Fred Gerard Knieriem
West Point, 1955
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by RICH MILLER & JOE FRANKLIN on May 12, 2008:
The Story of Fred Knieriem at West Point, as Told by His Roommates.
Plebes Fred Knieriem, Rich Miller, and Joe Franklin became roommates at the very beginning, that is, at the end of Beast Barracks in 1951. They were assigned to Company K-1 and in an evening meeting in the "sinks" of the 34th Division of (then) new South Barracks they chose each other for what would become a rarity in cadet life: roommates for all four of their cadet years.
Rich's dad was an Army colonel, so he had a little sense of what was in store for him as a West Point cadet. Fred had joined the Navy and managed to get himself to the USMA Prep School at Stewart Field, New York, so he had the advantage of a year's "head start" on cadet life, most importantly the curriculum to be faced from day one of academics. Joe was the least informed, coming directly from the Appalaichan Mountains of western Maryland without a clue of what was in store, including a stint in the Army after graduation.
Fred brought one unique quality to the three new roommates: he hailed from North Tarrytown, NY, just a short distance down the Hudson River from West Point. Mr. and Mrs. Knieriem were naturalized German citizens and spoke German around the house. (This will enter into the story later.) They were also the perfect plebe parents, because "Pop" Knieriem drove a bakery truck which allowed him to bring "Mom" Knieriem and all the unsold "boodle" from his truck to feed Fred and his roommates every weekend. After plebe year, the roommates looked forward to weekends in Tarrytown, visualizing Mom Kineriem, standing at the dining room table with serving spoon in hand, urging everyone to take second helpings of her wonderful German cuisine. Sauerbraten never tasted so good.
The three roommates were well-suited to each other, because all aspired to be athletes and played on the football team together. Rich was also a lacrosse player, and Joe was a golfer, so their springtime was taken by these sports after spending some of the season with Fred at the mandatory spring football practice. Fred was a very accomplished boxer, and in the winter of yearling year made it all the way to the "intermurder" regimental finals as a heavyweight, bringing great credit and pride to the "runts" of K-1.
By 1953 the Army football team had recovered from the down days of the 1951 cheating scandal. Col. Blaik was shaping the bench by moving players back and forth from "A" to "B" squads. Fred and Rich, both playing fullback, found themselves in competition for jersey number "37". Fred made the team photo with Joe in 1953. Rich sat next to number "65" Joe in the 1954 team photo. There was never a hard feeling. The roommates played as best they could for the good of the "Brave Old Army Team." Rich readily admits that Fred was the better player. Joe, being the pulling guard that did his best to block for which ever one of them was running the ball, never entered this phase of roommate competition.
Suffice it to say the three roommates were never very far apart, and evenings found them trying to stay awake to study after strenuous days on the fields of friendly strife.
Fred brought with him the advantage of having already been exposed to a great deal of the plebe curriculum at the Prep School, so he breezed through the rugged plebe math course with the greatest of ease. He cleverly selected German as his language, the one elective allowed to plebes in those days. To his and his parents' horror, German turned out to be the hardest subject by far for Fred to master. Mom and Pop Knieriem were perplexed by Fred's language barriers, and Rich and Joe were relentless in teasing him about it.
Cadet years passed as they always do, with a medley of happenings that the roommates recorded in their "never-to-be forgotten" memories. Among them were instances of Fred trying to cure the ever-present winter-time colds we suffered by running steaming tap water in the sink while covering his head with a towel and bending over to absorb the steam rising from the running water. With each pass, he would rise up from his bent-over posture, speak a few words to his roomies, and announce: "Well, I guess I'll emerge my head in the steam again." Language, it often seemed, was not Fred's longest suit, and his use of multi-syllabic words like "immerse" did not always come out as he intended.
One other experience we shared during cadet years bears repeating. In the summer of Cow Year we embarked at West Point's South Dock on an APA, a World War II Navy troop ship that would take us to Little Creek, Virginia, for the infamous CAMID amphibious exercises. This was a much-anticipated part of our summer training that introduced us to Army life on a Navy ship. Cruising down the Hudson, we looked to Fred as our mentor on this training, since he was the one among us who had actually been in the Navy. As the Hudson flowed into New York harbor, the gentle swells of the nearby Atlantic began to move our ship in rhythmic up-and-down cycles. Sitting together in the ship's enlisted mess, we watched as Fred, our Navy veteran, gradually turned pale, then green, and became the first among us to get seasick on CAMID.
But Fred was far more famous and beloved for other skills he shared with his classmates. He supplied any number of attractive young Tarrytown ladies to all of us during our cadet years. Rich and Joe took good advantage of this treasure trove, but the tables turned when Joe introduced Fred to the sister of one of his prep school classmates who hailed from Scarsdale. June Wetzel swept Fred off his feet, and vice versa, and they were married soon after graduation. Rich and Fred were ushers and later spent the night on the Knieriems' couch in North Tarrytown before taking off for careers that carried the roommates to the four corners of the earth.
Graduation meant separation for the room-mates. Fred went Air Force, Rich and Joe went Engineers, and meetings of the roommates became few and far between. Joe next saw Fred at the World's Fair on Long Island in 1965 when their respective tour buses passed in opposite directions, allowing only a brief "Hey Fred!" "Hey Joe!" to pass between them.
In 1968 when Joe and Rich were both at West Point teaching in the Department of Military Art and Engineering, they invited Mom and Pop Knieriem to the Academy for Sunday brunch and reunion. It was a fine occasion for catching up on Fred's career and family. The senior Knieriems soon moved to Sun City, Arizona, but kept in touch via Christmas cards until they passed away. They will always be part of the roommates' memories of Fred.
Then in 1990 Fred came to Madrid, Spain, as part of the Lockheed team that was selling the C-130 aircraft to the Spanish Air Force. Joe had retired in Madrid, so he and Fred spent part of one day together, catching up on their many interests and affairs, including Fred's eventual resignation from the Air Force, his divorce from June, and his re-marriage to Patty. The two old room-mates parted with mutual assurances of future rendezvous. Sadly, as so often happens with the best of intentions, that was to be the last time they met face-to-face.
Fred eventually entered the Veterans Home in Milledgeville, Georgia, where Rich found him and arranged a conference call between the three roommates at Christmas in 2004. Fred was suffering from Parkinson's disease and early Alzheimer's, but the phone call went well with a few more to follow. Rich and Joe, who attended the 50th class reunion, sent Fred the Reunion Book to keep him up to date with his classmates. Subsequently, classmate Ron Rule visited Fred and reported periodically on his condition. Sadly, Fred passed away before the three roommates were again in touch.
Fred, we love you and will be looking forward to seeing you again when our course on earth is run. Then we can look back together on those days when we were roommates at West Point: three virile young humpty football players, hanging out together and doing our best to "beat the system."
You will be in our memories forever. Well done. Be thou at peace.
From your room-mates Rich and Joe
12 MAY 2008