William S. Gannon, Class of '58, Oral History Interview
July 18, 2016
Bedford, New Hampshire
Interviewed by Joseph Cates
JOSEPH CATES: This is Joseph Cates. Today is July 18, 2016. I'm interviewingWilliam S. Gannon. This interview is taking place at his home in Bedford, New Hampshire. This interview is sponsored by the Sullivan Museum and History Center and is part of the Norwich Voices Oral History Project. Do you go by Rev. Gannon?
WILLIAM S. GANNON: Rev. Gannon, Father Gannon, Mr. Gannon or Bill.
JC: [Chuckles] Or Bill. Okay.
JC: Well, I'll tell you what, tell me your full name.
WG: William Sawyer Gannon.
JC: And what's your date of birth?
WG: May 30, 1936.
JC: Okay. And where were you born?
WG: In Manchester, New Hampshire.
JC: Okay. And what Norwich class are you?
WG: Class of '58
JC: Tell me about where you grew up and what you did as a child.
WG: Well, I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire for the first 6 years. Andbeing born on the day that the whole country celebrated Memorial Day, which was always May 30th, whenever it fell. We lived opposite Stark Park. And there were cannons at Stark Park. The Gannons lived by the cannons. And the parade ended at Stark Park. And when I was three years old, they shot their guns off three times. So, I of course, assumed that that was in honor of my birthday. And when I was four and they still shot them only three times, I was upset.
WG: (Laughs) So, that was the first part of life here. I still have mythree-year-old nursery school report and I'm very impressed with the quality of the thinking of the writer of the report. It was a page and a half. And I was amused by some of the comments that every dog I met I thought was my own. And, that when I was asked to do something I didn't understand, I would cry. But once it was explained to me, I was alright. I love to say, "And nothing has changed."
WG: (Chuckles) And I guess I feel especially blessed by both my early -- mypreschool education, which started at the age of three and my musical education which started before I was born because my mother was a concert pianist and the church organist and a teacher of piano. So, I was hearing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, and Romanov and Debussy before I was born. And much later in life is when I had a very deep and still do have, a love of progressive jazz. That's the jazz from the 40s, 50s and 60s and 70s I'd say. I read somewhere something that lead me to realize that my hearing Debussy early on had set me up for the cords that are present in modern jazz. And recently some social psychologist was telling me that when babies are adopted at the year of one year old from Russia, they come to this country, something that is often unanticipated by the parents is, all they have heard, even though they aren't speaking yet, are the sounds of Russia, the Russian language. They have to pick up on the sounds of English language. As adults, we tend to think that language is only important once you start speaking, but clearly, it's important even before you're born, you're hearing sounds from people's speech. So, I really thank my mother. She started me on the piano at age five and I still play but not publicly, on the piano. It never took with the seriousness that I wish it had. And I went on later, that was 11 or 12 to a piano teacher, another teacher in high school and nothing really got started until I took up the trombone in high school. But, my mother was very important to my early life, I now know, in ways that I didn't always appreciate when I was growing up and when I was an adult.
We moved to Concord when I was six. I went to the first grade in Manchester.And, then we moved from Concord to Chester, New Hampshire, when I was ten and that would have been 1946. My father had always been, or for a long time, a grain salesman and he also owned a couple of grain stores. And he had bought a coal company in Derry, New Hampshire, and stopped his traveling. He worked for a grain company, a national company that sold to grain stores called, Park & Pollard. And their slogan was Lay or Bust and on his stationary, there was a picture on one side, at the top, of a chicken laying an egg. And on the other side, of a chicken busting apart. And in between was the slogan, "Lay or Bust." And, I kind of felt delighted in realizing how profoundly in the 20s, 30s, 40s when he was on the road as a salesman, agriculture was where most people earned their living and got their sustenance. And it was coming to an end that was probably part of 60, 80 maybe 100-year decline in this country. So, that was partly brought home to me, as I think back. When I was 11, I believe it was, he bought a chicken coop and got 25 little chicks, and grew them. And, I became their keeper. And, I had an egg route. And then the next year, we added onto the garage and I had the use of a horse and it was borrowed from a company that rented horses out during the summers; summer camps and places like that. And I'm surmising that we did them a favor by feeding and boarding the horse for the winter. And they did us a favor in giving me a horse to ride. And that was all part of the fact that my father had been in World War I in the cavalry, which sounds amazing. And that's partly probably why Norwich's cavalry past had some appeal to him and to me. And that's partly how we got the horse.
