Segment Synopsis: Robert H. Paley was born in 1966 in Honolulu, Hawaii on Schofield Barracks. Paley enlisted in the United States Army in 1984 and the Ohio National Guard in 2001, deploying in 1989 to Germany and again in 2008 to Afghanistan. In this section he talks about his childhood, his mom, and his dad and his military service.
Keywords: Baseball; Columbus (Ohio); Honolulu (Hawaii); Judo
Subjects: Childhood; Military Heritage
Map Coordinates: 21.3155837,-157.9553916
Segment Synopsis: Unlike many of the other veteran interviews, Paley's touching story focuses on a quest to keep a promise to his father rather than on his military experiences. In his interview he talks about his father's military service and disability, the meaning of a silver dollar, and the importance of West Point. He describes his paternal grandmother, his father's early medical treatments, his promise to attend West Point, and becoming a Judo champ. Paley recalls his first rejection to West point, a letter and how it got him accepted, and his first day at school. He recalls what it was like attending West Point, seeking a second doctor's opinion for his father, and being given another chance at graduation. Paley discusses his graduation, fulfilling his promise to his father, and ultimately his father's death.
Keywords: Judo; Korean War, 1950-1953.; Meningitis.; Ohio. Army National Guard; United States. Army.; United States. Army. Infantry Division, 25th; Vietnam War, 1961-1975.; Walter Reed Army Hospital (Washington, D.C.); West Point (N.Y.)
Subjects: Father's Illness; Father's service; West Point
Map Coordinates: 41.3723434,-74.0810675
Segment Synopsis: Paley served for a few more years after his father's death, ultimately getting out and the re-enlisting with the Ohio National Guard. He concludes by speaking of the difficulties in writing this story, his service after West Point, enlisting in the Ohio National Guard, and the importance of sharing his experiences.
Keywords: Ohio. Army National Guard; Writing
Subjects: Service with the Guard; Sharing his story; Writing
JH: It's November 16th, 2015. I'm Jess Holler and I'm here with Jamie Marsh andwe're talking with Major Robert Paley for the Standing Together project work here at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Ohio.Major Paley, to begin could you state and spell your full name for the record?
RP: Yes, it's Robert H. Paley, P as in Paul, A, L as in Larry, E-Y.
JH: To begin can you tell us a little bit about when and where you were born?
RP: Yes, I was born in February of 1966 at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu,Hawaii. More specifically, Tripler Army Hospital.
JH: Where did you grow up?
RP: I was a military brat so I grew up wherever my father was assigned. We werewandering every 2 years wherever my father's assignment took him until 1973 when he retired when I was 7 years old. Then he retired and my family moved to Columbus, Ohio.
JH: What brought you to Columbus at that point?
RP: Back then it was a lot cheaper to buy your food and goods and services atmilitary bases. Now with the other big stores out there, you can get good prices everywhere. Back then, it was really important to be near a military base, not only for the pricing on the goods and services, but also to be near the military hospitals and things like that. At the time Rickenbacker, which was Lockbourne Air Force Base at the time, was a full-fledged air force base so my dad and mom chose to move to Columbus to be near that base, which eventually closed down. Now my mother goes to Wright-Patterson when she gets the occasion.
JH: Where did your parents grow up?
RP: My father grew up in the Bronx ... I'm sorry. Yes, I believe it was theBronx in New York City, and my mother grew up in Japan; Sapporo, Japan. 00:02:00
JH: Can you tell us a little bit about your early childhood and schoolexperiences? What were you involved in, what kind of things did you like doing?
RP: Early childhood, back to elementary school or ...
RP: ... middle school? We moved to Ohio when I was in second grade and I gotbullied a lot. I didn't stand up for myself. My mother, being Japanese, decided to enroll me in Judo. She enrolled me at Rickenbacker Air Force Base on the Skyhawk Judo Club and I continued to get my butt beat in Judo for 4 years after that. From the age of 8 to 12 I literally competed in 5 to 10 tournaments a year and lost every single 1 of them for 4 years. Why my mother didn't pull me out of Judo at the time I don't know.
I also played baseball, or tried to play baseball, and I didn't like when thecoach yelled at me to take my hand out of my pocket. I guess that's a good thing not to do when you're playing a baseball game. I quit baseball and I ended up joining again a few years later and I'm happy to say that I had a much better second time around.
My early years was Judo and baseball. I dropped baseball, stuck with the martialarts, and by the time I was 13 years old I became a state champion in Judo and then when I went into middle school, that transferred well to being a wrestler. Had a nearly undefeated season in wrestling except for in tournaments. That was the foundation of my limited athletic prowess was the martial arts. I enjoyed doing Judo and then eventually Kung Fu and also learning how to use weapons, specifically the nunchucks.
JH: Did you have siblings growing up?
RP: I did. My older brother, he's 10 years older than me. His name is Phil andhe became a private pilot. He didn't follow my father's footsteps as a soldier. He wanted to be a fighter jet for the US Air Force and he attended a university 00:04:00air force ROTC for a period of time. My dad was quite proud of him even though he was in a different colored uniform than my dad was used to seeing. He did go on to pursue his private pilot license and he went on to become a homicide detective for the Columbus Police Force.
I have an older sister, Nancy, who had a multitude of jobs but mainly was afull-time mother raising 5 children, 5 terrific kids. My younger sister, Karen, who's been working for Discover since she was 16, 17 years old.
JH: What did your parents do for a living while you were growing up? Got alittle bit of a hint of that.
RP: Sure. My mother was a housewife and so she was a domestic engineer. Myfather, once he retired, pursued jobs in the civilian world. He worked at the Defense Supply Construction Center is what it was called in Columbus at the time, and he was looking to start his own business as well. Unfortunately, war-related illness came and once he contracted or re-contracted the disease he caught in Vietnam, he became 100% disabled and no longer was able to work from the time I was 12. He spent the rest of his life and about 11 years of my life from that point on in a VA Hospital or the VA care.
My mother continued to be a housewife, but she took on some jobs at the HeritageHouse to try to make ends meet and deal with all the things that a family deals with when they have a 100%-disabled family member.
JH: Could you tell us more about your father's military service and how theservice affected you and your family growing up and then subsequently as he became ill?
RP: Sure. Our family centered around my father. Everything that we are to this00:06:00day even though he has long since passed away, he's still a huge presence in our life and especially mine. Obviously, as a young boy I looked up to him and he was my hero. He was kind of a John Wayne type, not very talkative about his own exploits. He fought in the Korean War when he was 17. Had to get a special waiver from his parents. At the time, they were living in the Bronx, New York, as I said. He had gone to many recruiting centers and they turned him away; the Marines, the Navy, because they could figure out that this guy wasn't really 18 like he said and they told him to come back later.
Finally, for his 17th birthday in February of 1950-51, not quite sure of theexact date there, the Korean War had broken out and he asked for his parents to sign a waiver to allow him to join or he would continue to try to enlist against their will. They wanted him to do what his brothers did. One brother became a doctor, the other one a very successful business man, and he would hear nothing of it. He admired the World War II veterans, remembered the ticker tape parade in New York City after World War II. He was too young for that. He was already certain of his calling to be a soldier.
He went to Korea and he got injured, he got wounded in combat. I guess that wasunfortunate for him but fortunate for the Paley family because he went to Japan to recover and that's where he met my mother at the hospital. She was 18 and I believe he was around 20 at the time. That was the beginning of the Paley family.
I think I didn't answer your question, though. A little bit more about thefather's influence, so we grew up knowing nothing but the military. He was a constant presence in our life. His disability was in the background. He always 00:08:00wore a hearing aid from the time since I was a baby. I didn't know why. Being a kid who wanted to idolize his father I told my friends that he was carrying some wounded guys and bombs were blowing around him, the things you do as a kid when you don't know an answer to something but you want to share something heroic about your dad, so I made it up. Then later I learned the truth as time went on about his illness and my mother sat me down and told me what was really happening.
He was a big presence in our life even when he was disabled in the veterans carefor the rest of his life. We'd always have family outings on weekends to go and see him making sure that he was always being seen. My mother was a saint, she's an angel. She's still alive, but at the time when he was in Chillicothe Veterans Hospital, Cincinnati, Dayton, you name it. Later I found records that actually showed that she had visited him every single day of the year. You name it, and she was there.
The irony of that is that his illness, it was a form of meningitis, took awayhis long-term memory and his short-term memory, I should say. He didn't even remember she would come to see him or not. Yet she said, "He's my husband." We would ask her, "Why do you go, mom? Dad doesn't even remember." She said, "Because he's my husband," and that was the kind of loyalty we learned from my mother that she just wouldn't want him to be like the other veterans, unfortunately, who were in the VA Hospital. Some of the earliest memories, of course, are of the Chillicothe VA Hospital at the time was full of veterans. One of them was from World War I, most were from World War II, and then there was some Vietnam and Korean War veterans.
My dad, they called the young man. He was only 45 years old when he went in.Even though he had a short-term memory issue because of the brain surgery that 00:10:00caused some minor brain damage where he lost his short-term memory, he didn't forget certain things. He remembered everything about the military. He remembered everything about history. There were certain things I could still talk to him about. From what I heard, the veterans also said watch out for that young man because he remembers every card if you play poker with him as well.
They were interesting anecdotes, but I learned a lot from those veterans.Whenever I would visit my father I would actually go down the hall and visit these veterans and I knew some of them didn't have family that came to see them, so if they were in a wheelchair, I'd wheel them out to the balcony where they'd like to smoke and just talk to other veterans about their experiences. Most of them were World War II veterans. My dad revered these guys. He watched them come back from World War II and the ticker tape parade I mentioned, and now here he is being called the young man by these veterans that were in the hospital with him. They developed a really good relationship and it was really great and influential on me as well.
JH: About how old were you when your father developed his disability?
RP: I was 12, yeah. I didn't know he had anything wrong from the past other thanthe fact that he wore a hearing aid, as I mentioned. Then one day my family came home. My mother and myself and my 2 sisters, Nancy and Karen, and he wasn't sitting in his normal arm chair where he normally had a pile of novels that he would read. He could speed read, so he would literally just look at a page and his eyes would scan the page as his fingers moved down the page. Once we challenged him to prove that he was retaining what he read and it was amazing the recall he had, so he was quite an intelligent man in that regard. I guess he'd read the entire volume of encyclopedias at one time just to be informed. My mother always talked about that and she probably used it as a way to encourage us to do better in school as well, be more like your father, right? 00:12:00
One day we come home and instead of him sitting there at the favorite arm chair,like Archie Bunker had his favorite arm chair. You don't ever sit in dad's arm chair and that lamp there with all the books. This time we came home and it was getting dark, it was in the evening. I believe we were grocery shopping and the house was unusually silent. That's when the beginning of my journey really began because at the time I was a carefree 12-year-old.
I thought we had a normal family, a mother father, 2 girls, 2 boys. We lived ina nice neighborhood and everything was great. No problems that I knew of, but there had been circumstances that were leading to my father's relapse of his illness that have now as I've gotten older, I pieced together some things that really made me understand the true nature of his illness and the sacrifice that he made for our country. Losing his full health for all practical purposes at the age of 32 when he went to Vietnam. Now at the age of 45, it's back, the disease is back for the third time. Unlike the first 2 times, this time he wouldn't recover.
That was the beginning for me and my journey to the military because the doctorssaid they needed to do emergency brain surgery to release the water on the brain. He had cryptococcal meningitis and it caused encephalitis. My mom had to sit me down and explain to me that he's going into some serious surgery in the morning, emergency surgery. I asked the question, "Is he going to die?" She didn't say no. She didn't say yes. That's when I knew how serious it was. Then I asked her, "What's happening? Why is dad sick?" I think she understood I was a 00:14:0012-year-old searching for the father that I may not know anymore because I never seemed to have an interest before. It's strange how that is.
She went to her room and brought out a box out to me and it was all of his whatwe call in the military, "I love me stuff." The difference between my father and people like myself is all the awards and medals and certificates we get in the military, it's very common today to have them in your office displayed on the wall behind your desk or in your home office, the "I love me stuff." It's just a way of showing your service. There's a little touch of vanity to it, I'm sure, but my dad's generation wasn't like that. He had it all in a dog-eared office box. She brought that in to show it to me, to let it tell me the story about my dad and what was going on.
She explained to me how he was wounded in Korea and that's how they met. Shetold me how one day in 1966, I was born in February of '66, and she told me how the Army was still trying to get its feet on how to notify families about those who were killed in action or wounded in action. It wasn't perfect. A chaplain and a sergeant major actually came to my mother's house in Schofield Barracks and it was the tell-tale green army car like you might see in the movies with the white letters, "US Army," and all that. Her heart stopped when it stopped in front of our house and she knew that her husband must be dead.
Unfortunately, by this time my brother was 10 and he knew what it meant. He hadseen his classmates getting pulled out of class to be told that their father has been killed in action. Then within a certain period of time that family would be gone from the post because you can't stay there anymore once you lose your father and mother in some cases as well if she was military. 00:16:00
She had that scare, but what they said was your husband has contracted aterrible fever and he's in a coma and we don't think he's going to make it. Being Japanese there was a little bit of a language barrier there, so she wanted to ask them again, "Wait a minute, are you telling me he's still alive?" They said, "Yes, but it's not looking good." Like I said, it wasn't perfect back then. At that point she excused them from the house and said, "You scared me to death, and please leave." They apologized and realized that wasn't the way to do.
Then interesting story from her is that night she said that she had a dream thathe was on a cot outside, like a MASH tent, and all the doctors were running by him while he's shivering on his cot. She's in the dream, and he's yelling, "Betty, I'm cold. Betty, I'm cold." She's screaming for the doctors and nurses to come and give my father attention. Because he wasn't bleeding like the other patients, they just ignored him and she didn't know what to do. She couldn't get a blanket. What she did was she said she laid on top of him in the dream to warm him and he smiled and then she woke up the next morning and had this feeling that something had happened; either he was gone or he was going to get better.
It's one of those things you can't explain, but the bond between them wasamazing. The next day they came back, the chaplain and the sergeant major, and now she thought this is it. They know not to come and tell me unless he's gone. This time they were smiling and they said, "Mrs. Paley, we can't explain it. His temperature dropped from 104-105," whatever it was that made him unconscious, "to 99, and though he's not well, he is alive and he's going to get medivaced back, to Hawaii." She remembers him coming back about halfway through his tour and by then I was 4 or 5 months old and I would never have known him, of course, 00:18:00if he didn't come back.
The disease he had was unique at the time so they were, from what I understand,monitoring closely how he survived it when others were not surviving this particular disease because they wanted to figure out how to treat it for other veterans that might contract it. It wasn't getting better, so they sent him to Walter Reed, my whole family. Basically, from 1966 to '68, we lived at Walter Reed and I didn't know that. I was too young to remember that, of course. Until they closed Walter Reed down, I had gone back and visited some of Ohio's National Guard soldiers that had been wounded in action there. There was a familiarity to it. Later my mother told me which housing we stayed at and I remembered seeing that when I was there. Again, there was just that familiarity to the place that I couldn't explain as an adult.
That was the background of how it all started and then she showed me this boxand left me alone. I went through this box and I started seeing all these certificates and awards. As I read them my admiration for my father grew because he was so modest about it. When I got through all the certificates, and I must have spent a good half an hour to an hour looking at every single piece of paper because it's like I'm holding on to my dad now who is now fighting for his life and I was aware of that.
At the bottom of the box, there was a leather case and in the case were all ofhis medals and they were all bunched together. He must have taken them off his uniform or every time he got 1 he just stuck it in this box and they were all tangled up, not in the way they should be displayed, not the proper way in my opinion, a hero's medals should be displayed. I sat there for a long time just separating them out and laying them on my bed. Then I came across another box 00:20:00that I knew what it was even at 12. It was a black box with gold trim and it said "Purple Heart," and I got the chills. Purple heart? I opened it up and it's more beautiful in real life than anything a picture can show. The fact that he earned it with his blood, of course, made it even more special and unfortunate. That's when I realized that he paid a price for our country and that maybe this has something to do with that.
Then at the very bottom of the box, I found another leather case with silverdollars in it and that threw me off, because right now I have this John Wayne image of my dad and all of a sudden I found these coins and I thought, well, that's like John Wayne collecting butterflies. What happened here? This isn't military. I didn't understand why he was collecting coins. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you know what I mean, it's not like what I understood with the rest of his box.
Finally when my mother walked in I was looking at the silver dollars and shesaid to my surprise, "Those mean more to him than any medal in that box." I sat back and said, "Why? Why would these coins mean more than medals?" She explained it to me that a silver dollar is given to the first sergeant that salutes an officer when he gets his or her commission. It's an honor to be asked by an officer, by a lieutenant, to be their first salute, because you only get 1. About 18 lieutenants had apparently chosen my dad to be their first salute, which means he must have been important in their life somehow in their career. That's why he cherished it so much.
I asked my mom, I said, "Wasn't dad an officer?" She says, "No, he was a00:22:00sergeant major. He worked for a living," and then she laughed. Inside joke, I didn't get it. Apparently she did. It's a joke in the military that it's the sergeants who work for their living. The officers plan, the sergeants execute. Therefore, they are the ones that really work and the officers just tell them what to do. It's a little bit of a joke, not totally true, but at that time it was a joke in the military. Even my mother thought it was funny.
Nonetheless, she explained that he was a sergeant major and the sergeant majoris the highest rank you can achieve as an enlisted soldier. I was proud of that. Then she showed me one of his ranks with the stripes and rockers and the star in the middle and I said, "Oh, well, just a like a general, there's a star," so it shows that he's at the peak of his field.
My pride continued to grow. I was really fascinated by the whole story of thesilver dollar. Then she left me a little longer and came back in and I said, "Mom," I said, "why didn't dad become an officer?" She sat down and now she realizes it's going to go on all night. She sat down and said, "He wanted to be an officer. In fact, before he got wounded in the Korean War at the age of 19, his platoon sergeant," I believe it was or his platoon leader, one of the two, "told him that West Point was looking for combat veterans to come and apply for a nomination to West Point because they wanted people who had experience in combat to become future officers."
