautiful ceremony held in Omar’s honor.
“b. The presence of our class flag was underscored by something that occurred as we were posting the symbolic banner in place prior to the service. Along with my other POC functions, I served as the principal liaison with the Fort Snelling National Cemetery staff. The Cemetery Administrator was making a routine visit to the site when he approached me and recalled that a West Point class flag had occupied the same position in the same pavilion at a funeral service held there for a West Point graduate 5-6 years earlier. (He was not able to remember the name; but it was our classmate Paul Renschen.) That an individual in his high position would remember the presence of the class flag more than five years and 30,000 funeral/inurnment services later attests to its relevance.”
Thank you, Marshall, for all your efforts on behalf of the Class and for a most moving report.
Ralph Adams atop Kilimanjaro, Hank Kelley in the wilderness, and the athletic efforts of Frank Prokop, items which appeared in Despatches #65, have apparently inspired several others to tell of their adventures in vigorous living for this edition. As if daring his legs to separate at the knee, Tom Barron has been playing rugby; not only that, he travels a fur piece to get in a game. “I know this is too late for the last issue of Dispatches.
That one displayed photos of my two A-2 Company-mates, Ralph Adams and Frank Prokop, engaging in impressive physical activity at their advanced ages. So, I can’t help myself for throwing in two photos of me playing rugby against a Japanese university team during last fall’s Rugby World Cup in Tokyo. Truth telling: I must admit I did break a rib.”
Photo Right: Right foreground, Barron-san
Dick Williams has traded modes of transportation, with obvious benefits in terms of distance to fall. “I thought you should know that some of us are still keeping busy during the COVID-19 isolation period. Since most skydiving centers are closed, I decided to buy a bike on April 3. Since then I have ridden 1,000 miles on 40
rides. My milestone ride’s turnaround was with my daughter Lee and her husband Eric’s home in Holiday Florida. Not bad for a 79 year old. Strength and Drive. Blue Skies.”
L-R, Dick Williams, daughter Lee, s-i-l Eric
Nice looking ride, Dick. Nice looking knees, Tom. I stand in awe … but only for about 30 seconds; then I have to sit down.
We all have great memories of Buckner, I am sure. Ed Armstrong shares this one: “Thought you might appreciate this. Sixth company won the Buckner Color Line review singing this song I wrote to the then popular ‘Wolverton Mountain’ that I accompanied on a ukulele.”
I heard the cover was a big hit for Nine Inch Nails, Ed.
Two Cases. First, the Chicago Crew had another of their virtual lunches, as Ken Yoshitani recounts. “Chuck Shaw reported in from Chapel Hill, NC . Just before the lock down, he visited Japan and gave a talk at Stanford. But since March, he is staying in his daughter’s house in Chapel Hill, enjoying drives to the Outer Bank. Ron Layer is still working part time, but has had many trips to California and Florida cancelled like so many of us. He did drop a hint for a good German restaurant for us to try out in Chicago. Tom Croak has had a quiet spring and early summer tending to the garden and also attending to his wife Anna recover, which she is doing nicely. George Seaworth has had weekly routine of going to a food store twice a week, but finally ventured out to a restaurant this past week. His planned high school reunion in South Dakota was cancelled, but he and Jill did get together with the Colls.
Norm Eckstein advised us that he has a new career helping the seniors with physical therapy or something somehow connected. He may have gotten a couple of clients from today’s Zoom meeting. Don Shutters finally retired two months ago and is now up to his neck trying to clean up the left over from his office. He was proud to report that his hair was long enough to have a pony tail. John Roseberg was travelling and could not join us. Denny Coll experienced technical difficulty and was able to join the meeting only momentarily. Dave Jones was AWOL. Ken Yoshitani reported that his gall bladder was finally removed after six month wait. He feels 10 pounds lighter. We Chicago 10 are very happy to report that all of us, including our wives, are healthy and doing well and are looking forward hopefully to more normal lives over this summer.”
Meanwhile, Company A-1 had what amounted to a mini-reunion recently, and plans to do so monthly. Gene Parker has the story:
“Several months ago Bill Ritch suggested that our classmates in A-1 gather for a ZOOM meeting. As the unofficial keeper of the email list, I helped him organize the meeting, which we held on Jun 23d. As you might expect, it was a challenge for some of the less technically advanced folks (who did not have kids and grandkids to help!) but we pulled it off. We were delighted to have 17 of the 18 living classmates participate. The meeting started with us honoring the nine who have transitioned to the Ghostly Assemblage and then we each provided a short update on our families or what is going on in our lives.
“It went well enough that we decided to do it again on July 28th. The next format will be a short happy report from those who want to participate followed by two classmates who will share a topic of interest for 10-15 minutes, followed by Q&A. Our intent is to hold the meeting to one hour or less (attention span issues, as you can understand). With two sharing each month, we can provide “air time” for everyone in nine months.
“It was terrific to reconnect with everyone and recall the time we spent together. Two to three of the group have not had contact with the rest of us since graduation so it was nice to hook them in.
“PS: we are all proud of the A-1 folks with the rank of General. (one 4 star, two 3 stars and one 1 star. Probably a record!! )”
I am amazed that you could get 17 of 18 surviving A-Oners situated in the same universe, let alone all on Zoom at once. Sounds like an ambitious schedule ahead of you, with case study assignments and all that. Let me know when things degenerate to the “Damn kids cut across my damn lawn again” stage, won’t you?
And there you have it, Mesdames et Messieurs, another chapter in the continuing saga of the most noteworthy collection of colorful characters ever to emerge from the Hudson Valley to descend upon an unexpecting world and make their indelible impression thereon. Here’s hoping that the pandemic eventually recedes and the world returns to something vaguely resembling what codgers like us would regard as “normal.”