So, in high school, which was Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire, I guessI had a somewhat uneventful time. I played football on the varsity team, beginning my junior year and also my senior year. And then, when I came to Norwich, it seemed as if everybody was too big on the football team and I was heavily into the trombone. And I had practiced eight hours a day, as I noted in a piece that the Norwich Record had published, because I was afraid I wouldn't make it into the Norwich band. And -- but I did. And, the trombone was the important thing to me and I can remember, and I think I mentioned this in the article, being at an alumni reunion and standing at the old SAE house, where I had been a member, with three or four other alums who I didn't know until that moment, and they were talking about the sports they played at Norwich. And they turned to me and said, "What did you play?" Then I said quite proudly, "The trombone."
So, I started thinking I was going to be a businessman in my father's business.I'd worked part time, and on Saturdays for him, from the age of 13 on up to when I left for Norwich. And, it turned out that an ambition of my mother took over. So, in my sophomore year, I changed my major to history in preparation to going to law school. My grandfather had been a New Hampshire chief justice and the William Sawyer in my name was his name, William H. Sawyer. So, that lasted through a couple of years at Norwich, even up into my senior year. I'd been accepted at law school, but changed my mind at the last minute to go to seminary. And that was the influence of an episcopal church chaplain who was also a professor at the school of a number of courses that I took, and I just had a very deep interest in the subject matter, and those courses included Old and New Testament, one course for each. And, ethics and there was a political philosophy class that I took that was also, I would say, in the philosophy direction. And it was basically a love of the subject matter that brought me to seminary. I was commissioned in the signal corps. So, that was deferred for four years. Normally a seminary education is a three-year event, but I stayed for an extra year and got two master's degrees when I graduated. Actually, one was -- the first three years was then a bachelor and was later changed to a master's degree. It was a Master of Divinity.
But, I had some sense that I wanted to be like my mentor. His name was HershelMiller, Father Hershel Miller. And he had an extra year of seminary. And I discovered when I was in full time church work in Manchester, that the extra degree, I guess, helped me get a part time teaching job at St. Anselm College, and I think I was the first Protestant in their religion department. And, that went on for a couple of years. And, it led me into full time teaching, which was first at the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. And then at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. And from there, I went to being a head of a school in Peekskill, New York, and later, briefly, the head of a New York City private school. And about that time, I got divorced and needed to make more money, so I went into the business world in New York City for 13 years. And, I enjoy telling people I worked for 10 years for a company, American Credit Indemnity, selling a product to businesses on their business to business transactions in which we insured the transactions so if their customer didn't pay them, and we'd insured it, we paid them and we went after the debt. And, at a certain point, my boss, who in many ways was a real scoundrel, but I enjoyed working for him, he retired. And, for some reason, I didn't have the same feeling for the new sales manager and began to think that I was really better at the church stuff than at the selling game. Although I think I was pretty good at it. And, I sort of euphemistically say that I made a lot of money in New York, but I got no respect. And then I went back to being the church priest where I got a lot of respect and no money. And a friend of mine, who is an Episcopal bishop, when I told him that he said, "Well, if you were a bishop, you'd make no money and you'd get no respect." (Laughs)
WG: That was only partly true, all that stuff. And, the church I went to was a-- named
Christ Church. It was in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. And, it had a reputation ofbeing a rector, that's the position I had, a rector killer church. My immediate predecessor had been in there only three years. He was fired by the bishop because he first divorced his wife, kicked her out of the rectory and brought in some other woman. And, of course, enraged the congregation with that behavior. So, the bishop did what he should do and fired him. And, 30 years prior, this was 1991 when I went there, the rector had had some involvement with, probably a parishioner. He was married with children. And in a New York City hotel, he killed himself.
JC: Oh, my goodness.
WG: And it was -- in some ways it was as if that event has still clung to thewalls of the
church. Its impact was so profound. I met somebody that had attended the churchfor eight months after that event and did not know about it, indicating that nobody talked about it. It was too painful to communicate. So, I was taking -- I knew I was taking on a church that was a tough place and it took, I would say, a good three to four years before things really calmed down and we got going again. And, when I retired in '03, I continued to do part time interim work as a priest in Episcopal churches. And I realized very quickly that when you come newly into a leadership position, whether it's a church or something else, you are inheriting a great deal and the trust relationship that either did or didn't exist with the prior administrator, is going to bedevil you or bless you. And, places where there's been a profound leadership, I discovered it was very easy to come in and I would be immediately trusted and we'd get going and have fun. And places where there had been a succession, would have to be more than one succession of bad leadership, it was going to be a battle of sorts to exert any kind of leadership. And, at this point, I'm just a pew sitter. (Laughs) And enjoying it.