Not always true, but most of the time that officers who have served as anenlisted soldier before becoming an officer, they understand the enlisted soldiers better and they are more respected coming out the gate as a second 00:24:00lieutenant than are those who just come through West Point or ROTC without any prior experience. That was why they were opening it up to veterans and he was applying. It was his dream to go to West Point. I said to her, "What's West Point?" She says, "Well, it's where Patton, Eisenhower, MacArthur went." Of course, I know those names. I learned them in history class. I was impressed, I said, "Oh, okay." I said, "So why didn't he go?" She said, "Well, after he got wounded in action he came to Japan and met and married me and you can't be married to be a cadet at West Point. The curriculum and the demands are just to great that you can't be married."
When they came to America, my brother was born while they were in Japan. Thefirst place they went after she met my father's family was to West Point. She jokes that they went there for her honeymoon. Probably not her ideal of a honeymoon place, but he loved West Point. There they are sitting in the bleachers on what they call the plain, the parade field, and the music starts and the drum beat starts and from the sally ports all around the academy. Thousands of cadets come marching out in perfect step with their white starched pants, their dress gray uniforms with the gold buttons, their tar bucket hats with the plumes and feathers and their sabers glistening in the sun. She described it to me in a way that I felt like I was there and I realized that she's describing it that she found it as special as my dad did and she loved it, too.
I'm starting to get this curiosity about this place called West Point. Why is mymom so enamored with this place? She said as the cadets marched by, she was still learning English but she was picking it up pretty well by then, he said, "You see these cadets?" My mom said, "Yes," he says, "America's best." He got 00:26:00kind of choked up and she was wow, I never seen him get choked up before. He must really admire this institution, and he did. He always says, "I gave this up for you," and he always teased her about that. He said, "I gave up this dream for a better dream," and that was her. She always felt bad about that. She always thought he would have made a darn good-looking cadet and a fine officer.
At that point she left me again and I started putting his medals and awards awaywhen I got this idea. Maybe it was against all odds and maybe it was a way of hoping that he wouldn't pass away during his surgery the next day, but I made a vow at that point that I'm going to become an officer and I'm going to go to West Point and he's going to be my first salute and I'm going to give him a silver dollar. In order for that to happen, he has to survive his surgery and how proud he would be if I fulfill his dream?
That thought came into my head out of the blue, just because of the story mymother told. A few minutes later she comes back in and I said, "Mom," I said, "do you have a silver dollar from now, from this year, 1978?" She said, "Well, I stopped collecting them because they're not all silver anymore, but I might have one. Let me go check." I hear her rummaging through her jewelry box and I hear coins clicking together and she comes back in and hands me an Eisenhower 1978 silver dollar. I take it from her and I study it and there's Eisenhower, and I said okay. He went to West Point.
She says, "What do you want this coin for, son?" I said, "Mom, not only is dad00:28:00going to survive his surgery tomorrow, but he's going to live long enough for me to become an officer and he's going to give me my first salute and I'm going to give him this coin someday." I didn't know what that would mean to her, but she got choked up. Japanese, they don't show emotion, so I think she was starting to get a little emotional so she just nodded and started to leave. I was surprised by that. Did I say something wrong? What's going on, she seems all choked up.
She stops at the door and I say, "Mom, I'm going to West Point." She said,"Daddy would be very proud," and then she shut the door. I was, wow. I think she was about to cry. I looked at that coin and that was when the promise was made and that was when I decided to be a soldier. Had no idea what I was in for. Had no idea how difficult the road was going to be to get into West Point. I had no idea that you don't just send in an application and they take everybody. It didn't matter because he had his surgery the next day.
My grandmother, Min, flew in from Florida. She's a tough little cookie. She hadthese real thick glasses and she leaned over from age, but when she came walking down the airport, you knew that was her and people cleared a path. She was a little lady but tough. Before she arrived, my brother at dinner was telling us the funniest story he remembered about my grandmother to describe how tough she was.
He said that she had retired from New York to Florida and she was in a nicecondominium. One day we all went down when my dad was well and I was younger. We 00:30:00went to Florida to visit his mother and my Uncle Moses and my Aunt Faith who were nearby. Apparently my grandmother decided to take us swimming. We go down with our bathing suits and our little wrap-around floats and towels, the typical tourists at Florida going to the pool with their grandmother. When we get to the entry of the pool in her condominium association, this hippy dude, it was probably the seventies, everybody had long hair, this hippy dude was standing there with the sunglasses and sunscreen and he goes, "Hey, sorry. Read the sign." We look up and the sign says, "No more than 3 guests at a time." There were 4 kids with my grandmother; me and my brother and 2 sisters.
She looks at him, looks down at us, and says, "Which one do you want me tokill?" My eyes lit up, of course, and he laughed and said, "You're right, go on in." That was one of our favorite stories of my grandmother. That kind of typifies who she was. She didn't back down from a fight.
He she comes. Her son's about to go into surgery ,so she flew up from Florida onshort notice and she arrived after his surgery because it was the next morning, so she came probably that day or later. We pick her up and we're glad to see her as usual and then we go to Mt. Carmel East where my father was recovering from the surgery. He had brain surgery. On the right side of the head was the incision and he was shaved bald and he had his head wrapped in bandages. I never seen him this way. He was always proud and tall and strong. I was in for a shock when they let us come in and see him for the first time. 00:32:00
I remembered my grandmother and everybody kind of urging me to go ahead of theminto the room. The whole family's there. He was in a room by himself, which I was glad about and we walked around his bedside and I've never seen him looking so weak and he was unconscious and it reminded me of a poster I once saw of the Revolutionary War with these fiddlers and George Washington and one of the guys had his head wrapped in a bandage and it immediately made me think of that poster, which was probably around for a hundred years, I don't know. It was tough to see him that way.
I take the silver dollar out of my pocket. I can't wait to tell him, first ofall, thank God he's alive, he didn't die through the surgery. Now I think everything's just going to come right back to the way it was and he's going to come home and we're going to continue to have a dad and everything would just go on as usual. I just wanted to tell him so bad that I'm going to go to West Point and he's going to be my first salute.
My mother said, "Go head and wake him up. The nurse said he should be waking upby now." I grab his hand and shake it. Because of his military background my mother said whenever she needed to wake him up as soon as she touched him his eyes were open and he was ready to go just because the military background, always ready to go, always alert. This happened again, surprised us. I touched his hand, his eyes opened. He had trouble focusing, and then he looks over at me and I'm all excited. "Dad!" You know what he said? "Who are you?" It broke my heart. I stepped back like he'd stabbed me and I looked up confused. I didn't understand brain surgery makes you disoriented and I remember running out into the hallway of Mt. Carmel to the elevators and it was a very big shock. Of 00:34:00course, I know now that's normal, but no one told me that was going to happen.
I didn't get to tell him about the silver dollar, obviously, and I didn't evenknow if he would ever be able to understand it again. My grandmother comes in my room and sits down and says, "It will get better with time." She tried to explain how brain surgery and medications affect you and your memory and how he's recovered twice before and that she fully expects that he'll recover again and he'll remember me and the family and it will be good. I appreciated that and then I showed her the silver dollar and I told her my plan. She got emotional and it was like my goodness, it's an emotional time for my family, but what is it about the silver dollar and telling her about West Point that gets her all choked up like my mom.
I'm starting to realize now this West Point must be some special place becauseevery time I mention it, my mother and my grandmother get all choked up and my grandmother is not the kind to get choked up. She said, "Nothing would make your father prouder," and then she stopped and turned and said, "Too bad I won't be alive to see that day." I'm a little kid, it's my grandma, it's 1978. I said, "Don't say that, grandma. Sure you'll be there." Not knowing what the future would hold. She lived long enough to know that I made into West Point prep school at Ft. Monmouth, and on September 11, 1985, I mailed her my first letter to Florida telling her she was right, that the number of true friends you'll have in your entire lifetime ... I told her I had 50 friends, she said, "You'll 00:36:00be lucky in your lifetime if you have 5 true friends." I thought boy, she must not have been very popular. Now I realize that that's a truism.
I was writing her a letter to tell her she was right about friendship. She wasright about how much I'd miss my family. On September 11th, I remember the date, obviously, because of how it became significant for us later but at the time it wasn't significant in that way, I sent her my first letter of many that I was going to write to her. She got it while I was at the prep school and then I got word that there was a Red Cross message which is the worst thing that can happen when you're a soldier, because a Red Cross message means there's been a death in the family or a serious accident or illness at least. I went to Florida for her funeral and the letter wasn't opened. She didn't get it. She would have loved it, but, unfortunately, she passed away the night before it arrived.
That was a story about the early-on years and what got me started towards WestPoint. From that point on, for the next 6 years was me pursuing my dream and overcoming odds and obstacles. As I said earlier, West Point looks for the best individuals, most well-rounded, academically, athletically, extra-curricularly, or community service-wise. As you heard, I was not the athlete. I lost every Judo tournament, never did well in baseball in general. I had to transform myself if I was going to go after this dream and I spent the next several years trying to do just that.
Through lots of different odds and obstacles that I won't go into detail here,but very personal, racing the clock. My father never recovered. He never got out 00:38:00of the hospital, but he did get his memory back. There was that special day right before my grandmother left, this is ... sorry to jump around, but this is the original visit before she went back to Florida after his surgery, we were visiting him at Chillicothe Hospital. He was in Building 212. I still go by it whenever I'm in Chillicothe and just sometimes stop. Sadly it was what I associated as home for my father, which is very sad. I would sometime stop there and visit it. It's a lot different now, but his room is still there. The window he used to stand in and wave at us is still there.
We were there and we'd always go down to the canteen and that's when I learnedto like canteen food from the vending machine; hot white beans was my usual thing I got. Of course, if I'm lucky, I'd get a Snicker's bar. That was one of my dad's favorites and we'd just sit there as a family and talk and we would try to prompt him to remember things. We'd ask him what did you have for breakfast and he'd be embarrassed because he's so intelligent and he knows that he should know that and he'd say, "I don't know. I don't remember." We'd ask about something he did in the military and he'll remember that, which was good.
Finally we're leaving and my grandmother was saying good-bye because she wasgoing back to Florida and everybody left the canteen. My grandmother gave a hug to my dad and said, "I'm leaving now. I'll see you again another time." He understood who she was and who we were by then and his hair was growing back. We thought a few more months and he'd come home. You always have hope when you're a kid. Finally, my brother tells me, "Hey, now's the time." I was, "Yeah?" I always looked up to my brother. He took my dad's place when my dad wasn't there. He said, "Go ahead." I take the silver dollar out of my pocket and I turn to my dad and hand him the silver dollar. He says in his gruff voice, "What's this?" I 00:40:00said, "It's for you," and I took it back, I said, "But not yet." I said, "I'm going to become an officer some day and I'm going to give you this when you give me my first salute."
Keep in mind, before my dad fell ill, he remember that I'd lost every singlematch in Judo. That I didn't play baseball very well. That I probably was a klutz, maybe a little bit of a wimp. He looked at me like, "Really? You want to be an officer." He was measuring me. He studied me. That was the good thing about him is his character was intact. He just studied me and he said, "You want to be an officer?" I said, "Yup." He stood there for a few more seconds and I could tell he was pondering it.
Then I said, "Dad, I'm going to West Point," and all of a sudden it was as ifthe fog of his illness had lifted and his eyes sparked recognition that was unbelievable. It was like an impact on him. He said, "Very good," highest compliment my dad ever gave. Not a man of many words. Very good, there is no higher, and I felt so good to hear that for the first time in my life, because it sure didn't happen when I gave him my report cards. When I saw that he understood that, I was a man on a mission, I was a kid on a mission from that point on.
I started working out, started running, doing pull-ups on the tree branch athome because we couldn't afford weights. I begged my mom for weights. I didn't know she was having money issues because retirement pay is half of what the active duty pay was and she wasn't working and she had to drive back and forth to the hospital. I'm sure there were a lot of other incidentals. She wouldn't 00:42:00buy me weights because we couldn't. I didn't know that at the time so I had to improvise. That look on his face, though, when I realized he recognized what West Point was, that just set me off on a path that I just made a promise to my dad and I saw the reaction. It became a vow, it wasn't just a 12-year-old's promise. It was a vow. At that point we made a deal. That meant he's going to have to stay alive or get better to make that happen. To me it was a bargain, it was a good sign.
I was doing pull-ups on the tree and that branch eventually broke off. I did somany pull-ups on it about 3 or 4 years ago my mom called and said, "Come take the branch out of the yard," and I realized it was the branch that I beat up as a kid doing pull-ups on. Went to the garage, my dad had all his tools there, so I found a bucket with nails and odds and ends. It had a handle so it made a good work-out tool. I started doing curls each arm with buckets of nails and whatever I could stuff in them. As I got stronger I'd put more in them and eventually I got 2 buckets. Then I found an old string laying around, an old rope, so I cut it and I'm trying to learn to jump rope and not doing great because I'm uncoordinated. Over time I started to get better. Put a little bit of tape around the middle of it, made it a little heavier and started doing jump rope. The next thing I know, I have a little routine.
I do curls in the garage, and then there's the walls on each side of thedriveway with a little step so I would do, what I didn't know, were called decline push-ups. I didn't know, I just knew that I put my feet up on the high part and my hands on the low part and I did push-ups and I couldn't do more than 2 or 3 in the beginning and eventually I worked my way up. Then we had this light post on each side of the driveway and I took the same rope I used for my jumping rope and I would tie my feet around the light pole like all houses used 00:44:00to have and I would do, what I didn't know it was called at the time, decline sit-ups. I'm doing sit-ups going way past level and coming up.
My mother just thought I was a kid obsessed and possessed. She didn't know whathappened to this sissy boy that was getting pushed around all the time, that was afraid to play baseball without getting yelled at by the coach. She saw the transformation and she realized he means it. She was shocked. I'd go to Judo practice. My mom finally after about a month of my dad's surgery, she's trying to get us back to a normal routine.
She takes me back to Judo now and I've been working out now for about a monthand my Judo instructor looks like Mr. Miyagi, his name is Mr. Eely. He was a Filipino man. He had hair on the sides, bald on the top, same exact stature as Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid fame and he was a retired Air Force Master Sergeant. I didn't realize it but when we stood in formation for Judo class, we were in a platoon formation like the military would do and we bowed instead of saluted, and that was the main difference, but he ran us like a military organization, very organized. His 2 daughters, Marvi and Marissa, were black belts and not to be messed with. They were like sisters to me as I grew up. They picked on me all the time, but they were amazing instructors and judokas.
I show up on my infamous first day of practice in Judo and I didn't know how totie my belt in a knot, so I come on the mat with this big bow like a clown and everybody laughed at me. I wanted to quit and go home, but my mom made me stay. Here I am now, long story short, so I go to Judo practice for the first time after my dad's illness and Mr. Eely respected my dad very much. So he sees a 00:46:00different me practicing. I'm a little more focused now and I'm trying harder. After it's over and he dismisses the class, he says, "Robert, come here."
I walk up to him and say, "Yes, Sensei?" He goes, "I'm sorry about your father."I nod and he says, "If there's anything your mother needs, you call me." I didn't know it but that was the military community, always rallies around their own. I didn't understand that at the time because I didn't understand that he was in prior service. I just thought he was always a Judo instructor. As the years went on, I realized he was actually in the military. I thought that was really nice and then as he started to tell me to let him know if I needed anything, I actually had another bright idea. I said, "Actually, Sensei, I do have a request." He says, "What's that?" I said, "Marvey just told us that the state championships are in 5 or 6 months in February in 1979. I would like you to train me to win them."
Now here again is this student who's lost for 4 years in a row, never won amedal, never won a trophy, asking him to train him to become a state champion. He looks at me like well, I'm off my rocker to be fair. He thought I was crazy or what are you talking about? I said, "You see, my dad's never seen me win anything and I would like to take him a medal because I'm afraid he may not remember some day if something goes wrong that I won something for once." He says, "To be state champion is going to take more than what you do here in my class. You're going to have to work out at home, you're going to have to do what I tell you." I said, "Whatever you say I'll do." That was my Karate Kid moment.
He didn't make me wax his car but he gave me assignments. Told me to start00:48:00running. I told him I was already jumping rope, I was already working out. He was proud to hear that. Then after classes he would work out with me longer and train me additional between what he trained the other students and he realized I was dead serious. That went on for a couple months and then one night he was staying late to train me and he had an asthma attack and I didn't know that I was putting him in danger by training me. His family knew he had asthma and they were probably worried about all this time he was putting in with me afterwards, but I didn't know.
The next thing I know the ambulance is there, they're taking him away. Myfather's been in the hospital almost died with the surgery. Now my Judo instructor collapses and can't breathe and he goes off to a hospital. I remember being again at Mt. Carmel East outside in the hallway with my uniform on. My family, my mother went there, my sister went there, and then finally the daughters and wife came around the corner and I thought they were going to tell me the worst news and they said they stabilized him, he's okay, but he can't do that anymore. Marvey and Marissa started to train me.
He continued to advise and train and instruct, but he couldn't do what he wasdoing physically anymore. Then he was of all things, guess where he was sent? To the Chillicothe VA Hospital to get some testing done and he found out where my father was and he asked for a transfer. Now here's my Judo instructor with my father in the same room and they were playing cards. That's when I learned about my father's prowess in cards.
That was the formative years and I guess I shouldn't leave you hanging. Fivemonths later in mid-February 1979 when I was 13 now, I moved up an age bracket, I remember standing by a tournament chart which was on a poster board on the wall, and there was my name last. It's by who's best to last. That was me at the 00:50:00very bottom where I've always been. I heard someone say, "Oh, good. I got Paley first. I know I won my first match." I was thinking hmm. I was scared, don't get me wrong, I was nervous but, boy, I trained hard and I didn't feel like I was going to lose that day anymore. I didn't want to lose anymore out of commitment I made to Mr. Eely for my dad.
Long story short, I got a gold medal and remember how proud that was. Mr. Eelyshocked, everybody was. Everybody I beat was shocked. I took it to the VA Hospital and that became another tradition. Every time I would go to a tournament, I would try to win for my father and I would take him the medal or the trophy. No more was I just getting certificates of participation.
That led all the way through high school. Joined wrestling, I did okay atwrestling. I applied to West Point expecting them to say absolutely, you're exactly what we want. I ran for class president and won. I was a leader. I volunteered at the Heritage House, senior citizens home. I did community service. I was an athlete so to speak. I did everything I thought they wanted to get into West Point and then they turned me down with a form letter and that was a blow.
