Looking for a few good gentlemen

August 15, 1988

When I was a young lad, becoming a soldier was far from my mind. The Army held no appeal for me once I found out they wore swords only for ceremony. I always thought guns were for sissies.

As a youth, my heroes were swashbucklers like Captain Blood, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the Three Musketeers. I thought any man who killed another without first looking into his eyes and engaging him in colorful banter fro at least a minute was a graceless cur. It was cold-blooded murder if you didn't fight your way up and down a staircase at least once.

By the time I turned thirteen, I became alarmed the prospect of being drafted into fighting what I thought was a soon-to-come police action in El Salvador. As far as I knew, no one there was interested in colorful banter or staircases.

But as I climbed the ladder of puberty, reality hit me in the face. It wasn't the Red Menace. It was worse, far worse.

I had no money for college.

I was broke. Flat broke.

Then one day, as a junior in high school, I received a letter that changed my life.

"We think you would make a fine cadet at West Point Military Academy."

Hmmmmm. An officer. A gentleman. A free education.

An they'd even let me carry a sword.

So I went along with the idea. My senator received a request to nominate me to the academy. And soon, he went along with the idea.

And then I realized I didn't want to be an officer. I could be a gentleman whenever I wanted to, but leading people around was not my line of work. I hated giving orders. Some people are born to lead, others are born to follow, but I was born to sit in a lawnchair and say, "Nice marching, guys."

By my senior year I had discovered grants, scholarships, and the joy of owing thousands of dollars to the government. I decided to enter the University of Minnesota as a computer science major and a German minor. I don't know -- it seemed like a good idea at the time. I'd forgotten all about West Point.

But West Point hadn't forgotten about me. When they didn't hear anything about my change in plans, they grew curious.

So one day, as I sat long-haired and ratty in my high school advanced drawing class, a voice over the P.A. system called me to the office. I assumed the principal had discovered my rackets in forged hall passes or computer programming assignments. So this would be nothing out of the ordinary.

I wandered over to the principal's office, wondering how big a share of the take would be necessary to keep him quiet. Two men in army uniforms were standing outside his door.

I didn't think the forging of hall passes fell under military jurisdiction. But with Reagan in office, anything was possible.

They introduced themselves as officers from West Point.

Oh. Forgot about them.

"Uh, sorry guys, sirs," I lamely apologized, ``but I decided not to go to the academy and I kind of forgot to tell you. Sorry."

They were not pleased, but they took it well. At least they hadn't gone out of their way to see me. They were in the state.

I went to the U of M, and later changed my majors to journalism and studio arts. To became a gentleman, I took up fencing. If my country ever needs me, I'll be ready.

© 1988 Randel Shard. First published in a different form in The Minnesota Daily on August 15, 1988