JC: Well, we're going to back up a little bit --
JC: -- and we're going to fill in some questions. You talked a little bit aboutwhy you chose Norwich. Can you elaborate more on that, why you chose to go to Norwich?
WG: Well, I think I chose mostly because of my father. I'd had relatives thatwent to Dartmouth, and perhaps -- and UNH. Perhaps that would have been my mother's choice. But, it was the military that intrigued me. I had a cousin who had been in World War II and I worked with him -- he worked for my father. He was about 10 years older and I had, just a high regard for him and I would guess that it was the military side. And I had a classmate, Harry Parkinson at Pinkerton who also got interested in Norwich. And, I remember him saying that he had had an uncle who'd been a soldier in World War II and had died. And I think that was part of his interest in going to Norwich.
JC: And you said your major, you majored in history and you kept with that?
JC: Why do you think you chose history, particularly?
WG: Good question. I think I had a love of history born of my mother and she hadgenealogy interests. We were -- I learned early on we were descended from Mayflower people and -- on her side, not on my father's side. In fact, my ancestors on my father's side fought on the other side during the Revolutionary War. (Laughs)
WG: And went from New York City to Canada (chuckles) -- came back through NewBrunswick, through Maine at a certain point later, several generations later. That kind of had something to do with it. And, I guess other than I'm -- I still love history, read a good amount of military history. I sort of think I may be drawn to military history as one who hadn't served because when I got out of seminary there was nothing happening. And, I think if I had thought I should go into the service, it wouldn't be as a chaplain, it would be in the signal corps where I'd started out. I'm not sure if that would be true. And, where was I headed with this -- what was the question again?
JC: Why you chose history as your major.
WG: Oh, why I chose history as my major. I just -- I'm not sure. Oh, I wastalking about military history. Oh, and I think I had in the back of my head -- When I was a priest in Harrington Park, New Jersey, in a second church, I had a celebration for Veteran's Day in November, whether it fell on Sunday or one of the days before or after. So, I had a breakfast for veterans and their families. And the World War II veterans have a great reputation that no one ever talked about their experience. Well, this was in between an 8:00 and a 10:00 service and I discovered that when the veterans got together, whether it was World War II or later, you couldn't shut them up! (Laughs)
WG: And it made sense that they were talking because they knew the people theywere talking to would understand where they're coming from. That was their military service. And I wonder if maybe my father's -- he was in every battle in World War I, in Europe and was never wounded. So, I sort of grew up with hearing all that kind of stuff.
JC: Was he in the first division or was he in the 76th?
WG: The 76th Field Artillery Horse Drawn Cavalry. That's where the cavalry partcame out of there. But he trained with horses.
JC: Who were your roommates at Norwich and where did you live?
WG: It was Jackson Hall. I can picture them. I'm not sure I can remember theirnames. Harry Parkinson was one. And there was a kid from Vermont that went on to West Point after the first year. And we were all bandsmen. And there was a guy, Lemons was one of the guys. He was an upper classman. That was in a subsequent year. But that leads me to an event that happened, I think, in my junior year, when there was a shooting in a room. I think I was on the first floor of Jackman. And across the hall, a guy named Tony Reddington, was with a roommate who had a .45 pistol. And an upperclassman of mine, Norm Elliott, came in the room and saw it and said -- the two guys being rooks, "Let me see that." Pick it up. Took the clip out of the handle and aimed it at Tony Reddington and pulled the trigger. And it hit him in the body somewhere. Just unthinkable behavior. You would think. So, he, Tony was taken by ambulance to Hanover. The first successful aorta transplant kept him alive. He was able to survive about an hour's trip at least. However long it took the ambulance to get there and he came back to the school I think the next year and graduated. I'm pretty sure he graduated.
And just recently, last year, I think it was last year. Or the year before. No,it was last year, I think, at a Saturday evening dinner at the hotel in Montpelier, I was sitting at a table with my wife and I heard this voice saying, "Who are you?" And I didn't recognize him. And he said -- "I'm Bill Gannon." And he said, "Bill Gannon?" And it was Tony Reddington. (Laughs)
WG: First time I was seeing him I think, since Norwich. And there he was.
JC: Now, you were in band company.
JC: What can you tell me about band company?
WG: Well, I'm sure we had -- I'm trying to think if we ever played ourinstruments. I think we did. But I'm not sure when we might have done that. We got to play quite a bit, as a band. And, I think that was daily, which is important to do. I still play the trombone every day, because I play in a couple of concert bands. And I also play in a swing band. A couple of different ones. So, that was an important aspect because you have to keep your armature up if you're a brass player. And we would be playing for the bringing of the flag down. And that would be a daily event.
