Today at breakfast, as per the usual procedure for meals, the Corps of Cadets was called to attention. Table commandants were called up to the Poop Deck to pick up floaters, but the magnified voice then broke from the usual script: “Please give your attention to the First Captain.”
The First Captain — Charlie Phelps — took the microphone, and I saw a few eyes roll. It was probably another announcement about events leading up to graduation, more words that stood between 4,700 cadets and mess hall food.
“I regret to inform you…”
Instantly, the mess hall became silent. One or more members of the Long Gray Line had died, and the First Captain bore the somber duty of announcing their names and backgrounds to the Corps. This morning, the Corps was informed of the deaths of two of its graduates: Mario Hill and 2LT David Rylander.
Mario was a 2010 graduate and a member of the Army football team. He was unable to commission after graduation due to medical reasons, and was killed in a car crash in Kentucky on May 5, 2012.
2LT Rylander was a 2011 graduate and a member of company E4. He had commissioned with the Engineers, was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, and died in an IED blast in Logar Province, Afghanistan.
It becomes easy for us to lose sight of the “big picture” when we spend the majority of our time here attending class, studying, and struggling to find more time for sleep. This morning’s announcement was a somber reminder of the price we pay for what is widely called a “free” education. We commit five years of our lives to active duty service, and another three years to a Reserve role. However unpleasant the thought, that commitment comes with the possibility of prematurely lengthening the Long Gray Line of deceased West Point graduates. As we sang in a gravelly chorus this morning:
And when our work is done,
Our course on earth is run,
May it be said, “Well done;
Be thou at peace.”
E’er may that line of gray
Increase from day to day
Live, serve, and die, we pray,
West Point, for thee.