I go to Chillicothe and by now I'm driving, 17, so I go by myself down toChillicothe and I tell my dad. I had him put his windbreaker on. I knew he liked to walk around sometimes and I think it was fall, and there was this bench 00:52:00outside of the building where we'd always go sit and from that bench you could see the main parade ground at Chillicothe. They had a flag pole and we liked to look at the flag while we talked. I sat him on the bench and he asked, "How's everything going?" The interesting thing was with his loss of memory. My mother came back after the first or second visit after I told him that I was going to give him that silver dollar all those years earlier. She said, "You're not going to believe it. Daddy remembered that you said you're going to go to West Point." That gave us hope that he would remember everything if he can remember that one little thing. It's the only thing he could remember from day to day.
Every time my mother visited for the next 6 years, "Is Bobby going to WestPoint?" They called me Bobby because my mother being Japanese couldn't call me Robert. She called me "Lobert," so Bobby it was. I said, "Mom, why would you name me something that you can't pronounce?" She said, "Because Daddy said so." Okay. Before he went to Vietnam, back then you didn't know if it was a boy or a girl, he says, "If it's a boy, name it Robert, and if it's a girl, name it Debra." She said, "Okay," or "Hai."
Off he goes to Vietnam, I'm born in February. They say, "It's a boy, what do youwant to name it?" She says, "Lobert." She's got an accent but she's not stupid. They give her the birth certificate and clearly it doesn't say Robert, it says Lobert. She says, "Why you spell like this?" They said, "That's what you said, Lobert." She goes, "No, not Lobert, Lobert. Like Lobert Ledford." They laughed so hard when they realized that she was talking about Robert Redford. She got 00:54:00mad and she says, "When you speak Japanese as good as I speak English, then you laugh." She didn't like that at all. I came that close to being called officially Lobert.
Then luckily they told her, hey, you can call Robert Bobby and found it was alot easier. The same when with her name, Atsko. They couldn't say that. They saw Betty Boop in a cartoon and said, "Hey, you look like Betty Boop." From that day on, everybody called my mother Betty. That's the story of the names.
Now that I've totally lost track of where I was going with all that. That wasthe interesting thing, though, that he always remembered that I was going to go to West Point. He never did get out of the hospital as you can tell because now I'm 17, 5 years later, and still visiting him at the VA Hospital. Once in a while we'd be able to bring him home. Thanksgiving was the time we always tried to have him home. We'd kind of argue because the blessing of having lost his short-term memory due to dementia was that he didn't remember he was at the hospital as long as he was. On Sunday after the vacation or the visitation from Thanksgiving would be time to go back.
What we hated the most as a family was who was going to tell him because he wasso disappointed when he found out he had to go back to the hospital. He understood as soon as we said it. "Oh, that place." He definitely understood he's been at the hospital, but he forgot about it for a few days and that was a blessing. I'd remember always saying to my sister, "You tell him." "No, I told him last time, you tell him." "I don't want to tell him." "Okay, let's just tell him in 30 minutes." We wanted him to enjoy as much of his life as he could and he was so happy even though he never read anymore because he couldn't read. Maybe the attention span wasn't there anymore, but he still liked to watch the 00:56:00things he used to like to watch; the westerns, the war movies, and MASH reruns. We grew up on Happy Days and MASH and Baa Baa Black Sheep, the Black Sheep Squadron. Those were my favorites that we watched together, and anything John Wayne.
We liked to prolong that and then, of course, when it was time to go, like asoldier, he'd say, "Nuts," and then my mom already had his bags packed and he'd get right on up and say, "Bye, kids," just off he goes, soldiered on as much as he hated it. Once he was told he's got to go back he gets up and moves right on out right to the car. We always hated to see him go.
Now I'm back with him by myself and we walk out to that bench and I don't knowhow to tell him that I failed. I made a promise to him at 12 that I was going to get into West Point and he was going to be my first salute and I felt like I'd failed him and I didn't know how to have that conversation. We go out and sit on the bench and he takes out his Camel unfiltered cigarette, flips his Zippo lighter. I don't know how he does it, just super fast and it just lights right up, like you see int he movies. He had the hair like the fifties hairdo and always kept his hair like the fifties guys, a little bit of a thing there. Even as he got older he had that persona. At least I knew he was not like me when he was growing up. He was probably more of the cool kid amongst the guys, not the sissy like I was when I was younger.
I was proud of that. He was a man's man. He lights up his Camel and puts hislighter away and blows his smoke and then he looks at me and he goes, "So," and he grabs my knee, "how's West Point?" I looked at him and I went, "Not good, dad." He looked over at me and I said, "I didn't get in." Takes another smoke, 00:58:00puff of his cigarette, blows it out. I'm boy, nothing worse than the silent treatment from my dad. He goes, "Did you do everything you could?" I said, "Yeah." He goes, "Okay." I felt like he we was forgiving me, letting me off the hook from that vow I made. I still had the silver dollar. I felt bad.
We get up, he just didn't want to be out there anymore. We're about to get upand I said, "Dad, why did you go to Vietnam?" Now I'm at the age I can start talk to him and asking questions that I couldn't ask at 12. "Why did you go to Vietnam? Mom said that you were exempted from going to Vietnam because of when you got wounded in Korea, you had some kind of a thing in your medical records that said you shouldn't go to a jungle environment again." He says, "Yup, that's right." I said, "So why did you go?"
What he didn't understand was I was asking why did you risk your health and loseyour family and put yourself in this situation when you could have been safe and home and still with mom and still there for me and my sisters and my brother to be there in our life. I was being maybe a little selfish, because as much as I respected the fact that he was a veteran and I knew that he was in there because he was a disabled veteran and I respected him 100% for that and never ever held it against him, there was a tinge of jealousy every time I would ride my bike down the road or go jogging when I saw a father throwing a baseball to his son, 01:00:00pushing his kids on the swing, and I always felt bad every time I felt that jealousy, really felt bad because it's not his fault, but I wanted that. Who didn't? Who doesn't?
So I asked him, this is my way of asking him why, why did you go? He thought itwas an odd question, he's a soldier. He thought about it, and this was the good thing about his illness is his character was still the same, who he was was still there. He took another puff of that Camel, blew it out, he goes, "You see that flag," and he points to the flag way off in the distance in the parade field. I said, "Yeah." He goes, "Where that flag goes, I go," and I got the goosebumps. I was like, wow! Why does he love our country so much? I love it, of course, but not the way he's conveying. I didn't understand that depth of commitment yet. That was good enough. I said, "Okay." I was okay with that at that point, okay. I get it, yeah, that's who you are.
We're walking back in and I'm feeling that big because I don't know what I'mgoing to do now. I didn't apply to any other colleges. My counselor told me, "Rob, you got to apply to OSU," Ohio State University, "ROTC program. They've got a great program. Ohio University has a great program." I didn't know anything about ROTC. I just knew that my promise to my dad was to go to West Point. Looking back, of course, it would have been great to go to ROTC, or Ohio State or Ohio University. I mean, my God, great programs. You have a regular college experience, but that wasn't part of the package. The promise was West Point. 01:02:00
I told my counselor, I said, "I'm not going to apply to these other places." Hesaid, "You've got to give yourself options in case they reject you. It's very difficult to get into West Point." I said, "I don't care. I'm going to get in. I made a promise." Then when that letter came he kind of said I told you so. He says, "Now do you want to apply to ROTC?" I started to think about it and said, "Yeah, let me have the packet." I said, "No, no." He said, "Robert, you're being irresponsible. You're going to graduate in a year and you're not going to have anywhere to go to college and you should go to college and still try to be an officer." He didn't know the story about my dad. I said, "Sir," I said, "if I do that, I'm admitting defeat and somehow I'm going to get into West Point." Didn't know how, but somehow. That's why I didn't apply. I should have, it's always good to have a back-up plan, but I was stubborn.
We're walking back into the hospital after I told him I didn't make it and he'sahead of me. Then he stops and I almost run into him. I'm in my thoughts, he's in his thoughts. He turns around, stands right in front of me to a point I had to look up because he was almost 6 feet tall and I'm not. I remember being surprised by whatever he was going to say. He said it in a way that I can't convey, but it was everything I needed. He said, "Don't give up." I looked at him, he goes, "Don't give up." I got the chills and I felt the renewal of my commitment and then he turned around and walked in and I drove home with tears in my eyes thinking I'm not going to give up. I don't know how I'm going to do this, but I'm not going to give up. Then the words that he said, "Did you do 01:04:00everything you could?" kept coming back to me, and I realized I didn't. I left one thing out and I knew I did. I did it on purpose.
By the time I was thinking about this, my father's brother, my Uncle Bernie, Dr.Bernard Paley, lived about a half an hour from West Point and he was upset, too. He drove to West Point, demanded to see the Colonel of the admissions office. At first they tried to screen him, another angry parent whose son didn't get into West Point, and he insisted and he was polite, so he and my Aunt Dee finally got in to see the Colonel, the Director of Admissions. The Director of Admissions says, "Dr. Paley, Mrs. Paley, not even senators' kids get in if they don't meet the requirements. It's not like other places. I'm sorry, but apparently your nephew just did not measure up to the standard of what we were looking for this year."
Out of frustration my uncle sat back and said, "You're telling me that my nephewwhose father is 100% disabled doesn't deserve a shot at honoring his father and continue in the military service that his father gave to our country?" The Colonel looked at him and said, "Your brother is 100% disabled?" My uncle was, "Yeah, it's in his file, right?" The Colonel says, "No, it's not in his file." In fact, asked for the file, shows him the part that says, "Has any of your family members ever been retired from the military?" I didn't answer it. West Point I understood had an honor code. A cadet would not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do. I learned that by the time I was 12 and I tried to live my entire life that way. 01:06:00
When I got to my questionnaire that asked about was anyone in your family everretired from the military or had any of them gone to West Point or, I believe, something about any disabilities, I didn't lie. I didn't put no, I didn't put yes. I just left it blank. I thought it was probably some computer that runs these forms and they'll never know. Well, apparently that was important because West Point values sons and daughters of veterans and they honor disabled veterans by putting their kids in a different competitive category. By not answering it, I took myself out of the running for West Point that year, because when you put with the mass population of over 16,000 applicants vying for 1,200 seats, I just didn't make the cut and I might have. Don't know, will never know.
My uncle calls me that night, the same night I think after I went to tell my dadI didn't make it, because the whole family was talking about it. They all knew since I was 12 I wanted to do it and I got the letter and it was the bad letter, "Sorry, we regret to inform you ... Thank you for applying," and all that thing. My uncle calls and says, "I just got back from West Point. I was talking to the Admissions Officer or Colonel. Can you tell me why you didn't put that your father was 100% disabled veteran? Why you didn't put your father was retired from the military?" I thought about it long and hard and I said, "Uncle Bernie, because my dad's not the one applying." He just sounded frustrated at the other end and went, "Uhh, you're just as stubborn as your father."
I wanted to get in on my own merits. I earned it. I worked hard to get there.Later I learned that when you're trying to get into a school like West Point you 01:08:00need to put everything you have in your favor in your file because they can't distinguish you one from another person if you don't.
After a few days or weeks of being depressed and feeling aimless and rudderlessand all my energy and my drive and all the years of commitment to West Point from the age of 12 to 17, 5 years of focus, I had no where to go, nothing to do. I didn't know what to do. My grades started dropping badly, started failing classes. My mentor, Mrs. Barnett, the assistant principal, who's known me since 9th grade and knew of my dream and bought into it and wanted so badly for me to get in, actually called me into her office and said, "Rob, can I ask you a very personal question?" I said, "Of course," because she was like that with me.
"Are you trying drugs? Are you doing drugs?" I was shocked. I said, "No, whywould you even ask that?" She goes, "Because ever since you didn't get accepted to West Point the teachers are saying you're not paying attention in class and you're not looking at them when they're teaching. You're just staring at your paper and signs of someone who might be trying drugs." I said, "No, I would never do that." I said, "I just don't know what else to do. I got rejected from West Point." She goes, "I heard." I said, "I just don't know what else to do. I made a promise to my dad. I've done everything I can."
That's when she said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Well, my uncle did call me and hewas quite upset that I didn't tell them that I was the son of a disabled veteran." She's, "You didn't?" I said, "No. I didn't even tell them he was in the military." She goes, "Why would you do that?" I said, "Same reason as I told my uncle, because I'm the one applying. I want to know if I'm good enough." She 01:10:00said, "Well, maybe you should rectify that situation." I said, "Well, my uncle already told them that I'm a son of a disabled veteran." She said, "Maybe you ought to tell them your story," because she understood my story. She knew about the silver dollar. She knew why I was trying to go. I thought that was good advice.
I go to the office store and I buy stationary with the American flag on top. Ibuy red ink pen because I thought it would be more patriotic. Instead of writing "Dear Honorable Sirs," on a typewriter like we had to whenever we sent official correspondence to West Point, I thought about my journey since I was 12, thought about all the people I met at the VA hospital, the old timers who got to know me. "Hey, there's are future cadet," when I went into see my dad. "Hey, there's a future West Pointer," and they all knew my dream. I told everybody and now I'm ashamed. I didn't want them to see me when I went to see my dad that day.
I took her advice. Instead of writing a form letter, I wrote, "To Whom It MayConcern: My name is Robert Paley, and for the past 5 years I've been on a quest," or something like that, "a mission to try to come to West Point because I made a promise to my father." I told them everything that I just told you today, didn't hold anything back. I said, "If this is not what you're looking for, a kid who has no father to give him guidance, who does everything he has to do, joins every club, becomes president of his class, governor of Buckeye Boy State, state Judo champion," and whatever else I thought might go in there, "then West Point is not the school that I thought it was because there's more to leadership than just straight A's and high SAT scores." A little bit of pride came out at the end where I said, "Maybe you're not what I want," and then I 01:12:00mailed the darn thing. I wanted so bad to get that letter back. I'm done, it's over.
Now, of course, that's paraphrasing what I said. Somewhere in their records isthe actual letter and I'm actually going to request it. I'd love to know if I actually sent that version. I know there was a part of me that finally came out that wanted to say, "I reject you because I earned it." That letter made its way to a guy named Captain Belton in the admissions office. If there was some way I could reach out and find this Captain Belton and thank him, I would. He found the letter and he's the one, I believe, who went to the colonel that my uncle had seen and shared my story with the colonel about my dad and the whole story, the promise, the silver dollar.
Next thing I know I'm getting a call from a guy named Colonel Don Lair, WestPoint Liaison Officer from Columbus out of Ohio State, retired West Pointer. He says, "May I speak to Rob Paley?" And I'm still in my feeling sorry for myself attitude. "This is me." He goes, "My name is Colonel Lair, I'm calling from Ohio State University." I said, "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I know why you're calling. I'm not interested in going to ROTC at Ohio State." He said, "Now hold on a minute, young man. I'm the West Point liaison officer for Central Ohio and West Point asked me to call you to talk to you about possibly getting into West Point a year later." I'm, "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. By all means, what can I do for you?"
He changed my life. He told me there was a physical aptitude test, all the PATcoming up with their highway patrol academy in about a month. He said, "How are your grades doing?" I said, "Uh, not very well." He's, "Well, I understand. Get 01:14:00them up immediately because we're going to look at your grades in about a month and we're going to use that to assess whether you are competitive enough for West Point." Dream come true.
Now I'm back to working out. I show up at class. They could just see thedifference in me when I get back to school. I'm back in the hunt and I find out what the requirements are for the PAT. I won't bore you with the details. It's a physical aptitude test that you have to do certain events and my mom was constantly saying, "West Pointers are all 6 feet tall." I'm, "Mom, I'm 5' 7", it's a little late now. What do you want me to do, hang from a tree, stretch myself?" Many years later when I found out I was tall enough.
The day of the PAT comes and I didn't know it, but he was behind this mirroredwindow in the gymnasium watching all the candidates. What he saw was a 17-year-old with a second chance. I out-ran just about everybody on the sprint. Out-threw people with the basketball throw, and I did more pull-ups than I ever did in my life. I left it all out there because this was my dream and I got a chance now. When it was all over, I knew I had given it the best I had.
The door opens to the office where the mirrored glass was and out comes ColonelLair. He said, "Impressive performance today, Rob." I said, "You are?" He goes, I'm Colonel Don Lair." "Oh, sir, nice to meet you." He goes, "Good job." I said, "Thank you, sir." He goes, "I'll tell you what." He goes, "This class is closed for this year, but I liked what I saw today. You have a lot of heart. I'm going to recommend you for the prep school." "Oh, no, sir. I don't want the prep school." Sometimes when you're young you don't know what's good for you and this 01:16:00was one of those moments. "What do you mean, you don't want the prep school?" I said, "Well, sir, I need to get in this year. If somebody drops out, can I go in their place? I've got to get in this year."
He didn't understand the urgency and I think he must have made a phone call orsomething and they must have told him about my dad being a disabled veteran and then he understood. He says, "Rob, it's going to do you good to go to the prep school." Thank God he got me into the prep school and my dad was real happy about that because he knew what the prep school was and that anyone who graduated from the prep school went to West Point. 300 cadet candidates would attend the prep school and only 200 would go to West Point. It was highly competitive.
Every day cadets would be called by the dean on the speaker system, "Cadetcandidate Smith, please report to the dean's office. Bring your books." They say that, you never see that cadet candidate again. You go back to the room if you're his roommate or her roommate and the room is empty, the closets are open, the bed is stripped and you just never know where cadet candidate Smith went. That was a ruthless environment that made you realize that we're here and these guys are not messing around.
I struggled academically there, but I hung in there and the dean didn't give mehis recommendation which was crucial to get into West Point. He just said, "Rob, you just struggle with math and West Point is an engineering institution." I said, "Dean, please, sir," he was a retired colonel, "I guarantee you I will work hard enough to make it through West Point." He didn't know my story either. He says, "I just can't do it on good faith." "Don't worry, the commandant, Colonel Drisco, he's referring you on your leadership skills." Now I'm 50/50. 01:18:00
I don't know if you ever saw the movie, "Rudy." The kid wanted to play for NotreDame football so bad and they would post the list on the wall who gets to play that game, who gets to put the uniform on. Well, that really hit home with me because West Point prep school had 3 lists. The first list would be those top athletes and people had pretty much straight A's and they were immediate acceptions to West Point. The second list were people who needed to improve a little bit in 1 of the 2 of areas. The third list was those who are lucky to be going to West Point. I just needed to be on one of those lists.