And one of my favorite stories and memories of a time when our band had a majorleader, not the professional guy but the cadet, determined that he was going to have a yacht cannon that would shoot, just a blank, and it was positioned under one of the real cannons by the flag pole, and nobody knew that he was going to be doing this, that we were going to be doing it. And he had explained to us, probably about this time, that the bass drum was always hit, this was something we did to simulate a cannon going off. And then we would start with the National Anthem.
And on this occasion, I remember seeing a rook standing at attention, holding astring. His arm was up, he was holding a string and he was going to pull the string on -- connected to the yacht cannon. So, he was given the command. And he pulled the string. And there was this huge roar and blue or black smoke and we started playing. And I remember looking because the trombones are in the front line, so I remember seeing both columns of cadets down the parade ground. And I was looking at the ones on the left as we faced east, I guess, and the whole column jumped at the cannon sound. And I'm sure the same thing was happening on the other side. There were three regimental officers in the middle and the cannon was sort of aimed at them. I'm not sure of this, but I believe I saw them leave the ground.
WG: And, the best part is, they came down saluting. (Laughs)
WG: And held the salute for the duration of the National Anthem. (Chuckles)Well, our leader got fired from his -- he was reduced from a sergeant to a private. And, (laughs) was discipline. I'm not sure how else he was disciplined and eventually became a leader again. That's a story worth -- and, that was the beginning of a tradition of a 105 howitzer being deployed in the things that take place with the flag coming down on the parade ground.
JC: Okay. Now, you said you didn't play any sports, you just played the trombone.
JC: And, did you participate in any other activities?
WG: I skied, but not on the ski team. And, I think that was part of the appealof Norwich. And back then, there was a ski slope right across from the school. And, on a Saturday for sure and on Sunday, you could just walk across with their skis and just ski. And I remember that those of us in the signal corps course were a part at Mt. Mansfield, of setting up a communication system for some ski races that occurred there and to do that of course, we all got free skiing (laughs) as part of our setting of it up.
JC: What did you do to relax when you were at Norwich?
WG: Well, I think an important part of my Norwich experience was the fraternitylife which we -- we joined fraternities -- was it our freshman year? I think so. And if it wasn't, it was the sophomore year. Because we ate in -- the mess hall is the current chapel, and after the chapel mess hall, it was in the fraternities that most, but not all, that most of the school had their meals, lunch and dinner.
And, the social life of the fraternity, I think, was very important. We hadparties just about every Saturday night and we had a beer keg. And the commandant came around to make sure we weren't drinking. And the word went out ahead of his visiting, to the first fraternity. There were six, I think. And, that fraternity spread the word around the others that he's on his way. And when we got that word, we all had paper cups, so that by the time he got there, the keg was behind a two-part door. When it was open, the top part was open, but when he was coming, the top part was closed so you couldn't see the keg. And he would come down, this was in the basement, and he'd come down and we'd all start singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." (Laughs)
WG: And I'm sure he knew what was going on. And I would have to say, I wouldexpect that the benefit in part was, and I don't know if anybody's studied this, but I'll bet there was a minimum of drunken driving accidents on the highways if all the drinking was happening at the school. So, the social life centered -- and Vermont College was a place where we got dates. Sometimes we went south, I can't remember the name of the school or the town, but it was in south Vermont. Some guys went to New York state for drinking purposes, because you could drink at 18 in New York state.
And I remember one -- I had a very close friend, Carl Haskell, who was a yearolder. And I remember on one occasion he had a musket and he and I went out to a nearby bridge and I got to fire the musket and the fun part of that was learning that you pull the trigger and then you wait. (Laughs)
JC: Yes. (Laughs)
WG: And I swear I could see the bullet flying through the air!
WG: (Laughs) And I know that there were some others who -- I didn't go hunting.I hunted squirrels when I was growing up in Chester. But some guys were hunters and that was part of the relaxing.
I played the trombone in a dance band, The Grenadiers. There was some pick upjam sessions. I remember a classmate who has become a famous military historian, Carl Estes, Este, I'm not sure which it is.
JC: I think it's Este
WG: Este, right. And he played the jazz guitar in the group. So that was -- I'vealways been a big reader. Tony Reddington told me when I saw him that he started reading Soren Kierkegaard because he saw a copy in my hip back pocket of the paperback, by that Danish existentialist philosopher.
