Saturday, May 12, 2007


Joyce and I have just gotten just back from a commissioning. It's now two years since Andy received his brass bars and this time next year James will receive his. So it was an emotional event for me, filled with both reminiscence and anticipation. I counted it a great honor to shake the hands of nine freshly minted Army second lieutenants and to thank their parents for bringing up the next generation of America's warriors.

The ceremony was very well run. As each lieutenant was called from his seat on the front row, the family members who were doing the pinning were announced from the podium. As the commissionee stood at attention, facing us center stage, the family members pinned his bars. Then the lieutenant was given a minute to express his gratitude to family and friends. Following that, the announcer told us who had the honor of rendering the first salute to the new lieutenant. The freshly buttered lieutenant then executed a left face and walk to the waiting enlisted man where salutes and a dollar were exchanged.

The last lieutenant to receive his butter bars was pinned by his mom and dad. Mom wore a modest but stylish dress; dad was a bit more garish - in Class A's with a chest full of ribbons, a sleeve full of hash marks and a shoulder full of stripes. After the new lieutenant's bars were pinned and he'd spoken his words of thanks, mom returned to her seat and dad turned smartly to the right side of the stage where he performed an about-face. The stern lieutenant then executed a left face and marched to a point directly in front of his dad. The Sergeant First Class snapped a clean salute (one that bespoke service as a drill instructor). The lieutenant returned the compliment, and then rendered the traditional tribute. As the coin passed from left hand to left hand, their right hands clasped. Then the older hand (still gripping the coin) reached over the lieutenant's shoulder and drew him into a firm hug. The grinning men then spoke soft words to each other, and the lieutenant took his seat while the sergeant rejoined his tear-stained bride. The applause was just a touch longer than it had been for the other commissionees.

At the reception, I had the chance to speak to the dad. I told him, "You must be very proud of that young man." He agreed, he most certainly was. I considered asking him how much he'd sell that dollar coin for, but decided it was a risky question, one that (coming from a stranger) he might not appreciate. I did however share a story with him that made him laugh. I told him about my oldest brother's commissioning some 37 years ago.

This tale is actually about the morning after Joel was commissioned. That Sunday morning, as Dad was leaning over the bathroom sink shaving, Joel appeared in the doorway. Seeing that his way to the toilet was blocked by our father (a 52-year-old WW2-vintage tech sergeant), the fresh lieutenant steadied his voice and commanded as firmly as he could: "Sergeant, stand aside. I need to pee!"

Dad snapped to attention and stepped back from the sink: "Sir! Yes, sir!"

As Joel stepped past he remarked to himself, "I've always wanted to say that to my dad."

Dad then executed a right face, reared back with his left leg and landed a solid kick to Joel's retreating buttocks. Dad returned to the task of stroking the razor against his neck, muttering, "I've always wanted to do that to a pissy second lieutenant."