The first list comes and I had these delusions of grandeur that I might be onthe first list just because of my leadership ability. Okay, I wasn't there. Second list for sure. The second list gets posted. Everybody's crowded around the wall, fingers are flying, people are trying to find their names. Starting to cheer, yes, and they hugging their buddies and everybody is celebrating and I'm happy for them. Name's still not there.
Finally the third list comes out. Can't wait, this is it. My dream come true. Iknow I'm going to be on the third list. I'm going to be, I know it. They never called me out of the classroom and told me to pack my bags. It's 1 week from graduation and this is it. The moment that my family's been waiting for. I go there and as I walk towards the list, people are cheering and hugging and high-fiving, and then they see me and their face changes expression, like they just saw someone who lost a relative or something. I'm, "Hey, guys, can I get to the list?" They're walking away. I should have known. 01:20:00
No name, no Paley on the third and final list. Everyone who's not on that listimmediately has to go pack their bags and they disappear just like everybody else did who was called from the dean. My buddies start patting me on the shoulders and, "Sorry, Rob." Wow, I'm that close, I came that close and I just didn't make it. There's nothing else I could have done. I leaned against the wall and tried to process it. I thought, okay, you know what? I did my best. That's going to have to be good enough and I'm just going to have to be able to live with that. I did my best.
I go up and start packing, probably a few tears coming down. Somebody's cheeringas they go by and then they see me and they get quiet again out of respect because they know that I'm packing. I get a message from one of the other soldiers. "Hey, Rob." I'm, "Yeah." He goes, "Captain Schwegman said to stand fast, not to pack yet." Why prolong this agony, just let me pack, just let me go. Let me go on the airplane. I sat down on my bed and didn't understand it. Maybe it's a good sign. Maybe he just wants to say good-bye in person.
Everybody that wasn't on the list left that night or the next morning but me.Captain Schwegman thinks there might have been an administrative error or something. I go to the final classes with everybody who's going to West Point. 01:22:00At this point, 199 people are going to West Point out of 200 and they're all happy as can be and then there's me with this group. I'm happy for them, great people, some of my best friends. I was like a disease because they don't want to be too happy around me and they didn't want to make me feel bad. I said, "It's okay, guys. I'm happy for you. You don't have to stop talking about West Point and all that stuff."
I sat in the lunch room alone by myself thinking about things and waiting,wondering what they're doing. One day turned into 2 days. People were coming up, "Rob, did you hear anything yet?" I was, "No, I don't know what's going on." Very weird. I think they were testing me because right before that third and final list came out, I desperately knocked on Captain Schwegman's door and went in there and said, "Sir, tomorrow's the final list. Is there anything else I could have done to get on that list?" I think he thought what would happen if he wasn't? How would he handle it? I don't know for sure, and maybe if he sees this he'll let me know, but I think I might have been too eager. Maybe West Point doesn't want someone too eager, I don't know. Maybe it was just an administrative error.
All I know one day became 2 days, maybe 3. Finally I'm sitting in the mess halland the announcement comes on, "Cadet candidate Paley, report to Captain Schwegman's office." Dah, dah, dah, dah, here comes the death march. Take my tray to the counter. I'm walking out. Everybody's looking at me. They know that this is it. Rob's going to be told, "Good-bye." They figured it out, no he doesn't measure up.
I didn't say good-bye to anybody. By now it's just get it over with, end theagony. I stand before the door, it's shut. I straighten out my uniform, and I 01:24:00remind myself that I'm the son of a command sergeant major who earned the Purple Heart in battle. If this is his time to tell me that sorry, son, you just didn't make it, then I'm going to take it like a sergeant major's son would with my head held high. At that point, I knew it was over. I walk in, I knock, he says, "Enter."
I walk up to his desk, "Sir, cadet candidate Paley reports as ordered." Hereturns my salute and I'm staring above his head. I'm just waiting, just end it. He sits back. "Cadet candidate Paley, you've been wanting to be a cadet for a long time haven't you." He says, "Stand at ease." I stand at ease, I go, "Yes, sir, for as long as I can remember." He's, "Well, I know the last few days have been difficult and I'm sorry." At this point, I'm please, just end it, just say it.
He goes, "So I guess what I'm trying to say is," and he opens his right drawerand takes out the green binder that has the letter of acceptance in it. He throws it towards me on the desk and says, "What I'm trying to say is, congratulations, cadet Paley." I see that binder and I knew what it was because all my friends had shown me what it was. I lost all military bearing. I said, "You're kidding me, you're kidding me! Is this for real sir?" And he looks at me like composure failure. I'm, "Sorry, sir." I come back to attention. I said, "Sir, is this for real?" He says, "Yes, Paley. Take it and get out of here and go tell your family." 01:26:00
I take it and I salute him and I run to the phone. Back then there was payphones. I dialed call collect. My brother answers the phone, "Collect call from Robert Paley." He answered, "Hey, bro, hey little brother. How's it going? Any word?" They knew what was happening. They knew that the third list came out and I wasn't on it. I said, "Yeah, I just got out of Captain Schwegman's office," and I played it down. He goes, "What did he say?" I said, "I'm going to West Point!" He started screaming his head off, crying. You could tell he was crying on the other end. My mother and sisters came in and he says, "Robert's going to West Point," and they formed a circle, he said, and they were jumping up and down, hugging and crying. They couldn't wait to go tell my dad, and I would have loved to have seen that. That's how I got to West Point.
You going to take a break?
I'll never forget the ride to West Point. For me it was different. For me andthe other prepsters, as we were called, it was different because we got to go to West Point the day before the civilians arrived from fort living room [civilian life]. These were kids that did compete and qualify and get accepted right out of high school, top students and athletes from around the country. Being West Point prepsters, we got to go a day early so we had a little bit of a different indoctrination into it. I do recall the bus drive up there. Everybody was excited. There were several buses. Colonel Drisco, the commandant of the school, gave us all a handshake before we got on the bus.
I had a US News and World Report on me and on the cover was the coffin with asailor being saluted as he came off of a plane, I believe. I believe that what 01:28:00happened was that was when there was a terrorist attack and a French plane was hijacked and a US sailor tried to save the people on the plan from the terrorists. When the plan landed, they dumped his body outside of the plan onto the tarmac and the picture on the US News and World Report that I had was of that incident.
I remembered looking at that and having a sobering thought that that sailor, ifmy memory serves me correctly, did exactly what he swore to do, to defend the citizens of our country from all enemies, foreign and domestic. It didn't mean just because he was a passenger on a flight to France or on vacation that that duty wasn't still there. That was a sobering thought as I studied it. It's why I picked up that magazine and kept it with me on my ride to West Point.
Then I remembered writing in the margins of the magazine. I just had this, allof a sudden, new-found desire when I was at West Point to start writing and journaling and keeping track of things because I knew I was living history for me and my family because I wanted them to be able to read some day about my experience at West Point so they could be a part of it, because I would not have gotten in if my entire family wasn't behind me the whole way because they knew what it would mean to my dad. It was a total family effort.
I started writing in the margins of the US News and World Report and I startedwriting a list of all my friends I was leaving behind and I just went on and on and on. I forgot my grandmother's rule about 5 friends. I thought I had 50, and I tried to name every one of them. I believe I still have that magazine. The best part about that magazine as we're winding our way up the Palisades Parkway along the Hudson River, it's June 30th, 1985, I believe because I believe we had 01:30:00to report July 1st, 1985, for the first day, our day, reception day it's called. It's not a fun day at all, not a fun day at all. It was quiet the day before.
As we're winding our way up the Hudson, the reality of it all is just surrealthat all the years of hard work, of sacrifice and dedication and ... I earned it, I felt I earned it. Now I couldn't wait to test myself against what was really West Point. I knew I was in for a fight. I didn't know how big, I didn't know how big. Wow, West Point does not give quarter. Either you cut it or you don't every single day in every aspect of your life. I love that unforgiving high standard.
I was worried because they were worried that I wouldn't make it through theengineering curriculum because they told me that I wasn't strong in math. Thankfully, in US News and World Report they have these quotes in the front of the ... at least they used to. They have these quotes from different people. There was a quote by Henry David Thoreau that said, "Desire and intellect are one and the same." Desire and intellect are one and the same. That, thank God, that message sank into me and that's when I knew I'm going to make it because I may not have the intellect of the MacArthurs and the Pete Dawkinses, but I had desire. That gave me some comfort.
I get there, they then process me, they measure me for my uniforms. They give mea little sack. You start putting your different types of clothing you're going 01:32:00to need. What they do is they try to ... I don't know if the words humiliates to equalize the playing field, humble you would be the good word, where they have you wearing your black dress shoes like I'm wearing now with your black socks that come up to about your knee and your PT shorts, physical training shorts, with your shirt. Obviously, who would go out of the house like that? Why would they have you do that?
We thought it was a form of hazing. We thought they were trying to make us feelstupid. What they were doing, these were real leather low quarters and they were actually breaking out shoes in and the sooner we get them on, the sooner they're going to break in and we won't get blisters. They knew what they were doing, but we looked stupid, we looked quite silly and we felt silly. The way they got us to the station is they have a tag on you. The whole thing is like a well-organized, well-orchestrated chaos, constant going from one station to another. You don't even time to think or breathe; but, again, that's all for our day.
The day we got there for the prepsters was kind of quiet and I got to actuallyappreciate that I was now at West Point. In fact, when they told me, "This will be your room," I was assigned to Company D at West Point and they took me to my room in Bradley Barracks. The best thing was as I'm going towards the door the upperclassmen told me I was going to be staying in, it has this metal plate where each person that stays in the room slides their paper name tag in so the people will know who's in this room. Since my roommate wasn't there yet, it didn't have anyone on the bottom, but on top it said, "Paley, Robert, '89" class that I'd be graduating with.
I remembered stopping and just looking at that and getting the most unbelievablefeeling of elation that I'm supposed to be here even though they lost my file the last 3 days of prep school, or whatever happened, they knew I was coming 01:34:00because how did they otherwise print this with my name on it and have it on the door? At that point I thought, good. I'm official and that was an amazing feeling that surprised me that it felt so good about just that little thing that said "Paley, Robert H." I'm not forever entered into West Point's history of at least attending 1 day.
I go in, shut the door. There was a drummer in central area. I look out and thecadets are getting new cadet candidates ... now we're called new cadets. We graduated from cadet candidate to new cadets. You don't earn the title cadet unless you survive Beast Barracks, basic training. I'm just listening to the drummer. Not a lot going on yet. Just a bunch of prepsters getting taken to their rooms. I had a chance to sit on the windowsill and look around at the beautiful granite walls of West Point and get a sense of it, and I thought of my dad. Here, dad, I'm here. This is amazing.
The next day all hell broke loose. Our day, all this. New cadets came from allover the country. They got released in a very emotional ceremony for themselves. The kids that didn't come from the prep school came with their parents from high school. They go into the stadium with their family and then they get a little bit of welcome and introduction and all that. All very normal stuff you see at most colleges. Then out of the blue, they say, "You have 60 seconds to say good-bye to your sons and daughters." All the chaos breaks out. All the hugs and tears and they have a quite a different experience. I already got to say my good-byes to my family before.
They get 60 seconds to get down on the field with the cadets in their red sashand they quietly take them away from their family's view. As soon as the door shut to the world that they left behind, all hell descends on them. All the 01:36:00upperclassmen in the red sash, the men and women in the red sash. The cadets, we call them the red sash. It filtered into our lives as well. We heard the rumble coming. We heard the new cadets coming into the barracks. We heard all the shouting. The next thing you know we're caught up in the storm and it was just chaos. They test you in everything.
Every station you go to was a test. They start testing you immediately. You haveto start remembering things. It's called knowledge, and you have to remember things verbatim immediately. I believe if I get this right the alumni will tear me up if I don't. When you report to the person with the red sash it's, "Sir, new cadet Paley reports to the cadet in the red sash ..." or I hope I got that right. "Sir, new cadet Paley reports to the cadet in the red sash as ordered," and that's it and then you got to stand up at their line and then they tell you where to go next.
Every station you go to you have to say the same thing, "New cadet Paley reportsto the cadet in the red sash as ordered." It got to the point where there was such chaos that you literally felt like you could get lost and nobody would know where to put you. You would just disappear and nobody would even notice. They were very organized and orchestrated and they had a way of tracking you with these tags. They would find your tag, say you need to go over here, and you go over there, they take care of you. Now you need to go over here. Quite a system, something to see.
Finally, I get up to my room and I can't see the name of my roommate, I haven'ttalked to him, but he's from Akron. The first one that shows up is, and I'll just say his name is Harry, and it is. It's really Harry. He comes in and he's sweating bullets, pouring sweat. The door shuts and I say, "Hey, how you doing?" "Good, sir." I said, "Hey, I'm your roommate. You don't have to call me sir." He 01:38:00goes, "Oh, thank God." I said, "I'm Rob, where you from?" He said, "Ohio." I said, "No way, I'm from Ohio. Where you from?" "Akron." "Columbus." Instantly, we're happy. We're both suffering mutually and we're both Buckeyes. That was the beginning of the chaos of what was Beast Barracks.
Through it all I did pretty well because those that went to prep school alreadykind of had an idea of how to wear the uniform properly and how to do all that and we taught those that didn't know how to do that. It was our job. I believe this is July 1st. If I'm not incorrect, at the very end of that day, just 1 day, we had a parade commemorating the 4th of July, Independence Day parade, and I believe it was the same day. Somehow they transformed 1,200 civilians minus the prepsters into soldiers who could march in step and look like West Point cadets. Amazing. If you watch it on video you'll see what I'm talking about.
There we were. We're now in our white over gray, so we're finally getting to puton that was the big day for all of us. We put on the West Point dress gray uniforms, gray pants with the black stripe. Now we get to put on the white shirt with the gray epaulets and then we get to put on the fancy white hat with the gold crest and touch it up. We're feeling quite handsome in our new uniforms checking it out. We learned how to even tuck our shirts in properly. It's called a dressage. They had something for everything.
We go out, we stand in the sally port. I was in the central area sally portwhere my company lined up and it was called, I believe it said "Leyte" on it from the Leyte Gulf battle of the Pacific in World War II. I just thought this was so cool. I'm standing here, there's a drummer out on the field. This is the 01:40:00famous parade ground my mom and dad told me about when she told me how he pointed out there and said, "These guys are America's best," and somehow I made it into. I'm standing with these amazing, amazing young men and women from around America. Yeah, they were intimidating. They were so smart, so strong, so fast; everything I wasn't.
I thought, I'm in for it here. I am going to be in for it here. I swallowed hardand guarded myself for what was about to come. That drum starts and we're called to attention and we click in 1 unison as 1 and they give the command, "Forward," and guidon goes up, "March," and it goes down and off we go marching out of the sally port. You can hear the drum echoing off the inside of the sally port. Everyone of us, if they didn't have goosebumps, they're lying. This was amazing.
You walk out of that sally port and to your left and right, even though youcan't look around, you sense a thousand other cadets with you. We had about 1,200 in our class so there was a thousand cadets marching out to the exact same beat, exact same timing onto the parade field. The audience, they're called the GAP, the great American public, goes nuts. It's all the parents that dropped their kids off the day before or that morning.
They march us out on the parade field and they have cannons out and it's abeautiful July day and the wind is blowing and I got nothing but 1,200 cadets to my left and right and I feel so honored. Then they call us to attention. Then they do a cannon salute, 1 for every state. We're saluting 50 cannon shots for 01:42:00each state. Then at the far end of the plain across at Trophy Point is a flag pole where they raise the flag every day for the cadets and for the post.
They start playing the National Anthem, and that flag starts going up. Wow, Ican see my dad's face. I remembered when he said, "Where that flag goes, I go." I'm sure there were some tears in my eyes at that moment. I remembered what he said and I said, "I think I'm starting to get it." I think I'm starting to get it, maybe not quite yet, but at that moment, I felt like I'm starting to understand his love for our country and what an amazing moment that was for me. I wish my family could have been there to see it, but they weren't there that day.
I survived Beast Barracks and 1 day right before the academic year starts, I geta call from this Charge of Quarters, CQ, the guy who answers the phone. It's a duty we have that rotates. Back then we didn't have cell phones so they call the Charge of Quarters room on your company line and they come to your room and knock on your door. "Sir," or "Cadet," "New cadet, you got a phone call, whatever the case may be. I got a phone call to report to the admissions office immediately. I'm like, oh, no, they found me out. They figured out I was not supposed to be here. They're going to take away my name tag off the door. I even had it on my shirt, my PT shirt even said "Paley." What are they going to do with these shirts if they kick me out?
I make this long trek, very long, because I slowed my walk down as long as Icould, because I can't believe I just about made it through Beast Barracks and now they're going to tell me, "Hey, we decided we don't think you're good enough 01:44:00for this place." I was nervous, I really was. I go in there, holding my hat in my hand in my black shirt with my dress gray pants and my gray hat and I look for somebody and no one's there. There's a beautiful big hall and a nice building. I'm trying to figure out why they called me. Was there a mistake? Did I need to sign something?
Finally, somebody finds out that I'm there and says, "Oh, you need to go backhere and see Captain Belton." That name sounded familiar, Captain Belton. I think he had something to do with me getting looked at by Colonel Lair a few years earlier. That's good I get to meet him. I go in there and I salute and report and he returns my salute and sits back and says, "You're cadet Paley," and he actually says, "new cadet Paley." I said, "Yes, sir." He goes, "Finally get to meet you. Boy oh boy," he says basically, "what I had to do to fight for you to get in here." I said, "So that was you?" I said, "Thank you, sir. I really want to thank you so much." He says, "I'll tell you what, it was close, 50/50 many times on whether you were going to get in here or not." I said, "I understand and I will not disappoint you, sir, I promise."
He goes, "Let me just give you advice." He goes, "The academic year andadjusting to West Point the first year is the most difficult year. If you can make it through your freshman year without failing a class, then you can make it through every other year here." I said, "I won't, sir. I won't fail a class." He goes, "Paley," he goes, "I put my name out there for you. There are people in this very office who don't think you have what it takes academically to make it 01:46:00through the first year here." I was so shocked to hear that. I shouldn't have been based on how back and forth it went at the end at the prep school. I said, "Yes, sir." He goes, "So I read your letter, I know why you're here. That's why I'm betting on you. Don't let me down." I said, "I won't, sir."