JC: What fraternity were you in?
WG: SAE. Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
JC: Okay. And, tell me a little bit more about The Grenadiers.
WG: Well, it was a dance band. I think there were -- there's a full sax sectionor if not full, at least almost. Which would mean four saxes, full would be five, usually. And there were either two or three trumpets. There were two or three trombones. Maybe there are four, I'm not sure. Double bass, stand-up bass, drums and I'm not sure if we had, we probably had a pianist. And that was the standard -- maybe also guitar, I'm not sure about that. That was the standard makeup of dance bands in those days. Still is for that matter. And, I don't remember -- we must have played for dances. I don't remember doing it. But, the music was fully, I would have to say, at the top of my relaxing moments.
I can play the piano. When I was 12, I had lessons from a jazz piano player whotaught me the chords and I had -- as I said, this was on the piano, of all the chords. So, what happens is, you can get what's called a fake book which has the melody line and the chords. Guitar players use them, of course. But on the piano, you can play the chord with the left hand, melody with the right. And, I used to do some of that stuff in the fraternity house on the piano.
And I remember one fun time at the fraternity house, at a party, they had -- Ididn't have anything to do with this -- but they had taped the girl's restroom. And at the conclusion, after all the dates had been taken home or left to however they got home, I mean, I think it was around 12:00 or 12:30 at night, we gathered in the kitchen to listen to the tape. And we roared with laughter when we heard one girl say, "This party shits. Let's go down to Dartmouth where they really know how to party!"
JC: Do you remember any particular song that y'all would play?
WG: Songs? Well, the songbook back then, which is still true for me now, "HowHigh the Moon," "Sunny Side of the Street," "Body and Soul," "There Will Be Another You," "The Very Thought of You," and all those. I mean there are about -- there's got to be over a thousand of them that are in my head.
JC: What about some Norwich songs?
WG: Well, there is the school song, which I don't think I ever fully learned thewords to.
WG: It doesn't really impress me, musically. (Chuckles)
JC: Most alma maters don't. (Laughs)
JC: What about "On the Steps of Old Jackman?"
WG: Is that a song?
JC: Do you remember that one?
WG: No, I don't.
JC: Oh, okay.
WG: I think that's since my time there. And I remember it being sung at somereunion recently.
JC: That's one a lot of people sometimes mention. What instructor -- who werethe instructors who were most influential to you during your time at Norwich?
WG: Well, Rev. Hershel Miller was one, and he was the priest of a smallEpiscopal Church in Northfield as well as on the faculty of Norwich University in the religion department. There was a Roman Catholic priest who taught courses in the religion department and Hershel and that was the makeup of the department.
In the -- the head of the history department was a Dr. Morse, who was a Harvardgraduate, I'm pretty sure. And, my -- I took a number of courses, and the name is escaping me, but he was published. He was Eisenhower's historian. [Albert Norman?] And probably the name will come to me. And he lived a long time after retiring, and always sent me Christmas cards. And, I wasn't always an "A" student in his classes, usually a "B" student, I guess. But he seemed to have taken -- I think he liked the fact that I went on to seminary. Eber Spencer was the government professor that I had in philosophy -- political philosophy course. And he wrote my recommendation for law school. I was very fond of him.
There was an English teacher who was the -- this was a big part of my life werethe Pegasus Players. And the advisor for the Pegasus Players, I think his name was Nelson but I'm not sure.
But, in my sophomore year, a friend got me involved in the Pegasus Players and aplay called "Time Limit." And, for some reason, I got to lead. I don't know why. And that was the beginning of -- that changed my life.
My first year I was basically a "C" student. And my second year, I became adean's list student. And I think that was true for the rest of my life at Norwich. And it was theatre that did it for me. And I found that after getting involved in theatre that I studied less and got better grades. So, I was being more purposeful and with it in my studying. And, in my junior year, I think, I was playing King Creon in the Sophocles play "Antigone" and I think it was somewhat influential in my life. I had a line that I gave in the play. I was speaking to a subordinate person in the play, and the line was, "You dazzle me." And it was a put-down. And the mostly cadet audience roared. It was a total surprise to me that that would happen. And I think I grew to like hearing people laugh. (Laughs)
WG: And it's been true in my teaching and church (?) [0:47:04] life since Itended to be somewhat entertaining.
JC: What were your favorite classes and least favorite classes?
