Laurel Dalrymple, Ladd Metzner's daughter was invited to participate in
the kickoff events of "For us All: The Campaign for
West Point" held 5-6 April, 2013. She made a presentation which is
shown below. As she mentioned in the presentation she donated Ladd
Metzner's Class ring to be melted for use in our affiliation Class of
2015 rings. Fred Smith spoke with COL Bob McClure at the AOG. He
indicated that this was the first donation from the Class of 1965.
A video of an extract of Laurel's presentation is available by clicking here
The video is rather large and a high speed internet connection is
required to view it. Even with high speed internet buffering will
take some time. You may also read Ladd's Memorial Article here
THE ENTIRE PRESENTATION:
Graduates and friends of West Point,
Good morning, and thank you for allowing me to
be here with you today.
I would like to tell you a story about how one small act can change
your life. As you’ve heard, my dad was a member of West Point’s class
of 65. He was just a “lowly plebe” when General MacArthur gave his
famed speech to the corps of cadets. I say “lowly plebe” because,
growing up, I’d never heard of a plebe referred to in any other way!
I didn’t know my dad was at that speech until his classmates told me --
40 years later.
In those days your graduation gift was a trip to Vietnam. But
tragically, the class of 65, and the two classes just behind, would
suffer the military academy’s greatest number of casualties in that
I was just a baby when my dad returned home from Vietnam, and an only
child. The father I grew up with was distant, in fact, I can’t remember
a single heart-to-heart conversation we had. The word “Vietnam” was not
mentioned in our house, and he rarely mentioned his years at West
Point. Although, when he did, he spoke of it fondly.
One day, as a teenager, I was watching the Vietnam War movie “Platoon,”
back when Charlie Sheen had “promise.” My dad walked into the room and
I said, “This is a good movie. You should watch it with me.” He angrily
said that he would never watch “Hollywood crap” about the war. I didn’t
understand his reaction, and because I was in my most defiant years, I
told him the war was a long time ago, and he should get over it. I
regret those words.
Eventually he succumbed to his demons and smoked and drank himself to
death at age 46. I was 20 and still in school. My mother had never
supported herself. Those were rough times, and looking back, I’m not
sure how we managed.
I’ll bet you’re wondering what this has to do with one small act.
So, one day, about 20 years after my dad died, I was just surfing the
Internet. No real purpose or reason. And, just because I was bored, I
googled my dad’s name. A West Point alumni site popped up with the word
“Unknown” next to my father. And scrolling through, I noticed that the
class of 65 made a serious effort to keep meticulous records on each of
its members. And because I know how the military feels about meticulous
records, I sent an email to the alumni office asking that its files be
updated. I asked them to change the word “unknown” to the word
“deceased.” An FYI. That’s it. That was my small act. Not even an act
of kindness, more like a small business transaction.
A few days later I got a phone call. The voice said, “My name is Fred
Smith, and I was your dad’s company commander at West Point.” I asked
about the files, thinking it was a follow-up call, but he said “I’d
like to meet with you. And I’d like to write an obituary of your dad
for our class, so I’ll need some information.” So Fred drove from
Pennsylvania to Washington D.C. and we met for lunch, and then he
invited our family to the class’s 40th reunion here at West Point.
Also during this time, I was still coping emotionally with September
11. I’d witnessed the Pentagon attack as I drove to my office at The
Washington Post. I saw the violent flames and the thick black smoke
engulf what I’d always considered to be an impenetrable fortress. And I
knew people were dying in those flames. Right next to me on the
freeway. The newsroom itself, which was just three blocks from the
White House, was full of rumors about more planes in the air and a
possible crash in a Pennsylvania field. It scared me that the newspaper
didn’t know what was going on, because we were supposed to be telling
everyone else what was going on. But no one, not my colleagues, not our
White House sources, not our fellow news organizations, knew anything.
It was the first time in my journalism career I’d felt completely in
the dark. So I watched helplessly on TV as people jumped to their
deaths from the highest floors of the World Trade Center, and I saw
those great skyscrapers collapse on top of trapped victims. Horrified
people were sitting stunned on the sidewalk, covered in blood and
debris, and it was all happening very fast, and it seemed surreal, like
a movie, because this kind of thing just didn’t happen in America. But
it was real, and for the first time in my life, I felt true terror.
So it was in that frame of mind that I came to the reunion at West
Point. I had never met my dad’s classmates before, but they hugged me
like family. Some studied my face, looking for my dad’s features. They
spent hours that weekend telling me stories about him, stories I’d
never heard. About how he brightened the spirits of those around him.
