Fred Gerard Knieriem
West Point, 1955
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Bill McWilliams on May 12, 2008:
Yes, it's true. You saved both Ronnie and me for one another. The story is in the letter below, first sent to you through Patty in April 2007, when we first learned you were "under the weather." If you don't mind, I'm mailing it again. St. Pete will certainly pass it on to you. Or who knows? Maybe he doesn't have to, 'cause you can read it anyhow.
Didn't write the letter in German, and it's a good thing after reading what Rich and Joe said about your struggles with your dad and mom's language from the old country. That's one story about you, among many I didn't know. Besides, I took Spanish and had my own troubles.
And probably, on a weekday afternoon in October 1951, when we were Plebes - "Dumbsmacks" or "Dumbguards" - you rang my chimes on "C-Squad," the Plebe football team - maybe you and Rich Miller both. And I'll bet Joe Franklin knocked me on my can that same day. You see, at a great big 165 pounds, fully 20 "Boodler ice cream-pounds" heavier than "Beast Barracks Light" at the end of August, the coaches put me on defense that afternoon, first at linebacker, then defensive halfback, and ran the right side of the offensive line and backfield on quick-opening, straight-ahead hand-offs, then changed the plays to fake the handoff to the fullback or halfback, and pitch it to the left halfback around end. It was the day I tried a second time to "walk on" to the Army team. Talk about cooperative roommates. Wow!
And by the way, Jim Torrence was there, too, that afternoon.
It was just one afternoon, but one I've never forgotten - and never will. A turning point in my life, when my fledgling "Black Knight" classmates pounded some sense into me, all quite legally, made me see stars on several occasions - and at the end of the day, one of my heroes, the great Arnold Tucker, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Good job, Mac, we'll call you if we need you." Of course the call never came, but it didn't bother me. I guess it was the old story about "Better to have tried playing the game, and not making the team, than never having tried at all." Funny how life works.
So there you have it, Fred Knieriem. Really - on two counts, you contributed to our lives more than you can ever know. We did see one another, Ronnie and I, you and June, in Primary Pilot Training at Mission, Texas, but then we went our separate ways in March 1956. We won't forget though. Never. There you are in our wedding photos on 8 June 1955, a saber bearer. Good looking. Tough as ever - ready to go.
Hope you read the letter again. Somehow, we believe you will, even though you've "...slipped the surly bonds of earth to dance on laughter-silvered wings..."
Love from Ronnie and me.
April 4, 2007
Mr. Fred Knieriem
Georgia War Veterans’ Home
Wood 3 Building
2248 Vinson Highway
Milledgeville, GA 31061
A voice, and a page or two out of your past. A short time ago Ronnie and I learned Rich Miller had located you and had come by to visit, and was periodically calling. Funny, just a few days prior to learning that, I was going through our wedding album to copy a wedding party photo onto an internet web site that Tom Sims, our West Point I-2 classmate had set up for every member of the class. And there you were in the wedding party at the Catholic Chapel, with Rich Miller, Karl Brunstein, Ed Anderson, Bill Hock, Dave Pettet, and Rich Daluga (class of 57, K-1) to remind me that were it not for you, Ronnie and I might never have married 52 years ago this coming June 8.
It was an impromptu meeting you and I had on “Diagonal Walk” in August 1954 when I was on the “Second Beast Detail” and you were on the training detail at Camp Buckner, also getting ready for the great football season of that year. You had evidently come into the Academy on some kind of business – probably football practice - and I was headed from North Area where the New Cadet Companies were staying, toward Central or South area for some reason. As we were passing one another on Diagonal Walk, one of us said hello or some form of friendly greeting, and you said “Hi, Mac,” then stopped, turned and said, “Hey, I saw ‘your girl’ out at Buckner today. She was with some flanker.” I was both surprised – and realized at that instant I was fumbling the ball. You see, Ronnie and I had sort of parted company at the end of Cow year, when her sister Helen married Ron Button, ’54. We hadn’t written one another, and neither had I called her. Big smart aleck first classman, and not very wise at all.
Well, I didn’t say anything at the time, but went straight to a pay phone and called her home in Philly. Her dad, a Scotsman from the old country, answered the phone. I asked, “Mr. Collier, is Ronnie there?” He said, “No, Bill, I thought she was at West Point with you.” That did it. After that weekend I contacted her by phone and asked her back to West Point for a date as soon as she could come. She did, and here we are. The rest is history. I have long wanted to tell you that story, because you never knew how important you were in our lives. The wedding album photo brought it all back.
And now one other thing. I’m sending you a copy of a book I wrote, a history of the Military Academy during the Korean War, and it of course spans most of our time as cadets – from 1950 up through the fall of 1953, the great 7-1-1 football season of that year, when we were Cows.
I think you might like it, because it tells of our first summer at West Point, and a lot of other stories about men you knew in our class and other classes, and on the football teams of 1951-53, complete with photos. I hope you enjoy it. It will most assuredly bring back some great memories of grand times. You’ll find the story of our Plebe summer in chapter 9, “Hard Lessons and Laughter.” There are many photographs, all through the book, and all the stories of every Army football game of those three seasons.
As to photographs, aside from all the football pictures, when you get into chapter 9, check the photo on page 329, and there you are on your first day at West Point. There is a photo of our “swearing-in” ceremony on page 338, other classmate photos on pages 333 (first meal in the dining hall), 334 (South Area), 336 and 337. There are some great cadet cartoons scattered through the book, but especially in chapter 9. Check pages 357, 367 and 370.
Then there are the football team stories: Chapters 11 (about Coach Blaik), 12 (the ’51 season), 14 (’52 season), 17, 18, and 19 (’53 season). It’s all there.
So please accept this from Ronnie and me, as joyful reminder of what you did for us – and you never knew it because – well – you know how men are. Sometimes too proud, or maybe not wanting to admit they almost blew it.
Take care, and we’ll be in touch.
Our fond good wishes,
Bill and Ronnie McWilliams
2229 Fiero Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89134
(702) 363-6968; E-mail: email@example.com