William Paul Whelihan
West Point, 1966
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Ed Wright on March 22, 2009:
Alone now, old friend from Beast Barracks all the way back in 1962: toodling-crashing-bugling Hell Cats before sunrise, Reveille cannon, marching-in to non-meals, clothing formations, shower formations, endless marching, no sleep, endless repetition of GEN MacArthur's Duty-Honor-Country "Speech to the Corps", chewing on shoe tongues to silence our growling stomachs, dessert of Colgate toothpaste, snack of that day's New York tender-on-the-gums Times for a full feeling of fiber, discovery/loss of candy bars concealed in our bedposts, Retreat cannon, donating our fruit-and-milk to save a beleaguered classmate, westminister chimes from the chapel, Taps, Mr. "All-that-I-am-and-all-that-I-ever-hope-to-be-I-owe-to-my-first-New-Cadet-Detail-Squad-Leader" Bob Sandman, and your co-authorship of our squad paen to him for our first ever squad "Fall Out" Meal: (Sung to tune of "Mister Sandman")
"Mister Sandman, show us the ropes;
Give us a clue, and build up our hopes.
Let's eat that "food" behind your door,
And we'll come back asking 'More, More, More'.
"Mr. Sandman, give us a clue;
We are too young to know what to do.
Please tell us how to do it better,
So that we might get a four page letter.
"Mr. Sandman, come on and confess
About the cannon in front of the mess,
About the night in the Thayer Hotel,
About the walking tours that sure were hell."
Time has rushed by and those memories take on the "Tone and tint" of which MacArthur spoke. We won't share them again but the following seems appropriate:
Mr. Flood's Party
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:
"Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird." He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: "Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will."
Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland's ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben's eyes were dim.
Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:
"Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!"
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
"Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.
"Only a very little, Mr. Flood"
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do."
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang
"For auld lang syne." The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.