French, Drinking, and Space – Tallman, Borman, and Beyond!

OK folks, I must say I have been bouyed by your responses to my earlier blog posts. Much of the feedback is coming from Facebook and from Linked-In. Which reminds me of a story (DUH)…. and today’s topic is NOT Linked-In. However, my first paragraph is about when I retired from my last permanent job as an IT director at Rutgers University. After I retired, my lovely wife Helen was a little concerned for me as I wasn’t mentally ready to look for full time work. That, plus some medical issues at the time was making life difficult. I remember her trying to keep my mind in the game when she said one day, “Joe you really should update your Linked-In profile”. I replied, “Linked-In! Hell, I’ve Checked OUT!!!”….Even in the worst of times, I’ve been able to find some humor in every situation in my life.

I remember one day one of my distant relatives asked me on Facebook, “Joey, why do you still look like a teenager?” I replied, “Cuz, because I still ACT like a teenager!”

Joe Sanders on his 60th birthday (give or take a few or more decades)

OK, time to get real….starting with this photo of me marching punishment tours for getting caught drinking alcohol at West Point (that was a no-no).

West Point Cadet Century Man

So, what is the title of this post all about? Believe it or not, there is a link between it all, so stay tuned.

You may recall my last post “Hockey, French, and Space – I almost became an astronaut!” (If you haven’t, read it now and then come back).

So the above picture represents a portion of the punishment that West Point cadets undergo when they act like criminals (like taking a sip of alcohol). I mentioned in earlier posts that I was unlucky in that I was 2-2 when it came to drinking at West Point (see previous post entitled “Silver linings often turn gold! or “Charlie 234 where are you?”)(Again, if you haven’t read it yet, read it now and come back) (Are you getting the idea cadet? Read ALL of my posts).

Well, my first episode of drinking at West Point was actually during the last month of my plebe year, in May 1973. I had made a strategic decision to barricade myself in my room for most of April working on a huge paper for my French class (This is the only tie in to French, no pretty girls this time). I skipped socializing (going to the plebe “hops” four weekends in a row working on this damn French paper (I should have listened to Mr. Carinci), and by the time I was finished my French assignment it was already May! I could not wait to go to my first “plebe hop” in months! At West Point, “plebes” or freshman do not socialize with upper classmen (sophomores, juniors, and seniors), so there were two dances or “hops” each Saturday night (Remember, “Let’s go to the Hop!”?). One hop was for plebes with ladies bussed in from local colleges or high schools and one hop was for upperclassmen and smarter ladies bussed in from local colleges. (I said “smarter” ladies because they had figured out that meeting a plebe wasn’t as much fun as meeting someone closer to graduating).

SO finally the rest of the story…. I went to the plebe hop a little late in the evening, looking as Toby Keith would say for “A little less talk and a lot more action”. (Don’t worry, there isn’t much action at a plebe hop) I walked in and immediately felt elated. The music was playing “I’m your Captain” by Grand Funk Railroad, plebe year would soon be over, and I was ready to party! I asked a girl to dance and she said yes!!!. We danced for a good amount of time until it was time for a break. She was acting pretty friendly (which was fine with me). During the break, I met her girlfriend who appeared equally friendly, and a classmate I had not met before, Chuck Leyman. We chatted and it was obvious that THEY were having a GREAT time. I had to ask, “Have you been drinking?” Chuck said, Yes, do you want some?” Of course, I was game, so the four of us left the hop at Cullum Hall, turned right onto the sidewalk, and headed towards the Hudson River. Actually, we transcended down this little path know as Flirtation Walk, or “Flirtie”. That is where they had their alcohol stashed. (By the way, Flirtie is OFF LIMITS to plebes, so we were already taking a chance just being there!).

We got to the drinking site and Chuck handed me the bottle of vodka and said “you first, we’ve already had some.” I raised the bottle to my lips and nothing came out until I raised it to the sky. I got ONE lousy sip, while the other three had polished off 99%(maybe 98%) of the bottle earlier in the evening! I was pissed! This was what I call a “long run for a short slide!”

What happened next changed my life for ever (or at least for two years). The four of us proceeded back to the sidewalk and headed back to Cullum Hall to rejoin the hop. I walked with my “date” about 20 feet ahead of Chuck and his date. I was escorting the lady properly, my left forearm extended for her to grasp, leaving the right arm free for saluting if an offficer approached. The cadet hostess (who taught our cadetiquette classes) would have been proud of me!