WG: My history classes were -- that was one of my favorites. The philosophyclasses were all my favorite. I took economics and I would say that had less interest to me but money had less interest to me later. Biology was okay and my first-year math class was so-so. I had had everything in high school, including calculus and I think I could have gone on and majored in math if I wanted to, but the math class was business math. And, much later in life, this could be the reason I didn't like it as much, I got tested for what I should be doing which really didn't provide any surprises. Part of the test was a math test and I'm surprised to have the guy tell me, this was a phycologist that administered the tests, that I'd gotten all the easy questions wrong and all the difficult questions right. (Chuckles)
WG: Which, I guess, means if I'm not entertained, my mind goes to sleep. (Laughs)
WG: And I don't pick up on stuff, which could mean I should never fly an airplane.
JC: (Laughs) Probably so. What do you remember about being a rook?
WG: Well, I remember being yelled at. I remember, I almost didn't come back.And, I think that that was partly -- I got one -- I remember getting 16 demerits one month. 12 was the limit. And for every demerit over 12 you had to march with a rifle for an hour around the parade ground. So, when I was doing my four hours, I was saying to myself, "This will never happen again," proving that harsh punishment can educate.
I remember, but this was true later on too, but I remember feeling somewhat awedand admiring of the senior leaders in the barracks. The company commander and the first and second lieutenant. And I remember in the junior ROTC summer camp, which was Ft. Gordon in Georgia for me in signal (?) [0:50:43] corps, finding one of my first-year cadet officers who had inscribed his name in the firing range.
When you were firing, you were behind the targets, underground, the bulletsflying over your head, and it was a great pleasure that I saw that. And I have since made a great deal, I think, in my own mind, and to a few people who are considering Norwich, of the importance of the cadre that first year. And I believe that it is somewhat rare today for young people whose peer group up through last year of school, is their age group, and that's somewhat adjusted by the Norwich experience because your peer group at Norwich, your first year is your age group and then the rest, older cadets who are teaching you and that makes a lot of sense to me. And whether they're being nice about it or not, you still learned how to make the beds the way they wanted you to and shining your shoes and polishing your brass, pressing your pants and shirt and where to keep stuff in a drawer, in a bureau drawer in the room. And the other aspects of getting ready for a daily inspection.
And I think, generally, post-Norwich thinking, that most people, it's not untilthey hit the work world, that their peer group is other than their age group and it makes it, in my mind, much more important to have intergenerational experiences.
This is true in the music world. And I think when you learn an instrument youhave a non-parent teaching you how to play something, that's different. And parents are probably not so good at teaching because they have such an emotional investment. And when I was teaching in my private schools, three of them being boarding schools, I always thought that we teachers were doing a better job of parenting because we didn't have the emotional investment that the parent has.
And very recently I've read that up until the 1970s, the nurturing community ina family wasn't just the two parents. It was grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, older kids, non-relatives that were functioning as aunts and uncles and somehow, at some point, maybe it's not the 70s, maybe it's the 50s, who knows. Life changed in the nurturing experience growing up, which could make the Norwich experience that much more important.
JC: Now, you said you got 16 demerits. Do you remember what you did?
WG: I don't. It was sloppy, whatever it was. I didn't -- I may have missed aclass. That was worth two. And, I don't know, if I didn't shine my shoes or something. But it was dumb stuff.
JC: What was the hardest part of attending Norwich?
WG: I would guess the first three months was the hardest part. And what youlearned over the four years was -- and I retained this in my head at least -- is the non-military person is just clueless about what's happening in the military. And what's happening is you're gaining mastery over a whole culture and living in that culture. And once you gain the mastery, you're just doing what you knew how to do. And, that's relaxing. (Laughs)
And the -- I can remember coming back as the sophomore and how happy everybodywas. And when we visit Norwich, we -- and they mix the cadets up with the visiting people, it seems as if the cadets all have a very high spirit of being at ease and happy and on top of things and I think that's part of, that's part of the musical experience, is gaining mastery at an early age over something. And somebody's written a book recently called Grit, I don't know if you know of it.
JC: I've heard of it.
WG: You've heard of it. And she's a social psychologist. And her main point,which is present in advertising for the book is, it's not the smartest people who become the most successful. It's people who've learned perseverance. And I think that's part of the Norwich experience for those who don't drop out.
JC: What was your favorite part about Norwich?
WG: Going back. (Laughs) And not being part of the cadet corps.
WG: (Laughs) I guess the mess hall was a favorite part. The fraternities were afavorite part. I loved the parading, in the band. That was a favorite part. Still, when I hear a marching band drums, I get a special tingle. And the two bands that I play in, we're playing mostly serious and semi-serious music. Stuff like medleys from Duke Ellington or Broadway show medleys, that kind of stuff, but we also play marches. And I always enjoy playing the marches. And, I think the dance band is the direct descendent of the marching band.
