Claude Darius Alexander
West Point, 1969
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Mike Healy on November 4, 2007:
A Courageous, Compassionate Man
Moments I spent with Claude come to mind in various forms: conversations, scenes, and memories which are triggered and played back when I encounter people, places and things important to him during his life. I will always remember and think of Claude when I return to those places he graced with his presence.
It is impossible to describe all that Claude meant to his family, his classmates, and his friends. In the space here, however, I’d like to share with you what I observed, while working with Claude on our class sponsored Walter Reed volunteer projects each month for the past few years.
Claude did more than anyone else in supporting our class sponsored Walter Reed volunteer program. He was the driving force of the program. He was the “go to” guy, the “hard charging, get it done” guy. He did everything to make the Walter Reed wounded soldiers and their families feel comfortable and cared for. A man of many talents, he not only provided refreshments for the soldiers on the bus, but sometimes actually drove a DAV bus, when necessary. More about the bus driving later! No task was too great or too small for him.
On Saturday, Oct 20th, the day before Claude’s sports parachuting accident, our West Point class volunteers sponsored a trip for the Walter Reed outpatients and their family members. Claude, George Albrecht, and I brought a group of about 15 outpatients and family members to a Navy home football game. At end of the game Claude had left some important papers inside the stadium. Being the selfless, caring guy that he was, he did not want to delay the group’s return to Walter Reed, so he sent the bus on its return trip home without him. Fortunately, he was able to contact me for a lift back to Walter Reed. I’m glad that Claude forgot his Walter Reed volunteer project folder at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium that day. It gave me some additional personal time with Claude. On the return trip to Walter Reed, we laughed and joked together about topics ranging from Washington beltway drivers to the Irish culture. Claude had a quick wit, with warm, good natured quips towards his friends. When I mentioned that I recently applied an Irish decal on my car’s rear window that ended up about 2 inches off center, Claude quickly shot back “Isn’t that just like the Irish…..they’re always two inches off center”. I responded smiling: “I’ll take that as a compliment”. Before I tell you more about that final trip to Walter Reed, let me tell you about some of the earlier Walter Reed trips with Claude.
On one of our earlier Walter Reed trips, a Sunday afternoon Army-Navy basketball game at the Naval Academy, Claude pulled double duty as the DAV bus driver to transport the Walter Reed group. We were running a bit late, but with Claude driving, we must have set a record for the shortest travel time between northwest DC and Annapolis that day. It was an exciting and thrilling experience riding with Claude driving a 20+ year old DAV bus, and so was the Army-Navy basketball game with an Army victory. From the many times Claude visited the soldiers at Walter Reed (at least one day a week), Claude knew all the shortcuts from northern Virginia to Walter Reed. He was equally adept at driving through DC street traffic as he was on the beltway.
On our Walter Reed trips, Claude’s generosity and care giving shone forth over and over again. On many occasions, he bought food and drinks at the sports stadium and arena concessions stands for the Walter Reed soldier outpatients and their families. One time, when he couldn’t attend a Walter Reed group trip to a Washington Capitals ice hockey game, he set up an account with the arena concessions so that the soldiers didn’t have to pay for food and drink themselves while at the game. In 2005, after the Army-Navy lacrosse game, Claude spent the extra time to show a severely wounded young West Point grad and his family a tour of the Naval Academy and downtown Annapolis, and took them to dinner.
Claude was a thoughtful man. Whenever a friend or an associate accompanied him to Walter Reed, Claude went out of his way to introduce his friend or associate to the many outpatients and staff members whom Claude knew, while making the rounds. No one was left out.
During the opening ceremony for new Walter Reed physical therapy center, Claude was, as usual, totally committed to the young wounded soldiers. He corralled Congressman Tom Murtha and Secretary Jim Nicholson and other dignitaries and made certain that they took the time to meet a young enlisted double amputee inpatient after the ceremony. Claude was not shy. He did not let rank or privilege stand in the way of his meeting the needs of the people he was there to serve.
Claude and I communicated a few times every week for the past few years coordinating and organizing our class sponsored Walter Reed volunteer projects. We didn't know each other at the Academy, but we became close friends through our mutual interests in providing support and encouragement to the Walter Reed outpatients. Claude, George Albrecht and I brought a group of Walter Reed outpatients and family members to the Navy-Wake Forest football game in Annapolis, Maryland. This was Claude’s last Walter Reed volunteer trip. It was a beautiful day for a college football game. Claude was his usual high energy self organizing the activities and taking care of the trip details throughout the day. He always put the soldiers and their family members first. Scenes of Claude holding a young soldier's small son with big smiles on everyone's faces, laughing and joking, at that Saturday Navy football game said it all. Claude will always be with us in spirit on all of our future Walter Reed outpatient recreation trips.
During our time together, Claude and I occasionally spoke about Ireland. I understand that he and his family may have made one or more trips there. Claude spoke warmly of his Ireland experiences. I’ll conclude with an ancient traditional Irish phrase to sum up in a few words what I and many people feel about his passing:
“Ní fheichfidh muid a léithéid go deo”
“We will never see his like again”
I will miss him.