He was the first of many mentors that I would have in my life, and without amentor you could only go so far. A mentor will get you the extra distance. Although I screwed up when it was time for West Point officers to sponsor a cadet, I screwed up and he wanted to be my sponsor so he could develop me and mentor me the rest of the year. At that time I was going through some personal issues with my dad being sick and kind of trying to find my faith so I asked if I could be sponsored by an officer family of my faith so I could continue to develop spiritually because I learned I'm going to need God's help to get through West Point real fast.
He was very good about it, but to this day I regret that and I wished for the 1year before he got transferred out that I would have become sponsored by Captain Belton and his family because he literally made my dream come true to get to West Point and I was determined because of that not to fail a class. After every test, every major mid-term or final exam, he knew how I was doing. He monitored me. I'm happy to say that I didn't fail any classes freshman year. Came really close in many classes, but I scraped through and later he got transferred out and if I could find him and thank him I would. I owe the man everything. 01:48:00
Then I move on to becoming an upperclassman and they were right. I couldn'thandle the academics. It was kicking my butt, and every time I thought I'd fail out, all I had was my silver dollar to reach in, grab that, and rub it and sometimes I'd rub it so much over the years that Eisenhower became balder and the entire surface of the coin started to disappear. A few times I lost it in the field, thought I'd never find it again, and friends would help me find it. That silver dollar made it a long way with me. I used to wear in a pocket in my class uniform, the sergeant major rank of my dad.
The best thing about doing that was one day it caught the eye of a cadet and afriend that I'm going to mention by first name. His name was Scott and he was prior service active duty 82nd Airborne. I believe he jumped into Granada or fought in Granada in 1983 when I was a high school junior. Now here I am with him at West Point, combat veteran cadet. Crazy, here I am just trying to learn to march right and he's already been in combat. He was the most, we used to call it, "strack." He looked like a soldier should look. He walked like a soldier, talked like a soldier. He was mature beyond his years. He'd been there and done that. He understood the seriousness of being an officer and in 1 day he was in my company for all 4 years so I was able to develop a friendship with him.
He noticed as I was putting something on my uniform or something, that I hadsomething under my pocket and he said, "What's that?" I said, "Oh, that's a sergeant major rank. It's my father's rank." He said, "Your father was a sergeant major, huh?" I said, "Yeah." He goes, "Mmm." He was impressed, but all 01:50:00he said was, "Mmm." That's what those 82nd guys do. They don't get excited. They're not excitable.
Then 1 day I told him my story and I had a lot of people there that saw how gungho I was to be there, how excited I was to be there, and there was probably a little bit of immaturity being 18-19 years old that these guys were mature and I was still just "Oh my God, I'm so excited to be here," which is not the way you're supposed to act as a cadet. They knew why I was so excited and loving every minute of it, they would maybe have given me a little more slack but they didn't.
In the beginning, the first 2 or 3 years at West Point I had a lot of peopledidn't like me. They thought I was too much of a showboat, go-getter, always trying to be good and the best that I could be, but they knew I was struggling academically. I took a lot of slack and a lot of heat and realized that I wasn't really bonding with these guys like I should and I've always regretted that, but that changed as we all matured. Little by little I think they started to learn my story. Once they did and I believe it was because of Scott, and I owe him a lot because they respected him. Everybody knew Scott was the real deal. I think as he got to know my story and he understood why I was there that word kind of started to get around that, hey, Rob's here because he made a promise to his dad.
In a way it backfired on me because in peer evaluations they said, "Robert maynot be here for the right reasons. He's here just for his dad." They questioned me on that, my tactical officer did. I said, "Sir, what's wrong with being here for my dad? I still love my country and want to serve, but yes, I am here for my dad." He understood that, okay. It's not just for my dad because there's no way 01:52:00you'd make it through West Point if it wasn't for just for you as well. No way you'd put up with it, but that was a big driving force, don't get me wrong.
Things started to get better and friendships started to develop and I was happyabout that. Then senior year I made it. I failed 1 or 2 classes, did summer school. I was told you came that close to being kicked out. Don't ever do that again. You're putting your fate in other people's hands. I took it to heart when people told me that. I said, "Yeah, you're right. I cannot let that happen again." I struggled every single class, every single semester. It was never easy, but my studying habits improved and my sheer determination to get through carried me all the way to senior year.
By senior year, now I'm looking at the calendar. The song, "The Final Countdown"was out in the music charts because now we're allowed to listen to music as seniors. We didn't have any cars. We didn't have any clubs to go to. When you're a senior you get the senior club called the "Thirsty Club" in Eisenhower Hall and other places that you're allowed to go. They started giving us privileges, meaning things that every other college kid gets to do since he's a freshman, we got to do as a senior. Meaning, we got to go put on civilian clothes between classes, leave post if we wanted to. That was a big deal to a West Point cadet.
I think that was the year we even were allowed to rearrange our rooms and didn'thave to have it symmetrical with a closet, a bed, a dresser, and a sink, and a desk in order on each side of the room. We got to move our desks and beds in different ways and we felt so liberated we thought we were really growing up. It was exciting for us. I believe people threw throw-rugs down, ooh, totally revolutionary for West Point. They give it to you in the form of privileges. You 01:54:00earn your privileges.
If you mess up, you walk the area tours with a rifle with your white over grayunderarms and you walk. The most valuable commodity you have as a cadet is your time because you got to study so hard, and they take it away from you and they make you walk back and forth with your rifle 2 hours on Friday and 2 hours on Saturday morning, or longer if you have more hours to walk. I've had several cadets who've reached the century mark of over 100 hours walking on the central area. I believe I might have only done it 8 to 12 hours, but I hope nobody checks my records to verify that.
Long story short now senior year comes. My study habits are better. I'm in goodshape. I've become a soldier more than a civilian now. I'm feeling pretty darn good about myself and I found that if I go to the library I could study better. I go to the library and I find the quiet place called The Stacks which is the floors between the floors and there's this lonely little desk with a desk lamp, dusty books that probably Patton and Eisenhower checked out when they were cadets a hundred years earlier. It was dead silent and I learned about myself that I can study best in a vacuum when there's no distractions. My studying started to pay off. I'm now thinking I'm going to make it. I now have my study skills down. I found a quiet place in the library to study.
One day I'm in the mess hall and I'm sitting at the head of the table. My bestfriend, Paul, is over to my right, Charlie's to my left, and all these underclassmen are sitting around and I decided to go for a walk, something unusual. It's not something you do at West Point. You don't just go for a walk. You might go for a run. I'm starting to feel a sense of it's almost over. I want 01:56:00to absorb it. I want to enjoy it. I'm about to graduate and give my dad my first salute. It's just months away now. It's in my grasp. I can see the end of the tunnel and it's amazing.
The momentum's building. I'm understanding engineering finally. I was selectedfor an honor's history course where the dean and the superintendent were my instructors. The superintendent only picked about 6 or 7 cadets out of the entire core of cadets to be in this honors history program and somehow I was in there and life couldn't have been better. I walk out of the mess hall which feeds 4,400 cadets simultaneously in 6 different wings. I walk out the big castle-like doors of Washington Hall. They're huge handles are like that. It feels like you got shrunk and you're back in a medieval castle.
I push the door open, I walk out. It's fall, it's around maybe October,September/October, the most beautiful time of the year at West Point. All the leaves are changing along the Hudson. People come from all around the world to see the changing of the leaves around West Point or around New York and Connecticut. It's absolutely gorgeous. I walk out, I'm standing on top of the steps at Washington Hall and I look up and I see the most beautiful sky I've ever seen, purple and orange streaked across the sky. Just a touch of coolness coming in the air as fall is pushing summer away. All the trees were magnificent. I had this sense of peace that I haven't felt ever in my life. Something amazing about just that moment.
I'm walking down the stairs of Washington Hall. I decide I'm going to take awalk and I didn't know where to go so I look up and I see the statue of Washington right there on the plain and he's pointing off in the distance towards Trophy Point. I said, "Okay, George, Trophy Point it is." I go down the 01:58:00steps and a female plebe runs by me and says, "Good evening, sir." I said, "Yes, it is. Yes, it is." I felt quite content.
I walk on the plain walking towards the bleachers and as I'm getting closer mymind begins to have imaginary flashbacks of my mom fresh off the boat and plane from Japan with my brother in her arms and my dad with his fifties bob, fifties do, sitting there watching the cadets parade like it was black and white almost. I could just see my parents watching the cadets go by and in my mind's eye I could see all the different times they've done that because we have photo albums of them there in the fifties and my brother was crawling so he was 1. It must have been 1955 or something.
Then we have photos of him in the sixties where they're there and when he's onleave visiting his family in New York. Then we have photos of him there in the seventies. Sure enough, you didn't have to be that smart to figure out my dad loved West Point. Every photo album in a different decade has my dad and my family at West Point. Now here I am walking past those bleachers and remembering all those photos and thinking, hoping how proud he's going to be when he comes to my graduation.
I walk across the street to Trophy Point and I had this favorite bench. It was agranite bench and they have all these different benches that say different things; Loyalty, Duty, Dedication, and so on. My brother was there about a year earlier for an event and we were walking along Trophy Point and he said, "Robert, that's your bench right there." I said, "Which one?" He goes, "Right here," and it said ...
Determination, I said "Why do you say that bro?" He goes, "You're the most02:00:00determined person I've ever seen in my life and I am so proud of you." That's the first time my brother was ever that mushy with me. I was like, "Gee, Phil. You're going to make me cry." He kind of punch and he's, "I mean it. I'm really proud of you." He was like a father figure for me all those years too and I was proud to be his brother.
I said, "All right, this is my bench from now on. Done." Anytime I need to takea break, I'm going to come out here and that was one of the occasions. I went out there and I sat on my bench, determination. Not a bad thing to be known for and so then to say laziness, could have been worse. I sat there and look at the Hudson as it winds around and at this point, you can see all the way at the Hudson past constitution island and it makes this sharp curve to the left and then right, and then south towards New York City.
That's the reason what George Washington chose to build West Point there wasbecause the British ships, no offense to our British camera man. The British ships had to drop sale in order to turn around that sharp bend, so they built West Point at this location of the S shape. The historical record show that there was a communication I believe between General George Washington, and Benedict Arnold were they were on the east side of the Hudson trying to figure out where to build this read out and they kept seeing that point the S of that curve, and they kept referring to as the West Point.
That is allegedly were it became West Point. Here I am, looking at that part ofthe river, thinking about all the history there. Feeling quite proud of myself to be honest. I thought about it and I thought my dad is still in the hospital, 02:02:00and when I thought about it I started remembering the promise because I always take out that silver dollar here. I thought, "This isn't what I thought it was going to be. Doesn't feel like I thought I was going to feel."
When I imagine that I give my father that silver dollar when I was 12, I thoughthe'd be home. I thought he'd be well and then it hit me, "Have I been wasting my time all these years?" If I was in the hospital for at this point at 78, 88, 10 years my dad would not rest until he found someone who could help me. He would not rest, it was anyone in his family. Now, I'm starting to feel like all the times when my mother went to the VA, and they kept telling her, "Mrs. Paley please stop bothering us. We've done all we can. There's no hope of any further recovery for your husband because of the brain damage. You just have to accept it."
The times that they would be rude to her and don't get me wrong the staff wasgreat, but there was the occasional bureaucrat that said the wrong thing or patronized her because she had an accent and she said sometimes she'd go home, driving home just crying because she's begging for them to reevaluate my dad. See if there's new medicine, or new operation, something that allow him to come home without having stress of being at home, and worrying about the bills, and why he can't remember things.
Now I realized, how ironic this is but spent all this time and energy to gethere and now I'm months away from graduation. That silver dollar all of a sudden 02:04:00lost its value to me because I realized that's not as important as helping my dad get home. I said to myself, "I need to do something. I'm here in West Point, New York City with all these great hospitals nearby. I need to take my dad's records in New York City and try to find him help, get a second opinion. Who cares what they're saying at the VA back there, maybe some other doctor has some breakthrough for people who have dementia or brain damage of some sort."
Right then and there, everything that I wanted, everything that I was aiming forliterally like everything just collapse. All my reason for being there collapsed because I realized my dad isn't better, my dad isn't well. My mother is still by herself after all these years and what a fool I've been. Here's the ultimate irony, he's not going to remember the salute.
I tried so hard of hold on to that coin and not ... When I felt like everythingwas just collapsing I tried so hard to hold on that coin and not let these families come inside of me because you cannot get through West Point if you'd let go. There's no way.
I wasn't ready for this. I wasn't expecting this. I looked at the Hudson Riverand I looked at the coin, and I almost threw it. I almost just do it because I'm so mad at myself that I didn't help my dad all those years that I could have been helping him instead been running around my friends and girlfriends. I could 02:06:00have been getting him help at the hospital and what kind of a son am I? As I'm walking back and the lights are coming on the barracks and the sun is setting, the happy walk that I had out there was been the longer the walk that I had back.
I remember my literature teaching us that in literature the great artist likeAndrew and David that wrote for instance, Wald and Spawned, The Existentialist, and the people that believed in rugged individualism. They believe that every man in this life and women will someday face their moment of truth. That moment will define for good or ill. I've been wanting and waiting because I heard that as a teenager in literature class. What were my moment of truth be and will I man up? Will I be a man about it? Will I respect myself or why not?
I thought this was my moment of truth, as least my first to many. Now, I've gotto do something to help my dad. I go back in my room and I call my mom and she said, "What's the matter?" I said, "Nothing, mom. Everything is fine." I said, "I need you to do me a favor. You have power of attorney for dad right?" She said, "Yes." I said, "I need you to write the VA and send me every single one of his records so I can take him to the doctors in New York over Christmas vacation when it comes and try to help him."
I could tell she was a little bit put off by it, I said, "Mom, it's nothingabout you, you've done everything you could. You and everybody else have done 02:08:00everything they could. It's not that." I said, "Now, I have a chance being at West Point, being near this hospitals. Maybe someone can help daddy get another opinion. Even if they say he won't get better, at least we'll know and we won't feel like we're just getting pushed away." She says, "Okay, I'll do it."
She requested the records and my buddy Paul knows I'm waiting for them to come.After weeks and weeks of them having to make copies from microfiche, I didn't know what I was asking for. An entire office supply box was full of his records. Foot stock of 12 inches of papers and medical records from Korea, through Vietnam, through post-Vietnam. My sister Nancy was a physician's assistant and she had a note, she read through them and she want to analyze what's going on with my dad too because we were kids when he got sick.
We didn't know what's wrong with him and now we got his records, so we're seeingit at the private world, not that we're grown up teenagers. We're seeing in the private world of what we never got to see. She wisely left me a note on the top of the box saying, "Robert, whatever you do, do not open these records until after your exams." I did and it's very painful. "Do not open these records." She even called me to warn me, "Do not open the records." I said, "Okay, I understand. I had to study anyway," because by the time the records came that was November heading to December and have to study.
We have four hour exams for every class. I was studying and studying and finallyyou get quiet period before the exams when the classes end, and now you're just prepping for your exam that's call Term End Exams, TEEs. That box was caped up pretty tight, she don't want me to look at it. I kept looking at it, "No, no. Don't do it. Keep studying." I kept studying and then I realized, "Wait a 02:10:00minute, if I'm going to go after my exams to New York to find a doctor for my dad, I'm going to have to know what's wrong with him so I know what kind of doctor to look for. I don't know if I need a neurologist, neurosurgeon, nothing about what his actual illness was that led to this.
Because of that epiphany I had, the turvy point that I owe him my Christmasvacation at least to go and try to find help instead of go home. I can't resist anymore and I cut the box, and I opened it and I see how many papers there are I couldn't believe it. It was like going back in time from those recent medical records, Vietnam, Korean war, and I totally forgot about my exams. I sat on my bad, I think post-its were new back then and I took these cool things called post-its and I started putting labels on everything that was significant.
Every surgery I put a post-it on the right. Every medicine, I put on the bottom.Every diagnosis, I put on the left. As I go through every page, I put either the surgery, the diagnosis, or the prognosis, or whatever the case was. I did that with all 12 inches, one page at a time until I got to the heart of his illness when it just started in Vietnam and how much pain he was in at Walter Reed and how he kept fighting with the doctors to try to get out of the hospital.
I was kind of proud I guess is the word, even though that's a bad way to look atit that it took like five people to restrain him in order to keep him in the 02:12:00hospital. I thought, "Wow, he really want to get out." Through these files, it said "I just want to go home. I want to get out of here." It was the records from 1950s and back 1960s and on, were like talking to me. "I want to get out of the hospital, I want to go home." I read them all, I cried a lot. I didn't know how much he'd gone through and my mom had gone through.
My respect for her grew and grew because every single record from the 60s on,she was there with him everyday, everyday. Not once could I find the spot where it said, didn't say in the nurse's records "Mrs. Paley came to visit." I thought, "That's love. That's dedication. Wow, I'll be lucky man if I ever find that kind of love someday." I think daddy did. My roommate was back from his first exam the next morning and that's when I opened up the box. He even said before he went to take test, "Don't open it Rob, I know you're looking at them. Don't open them."
When he came back, he saw them all piled up, tabbed, and me sleeping from cryingbecause I fell asleep emotionally drained. "Rob, wake up." I woke up and I was changed after reading it all, devastated. He goes, "Don't you have an exam?" I said, "Yeah, I'm not worried about it though. What do you mean you're not worried about it thought? This is more important to me right now Dan. Rob, what are you doing? Senior year, first semester senior year of exams. What do you 02:14:00mean you're not worried about it?"
I said, "Dan, just leave me, I'm good." I go to my first exam and it was beyondhistory class. It was the one that General Flynn taught, the Dean of Academics. Of course the dean doesn't administer the test, so it was a full bird colonel, named Colonel Hamburger. He passes out the test, it's an essay question, one sentence essay based that gives you a chance to say everything you remembered about Vietnam, that was the class. I thought, "That's easy," because there was no right or wrong right? They just want to see how much we know.
