Class of 2013 draws inspiration from annual tour
Story and photos by Kathy Eastwood
“The Corps, bareheaded, salute it, with eyes up, thanking our God. That we of the Corps are treading, where they of the Corps have trod. They are here in ghostly assemblage…” — from the U.S. Military Academy Hymn, The Corp! The Corps! The Corps!)
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 9, 2013) — The words of “The Corps” may have been running through the minds of the yearlings who participated in the 8th annual West Point Inspiration to Serve Cemetery Tour May 2.
This is not the usual tour tourists take or those who meander through the gravesites and ornate monuments.
This tour includes family members, classmates, friends and children who stand by selected gravesites to introduce the yearlings to the ones who were once West Point cadets, Soldiers, parents, sons and daughters who served their country and lived by the words “Duty, Honor, Country.”
This year, there were 16 gravesite presenters, which included Vicki and Daniel Perez, parents of 2nd Lt. Emily Perez, Class of 2005, who, as a cadet, was the first minority to serve as the cadet command sergeant major.
As a Soldier, she was in Medical Service Corps—and the first female graduate to be killed in action in Iraq—16 months after graduation.
“She served and she served well,” Vicki Perez said. “Even when she left West Point, she led by example. Her platoon felt like they were part of her family. She would never ask them to do anything she wouldn’t do.”
Perez said her daughter had no military aspiration, even though she grew up in a military family, until Emily came to an academic workshop at West Point.
Col. John Graham presented his father Capt. John Graham, Class of 1964, who was killed in Vietnam in 1971, when the colonel was five years old.
Vicki and Daniel Perez returned to West Point May 2 to share their stories and deliver a personal message to the yearling class during the 8th annual West Point Inspiration to Serve Cemetery Tour. Their daughter, 2nd Lt. Emily Perez, was the first minority to serve as the cadet command sergeant major in the Corps of Cadets. Graduating in the Class of 2005, she was the first female graduate to be killed in action in Iraq.
“I am out there to highlight how the Class of ‘64 stood behind classmates and their families,” Graham said. “As the Class of 2015 moves forward, they make a commitment to serve, and that service includes the families of their classmates. Further, they are now a family—and a family can squabble, but, ultimately, you care for your brothers and sisters.”Retired Lt. Col. Cooper Wright talked about his 1966 classmate Capt. Arthur Bonifas, who was killed in action in Korea on Aug. 18, 1976, in what is known as the ‘axe murder incident.” Even now, it’s hard for Wright to talk about his friend.“He and I were classmates and we taught math here together,” Wright said. “He loved teaching the less-skilled cadets. (In Korea) he had three days to go and then to be hacked down … How can you have a society that doesn’t value life? I almost broke down, and it’s nearly been 40 years.”Bonifas was part of a detail to cut down a tree in the Demilitarized Zone when they were ambushed by North Koreans. The tree was blocking the view between the United Nations Command and a check point.The Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic sponsors the Inspiration to Serve tour. The purpose is to give the cadets an opportunity to reflect on their own connection to the Long Gray Line, and to members of the profession of arms.