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… And Touched By Ike

March 2023
2min read

In 1962 Brown Military Academy in Glendora, California, was a boarding school modeled after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Like our older counterpart on the Hudson, we endured the indignities of plebe year, stood countless inspections, and wore full-dress uniforms of a pattern first seen in the War of 1812.

On ceremonial occasions we stood resplendent in tight gray coatees, trousers, crossbelts, and white gloves, all surmounted by “tar bucket” shakos. Cadet officers merited the added glory of sabers, red sashes, and feathered plumes. Such splendor was not achieved without a good deal of effort.

Before parades we spent hours spitshining our shoes and polishing the brass chest-plates and the countless buttons on our jackets. Nor did we neglect our M-1 rifles (much carried but never fired). I spent ages rubbing the wooden stock of my rifle with linseed oil in order to bring it to the requisite state of gleaming perfection.

There was, however, one problem. The stock would become so slippery with all that rubbing that I could not get a grip on it when I wore my white cotton gloves. At the command “port arms,” my hand would rise to the prescribed position, but my rifle would slide through my fingers and crash to the ground. I remember standing in ranks, looking from my empty right hand to the rifle at my feet while my squad leader muttered dire threats.

A troop of Secret Service agents burst into our dorm, cursing and slamming students against the wall.

I soon learned that if I soaked my gloves with water just before a parade, I could maintain a grip on my rifle. It was a crude expedient, but it worked.

Brown Military Academy held fulldress parades once a month. On those days the corps of cadets would pass in review. Promotions would be announced, and awards presented, by the reviewing officer, usually an individual of some renown. One day in the spring of 1962 the commandant informed us that the reviewing officer for the next monthly parade would be none other than former President Eisenhower. I learned that I would receive an award for scholastic achievement at that time.

The big day came. I donned my fulldress uniform, drew my rifle, dashed madly to the latrine, soaked my gloves full of water, and fell in line. The corps of cadets marched off to the strains of the “Washington Post March.” The band played. The adjutant strutted. The plumes on the cadet officers’ shakos fluttered. I managed to keep control of my rifle.

Finally the command was given, and the adjutant bellowed, “All officers, colors, and persons to be decorated—center, march!” I passed my rifle to the cadet next to me and marched out to join the rank assembling before the corps of cadets.

We marched forward on line and halted before the reviewing stand. There he was: Dwight David Eisenhower, General of the Army, five stars no less, and former President of the United States. It suddenly dawned on me that I was about to take that august hand in my clammy glove.

“Cadet Private Grace, front and center!” With a sinking sensation I marched forward, halted, saluted, and clutched Ike’s right hand in mine.

The former President started slightly, glanced down at our clasped hands, and suddenly broke out in his famous grin. I cannot be certain, but I swear he even winked at me. I saluted, faced about, and flew back to my place in the rank.

After the ceremony Eisenhower spoke to the school about his own days as a cadet color sergeant at West Point and joked about the demerits he had accumulated. His remarks were brief but warm. I like to think there was a pair of damp white gloves in his own past.

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