TIME MAGAZINE: NOVEMBER 17, 1997 VOL. 150 NO. 21


TOO MANY BRAVE SOULS

THE MILITARY ACADEMY CEMETERY REWARDS THE WANDERING IRONIST

BY JAMIE MALANOWSKI /WEST POINT, N.Y.


Walk through the graveyard; cemeteries reward the ironist. The collision between what once was and what is no more, the ineffability of a last impression, the follow-up question that can never be answered--it's all right there. In the cemetery at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Veterans Day will pass without formal observation; if the weather holds, the 6,827 men, women and children interred there will spend the day under a cerulean sky and pompon trees, and the living around them will give them the merest thought. Cemeteries reward the ironist.

Start in a bit from the entrance. There is a stone marking the plot of a Colonel Buchwald. It is large but not enormous, and Buchwald probably served his country well. The site would blend unnoticed if his neighbor to the left, lying under a small government-issue marker, wasn't Norman Cota, the general who on D-day rallied the scattered American invasion force on Omaha Beach and pushed it past the German defenses; Robert Mitchum played him in The Longest Day. A hundred yards away, under a similarly modest headstone, rests Alonzo H. Cushing, who commanded the federal battery at Gettysburg that stood at the very point Pickett aimed his charge. Cushing, twice wounded, stayed at his guns, firing double canister at the converging Confederates until a third shot got him. Right behind him is buried Judson Kilpatrick, a general considered so profligate with the lives of his men that they called him "Kill Cavalry." At the end of the row, under an obelisk, lies George Armstrong Custer. Or what may be Custer. When Custer was disinterred a year after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, diggers found that animals had scattered the bones. They took their best guess. Cemeteries reward the ironist.

There are heroes here: Paul Bunker, the only Army player to make Walter Camp's All-America team at two different positions, who died in a Japanese pow camp after smuggling his unit's flag past his captors; Ed White, who walked in space and died in Apollo 1; Joe Stilwell of China; Lucius Clay of the Berlin airlift; George Goethals of the Panama Canal. The biggest monument, however, a large pyramid, belongs to a general named Egbert Viele. An eminent engineer, he helped design the cemetery, which perhaps explains his prominence. The entrance to the pyramid is guarded by a pair of sphinxes. These are not the original sphinxes, which Mrs. Viele found too buxom, and which were then sunk in the Hudson River. Cemeteries reward the ironist.

Walk around. Walter Schulze was assigned to fly the news that the Great War was over to units east of the Rhine; on the way home, his plane crashed and he was killed. Art Bonifas, near the end of his tour, took a group out one day in 1976 to prune a poplar in the DMZ; the North Koreans set upon them and killed him. In Vietnam, Ron Zinn, twice an Olympic race walker, went out on patrol ahead of his unit and stepped on a mine. Bob Fuellhart was advising a Vietnamese battalion; while word was being sent up from the rear that his daughter had just been born, word was being sent back that he had been killed. Cemeteries reward the ironist.

"I got interested in this place," says Lieut. Colonel Conrad Crane, a member of West Point's history department, "when I asked the cadets in my class why they were here. Some said free education or to get a job on Wall Street. I wanted to show them what being a West Pointer is all about." He shows them a graveyard full of the young, dating from the first man buried here in 1782.

Walk along the western edge, and you find the dead of World War II, many of whom perished young. Charles Finley of the class of 1943, killed in Normandy in 1944. Henry Benitez of the class of '42, killed at Falaise in '44. Turner Chambliss Jr., '43, killed June 6, 1944. And so on, until you turn a corner and start finding George Tow and Samuel Coursen of the class of '49, killed in action in Korea, 1950. Over behind the Viele monument are the graves from Vietnam. There is a row in which 10 of 11 graves are occupied by members of the class of '66, and that does not begin to encompass that class's contribution. When that run ends, you have five in a row from the class of '64. One belongs to John Hottell III--a Rhodes scholar, twice a recipient of the Silver Star--who was killed in 1970. The year before, he had written his own obituary and sent it in a sealed envelope to his wife. "I deny that I died for anything--not my country, not my Army, not my fellow man," he wrote. "I lived for these things, and the manner in which I chose to do it involved the very real chance that I would die...my love for West Point and the Army was great enough...for me to accept this possibility as part of a price which must be paid for things of great value." Walk through the graveyard; cemeteries humble the ironist.

 

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