Under Construction
Ladd Metzner's Class Ring

Ladd Metzner's Cadet Picture 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.


Graduates and friends of West Point,

Laurel Dalrymple at West PointGood 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 war.

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 on?

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 me.
A father I never would have truly known if not for one small act, and the kind hearts of his many classmates. 

Thank you.