I get it, they start the timer for four hours. They said, "Begin." I opened upthe first page and see what the question is, it says, "It is 1965 and you are President Johnson knowing what you know now about the Vietnam war, what would you do differently to win it?" I started write an outline, thinking about what all the political in military, and economic considerations were, and all the things that you're supposed to do. As I'm doing this, I start having the equivalent of flashbacks to my dad's records and seeing him go through the pain of what he went through at Vietnam, and then the recovery from Vietnam, and then the second illness, and then the third illness.
All of a sudden, this is no longer a theory to me. This is not reallyhypothetical. This is real. Vietnam really took something from my family and from my dad. I pour that page out, I went through the next blank page, and I wrote "If I were President Johnson in the fall of 1965, I would not have deployed the 25th infantry division to Vietnam. I closed it and I walked out and 02:16:00put it on his desk after two minutes. He looks at me in shock and I don't have one to talk to me because I know it's done now.
My faith sealed, I failed, and I won't graduate on time and it's over. I leftand you heard that thing an expression, "If you love something let it go?" I was letting go of West Point because I love my dad so much. At that point the burden of West Point, the struggle, the wait, 21 year old saga was over. You fail one class at West Point, if you have a 100% average going in to the finals and you fail the final, you fail the whole class. They don't average it. I knew I just failed that final so now I failed the whole class.
Now, I don't graduate in 24 May 1989, at best I'll graduate at June as a lategrad. The other test didn't matter. I did the best I could tried to stay engage as much as I could on the engineering test, the one I was well on, now I'm just doing what I can but I can't concentrate. All I can think about is my dad's files and the doctors, and helping him, and my final test was a superintendent's test about Korea and Vietnam. More salt on the wound, more raw feelings of my dad's files, and I wrote something essentially the same that I would have deployed my father to war.
I think at that point, I found a couple of doctors that would have see me for mydad's records. Thank God, I met the lovely family in New Jersey, the Lassers' family and I met the daughter. She told me, she called me to wish me luck at my 02:18:00exams and I didn't want to talk, and she said "What's going on?" I said, "None of your business, it's personal." She was pretty stubborn and she got me to tell her what was happening that my dad's records reveal that he needs a neurologist or neurosurgeon, and I don't know where to start.
God works His mysterious ways when he know what her father worked for twoneurosurgeons and gave me their names, private numbers, addresses, and they agreed to see me. God does work in mysterious ways. The Lassers' family, wonderful family from Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. If it wasn't for them, I never would have found the two neurosurgeons that agreed to see me and see my father's records. I'd like to acknowledge Dr. Paluzzi and Dr. Silverstein.
Dr. Paluzzi saw me first, he told me, "Cadet, I got a pretty tight schedule,when do you have available?" I said, "I'm not going home for Christmas." I said, "I just need 10 minutes of your time. I've got my dad's complete records. All I need is a second opinion. I just need to know if there's anything I can do or my family can do to help him." He says, "All right, I've got an opening on Tuesday if I recall correctly." It wasn't Tuesday but anyway, he said, "I have an opening at 1:00 on a certain day."
By then my exams would be finished. I was excited that I'm going to go see avery famous, well respected neurosurgeon that could possibly help my father. I'm driving there and back then we didn't have GPS of course, I've got that list of all 50 states, and I've got an open to New Jersey, and then I've got it open to blow up section of that part of New Jersey. I'm going there if I recall, 02:20:00Ridgefield, New Jersey. I'm trying to find my way, I remember the billing had a 4 in it, 104 something Ridgefield Drive or something to that effect.
I'm running late and he only has 1 to 1:15 available. I get to this light and Inoticed that it's a red light and I'm in the wrong lane, I need to be in the left hand parallel lane and I'm in the right side but on the first car. All of a sudden, an ambulance comes from behind me along the side of me and gets into the intersection and pauses like he's trying to figure out which way to go, and he decide to turn left. I remembered hearing some lessons at West Point, extreme circumstances sometimes require extreme measures.
I thought, "That's probably not what they're talking about but I'm going tochase that ambulance." That ambulance turned left and I followed right behind in my 300 ZX and we're flying down Ridgefield Drive 3 minutes until 1, and we're just continuing to go down there and they're probably thinking I'm going to turn and chasing them or something. All of a sudden he gets stuck in the next stop light at a traffic jam, and I'm like "God" and I hit the steering wheel because now it's 1 minute until 1. I'm like, "Darn it." I looked to the left, there was the building right there where I stopped.
I went, "Thank you God." I turned in, ran in, breathless, I said to thesecretary, "Dr. Paluzzi's were waiting for me. My name is Cadet Paley, I'm from West Point. I know who you are. You're fine, he's still with a patient. Sit down and relax." I was like,"Whew, thank God." Two minutes later, he came to get me. He's looked at his files, he looked at his records one by one. He said, "Looks here like he recovered from his surgery the second time in 1968 or 1977, actually right before I knew he was ill." 02:22:00
I said, "Yes sir, that's correct." He goes, "That's good because only I had acat scan I could tell you more." I went, "Here it is." I gave him the latest cat scan. He went to his wall light and stuck it in there and turned it on and looked. He said, "Okay, you can see here, this is what it did to shunt" and he started teaching me what files only told me in words. As he's looking through the file, it takes all of them out and he's finding what he wants.
All of sudden, he goes "Who did this? Who tabbed this?" I said, "I did." Hegoes, "This is fantastic. I'm finding everything I need just like that. Thanks, I'm glad, that's why I did it because we only had 15 minutes." At the end he goes, "What do you hope to get out of this?" I said, "I just want to get a doctor of your stature to refer him to Walter Reed where he healed before. They won't take him back. Return a copy to VA says they won't take him back but he's going to have to stay there.
"I just want somebody else to look at him and know there's hope for my mom toever be with her husband again with us to ever have our dad back again. That's what I want is to know if there's any hope out there." He goes, "I can tell you there's hope because he's healed before from surgery and maybe there's been something bothering his shunt. Maybe we need to look at that." I'm hearing the words I want to hear. There's hope, maybe there's hope after 10 years.
He goes, "I tell you what. Here's I'm going to refer you to Dr. Silverstein." Hegoes, "Dr. Silverstein is extremely busy though. If I'm not incorrect, he was the national head of the neurological association, like the president or director. The top guy of the neurological association." Because of it of course, 02:24:00he was booked up for about a year. He gives me Dr. Silverstein's card, and then have e-mail so he typed me a letter saying, "I recommend Sergeant Major Paley be seen by you at your earliest convenience for reevaluation for Walter Reed."
You got to understand, this is amazing. I didn't even know that these doctorswere going to be there. I ran into this, went Lassers' family and they gave me their phone numbers. I'm like, "God, must have a plan here and it must be that I come to West Point. I find these doctors and we all lived happily ever after." I never graduate but that's okay, because I had a great experience and I might be able to go have fun in college.
He refers me to Dr. Silverstein, and I called Dr. Silverstein's office and alady answered the front desk and I imagined that she's got her hair up in a bun and got this cat like glasses on, just the way she sounded with that New Joisey accent. There goes thinking off my New Jersey friend, but that she just sounded like one of the ladies that you'd hear in a sitcom answering a doctor's phone. I said, "Ma'am, My name is Cadet Robert Paley and Dr. Paluzzi ... Dr. Paluzzi, yes I know Dr. Paluzzi. He referred me to Dr. Silverstein and he said that I should call you to try to have an appointment for my father."
"You know we're booked up for a year?" I said, "Yes, he told me that he's verybusy and I don't mind whenever it is. I just would like 10 or 15 minutes of his time to show my dad's records and I'm just trying to get him in to Walter Reed Hospital. I want some of that really understands, someone who has problem with his memory and dementia and this kind of an illness to tell me what to do next because we're desperate. We really want my dad to come home."
She says, "Dr. Silverstein doesn't take CHAMPUS," it's what they called TRICAREback then. I said, "Ma'am you don't understand, if I have to have a national fundraiser I will have enough money for an appointment with Dr. Silverstein, I guarantee it. I don't care what it takes. If you can get me the time, I will have them there." She's telling me how it's impossible to come and see him 02:26:00anytime soon. I'm telling her I'm available all the way through Christmas in fact maybe all the way through the next six months because I'm ready to kicked out to West Point for failing all my classes."
"I really have nothing but time, so if you can just find 15 minutes, that's allI need." She was getting very frustrated with me. She kept saying, "Cadet, I understand. I understand that your dad, I feel bad for you." All of a sudden, I said "Please, just let me talk to Dr. Silverstein." I wasn't getting anywhere with her. "He's very busy. He doesn't talk to people than on his patients, duh, duh, duh," and I want to hang up. "I said "Ma'am, I am not hanging up unless you let me talk to Dr. Silverstein for just two minutes."
He have still stick his head and then asked what the next appointment was. Icould hear him and I said to her, "I hear him." She says, "You are one persistent person Cadet Paley. She goes, "Dr. Silverstein," and she covers the mouth piece but I can her explaining that if I don't let you talk to him, he's never going to let me take the rest of my calls. He gets on the phone, "Hello. Who's this?" I said, "Dr. Silverstein, my name is Cadet Paley. My father is a disabled veteran, a 100% disabled. He's been at the VA Hospital since I was 12 years and all I want is five minutes of your time to look at my dad's records."
"I have everything from the Korean war, through Vietnam, to last month. All Ineed is a few minutes of your time, please." He says, "I'm sure my secretary told you, I'm booked up." I said, "Yes, sir. I don't care when it is, I just want to get on your schedule. You know I don't take. I know sir, I'll have a fundraiser for the money. Please, please," and I paused. He says something, I think her name was Dorothy for some reason.
She says something and he says, "What's that? Hold on Cadet. What? You got to bekidding me? When did he call? On the other line? Cadet, somebody must be watching out for you. One of my regulars has appointment next Tuesday at 9:00, he just cancelled. He never cancels." He says, "Can you get here at 9:00 next 02:28:00Tuesday?" I said, "I'll be there. Yes, yes, I'll be there." It was like Thursday now. I'm so thankful, I can't believe it. I said, "Thank you so much Dr. Silverstein. I promise you I won't be more than the allotted time."
He goes, "I'm giving you 30 minutes." That's more that I got with Dr. Paluzzi. Iwas like, "That's perfect." I said, "I'll bring his records and I'll bring his cat scan." He goes, "What are you talking about Cadet? I want to see your father. You want to see my father?" He goes, "Of course, is that a problem? No, no problem at all. He's only in Columbus Ohio and I've got five days to make this happen but no problem at all. Thank you sir."
We hang up, and I cheer, "Yes." My roommates like, "What's going on?" I said,"Dr. Silverstein is going to see my dad." He just shakes his head like, "This is the weirdest stuff Rob. This weird coincidences. There are no coincidences. I thank God, I called my family and I said, "Mom, what are you doing next Tuesday?" She said, "Working. Why?" I said, "I need you to bring dad here by 9:00 Tuesday morning to see the top neurosurgeon in New York City. What? You did it?"
I said, "Yeah." She's, "Okay, I'll tell the whole family." She's, "Good job. Iknew you'd do it." She's, "You say you'd do something, you do it," which is nice because she didn't think that when I was a kid. She was so happy because this is the first hope we have in 10 years. I find out that she goes to her boss, she was working at the Heritage House and they just said they couldn't leave that time because it's 22nd of December and Christmas is three days away and the holidays. She threw her white smock thing, for a physical therapist, she was just a helper on a desk and said "I quit."
She goes to the doctors and the doctor says, "It's not good for him to take this12 hour drive, and no you can't take him." She says, "I'm checking him out. You 02:30:00can't stop me." She takes him out the day before. Next thing I know, the Paley family is cruising from Ohio Columbus to New York City and I'm rendezvousing with them from West Point. We get to Dr. Silverstein's office, have a family reunion. In fact we got though the night before, we meet the Lassers' family.
My dad understands that Mr. Lassers was a marine, a leather neck. He won two orthree purple hearts charging the enemy. My dad seemed totally at ease around this family. He understood somehow that these people were instrumental and what was happening can explain that. The next morning, we went to the hospital. We get in there and Dorothy looked exactly like I thought she would. She's like, "Name?" I said, "Paley." She goes, "All of you?" I said, "Yeah, ma'am. This is pretty big deal, the whole family is here."
She goes, "Oh my god." She goes, "I can't believe how it worked out." She wasstill shocked that I called her last Thursday and now I'm here with my dad and my family from Ohio. I said, "It was just one of those things ma'am." I said, "Thank you so much for allowing me to talk to Dr. Silverstein." She just smiled and shook her head and said, "Sit down, he'll be right out." At about 8:59, the door opens and Dr. Silversteins sticks his head out and I don't know if you've ever seen those pictures of Einstein with the gray hair which is all mock, and the glasses but I mean just genius written all over him.
He wasn't worried about his hair and what a great guy. He says, "Mr. Paley andfamily?" I said, "Sergeant Major." I mean that was rude of me but my dad earned that rank and you don't call Sergeant Majors anything but Sergeant Major. I said, "It's Sergeant Major, Doctor." He's, Okay, fine. Sergeant Major Paley and family." All of us stand up. We were filling the waiting room and he looks around, he goes, "All of you?" I said, "Yeah." He's, "All right, fine. All of you come back."
I said, "They traveled from Ohio just yesterday" and he didn't know we came from02:32:00Ohio. He said, "Oh wow. Okay, so therefore everybody come back." We get him in there in the examine room and my dad is sitting in front of Dr. Silverstein and Dr. Silverstein says, "How old are you?" My dad says, "I don't know." He goes, "What year is it?" My dad started feeling comfortable and looking to us with support like we can read our lips because he's been deaf his whole life, so we can just, "88." He would be able to say, "88" and get the answer right but we weren't helping him.
This is the doctor's, this is the master, we're not going to interfere. He looksover at me and I'm feeling bad but I can't help him, and he goes, "I don't know." I felt bad for him because it's humiliating to him that he doesn't know what year it is. Dr. Silverstein says, "Who's the president of the United States?" Keep in mind, the President of the United States is the commander in chief for soldiers. That's when I really felt bad and I want to stop it because I knew he wouldn't know. He says, "I don't know."
It was like he was beating him down and I didn't like it but he wasn't, he knewwhat he was doing. He says, "Sergeant." He didn't Sergeant Major but that was okay by now. He says, "Sergeant, it's 1988." My dad goes, "Okay, 88." He goes, "Remember that. Okay." He goes, "The president is Ronald Regan." My dad says, "The actor?" We all laughed our heads off. We laughed so hard because we didn't know he knew him as an actor. It was so funny because by now it's 88, he's already been president like almost 8 years or it's maybe 4 years at that point. That just broke the ice.
The doctor thought it was funny too. He goes, "Remember that." He looked over tome and like, "Is he telling the truth Ronald Regan is the president?" I'm like, 02:34:00"Yes, yes, yes. It's true." He goes, "Okay, I want to need to take him for physical exam next door because of his reflexes, and his walk, his gate, and all that stuff and who's coming with me?" The whole family points at me because they saw what I did to the files.
I said, "Why me?" My brother goes, "You know the most about dad's situation thanany of us. You read all the files." I said, "Okay." I went over there with Dr. Silverstein and he did his reflexes, and he told him a few more things to remember. He did whatever he did to find out just how expensive the brain damage was from the surgery or from the illness from the surgery.
We go back in there and he doesn't say a word to me about what his thoughts are.He sits down, doesn't care that we're all on the edge of the seat waiting, start writing his notes. They're looking at me like, I'm like, "I don't know. I don't know what he's typing. He didn't say anything, but he's a genius and I'm not going to interrupt him. He invited us in here." Finally it's done. He pulls the paper out of the typewriter, that nice town typewriter you used to make when you pull paper up.
He puts it on and he goes, "I'm writing you a letter here address to Walter Reedthat based on my professional opinion and based on X, Y, and Z that I've described in the letter that there is hope for your father could recover with another surgery and a possible new shunt. Is there anything else I can do for you?" We just started crying and hugging each other and he didn't know what he just did.
With that letter I can now go to Walter Reed and say, "See, Dr. Silverstein werethe most renowned neurosurgeons in the United States now believe dad has chance to recover." That was the most amazing feeling after 10 years of not having my dad around and hope was a wonderful thing. We all drive home together and it's Christmas break and New Year's comes and everybody is so excited that there's 02:36:00hope and now we're just trying to get the Walter Reed to accept us and at first they're resisting.
I decide I'd fight that battle later but somehow we're going to get him inthere. What they didn't know was that I failed on my exams every single one of them and I didn't want to ruin their holidays so I didn't tell them that I'll be driving back to West Point just to get my stuff. I didn't want to ruin their holidays so I'm driving back it's wintry and I always go there too early and I get there and I check in before anyone else is there. I'm looking around my room and looking around the academy and remembering looking how beautiful it is in the winter.
I realized, "Okay, it's good. I'm walking away for a right reason for my dad."Something have changed over me over the Christmas break because he kept asking me about what's the point. "How many more months son? Are you graduating soon?" I didn't have the heart to tell. I realized as I'm driving back, I screwed up so bad. I just gave away a Commission of the United States Army and a diploma from West Point because I'm an idiot and I let emotions override my logic.
I was no longer okay and I'm sitting there and my roommate comes back andeverybody is happy. It is time to start a new semester and they don't know what happened yet. I finally tell one my friends, I think Paul what happened and he's like, "What were you thinking? This is all you wanted since you were 12." I said, "I know Paul." I went ahead and wrote my letter of resignation and I was 02:38:00just going to pack up and go home.
There was that knock on the door again, charge the quarters. "Sir," he says. Isaid, "Yes?" He goes, "You're ordered to go to Colonel Grubb's office immediately in the engineering department." I said, "Colonel who?" He says, "John Grubbs, immediately." I said, "Yeah, okay. I got it. I knew what it was about. He's the one the dean to tell me pack my stuff to go home. At least they will say bye." I put on, make sure my uniform is good and take that walk, find his office, and the big wooden and he said, "Department head of engineering."
Like I did all those years before when I was about to go to Captain Shwegman'soffice, to be told that I wasn't get to go to West Point. I decided I'm going to go and again with my head up and be told I'm getting kicked out at West Point because I am still my father's son, he would only want that way. I knock on the door, he says, "Enter." I go in, shut the door, step two, three feet in front of his desk. "Sir, Cadet Paley reports to Colonel Grubbs' ordered." He says, "At ease, Cadet." I go to at ease.
