By Mike Strasser and Tommy Gilligan, West Point Public AffairsMay 20, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 20, 2010) -- "Are you wearing your long underwear today," asked a visiting graduate from the Class of 1945 to a group of cadets assisting alumni before the alumni exercises May 18.
A legitimate question indeed, considering the rainfall that would damper an otherwise joyous reunion. Hundreds huddled under umbrellas and any accommodating overhead coverage to participate in and view the alumni march to Thayer Statue.
Retired Gen. Ralph E. Haines Jr., Class of 1935, presented a wreath at the foot of monument, honoring the originator of the Long Gray Line. Wearing a hat proclaiming, "'35 is Still Alive," the Army's oldest living four-star general took a moment to address the audience. He paid tribute to the Father of West Point, Col. Sylvanus Thayer, and left the field with some memorable levity.
"Life is a dangerous endeavor which few of us get out of alive," Haines said, before ending his impromptu speech with a rousing "Beat Navy."
A little laughter was in order for the soggy spectators filling the bleachers on the Plain and along Washington Road. Haines, 96, was accompanied to Graduation Week events by his son, retired Lt. Col. William L. Haines, Class of 1967.
Haines' last visit to West Point was for his 70th class reunion in 2005. He said he enjoyed the return trip to his alma mater, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry.
He recalled stories of his four years here and offered a little advice to the cadets about to graduate on Saturday.
"Selfless service is the true criteria of a leader," Haines said. "I would tell these second lieutenants to demonstrate selfless service to the people they are privileged to lead."
Haines served as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1968. Between 1970 and 1973, Haines commanded the U.S. Army Continental Army Command as well as the U.S. Army Readiness Command and U.S. Army Forces Atlantic.
His command numbered 650,000 active and reserve army personnel and 100,000 civilian employees. After 37 years of active duty, Haines retired in January of 1973.
The alumni luncheon allowed guests to dry off before the Distinguished Graduate Award presentation inside Washington Hall. Among the honorees was a former West Point superintendent, retired Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman. As one of five distinguished graduates honored, Christman said as a 16-year-old high school student, West Point made a lasting first impression, and one which would continue as a cadet, instructor and senior officer.
"The more I was involved with the academy, I believed the young officers represented a model for the country from whatever commissioning source," said the 55th superintendent and Class of 1965 graduate.
While the Class of 2010 has endured the rigors of academia at the highest standards, Christman said it's important for them to remember that their education doesn't stop after graduation.
"There is life after Hooah, and right now you need to focus on your tactical competence. Be the best platoon leader and company commander you can be," Christman said. "You need to make sure that you continue your education so that you are professionally adept to manage the challenges you will incur as a major, lieutenant colonel or even as a diplomat."
More than 800 graduates, primarily from the classes of 1935, 1940, 1945, 1950, 1955 and 1960, were in attendance at this year's festivities which began Sunday with an Alumni Band Concert and a Black Knight Awards Ceremony.