About his easy laugh and playful sense of humor. His mastery with a
rifle. How he taught himself to play he guitar. His book of irreverent
doodles, mostly aimed at professors. They showed me old photos, his
barracks, where he ate meals, where he played sports, where he prayed.
They showed me a man I never knew existed. One they were proud to know,
and one I wished I had known. At dinner his classmates talked about
Vietnam, and it was clear they found real solace and understanding in
each other. There was a memorial service at the cemetery. And I
couldn’t help but think, as I stood among my dad’s classmates while his
name was read and “Taps” was played and guns were fired, that he
probably felt more at home with the Army than he had ever felt at home
with us. But he never reached out to the men standing by my side.
That thought made me cry, but in those tears, I found forgiveness.
A few years later I was on Facebook and something popped into my
newsfeed from the satirical website The Onion. It had posted a
photoshopped image of a plane crashing into Chicago’s Sears Tower. The
post generated a 4,000-comment debate. Reading through the
back-and-forth, one comment summed up the general attitude on one side
of the argument:
Get a life people. The whole 9/11 fiasco was over a decade ago. Are you
clowns going to relive it every year? Don’t you think it’s time to move
The commenter was about as old as I was when I yelled at my dad about
the movie Platoon.
My reaction to this was to think about the difference between
experiencing tragedy as a kid and experiencing it as an adult. A new
generation is coming, one that did not personally experience September
11. Yet it is the fallout from that day that instilled in many of us a
deep desire to “protect” ourselves and generations beyond. Our children
are growing up in an age of war, invasive searches, increased border
security, barricades and background checks. Maybe some of today’s youth
feel as though they are paying for an overreaction to a terrible event
that happened a long time ago, just as I felt at one time.
On Facebook, even as the war in Afghanistan raged on, the lives of
9/11’s 3,000 victims were reduced to a joke, a joke many found funny.
And this, the forgetting of what it is like to live through human
suffering, or the absence of experiencing it firsthand, is why I
believe history can repeat itself. Perhaps it is just the natural cycle
of things: suffering, recovery, suffering, recovery. But will there
ever truly be peace if we must personally experience suffering in order
to learn from it?
Yet living as prisoners of our pasts is equally as destructive. It also
creates suffering, both in ourselves and those who love and need us in
the moment. Moving on is not the same as forgetting. In fact, moving on
is necessary after great pain. But it is extremely difficult.
While getting ready for school one morning, my 10-year-old daughter
asked me when her family was born. “I was born during the Vietnam war,”
I said, and your grandfather was born during WWII. Your
great-grandfather was born during WWI. “What war was I born during?”
she asked. And I had to say: Afghanistan.
It was then that I realized how much that reunion at West Point had
helped me move on, from both my childhood and September 11, how it had
taught me to view life and its cyclical nature with a spirit of
compassion, and had shown me how one generation can help the next cope
with suffering, and perhaps even find peace.
I understand West Point has a ring melt program, in which class rings
are donated and melted and merged into new rings for new graduates,
symbolizing the continuity of the Long Gray Line throughout
generations. I wrestled for a long time over the idea of donating my
dad’s ring, as it is the singlemost precious physical memory I have of
him. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ring is not mine,
and that it should take its rightful place back in the Line. A Line
that contains heroes, survivors, and yes, the fallen, which includes
not only those killed by battle, but also those killed by war. So I’ve
brought it with me today as a gift from the class of 65 to the class of
2015, its 50-year affiliate. And I feel comforted by the thought that
instead of it languishing away in back of a dark drawer, it may live on
down the Line, and shine in the sun, as well as in the hearts of those
who proudly wear it.
My experience with the class of 65 inspired me to write an essay for
National Public Radio, where I now work, on the anniversary of Sept.
11. I sent a link to the essay to the AOG and thanked them for
connecting me to my father’s classmates. An FYI. That’s it. What
followed was a flurry of emails from generals and colonels and other
people I have no idea how to properly address, so I tried to stay out
of it as best I could, which is how I ended up here today.
But I also received email from complete strangers, many of whom are
West Point grads, both young and old, sharing their own stories about
their parents or grandparents, stories about connections and healing,
and of their own experience of resilience.
Resilience. That is the lesson the class of 65 taught me. That is the
lesson 9/11 taught me, and sadly, that is the lesson my father taught
A father I never would have truly known if not for one small act, and
the kind hearts of his many classmates.