He says, "You know why I have you here Cadet Paley?"| I said, "Yes, sir." Hegoes, "The Dean has told me that he wants me to find out what happened?" I said, "Sir, it's personal and I have my resignation letter. Here, so I understand that I can't make up six classes. I will save the academy the trouble and resign." 02:40:00He's, "What happened? Why did you failed your exams?" I said, "No excuse sir. Here's your plead Paley." He kind of got pissed off a little as he should have because I was not going to give him much.
I looked over at his jacket hanging on the corner, I can see the combat patch ofthe 173 airborne brigade and I knew this is not a guy who want to take off. I changed my attitude and said, "Sir, it's just a little bit personal and I didn't mean of any disrespect." He goes, "Have a seat." He goes, "You're right, maybe that's the best course of action is to resign but the dean said to find out what happened because before you started your final exams, you had your highest GPA and you're doing your best you've ever done in engineering and then I got partial answers from you on the entire test."
"I checked with your instructors and all the instructors said you gave partialanswers on their tests." I said, "Yes sir. I need to know why." I thought, "What's it matter now? I'm done." I told him the entire story that I told you guys here today in a much shorter version. All I did was said, "I promised my dad at 12 that I would graduate from West Point and he'd be my first salute. I got his medical records and I realized my priorities were misguided that I should be helping him and not trying to graduate from West Point that, that's not what I'm supposed to be doing that I'm supposed to be helping my dad."
"That's why I failed my exams, that's why I'm going to resign, and I will spendthe rest of my life until my dad is home." He got a little choked that big tough burly infantry man from 173rd brigade. He was, "You 02:42:00should have said so." He goes, "Where did your dad serve?" I said, "Sir, he served in Cu Chi in Vietnam in 1965 and 66." He says, "You don't say?" I said, "Sir?" He goes, "Do you think maybe I graduated from West Point in 1965 and my roommate went to Vietnam with the 15th infantry division in 1966 and now I'm about to faint from all the coincidences. This is impossible."
I said, "Sir, my dad was an engineer and so was my roommate." I said, "My dadwas with headquarters 65th engineer battalion so as my roommate." He goes, "Cadet, story keeps getting weird and weirder." I said, "Yes sir it does." He goes, "Let me call him." I'm like, "Your roommate, you can call him?" He goes, "Sure." Dialed some government phone numbers, he says his roommate's name I can't remember what it is now. He says, "Yeah. Hey, it's John. Yeah, I'm good. How are you? Good, good. Hey, listen. I got someone here I want you to talk to. Yeah, it's Cadet Paley. Cadet Robert Paley. Yeah, yeah you know the name."
"That's right his old man is, yes that's right. That's his old man." I'm going,"You got to be kidding me?" He's with the phone and I wasn't ready for this. I was ready to be kicked out on my butt and told don't look back. Now, he's giving me the phone to his roommate who was the platoon leader from my father in Vietnam. I'm just thinking, "God, You are amazing. I don't know what you have going here but I'm all up for it because I surrender." God has a bigger plan here and not even I can be around this.
I get on the phone and said, "Sir, nice to talk to you. My name is Cadet Paley."He goes, "Cadet Paley, my god, haven't heard that name in years. How the hell is 02:44:00your old man?" I said, "Sir, that's kind of why I'm here talking to Colonel Grubbs now. That wasn't wise there talking to Colonel Grubbs. How's everything? Told I was about to get kicked out and now it's all about how can I get my dad medical help, that totally changed the entire nature of the conversation when he heard my dad was at the 25th IB and so on."
I said, "I guess he wants me to ask you if you could help me get my dad intoWalter Reed because I have a letter from a neurosurgeon and Walter Reed still not letting my dad come to get seen yet because they don't know if there's anything they can do." He says, "I'll be more than happen. I'm stationed at Fort Belvoir right now and that's just up the road because I know people up there. I tell you what, give me your address, I'm going to send you piece of something from one of our bulletins that shows me and your dad's name together in it and a picture too."
He got my address and said he was going to mail it to me and I kind of then atthat point that he goes, "What's wrong with your dad?" I said, "Sir, it's a long story but in general he's been in a hospital for 10 years and I'm just trying to get him home." He's, "I'll do whatever I can Cadet. Get my roommate back on the phone." I started to hand it back, I go, "Sir, real quick, can I ask you a quick question?" He goes, "Yeah, sure of course." I said, "Was my dad a good soldier? I never really got to ask anyone." I'm like, "I want to know."
He goes, "Cadet, I wouldn't have survived Vietnam if it wasn't for your dadtaught me." That was amazing and I was like, "Thank you sir, thank you." I got all choked up and handed the phone back to Colonel Grubbs. Colonel Grubbs is a little choked up then just shaking his head like this is so surreal and he hangs up and says, "That's just amazing Cadet. Absolutely amazing." He's, "I need to know because I can't guarantee you anything but I need to know if I talk to the dean about what's going on, and he tells me there's a chance for you to still graduate from West Point, would you accept it?" 02:46:00
I said, "Sir, I'd be a fool not to, but I know and I don't want any unfairadvantages over my classmates." I said, "I pride myself that I got in here on my own merits mostly, that I got through here on my own merits a 100% with some help of friends. I don't want any unfair advantage over my classmate sir because then it won't mean as much to me." He says, "I totally already get that about you Paley and I respect that." He goes, "I'm not guaranteeing you anything, this is a big hole you've dug yourself into but at least before I go and talk to the dean, I need to know where you stand."
I said, "Sir, if you'll let me redo senior year, if my dad will live long enoughthen I would like to do that. I would like to try." He goes, "Because I don't know about you Paley but if I were your dad, I would want nothing more than to salute you when you commissioned. I don't want to see that not happen for your dad." I said, "Thank you sir." He goes, "All right, you're dismissed. Probably will get back with you." I stand up and shake his hand and I salute and then he offers him his hand, I shake it and I'm walking out.
As I'm closing the door, he goes "Cadet Paley." I kind of stick my head back inthe door which wasn't very military to do, we supposed to come back in all the way. I said, "Sir?" He goes, "Good Lord bless me with daughters but if I had a son, I'd wish he was just like you." Now, I'm the one getting choked up and I couldn't even answer him. I just said, like that, "Thank you," with a nod and I shut the door and I walked down the hall. I was very choked up. I thought that was one of the biggest, nicest things anyone has ever said to me in my life.
If Colonel Grubbs ever gets to see this or hear this, I hope he understands howimportant that was to me and then he went to work. He went to the dean and right before I left his office. He said, "You know what the dean was the battalion commander of that same unit in Vietnam when after your dad left." I'm like, I 02:48:00can't take this anymore sir. This is unbelievable." He goes, "Yeah. The dean was Lieutenant Colonel Roy Flint at the time and he was the battalion commander of your dad's unit the year after your dad was backed out."
I'm just like, "I just don't know what to do. This is mind boggling." The daycame after a day or two waiting before the academic year started where the gains office summoned me and I went in there and there was a major in there in the dean's office. He said, "You're Cadet Paley," just like Captain Belton did when I first got there four years earlier like, "Who is this cadet causing us so many headaches?" That was the attitude they gave me.
"You're Cadet Paley?" I was like, "Yes, sir. I am." He just shook his head like,"You troublemaker. You have no idea what you've done behind the scenes here." I appreciated that I could still be told I'm going home but at least they considered my situation. These are men of honor. He says, "I've got a proposition for you that I need you to agree to and I need to inform the dean of your decision today." I said, "Okay, sir."
He goes, "We're going to waive your final exams because when you receive thosefiles and read them it must have hit you with the same blow as if somebody lost a family member right before the final started. There's no way that somebody in the right state of mind if they lose a loved one before final exams start and we've done it on a rare case by case basis for cadets who've lost family. Even though your father is still alive, learning the truth of his long time illness for the first time in your life must have hit you very hard and we understand 02:50:00what you're trying to do to help him."
I said, "Sir, I appreciate that very much but I can't accept that offer." Hesaid, "They'd told me you would say that." He goes, "Now, I'm going to tell you one more thing." He goes, "You're not the only one in this situation. Don't get me wrong, no one is in the same situation you are with your father but there are few other cadets that stand to either graduate on time or go to summer school as they failed one of the classes you failed."
I failed six, so somewhere along the way there was somebody might have been onthe border failing one of their classes and the only way they could feel justified and helping my father, they weren't doing this for me. These guys were circling the wagons around a disabled veteran and they wanted him to have this moment. They didn't do this for me, they did this because they felt they owe it to my dad. When I found out there were other cadets futures that's stake.
One of whom I saw the tab on the folder and I knew, he didn't know I saw. Isaid, "I accept." He's like, "You better not fail another class Paley." I said, "I won't sir." I made it through final exams, almost failed law class, had to stay like I never studied in my life day and night without eating 24/7 for 5 days before that final because it's such a hard class and I didn't know what it's going to be. The instructor called me in and said, "Paley, how much did you study for this exam?" I thought he was saying because I blew it.
I said, "Sir, I didn't sleep underneath under the blanket maybe lights out."Sometimes I had to just have lights on all night at finals but most of you had 02:52:00to turn the lights off at night so you have to study under your blanket with a flashlight, or sit by the door with the opening in the hallway so you can read. I did that day and night, 24/7, didn't eat lunch. If I did eat lunch I was studying law. Did talk to my friends and nobody, this is the only thing standing between me and my dad on that graduation day.
He said, "You have one of the highest scores for somebody coming into this classwith almost a failing grade than I've seen in years." He says, "Well done." I mean amazing, so now I know I graduate so I get to call my family said, "Book the way down. I made it." They said, "We already booked them because we knew you would somehow." Thank God, because I would not have gotten if they did it.
24 May 1989, I didn't see him in the stadium. It's a rainy day and the rumor isthat if it rains on the West Point class, they always go to war. It was pouring cats and dogs and little bit we know in 1989 that by 1990 desert storm would be starting. By 91, my classmates would be leading the charging battle as lieutenants in desert storm. We knew it and we accepted it, and we were willing to go.
There we are under the town hall in the football stadium, the rain had lit upfor a moment. I take the silver dollar out of my white glove, I knew my dad against doctor's orders is out there in the audience somewhere with all those umbrellas. There's my mom and my family, and I'm here, and I'm like, "I can't believe this, I'm here." 12 years old, I said I was going to do this and here I am.
I'm standing there and alphabetically Scott is right in front of me. Scott isthe guy I told you was from 82nd airborne who I respect so much. He was the soldier, soldier, just look like a soldier should look. He happened to notice me 02:54:00taking the coin out and he goes, "This is it." I look up at him and I'm like, "Yeah." He goes, "Smile as it be. I'm proud that you made it to this day for your dad."
He shakes my hand and I shake his and I really appreciated him more than heknew. They say, "Board marching." The drum start and we marched out of football field and the audience goes nuts and that's amazing. We had a speaker there named Vice President Dan Quayle and everything he said, all I knew that I couldn't wait to see my dad and my family. We threw our hats up in the air as you see on TV, I hug my classmates, I get my diploma, I kiss it, and thank God, really thank God.
I go to my friend Jill Shaftner is, anyway she was here below me in school and agood friend of mine and she knew about my story, and she said "I want to be there." She's the one who coordinated where I meet my family by Les Reservoir, beautiful scenic location. She finds me and takes me to where their family is going to be and we go out there and they're all standing in the bunch and them they open like the red sea and there's my dad in those blue suit with those purple heart standing there, holding it in, triple chin, just trying so hard not to cry as I approach him.
I get in front of him and I say, "Sergeant Major." He says, "Yes sir." First oneto call me sir. I said, "Take the silver dollar in my glove." I said, "Dad, I waited 11 years for this." I said, "It'd be my honor if you'd give me my first salute." He pops the salute up so snappy, totally understood what's going on. Holding back the tears, I returned this salute. Giving the silver dollar that 02:56:00I've been holding since I was 12 years old and how it came. The whole family starts bawling and hugging, group hug, and it's amazing.
As we're walking away and the moment is finally here come and gone, I'm thehappiest man that ever walked the face of the earth. It's proud, the pride that was on my dad's face and my brother looked, I look at my brother and he's got tears in his eyes and he goes, "I'm so proud of you bro." It's just an amazing moment. We made that night in the hotel room and happy day. All the family is in there and everything and all of the sudden my mom was, "Shh, shh, look at daddy. Look at daddy," because he was deaf. You could say that and he won't hear you.
Everybody stops and we thought something was wrong, he was sick or something andwe look over and he had unrolled the diploma from its round case. He was reading it, and as he's reading it his lips starts quivering and tears come down his face for the first I ever saw him cry. That was the end. It's proud day. That's why I'm so proud to serve men like my dad, men and women with character because I saw the best of Americans on this entire journey.
Doctors who would help my dad. Colonels who would help my dad. General thatwould help my dad, and I was just the vehicle for helping my dad. He died a year and a half later and 2 December 1991. Everybody says he lived just for that salute.
JH: What about you mentioned in our phone interview that throughout your02:58:00military journey, and your service up to this point that remembering and telling the story is something really important in your own life. Can you speak a little bit to that, you just fill up the story that you probably your biggest story in the earlier? What does that meant to be able to write about it and share it?
RP: There are some things I didn't say today underlying issues, a story withinthe story, paying too deep to share with you right now. Writing is a way to share and to get out some of the pain that people that have either had a disabled veteran in their family or became disabled themselves. There's always a story within the story and now I feel very comfortable here in this format to tell you the story today.
There's another story within the story that writing has helped me address. WhatI can't tell you is part of it was feeling like I didn't help my dad enough, the guilt of not helping my father enough. That was one of the some plots or sub-stories that we want to call it that. That was running throughout my life since he died. Everyone will tell you that I never go a week or day without mentioning my dad in someway or another. Of course, some people will say, "You need to get help for that."
I don't mind, I don't see there's a sometimes needs to cure it. I do believethat after what I've told you that there's some lessons that I learned along the way that might help other kids who were five foot and up and a hundred and 03:00:00nothing as the movie "Rudy" says who have big dreams that have reasons why their family circumstances would prevent them from getting them.
There's a message I believe in what I experienced that I think maybe might behelpful if I can give back in someway by sharing the story and helping that person that I don't even know who's watching this right now or reading the book if I ever get off my butt and finish it. By the way, I've been working on this since 1999. Let's just say, it's not easy to write and I like to take this moment though before I talk about how writing has helped me to acknowledge some of the most amazing people that I've ever met.
These are people that are part of the writer's guild of America east and theycreated a writing workshop where they help veterans, caregivers, and military personnel who have been through their own individual experiences in the military. These people led by Michael Weller, he wrote the screenplays for Hair, and I had it written down actually, Ragtime. An amazing man, salt of the earth.
He took the opportunity when he became president of the writer's guildinitiative to say what can we do to reach out and help veterans with our skills, 03:02:00with our craft, with our talents? Just acknowledge someway who they are. If you don't mind I'd like to pick up a paper. Some of the people that were involved in the first writing workshop kept talking about how there's no coincidences.
1999, when I first got the idea to write this as a book. I didn't understand howmuch underlying pain would be grudged up by trying to write all these experiences. I found that work was a convenient way not to write, life was a convenient way not to write. Yet deep inside, I have this burning passion to tell the story but to tell it write. The challenges that I haven't been able to find my voice when I tried to write it.
Also Michael Weller, when he had his first workshop in Columbus asked me what'shold you back. He asked all of the veterans that attended this first workshop. What happened was I was trying to write on my own, didn't know where to go. Bought everything from writer's market to figure out how to send out the information to all the publishers, and all the editors, and all the agents, and have them pick your story, and make them want to be interested in you and represent you, and then go to the whole rhythm or roll of getting a book published.
Understanding that based on what I went through from West Point or could benothing harder than that experience was in my life. I didn't feel intimidate by any process even if I put my mind to it, I feel like I can do just like any other guy or woman can do with hard work and effort. I started the stall, from 1999 to 2008, oh my gosh, almost 10 years later of telling people "I'm going to write a book about my dad and I'm going to honor him and hopefully inspire others."
I was still floundering and here I am in 2015 and it's still not done yet, but03:04:00while I was sitting there in the spring of 2008 trying to figure out how I'm going to get this done, I need help. I need a mentor. Once again, everybody needs a mentor. I get an e-mail on the National Guard Distribution e-mail. All of our national guards within the state of Ohio receive this e-mail at the same time. Veterans writing workshop, that's what the title you see on an army e-mail everyday.
Besides going to delete it because it's ridiculous. I'm trying to figure out howto get a book published and why would I be interested in Veterans writing workshop? I was literally about to delete it and I'm like, "Wait a minute. I'm curious. Okay, I'll bite. Let me open it." I opened it up and it says that, "Michael Weller, the president of Writers Guild Initiative is going to have a free writer's workshop in the Columbus area in April of 2008."
This might have been December or January. Among the attendees Michael Weller asI said already wrote the screenplay for Hair and for Ragtime. He said people like Willy Real would be there. Willy Real was an academy award nominee for the lyrics of Dream Girls. Richard Dresser was going to be here. Richard Dresser, he's famous for HBO movies and plays, and all over the country. He mentioned that Chris Albers the Emmy award winning Conan O'Brien late ...
Conan O'Brien would be one of the attendees and list went on and on. RichardLaGravenese, who wrote "Bridges of Madison County." J.V. Hart who have contribute to "Chronicles of Narnia." His particular one that he's famous for is writing "Hook" for his son. His son asked him to write a pirate movie so he 03:06:00wrote "Hook." Of course Robin Williams starred in that. J.V. Hart was going to be there.
Tom Fontana, a legend of the entertainment industry, huge. Lilly Haddad, so Iwent through all these names. Some names I didn't know, others I found it familiar. John Marcus, a fellow Ohioan, I think he went to Stanford and he wrote 67 episodes of Cosby. He was originally with the show "Taxi." I went the list of all these people coming and I'm sure I'm leaving some very important ones out and I hate to do that.
At that point I knew that this was a scam that these people just wanted to getinformation from veterans and exploit us. Certainly, this could have be for real. They're going to send their representatives and then they're going to ask us for information on the stories on combats, scenarios on PTSD, and things that are going to embarrass us. Why would they do this? Why would all these people with these award winning backgrounds from every medium volunteer to come and help veterans write anything?
