Standing Tall

Standing Tall

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Standing Tall

Anyone who fights for the future lives in it today.

Ayn Rand

Forty-seven cadets have been commissioned today; forty-seven young men and women are prepared to start new careers as lieutenants in the U.S. Army. One officer will retire.

Friends and family have come from all parts of the world to witness the commissioning and my husband’s retirement. O’ma has come from Florida, his sister from Texas and his brother from New York. Our daughter is newly home from college, and our son has surprised us both by flying in from Italy. Friends we haven’t seen in years are here to share in another big step in our lives.

Looking out on the long room of people drinking wine and eating hors d’oeuvres, my mind wanders back twenty-three years. . . .

Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. The auditorium is packed with friends and family all prepared to watch the event about to take place onstage. Straining to see my husband of a year, I see the colors being presented and the commissionees march onstage. There he is! He stands tall in his newly purchased uniform; the fit is flawless; the creases are perfect. Everything about his appearance shows pride, from the high gloss of his black shoes to the shine of his new brass. He looks young and sure of himself.

The cadets and audience are told to be seated, and Pennsylvania’s Senator Carlisle is introduced as guest speaker. His long-winded speech of duty, honor and country seems endless as the audience awaits the swearing in. Finally, General Jeffrey is standing before the cadets asking them to “Stand and repeat after me: I, state your name, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter—so help me God.”

It’s over. He’s a lieutenant. He’s a commissioned officer.

“Mom, Mom, we need more fresh fruit for the buffet table. Can you help me?”How like my daughter to drag me from my dreams and force my attention to the immediate.

“Of course, Meg,” I respond, as I try to get back to the duties at hand. But this seems to be a day to digress.

How many times have I replenished trays on a buffet table? Has it really been twenty-three years? Twenty-three years of packing household goods and moving around the world to find exciting adventures, good friends and new challenges have gone by so quickly. Where has the time gone?

It seems only yesterday we packed our meager four hundred pounds of belongings and flew to Germany for his first assignment. What great experiences we had exploring the old castles of Wurtzberg and looking for small country winestubes so we could sample the local vintage. What long hours he kept at his new job. And then there were the separations. There was the year he spent in Vietnam and his year in Korea. How he missed the kids. We couldn’t write enough letters or send enough pictures.

The adventures have been extensive. We lived in old dragoon barracks in Kansas; in quarters built during the Japanese occupation of Korea; on the warm sandy beaches of Florida where our daughter learned how to swim; and in New Mexico, where our son used a waxed Formica ski on the white sand dunes. To think we used to worry about the children and how our nomadic lifestyle would affect their growing up! They have thrived with each of our moves.

The time has gone. . . .

“Mrs. Buchwald, it’s time to start. Would you please take your place?”

“Of course, Major Stewart.” I am pulled back into the present.

There he is in his uniform for the last time. He stands tall. He’s gained a little weight, but not much. His uniform fits well; the creases are perfect. His shoes have a high gloss, and the brass of the uniform is worn but polished. Above his left pocket are the medals that show his commitment to duty, honor and country. He has a touch of gray at his temples and moist eyes as he stares at a distant point at the far end of the room.

“Attention to orders!” says Colonel Jackson. “Buchwald, Clarence R., Jr., Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army Cadet Command, Cornell University, you are retired from active service, released from assignment and duty, and, on July 31, 1989, placed on the retired list. The people of the United States express their thanks and gratitude for your faithful service. Your contributions to the defense of the United States of America are greatly appreciated.”

We’ve made it. All we can do is hug one another while thoughts of twenty-three years tumble through our minds.

Margaret Buchwald

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