Monday, July 19, 2010


This fleeting weekend of summer marked the fifth anniversary of the death of a great man. Those readers outside of the United States may be forgiven for not knowing who Bill Westmorland was. And as for those readers inside the United States who do not know who he was? You have only yourselves to blame, or possibly your revisionist schoolteachers.

This weekend was also almost the eighth anniversary of my meeting with General William Childs Westmoreland. It was hardly a formal cocktail party! Six of us: Sandi and me (Kate playing somewhere), Helen, the local rector, the General and his delightful wife Kitsy. Gathered in a woodsy house in Cashiers, North Carolina. A Sunday evening also, and I had not been to church and expected the rector to poke fun at me, but it didn’t happen. That evening was simply a gentle gathering of neighbors.

It has to be said that Bill was, by then, in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s syndrome, and although I had been warned about this in advance of his arrival, it did not help my disappointment on meeting him. He was every inch the soldier, upright, shoulders squared, chin up with cobalt (with a touch of steel) eyes. And yet he told me three times in the first few minutes that he had lectured in every state in the Union (which he had). But couldn’t remember where. Neither could he remember the Vietnam war, and his significant leadership.

Then came the most wonderful moment. I asked him, “Sir. May I fix you a drink?” He nodded and replied, “I’ll have a scotch and soda.” At that moment Kitsy intervened and said, ”Honey? I think you’d prefer a glass of red wine.” Which I duly poured and handed to him. And the WW2 Commander of the 82nd Airborne, and the Vietnam supremo's eyes (and maybe mind) came to life, flashed, then winked at me and said, “God damn it!”

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