JC: What was the most important thing you think that Norwich taught you?
WG: Good question. I would think it was perseverance. Now, that's somewhatinfluenced having just read this book. But, I tend to -- well I'll tell you a musical story. I was living -- I was single, living -- having broken up with my wife, in Peekskill, New York and all -- forever after Norwich, I was always active as a musician, mostly in jazz swing bands.
So, I had a job at a New York City college, Hofstra I think, but I'm not surethat that's in New York City, but there's one that is in New York City. And, I was to play, I also play the double bass, I was to play there one night and my car broke down. I was to play both instruments, trombone and bass. So, I determined that I would try, by taxi and then by train, to get into the city with a standup bass and a trombone. Most of my playing in these swing bands is without music because it's usually improvised. So, I got myself into the city. Got through the subway turnstile, was standing on the subway, bass in one arm and trombone being held by the other, and a Chinaman came up and looked at me and twisted around me, and I was saying to myself, "Is this guy going to steal one of my instruments and run off and how will I chase after him?" And it looked up, and in sort of broken English, he said, "You musician?" (Laughs)
WG: Which, of course I was. And the thought now of the effort I went to get fromPeekskill to the gig and back, was rather extraordinary. But it has been true of my life generally that I push hard.
JC: Norwich's motto is "I Will Try." What does that mean to you?
WG: Well, I always thought it was a dumb motto. I thought they could do better.Even "Lay or Bust" is a better motto, maybe. (Laughs)
WG: I mean, it's clear that some ad man hasn't designed it. But I actuallythink, my second and third thoughts about it is, it's pretty good. And I just read that infants -- we saw a 12 month or 14-month-old boy in a restaurant waiting room with grandparents, parents surrounding it and he was standing with his arms out, back and forth as he maintains his balance. Is he going to take a step, or isn't he? That being hugely entertaining to the family and everybody else. That infants have to try again and again and again and they don't experience shame or failure. So, that could say that one of the more inhibiting aspects of adult life is when we fail and get all hung up over it, rather than trying again. And, it turns out, in science and in life generally, so much of the best stuff that happens, happens because you don't give up.
JC: What does Partridge's idea of a citizen soldier mean to you?
WG: Well, it means that I would vote for universal military training. (Laughs)
WG: I think that there is a national community that is being addressed by thatidentity. And the contributions that we make as citizens to our national life are going to all be happening locally, to be sure. But, we are citizen soldiers in any -- in many of the contributions that we make whether it's in the military or not. And, I just think -- especially at the late adolescence early adulthood stage of life, there are advantages to the military experience.
I had a cab -- a driver from an automobile company give me a ride home whilethey fixed my car and she'd just gotten out of a four-year air force stint and she told me -- I asked her if she'd gone back to college because she had gone into the air force after high school. She said she had tried community college but it just didn't take, and my sense of it was that she couldn't stand the people she was going to school with. That they didn't have the dedication and seriousness that (inaudible) [1:05:21] the air force had had.
And I've also read recently, I don't know if you've read Sabastian Junger's bookTribe but I can recommend it. It's short. The pages are short. And it's about our society and its brokenness and how people coming out of the military, coming from such a self-sacrificing, dedicated community oriented life into a me-too-ism, lack of community life in our country generally. And he's attributing that, rightly or wrongly, I'm not sure, but it makes some sense. Attributing to that, the post -- PTSD depression. He points out that after 9/11 in New York City, the murder rate was cut in half, the suicide rate was cut in half because it was such -- it was a greater sense of community. And I think Norwich has that sense of community that he's saying is missing. So, maybe Norwich people should be prepared for the dysfunctional world they're entering and how to cope with it.
JC: Now, after graduation, you went on to seminary. You never did join the military.
JC: How did your training at Norwich prepare you for life?
WG: Well, I think that's the same question as earlier. I think it prepared mefor perseverance. I was a preacher at Norwich after I graduated from seminary. And, Herbert Spencer, my philosophy politics teacher, told me after the sermon that he was just amazed at how much more mature I was than I was at Norwich. And I believe that this may be true of graduate study generally that you learn to think in a more disciplined way than you did in college, which is not a commentary on Norwich necessarily but perhaps on our expectations of what college is supposed to do. And my experience in graduate school was reading a -- I'm a big reader -- and when I got there I took a speed reading course knowing that a huge amount of time was going to be spent reading. And it was very effective. But I believe part of what was happening to me was, in seminary I was learning how other people of great skill think. Doesn't mean that I bought their thought, but I knew how they were thinking. And I think that's -- that was something that I -- I would have to say that whatever I learned at Norwich, that deepened the thinking aspect of life that I received.