Then, out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened! I needed eyeglasses, but was to vain to wear them on a Saturday night at the hop, so my vision wasn’t the best. But even blurred vision couldn’t mask the fact that two big “striper dogs” (cadets from the senior class with a lot of rank) where walking towards us. I knew enough to greet them with the obligatory “Good Evening Sir”. As the two striper dogs passed me and my lady, I recognized them…First Captain Joe Tallman and his room mate, Mr. Newsom. After the two of them passed by us, I instructed my date to keep walking and not to look back. Behind us was a very drunk Fourth Class Cadet Chuck Lehman who had his arms all over and around his date, alone which would get him written up for PDA (Public Display of Affection). I knew that Tallman would stop him and smell the vodka and I didn’t want any part of what was to about to take place. Sure enough, Tallman and Newsom stopped Lehman and his date, and my date couldn’t help but turn around to see what was going on with the girlfriend who had accompanied her to the hop. I told her again to keep moving and not to look back, but it was too late. Newson said “Mister, Halt”. I ignored him till he tapped me on the shoulder and said in a louder voice, MISTER HALT!!”. I stopped in my tracks, turned around, stood at rigid attention, and he said to me “How about you?” I knew exactly what he meant, but the stakes were too high to assume. This was before Breaking Bad, so there was no hope. I said, “Sir, I do not understand”. (A plebe has only four authorized responses when an upperclassman asks a question – 1)Yes Sir, 2)No Sir, 3)No excuse sir, and 4) Sir, I do not understand.) Newsom retorted, “Have you been drinking?” I knew that the test for .08% wasn’t the definition of “drinking West Point style”, it was more like .00000000001%” So, knowing that the consequences for not telling the truth was expulsion, I stated “Yes, sir”. He promptly told me to “Report to Central Guard Room at Taps.” I said “Yes Sir!”

Brigade of Cadets Commander Joe Tallman (left) and his roommate Gary Newsom

It was about 10:30pm at this point and taps wasn’t untill 1:00am. I had a plan….I politely bade my date farewell, and headed back to my room to shine my shoes, begin drinking Listerine, and prepare to impress whoever I would be seeing at 1:00am.

At 12:50 I headed to Central Guard room and stood at attention awaiting my fate. At 1:00am, Chuck Lehman stumbled in, still stinking of alcohol. He must have had another bottle somewhere as he couldn’t even stand up straight when the OC (Officer in Charge) approached us. I felt like I was going to “beat this” charge as Chuck, unfortunately for him, was being questioned by the OC, who just happened to be his cadet company’s TAC officer. I stood at attention the whole time while Chuck took some TAC officer harassment. We were both released and I returned to my barrackes, hopeful that the OC was impressed by my shined shoes, close shave, and non-alcohol smelling breath.

I also thought that my case was a solid example of the misuse of the honor code against me, something known as an “improper question”, something akin to conducting a search without having probable cause. I brought my case to our Company H-2 Commander, Reddy Hobby, whose roommate, Mr. Wineland was on the Brigade Honor committee. After hearing my story, they both agreed that I was subject to an “improper question” and forwarded my case to the Brigade Honor Board. After all, I exhibited no signs of having had had any alcohol. (and I really had only one swig) until my date looked back and caught Newsom’s eye.

So, a brigade honor board, led by Joe Tallman (alone) investigated in Joe Tallman’s room. Newsom, Tallman’s roommate, was the Brigade honor rep and was also the sole “witness” to the event. Tallman had me tell my story, and then he had Newsom tell his story. I will never forget the heat in my left ear when Newsome ended his story with a loud, threatening (this was before the term bullying was popular) statement ” AND THERE WAS NO IMPROPER QUESTION!!!!”. Tallman sided with his roomate and the result was that Chuck and I both got the same penalty…66 punishment tours (known as walking the area), three months of room confinement, and 25 demerits. As today’s cadets like to say, it was my turn to “embrace the suck”, because this situation REALLY SUCKED!!”. But, I’m over it now, really.

Yup, I posted this photo twice for effect, look at all of those stripes! I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell!

So we’ve talked about french class, and drinking, how is this jaun (that’s a Philly word for thing, just sayin’) related to space? Stay tuned, now the rest of the rest of the story!