I was an idiot. I was a fool to think anything otherwise because Michael Wellerand everybody else I just mentioned and many others. Their commitment to helping veterans who are dealing with issues is inspiring in every way. Since 2008, they've traveled all around the country on their own time charged not a dime to caregivers whose husbands or wives were injured or killed in combat. To the medical personnel who are suffering PTSD from seeing that trauma and atrocities 03:08:00that they saw in the battlefield.
To veterans like myself who did deployed and did go to combat but wasn'twounded, but had this other wound from being a son of a disabled veteran. I was so honored when I went there and heard Michael Weller opened up this event and then introduced everybody I just read even more. They were actually there in person and they were telling us that they were honored to see us. There are about 70 of us there, 70 veterans. All of us skeptical at one point I guarantee it.
We never heard of people in the entertainment industry doing this for anybodyespecially veterans. It's just wasn't something that was in our part of our world. Michael Weller, the president and David Tucker, he's a playwright and an artist, photographer. They broke us down into small groups and mine had about five in it and I picked Michael Weller because I sensed his heart and I want to be with the guy who thought of this idea.
Don't get me wrong, everybody else is amazing. Anyone would have been an amazingmentor. That's what he said to me, "Robert, you just told me a story about your dad in five minutes. Don't you wish I did that for you here today? That's so moving why haven't you written it yet?" I said, "Can you come back to me because no one ever put me on the spot like that before and asked me why haven't you written yet?" I couldn't tell. I didn't know.
I ask them and come back to me, so he did. Finally came back to me and he goes,"What is it?" I'll tell you what I told him and maybe what has been holding me back for years. I don't want to capitalize on my father's illness. I don't want to exploit the suffering my family went through and the pain for my personal 03:10:00gain. I surely don't want to be narcissistic and look like this is all about me. That's been holding me back.
Luckily, I've had the chance to tell my story a few times in the recent monthsin the way I've never had. I was invited to speak at a Veteran's Day luncheon at a church yesterday and I shared some of my story. I guess I got some feedback that they would like this to be written down and they would like to share this with people they know. Once again, no coincidence in life even though it took from 2008 until now to finally feel like I can break through whatever I was holding me back. I just want need it done.
I just want to write it and put it out there and every book has a life of itsown and they say. Let it go where it will, but if they don't help veterans I wouldn't bring attention to veterans that are suffering from PTSD and TBI like my niece who was hit by an ID in Iraq at the age of 19 years. Beautiful girl, she's thank God still with us. There are suffering people out there and I now have a mission in life and I couldn't help my dad but I want to help other veterans and that's why I want to write my story down once and for all. It's my calling. Did I answer your question? Okay.
JH: Do we need a second session?
RP: I think that's it. I mean do you want to say anything else? I mean there'sreally nothing else to tell.
JH: I've asked a couple of questions about your service in between but ...
RP: It's really short, service in between is really short.03:12:00
JH: Okay. Maybe a couple of more. Could you pledge yourself between this momentof journey to graduating West Point and your service afterwards? What happened? You're commissioned, you were an officer, and your father gave you first salute, what happened in your life afterwards?
RP: I got stationed in Germany. My first assignment was in Germany, the fifthcorpse. While I was there, that same old nagging feeling came back that I haven't done enough for my dad. He did indeed get to go to Walter Reed in Washington DC before I flew to Germany. The way that happened was I was leaving on a Friday and I may managed to change my flight so that I was leaving from Washington DC to go to Germany.
I had my dad's records with me. From the time I told you in December that I wentto see Dr. Silverstein and then I've talked to my dad's platoon leader in Vietnam in January, now it's June and that Walter Reed still hasn't accepted my dad despite everybody's attempt to help. My family says, "What are we going to do when you're gone? How are we going to do this when you're in Germany?"
I said, 'Help me pack right now." It was Thursday afternoon at about 4. Theysaid, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I'm going to go get dad into Walter Reed before I go to Germany." They said, "Your flight is tomorrow night." I said, "Then I better do it fast." They help me pack up my car, say good bye to me a day before they thought they would. I was supposed to fly from Columbus, called the airline and told them I'm only flying from DC change my ticket.
I drove my car to DC, a rental car. Dropped the rental car off, one way, no wayreturn and went to the neurology department of Walter Reed. I'm in my new 03:14:00uniform now and I've got these powerful gold bars on me called butter bars with one little medal, maybe for national defense or something. I feel like, "They're going to listen to me now because I'm second lieutenant United States Army." I didn't understand how little influence the second lieutenant of the United States Army really has.
I go to the nurse. I got there, I left at 4pm, it's a seven hour drive so it'sabout 11, 11:30 at night when I got there Thursday night. I didn't need to change some clothes or anything because I was just going to sleep in the lobby until they let my dad in. I had the box beside me, the bathroom was right there, water fountain was right there, what more do I need? I feel asleep. I make sure his records were nice and order, everything was good to go, and each night shift nurse that came on woke me up. "Lieutenant, who were you here to see?"
I said, "Nobody. I'm here to see your department head, the chief doctortomorrow. Does he know you're coming? No, ma'am. I'm going to tell him. You know he's in surgery tomorrow." I said, "Okay, I'll wait. Doesn't work like that lieutenant. I know ma'am. My plane leaves tomorrow at 4 and if you don't let me see him, I'm going to be AWOL from my first active duty assignment. I'm not leaving this chair until you let me see him. You guys told me that you might let him in. Nobody's let him in. I need to talk to your doctor."
She said, "Lieutenant, you're barking at the wrong tree. This is not arespectable way to go about this. I appreciate your passion but this is not how the army works." I said, "This is all I could think of to do." Morning shift comes, the nurse wakes me up, sharing my story now because three nurses had to change shift. She says, "Lieutenant, don't you got to go shave? I don't have a 03:16:00shave kit ma'am. Do you want to get on the gift shop and buy a razor and go shave?"
I said, "No ma'am. I'm not leaving this chair until I see the colonel becausewhen he finishes the surgery or has time before his surgery to see me and I miss it." She says, "He's going to be in there until at least mid-afternoon. He's got back to back surgery." I said, "Okay. Thank you, then I know how long I have to wait." I kept nodding off and falling asleep because I was pretty hungry and no one offered to bring me anything. By now I have a beard and mustache showing and I was supposed to do that but I was afraid if I left, I'd miss that chance.
I was even afraid to go to the bathroom, I'd literally had to say, "I'll go tothe bathroom but I'll be right back." Finally, hunger and pure tiredness took over and I was so non-militarily sleeping on that box like I was back at home like that. Someone clears their throat and says, "Lieutenant Paley." The dude, the guy, I opened my eyes, and I see surgical boots, and I see surgical pants, and I see surgical uniform, and I see a doctor with a mask on fresh out of surgery, clean hands. Thank God.
He says, "I'm Colonel so and so, I'm the head of the department of neurology. Iheard you've been here waiting for me for sometime?" I said, "Yes, sir. I have." He goes, "What can I do for you?" I said, "I just want few minutes of your time to look at my dad's records. Somebody said there might be hope to get him in here. Dr. Silverstein referred him, I've got a letter." He knew Dr. Silverstein's name.
He goes, "This isn't how it works." I said, "I know everybody's been telling mesir." He goes, "I've got 10 minutes between surgeries. Let's go to my office." We go to the office, he goes through everything because of the tabs once again. He goes, "This is great because I totally understand your dad's general 03:18:00situation right now. If only I had his cat scan." Once again, I pulled out, he put it up. He's, "Okay. April 1st, have him back here." I said, "That's it?"
He's, "Yes. I'll call the nurse and tell her to schedule your dad April 1st, heneeds to be here. Thank you sir," and then I left and called home of course and said, "You need to have him at Walter Reed on April 1st." They were like, "You are the man." They wee just like at that point they're like, "Rob," it was just complementary about my tenacity I guess, determination.
I found out that they couldn't really help him but at that point at least weknew and then I got this weird feelings that time was getting short. I put in for compassionate leave for one year. I'm now stationed in Germany. The colonel said he's going for some promotion both DC at the Pentagon on next week on Friday, and he'll personally walk this to the human resources division and asked for compassion assignment so I can go home and help my dad.
Kind of have this feeling, so on Friday, Thanksgiving again. I know my dad ishome at Thanksgiving. I called him, I just got promoted to first lieutenant. Quite proud of myself. I called the house, everybody is there. My mom says, "Daddy is still here. You want to talk to him?" I said, "Yeah." We knew my dad because he was deaf, when he got on the phone he would say the standard things, "Hello? How are you? I'm fine. Here's Betty." Everybody knows him to say that because he can't hear.
I was expecting to say conversation, and now we've been happy with it. This timehe said, "How are you?" I said, "I'm fine. How are you?" He says, "Never better." I thought, "I think he just responded to what I actually said." I said, "How was Thanksgiving?" He said, "Delicious as usual." I'm like, "Oh my god, 03:20:00there must have a new amplifier phone." He says, "How's the army?" I said, "I love it. It's going great. I just made first lieutenant." He's, "First lieutenant. Boy, you're not the lowest thing in the army anymore."
I'm going, "He's hearing me. This is a miracle." I said, "That's right but Iresigned," and then there was silence. "You what?" I said, "I resigned." I said, "I just got approved to come home. Why? To help you dad because you're sick. What's wrong with me?" I said, "That's what's wrong with you. You don't remember and I want you to remember things so you can come home with mom, so they approve me to come home for one year. No, don't do that. Stay in the army."
I said, "It's too late dad. It's already approved. Okay, here's your mother.Dad? Yes?" I said, "I love you. Okay." Hands the phone to my mom. I said, "Mom, how did he hear me?" She said, "Was he talking to you? Was he hearing you?" I said, "Everything I said." I said, "Did you get a new phone?" She said, "No." I said, "That's amazing." This is December 1st obviously.
I'm so happy that I talked to my dad and then I'm coming home to help him. It'sall approved. It's all set. Next day I get back from a rifle range, setting for rifle range and my boss the captain says, "Lieutenant Paley, did you get the message from CQ?" I said, "No sir, what message?" He said, "You have a Red Cross message." My brother is a cop anything could happen to any of my family members. I thought of my sisters, my mom, I thought none of it is acceptable. You go through that whole list, could be any of them. "What happened?"
I dial collect on the first button phone in the hallway, CQ already knows what03:22:00happened. He was looking down, feeling bad for me. My sister answers so I know it's not her. Nancy says, "Where have you been all day? I was going to call the congressman because they want to get you." I said, "I was out in the field, they had no way to reach me." I said, "Just tell me what happened Nancy." She goes, "Sit down."
I said, "I can't. I'm on the payphone with no seat. Just tell me." She said,"Dad died at 2am last night." I go, "What? I just talked to him Nancy. He heard everything I said." She goes, "I know, mom told me." I can't explain it. He just died in his sleep at 2am last night at the VA then I did the math in my head. It was 8 or 10:00pm, like four to six hours after I told him. I even asked my mom when he walked away, "What's he doing right now after what I just told him?" Because I didn't tell her yet.
She said, "He's shaking his head like that." He goes to bed and doesn't wake up.My colonel when I got back from my 30 days leave said, "This cancels your compassionate leave, your compassionate rest. Yes sir, I understand. I like to stay and finish my obligation." I did for a couple of more years of 2003 and then I got out because at that point I was lost without my dad and I felt like I didn't do enough. Then 9/11 happened.
Eight years later, I got back in after that and I've never look back. It's myhonor to serve with Americans. Young men and women in uniform there were so amazing. You could see them in action. I mean literally see them getting ready to go off to combat these infantry men that I was with. Specialists, 19 years 03:24:00old, fiances at home, babies at home, children on the way. They were all full of vibrato before their first mission because we're nervous but we do.
After the first time in contact with the enemy, I was the deputy commander so Istayed in the rear. Unable to get to go with them on these missions where I regret it to this day. Nonetheless, I listened to the radio like a father pacing the waiting room every time they left, listen to every move they made, waiting for them to come back, counting the vehicles as they return. After the first time they went out and met the enemy, the vibrato was gone. I wondered how different they would be, because I was nervous being on the radio listening to the battle.
They were quiet, they had seen the elephant, they had seen combat, yeah. Theyknew it was no game. Yet, the very next night, that one in the morning put on my night vision goggles and watch them unlocking and loading, putting their bandannas on, putting their helmets on. Now, they know what combat is and yet they go, and yet they're going to go again.
I see the silhouette of one of the specialists there. He sees me filming on mycamera that has a little video thing on it. He watches me watch him, because he's got his night vision on too. He looks over at me and salutes and I salute him back. I think where does America get such men and women? Where do we get 03:26:00them? I mean they knew where they were going.
They knew the enemy would be waiting for them this time at the same spot theygot hit the night before. We lost one of the soldiers from the Afghan side that night before so now they know this is no game. We knew that all along, but until they saw what they saw, they wouldn't know. Now, they're going back a little more sober, a little more serious but they did their duty, and thank God we all returned home from that mission.
While I was there I felt closer to my dad than I ever did though. I felt likenow I know why dad loved serving our country and went to war twice because it's an indescribable feeling to know that you truly at anytime, anything could happen even though it was "rear" there really is no rear. Anything could happen at anytime. It's just a matter of chance who see this combat and who doesn't, but our guys went out there to do whatever they're to do.
They were amazing. Absolutely amazing. I can't describe it to you. I lack thewords to describe the feeling I had when they were going to go do what they had to do. It's just amazing. It's all the word I can say.
JH: Can you tell us like of more the contemporary situation? Is there more youcan tell us about where you were and when and the mission you were involved in post-deployment?
RP: In general, it was 2009 in Afghanistan in the Bagram province. We were on ajoint mission. Brought an OMLT operational mentor liaison team who were a group of Americans joined with a group of Hungarians who are our sister sponsor state 03:28:00for NATO. We were there to mentor a comeback which is equivalent of a battalion of Afghan soldiers. We were there to combat with them and exactly what we did which was combat operations to close with and destroy the enemy and show them how we did it.
JH: After hearing and I guess internalizing so much of your father's combatexperiences. What was it like for you to be deployed in that combat after a long in his career?
RP: Yeah. Moment of truth. I have my moment of truth. When that plane door shutand hungry, and I knew the next time it open we'd be stepping boots on ground. We were leaving snowy, cold, hungry in January of 2009. When I landed I'd be in hot, sunny Afghanistan. When that door shut, I had a feeling of, "This is it. I may not come home from this."
All of us, something could ... You don't know, there's the unknown. For amoment, I wasn't proud of myself, I started not wanting to go. I started not want to lose my wife who I love so much, my mother, my brother, my sisters, my niece, and my nephews, the life that I had in America. I had a moment of selfishness and I'm sure every soldier whoever deploys and leaves everything they love behind experiences something along those lines. I was ashamed of it and thankfully I remembered the oath I took in the plane at West Point. 03:30:00
I remembered the oath I took upon commissioning and the recommissioning after9/11 and I thought about my dad who's already up in heaven who was a path finder for me. I thought, "What's the worst that could happen? I'll be buried in Arlington with him. I hope we'll be in a better someday." I realized that everything I was afraid to lose is the reason why I had to go. For God, family, country, that was it. If that make sense.
JH: What happened in your service in civilian care, after returning home from deployment?
RP: Prior an eight years between my active duty time and joining the NationalGuard I was a mortgage broker. I was in the mortgage banking business. Though I work hard and was honest, and ethical with every loan I wrote. There wasn't the same feeling of service and satisfaction that I had in the military. I started having dreams about being back in the army and being around soldiers again.
Not long after that, 9/11 happened and I called the National Guard headquartersand they said, "27th of December we can swear you in." I said, "I'll be there." I got back in. Again, another great decision to be with men and women of the higher National Guard. We're one of the most ready states in every area for the National Guard unit can be measured by. It's because of the men and women of character that ran our organization.
Unbelievable amount of integrity, unbelievable amount of principles. I literallycan't wait to go to work everyday because of the leaders that I have and the soldiers that I have. I don't know how to explain it and I don't mean to say 03:32:00that others don't have those qualities. Obviously, people who support the military have the same qualities and understand what we do and why it's important.
JH: Since returning from Afghanistan what has happened in your service career,in your civilian career? Are you ...
RP: When I came back after Afghanistan then I went back to my ... When I leftout was in 2005, four years after 9/11 I was hired full time in the National Guard as a lieutenant and then I went on to captain, and a major, and hopefully soon I'll continue serving in higher capacities.
JH: It's probably an unfair question to ask, but somehow could you tell us alittle bit about how your military experience has affected you and your family? What the legacy of services then could be to your family?
RP: To sum up, I would say that to be a soldier is a calling. You could be aservant, to have a servant spirit in any capacity is a calling. I'm honored that my dad gave me an example to follow because the experiences, the richness of life, the people that I've met, has made my life full. Because who dares wins, my dad dared got wounded, went to Japan, met my mom.
I dared joined after 9/11, got sent to England. Not quite my combat and careerwas for my dad and met my wife. I'm blessed many times ever. 03:34:00
JH: Just to wrap up, I wanted to ask you, what's next for you? What's on thehorizon in your story?
RP: I retired four years if I have to. Right now my classmates at West Pointclass of 1989 are retired lieutenant colonels, full bird colonels, and some of them were now wearing general stars. I'm sure that when I share this with them and they see that I'm still bringing up the rear of the class as the major. Although they'll understand, they're going to give me some room about it.
I'm happy to again be in at any capacity. I chose a different path than theydid, and I'm very proud of those that went on to become generals. I'm proud of my classmate that flew in the space shuttle. We've got classmates that are going to do amazing wonderful things and that's the proud heritage. We straightened the line 80 is what we're called in our class motto.
Wow, what an honor to know that I actually, I guess they say, "Got the ring." Tosome it's a statement and an expression. To me it means a whole lot of different things because my original ring is buried on my dad. Many, many years later my family thought they should buy me a new one. They said I was like going through Fort Knox, you'd think that they were trying to rob Fort Knox or something. It was so hard to get another ring made because they had to verify everything.
It was really nice, it was beautiful gesture on family's part to buy me a newring and I wear it with pride. I do wonder what happened to that silver dollar. When I retire in four years, I hope to tell my story and inspire young men and women all over the nation. That's it. 03:36:00