JC: How do you think your professional life would have been different had younot been a Norwich graduate?
WG: Well, that's good. I don't know. It could go back to perseverance. I've beena very outspoken person in my professional life. And, I think that could have been nurtured at Norwich, calling a spade a spade when I would see it, regardless of the consequences. And I think I sort of have a reputation in that way.
Some people tell me that they are amazed at my courage, that I don't seem to bescared by what other people are scared of. And I think I was a very fearful person my first year at Norwich. And that may have -- when I went to the summer camp training, I had what I regard as a very important experience. There were about 750 or 800 cadets. And we were taken into a field and told to yell as loud as we could. And so I was chosen of the three to be the regimental cadet colonel for marching all of the cadets from the barracks area to a parade area and doing the parade thing and marching back. And a regular army lieutenant took me -- I didn't have any misgivings about this because part of the Norwich experience, even if you weren't in a command position, I was a private all first three years, was that you've seen people do this over and over again. So, you're ready to mimic what you see. And -- but he took me over the trip I'd be taking, so we rehearsed. I knew what the commands were going to be but I'd hadn't known where I'd being going. So, we rehearsed the whole thing.
Now, I can tell you, as a priest, it became -- that inspired me always to havewedding rehearsals. (Laughs)
WG: And the value of rehearsing is huge in my head. And I think that could bepart of the Norwich experience. But, by the time I got to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, I was relatively fearless at, I think, a lot of the military stuff that other people were probably somewhat wary of because of the Norwich experience. And when I didn't go in the military, my feeling was, because of Norwich, I've done that. I'm not interested in doing it again. (Chuckles)
WG: I want to get onto other things.
JC: Do you think being a Norwich graduate opened doors for you that wouldn'thave been open otherwise?
WG: Well, that's a good question. I don't know. I also would say, and I thinkit's important to know this, that when I was there, partly the influence of this religion teacher, there were a high number of Norwich guys that went to seminary, and it could be partly the military because a big part of Sunday morning life is ritual. But -- and I think it could be the emphasis on surface that the military had and Norwich has. And I don't know what the situation is now. I don't think being a minister today has the social significance that it once had. It's not something everybody's dying to do. But that, I think there was a -- I would think that probably more people were going to seminary in those old days from that school than perhaps from others.
JC: Do you think Norwich graduates have a special bond that other military orcivilian schools don't have?
WG: I don't know.
JC: What about band (?) [1:14:33] company? Now I've heard --
WG: Oh yes. Yes. Yes.
JC: -- that kids have very close knit bonds.
WG: Yes, yes. That's also true in my jazz life. You meet a jazz musiciananywhere, you're totally at ease. And he may be totally untrustworthy but you don't know that and you're willing to trust him until he proves otherwise. And, yes, I would guess that the Norwich -- certainly the band's people at Norwich this is true of. And it's just partly because you know -- you both know what the other one has been through. And, to a certain extent, I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing is true for all of the Norwich graduates.
JC: Now, have you been involved with Norwich since you graduated?
WG: I was part of the alumni association in the 80s. I was asked to be thebaccalaureate speaker at a graduation in '86, when the president was --
JC: General Todd?
WG: Yes. General Todd. And, I've occasionally gone to the send offs of, and tothe occasional (sic) when Schneider came to Bedford within the past year. And, that's what I think.
JC: Do you stay in touch with any of your classmates?
WG: I've got one that I stay in touch with, who has been forbidden from comingto the school because he threatened to tear off the veil of a Muslim --
JC: Oh! (Laughs)
WG: -- cadet. And I just don't agree with that at all. I think there's a lot ofstupidity at work in the anti-Muslim feeling. And the real situation is that Saudi Arabian Wahhabism which merged the tribal culture of Saudi Arabia with Islam and which has been exported both to this country and to other parts of the world which has resulted in ISIS and such a bad reputation for Muslims. But, there you go.
JC: What advice would you give a rook today on how to survive and thrive at Norwich?
WG: (Laughs) They should try.
WG: Whatever it is. Keep trying.
JC: Now, did you have any other relatives that attended Norwich?
JC: Is there anything else you'd like to add or have a comment?
WG: I'll probably think of it after you leave.
JC: That's generally the way it goes. Alright, well I thank you very much forthis interview.
WG: You're welcome. It's been very enjoyable.
JC: Thank you.
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