May/June 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 3
Scarcely three months after the Gulf War ended, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, still clad in his desert fatigues, returned to a hero’s welcome at West Point. After reviewing the corps of cadets as we marched by on the plain, the general gave a fine lecture to students and faculty concerning the importance of having “competence and character.”
At the time of General Schwarzkopf’s visit to his alma mater, I was one of the hosts of a weekly radio comedy program titled “The Long Strange Trip.” When I found out that the academy was to receive such an exalted alumnus, I knew what I had to do. Borrowing a tape recorder from the radio station, I set out to have the general record a promotional message for my show. However, I was told by the first captain (the ranking cadet at West Point) that it was not proper protocol for a general, especially one of Schwarzkopf’s stature, to take part in such a trivial matter.
I was dejected but not defeated. After returning from General Schwarzkopf’s lecture, one of my radio comrades, Sean Simpson, and I decided to throw caution to the winds and advance upon our objective. Leaving our rooms after taps, we met up and headed to the superintendent’s house, where General Schwarzkopf was spending the night. As we approached, we saw our intended target standing on the porch, talking with a couple of ladies and some Secret Service men. It was a good thing he was on the porch, because we really didn’t want to knock on the superintendent’s door. Nevertheless, as we came within ten yards of the house, fear stopped us cold. “This is crazy,” I said to Sean. He agreed.
We turned to go. Then from behind us we heard a booming voice say, “You there. You want to talk to me? Come on up. Audacity’s good at this time of night!” My heart was racing. Sean and I stepped up on the porch, rendered nervous salutes, and stood there at semi-attention. After some awkward explanation of who we were and what we wanted, General Schwarzkopf read the short script I had prepared, smiled, and said into my recorder, “Hi, this is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and when I’m not leading a multinational, combined arms force, I’m hangin’ out with Jim, Joe, and Scan, on “The Long Strange Trip”—the mother of all radio shows, on WKDT, West Point.” He added, “And if you believe this, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you. Okay?”
We were overjoyed. Scan and I had confronted a hero and connected with a man.