On Saturday, the Usual Suspects made the hour-or-so trek north to the United States Military Academy at West Point to attend the wedding of our friends’ daughter to an Army Captain, who is a graduate of West Point.
It was a great experience.
It is impossible to spend any time at West Point without being surrounded by history – a history as old as the nation itself. The Academy’s website, which provides a brief history of the institution, states, in part:
West Point’s role in our nation’s history dates back to the Revolutionary War, when both sides realized the strategic importance of the commanding plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River. General George Washington considered West Point to be the most important strategic position in America. Washington personally selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko, one of the heroes of Saratoga, to design the fortifications for West Point in l778, and Washington transferred his headquarters to West Point in l779. Continental soldiers built forts, batteries and redoubts and extended a l50-ton iron chain across the Hudson to control river traffic. Fortress West Point was never captured by the British, despite Benedict Arnold’s treason. West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.
While on the installation, I often had to take pause to consider that I was walking on the ground trodden by George Washington and on the grounds of the school attended by people such as: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, George S. Patton, Jr., Omar N. Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Brent Scowcroft, Frank Borman, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Edward White II, Michael Collins and H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
The Ceremony was held in the Cadet Chapel, which was completed in 1910. I looked around the web for a photo of the interior of the chapel, but I could not find one. I suspect the reason for that is that it would be impossible to capture the interior of the chapel in a photograph. It is huge, with magnificent stained glass windows higher that one would normally expect to see them.
The chapel is also home of the world’s largest church organ, the pipes for which run the length of the building. It’s sound was breathtaking, with low notes that could loosen one’s fillings and high notes that I figure only the bats can hear. A special surprise was the battery of straight, brass horns mounted over the main entrance to the chapel. When the organist pulled out the stops on those, they blew clarion tones that J.S. Bach could easily have heard, even on his worst day.
Upon arriving to the chapel, the ladies were escorted to their seats by the groomsmen, all of whom were Army officers, and most of whom were also Academy Graduates. The groom and the groomsmen all wore their dress blue uniforms, each one wearing the ribbons showing, among other things, his service in Afghanistan or Iraq. Most of them wore, above their ribbons, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The Best Man (the groom’s brother) is also an Army officer, and he too was wearing his dress blues. It was most impressive.
The bride was escorted down the long aisle by her dad, our friend, John. He was beaming, and she was stunning.
The ceremony itself, conducted by an Army Chaplain, was shorter than most wedding ceremonies, but was very classy and covered all the necessary ground. I liked it a lot.
The Sword Arch
After the ceremony, the guests gathered outside the church to see the Sword Arch Ceremony.
The groomsmen exited the chapel in two columns and faced each other on the steps. On command each of the groomsmen raised his sword with the cutting edge up to form an arch. The bride and groom followed the tradition, which:
…dictates that as the bride and groom pass through the arch, the last two bearers drop their sabers or swords, forming a cross to block the path of the couple. The groom then kisses his bride. The crossed swords are raised for the couple to pass through. The bearer on the bride’s side, as she passes by, gently swats the bride on the backside and says “Welcome to the Army, Ma’am.”
The reception was held at the Hotel Thayer, which is on Academy property and which provides yet another history immersion. The Usuals had booked rooms in the place, so driving after the reception would not be an issue. Once we all checked in, we quickly located the cocktail lounge for a few “pre-cocktail hour” cocktails. From there, we proceeded to the cocktail hour, where we had a few more cocktails.
Then it was on to the reception room, which was beautifully appointed and where we had more cocktails and delicious food. We did manage to find time to talk to the soldiers in the wedding party. I cannot tell you how impressive these young gentlemen are. They are bright, well spoken, outgoing, extremely polite and modest. As I noted above, other than by knowing what their decorations signify, you would never know that each of them has been, as we say, “in the shit”.
You guessed it. Back to the cocktail lounge for more cocktails. It was a long day, and it was a damned good thing no one had to drive home