Stories of strength, heroism shared at "Inspiration to Serve" Tour
May 10, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 10, 2012) -- "Today, I get to talk about my father," Col. John Graham, West Point's chief scientist, began to tell Class of 2014 cadets.
Graham was nearly six years old when his father, Capt. John M. Graham, a Class of 1964 graduate, was killed in action. Still, there were many stories he could tell and lessons to impart on the cadets.
"How do I know so many stories about my father? From his classmates," Graham said.
During the 7th annual "Inspiration to Serve" Cemetery Tour May 3, Graham said the Class of 1964 continues to care for his family to this day--from birthdays and graduations to weddings and other significant family events.
He said those graduates became an integral part of his family's life, and, likewise, the Class of 2014 will discover how deep the connection between class and graduates runs, as the commitment to serve is the hallmark of membership in the Long Gray Line.
During the cemetery tour, others shared equally inspiring stories--told by family members, classmates and coaches, colleagues and historians.
Maj. Calvin Kroeger, an instructor in the Department of Military Instruction and an engineer branch representative, spoke of Capt. Dennis Pintor, Class of 1998 graduate. Pintor served as the Pistol Team manager, when Kroeger first met him.
"He was the one with the whip, always cracking it to keep everyone in line. I was the only plebe traveling with the team, and Dennis kept me straight," Kroeger said. "Little did I know, he would be my company commander in a few short years."
Kroeger served as the company executive officer--Pintor's wingman, he said--in Iraq when Pintor was killed in October 2004 by an improvised explosive device which detonated near his vehicle.
Kroeger said he was about 75 meters away and remembers everything vividly. Kroeger told the cadets to never forget their classmates. The things they do to inspire are what they'll be remembered for, he said.
"Dennis always had you report four things on the radio: being motivated, leader-driven, disciplined and ready for the next fight," Kroeger said. "Kind of like a true Spartan, and we always had to report back his philosophy whenever we passed reports back and forth."
This is the third year Kroeger has shared Pintor's story with cadets.
"It really has become a humbling experience," Kroeger said. "The closer you are to somebody, whether it be a friend or father, mentor or commander, the stories become a little more real and more grounded to those you tell it to."
Class of 2014 Cadet Sarah Hutchison would have taken the tour with her classmates had she not been among the 20 presenters that day.
Instead, she shared with them the story of her mother, Lt. Col. Jeanne Hutchison, who passed on Feb. 26, 2009, due to a sudden illness. The Class of 1988 graduate was a Signal officer who deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. She returned to West Point in 2008 and served as the tactical officer for 2nd Regiment.
Sarah volunteered as a plebe last year at the tour, but rain kept all the presenters huddled inside the Old Cadet Chapel. There, they exchanged stories with each other.
"I struggled getting through talking about my mom, because, obviously, it's hard to talk about people you lose," she said. "But that was a really good experience, and I heard everyone's stories. It was completely life-changing to hear them all."
Sarah said she was able to draw from that experience--sort of like a rehearsal--to help her get through the stories she would tell to hundreds of cadets this time around. She also had the chance to see returning presenters, like retired Col. Jeanette McMahon, whose children Sarah went to high school with. Lt. Col. Michael McMahon, Class of 1985, died in November 2004 in a plane crash while deployed in Afghanistan.
"It was real touching to me. I had never heard the whole story until last year. She's a real strong woman and she knew my mom very well," Sarah said.
Cadets also heard from the parents of 2nd Lt. Emily Perez, a Class of 2005 graduate. They spoke of their daughter's strength and commitment, and told cadets to follow her example of caring for their troops.
"Their accomplishments will reflect well on you," Daniel Perez said.
The annual cemetery tour serves to remind yearlings not only of why they chose to attend the U.S. Military Academy, but also why they've committed to stay--as they will take the oath again this fall at the Affirmation Ceremony.
This was a message Maj. Dallas Cheatham, DMI instructor and infantry branch representative, presented to cadets as he told the story of 1st Lt. David Bernstein, a fellow Class of 2001 graduate. They were roommates through Beast Barracks and in Company H-3.
Bernstein graduated fifth in his class and was a vital member on the West Point Swim Team. In October 2003, he was serving as an infantry company executive officer in Iraq when he was killed by enemy fire while rescuing one of his Soldiers. It was that selfless characteristic, Cheatham remembers most.
"He was a great friend and would bend over backward to help anybody," Cheatham said.