Punishment tours at West Point are reserved for the academic year. Normally there are two tours (or hours) after classes on Friday plus three hours after classes and parade on Saturday for a total of 5 per week/weekend. So, the 66 tours roughly equates to the three months of concurrent room confinement.

I told you earlier that my enfraction of the sacred cadet rules occured towards the end of my plebe year. As of June 6, 1973, our class was released for a month of leave (PARTY!!! and DRINKING!!!) before returning to West Point for two months of field training at Camp Buckner, about tem miles from the academic area. Instead of walking punishment tours, we were assigned to “work details” in our field uniforms.

The mini-story that follows is a description of what happened during my summer “punishment tours” and was written by classmate Mark Nelson, whose memory is better than mine.

Mark states,” It was a miserable summer. Having received a Commandant’s Board and slug for 44 punishment hours just before before the Recognition Parade (the recognition parade meant we were officially part of the upperclasses as another lot of plebes would be reporting in within the month), I spent every free hour at Summer Camp (Buckner)  either on confinement to my tent (2d Co) or on weekend work detail.  Picking up the trash (beer cans, used condoms, etc) on B Squad Flirty was getting pretty old.  

Then one Saturday, we few, we band of punished brothers (of which Sanders was one), were told to report to the motor pool to get on some deuce and a halfs, bound for West Point proper.  The job: Dismantle and stack the bleachers surrounding the parade field (The Plain).    Two guys from ’74 – also on punishment  tours – were in charge of the detail.   They were Bumpy Borman (son of the astronaut) and Mike Tixier.   

We 10-20 guys spent one hot sweaty Saturday moving the stands into piles of planks and parts.  When the task was over, we got back on the trucks, looking forward to confinement back at Buckner in our barracks, while our unpunished classmates water skied and basked at the beach on Lake Popolopen.  

Halfway back to camp, the truck pulled into a convenience store in Ft Montgomery.  Tixier came to the back of the truck and gave us his helmet liner, told us to throw some bucks in it. Some (most) (Sanders definately) did; soon the liner was full of greenbacks.  Tixier disappeared with the bills. Shortly,  he returned with a case or two of cold Schaefer beer, and shoved them on the floor of the truck bed at our feet.  Eyes opened.  Most of us knew the price to pay if caught  “bringing discredit upon the Corps of Cadets, i.e., consuming alcohol , etc etc….”   Perhaps even, caught again. The truck took off.  

Up into the training area we drove, on the way back to camp. Except we swerved off the dirt road onto  a training area for some obscure weapon, like flame throwers. Tixier and Borman came to the rear of the truck and said, “Drink up, boys!”.   Most of us popped those beers open and downed them, very welcome after the hot sweaty day of work.  Some of the weenies, doing a mere couple of hours punishment declined, afraid of the serious consequences if caught.  Most of us were repeat offenders, and could care less.  The beer was welcome, but we chugged them down, because the longer we stayed, the more likely some TAC in a jeep would drive by.  Beer downed, we finished the ride to Buckner.  

To this day, I admire the balls and initiative  shown by those two guys from ’74.  My morale surged, and my spirit of rebellion was reinforced. It was great to stick it to THE MAN. .

Best, Mark”

So there it is folks, French, Drinking, and Astronauts…and, let’s not forget what I said about my win-loss record of drinking at West Point….I drank four times and got caught only twice for a final record of 2 – 2. The interesting thing is that before I had even set foot in an academic classroom my sophopore (yearling) year, I had broken my losing streak and upped my win/loss record to 1-1, and celebrated with a big summertime victory party along with other classmates Mark Nelson, Reamer Argo, and our feerleass leaders from the class of 1974, including Astronaut Frank Borman’s son.

Closing note: I know I promised you in my previous post that I had more than one encounter with astronaut families. I have decided to hold off on my meeting with James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame for two reaons. First, he is a very dignified gentleman, one of those guys from the “Greatest Generation”. I cannot in good conscience include that hero in the same story with the rest of us degenerates. And secondly, he went to Annapoplis (the Naval Academy) and all of his heroics could never rise to hights of a good West Point drinking story!

GO ARMY! BEAT Navy!

One thought on “French, Drinking, and Space – Tallman, Borman, and Beyond!

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