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  • Writer's pictureJack Cannonball May

The Long Gray Line


That Thursday morning in 1955, the air on the Hudson River was clean and crisp. We cadets arose at our usual time for Reveille, 0550 in the morning, to the sound of a cannon followed by the drum and bugles of the Hell Cats. This day was to be different. Rather than beginning the morning with an hour and a half of calculus, we were having no classes, and being taken in buses to New York City, 55 miles south.

The occasion was the premiere of the movie "The Long Gray Line," starring the beautiful redhead Maureen O'Hara. The movie centered on the former head of athletics at West Point, an Irishman named Marty Maher. The movie makers and the administration of the Academy believed, correctly, that it was appropriate for the Corps of Cadets to be honored guests for the premiere slated for the legendary Radio City Music Hall.

Appropriately that day, the 17th of March, was St. Patrick's Day. For a boy from Kentucky, this was a great adventure. I had never heard of St. Patrick, growing up in the Baptist Church down south, but was pleased and overjoyed to celebrate him because it meant a day off from the stress of class and plebe year as a freshman.

The Corps of Cadets, numbering slightly less than 2000, marched the short distance from the bus stop into the theater, surrounded by mobs of cheering spectators. The star made a stunning appearance, welcoming us. I don't know what the other cadets thought, but I was stricken by the beauty of Miss O'Hara. Of course, we all had been without almost any female company for nearly a year, so probably any girl would have been appealing.

After the so-so moviemuch about the Academy was inaccurate—we were released into the Big Apple for several hours of freedom before returning to our rock-bound highland home. My roommates, Jerry Hoblit and Ted Childress, had no plans but did not intend to waste our few hours of freedom. We were lured into a nearby bar where the St. Paddy's Day celebration was in full swing. We were offered glasses of beer . . . green beer! None of us had ever had a beer or a drink of alcohol, so it was easy to decline the hospitality.

We looked at each other and departed. At the first steak house nearby, we soon relaxed with huge portions of red meat and glasses of ice. We finished off with hot fudge sundaes—the first full and relaxed meal we had enjoyed in we did not remember how long. We returned to the bus with a spring in our step and smiles on our faces.

Sixty-six years later, that day still brings a smile to my face. Ah, time flies, they say. Alas, not true. We fly, time stays.

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