She had heard that the American army doctors were coming. And so she waited.
The temperature rose to 115 degrees. Buses dropped off patients dressed in party clothes and flip-flops. They joined the line.
And still, Vasquez waited.
By late morning, it was finally her turn to talk to the medical team. She was weighed, then questioned.
“What types of problems are you having?” a translator asked in Spanish.
“I can’t see very well,” she said. “And sometimes I have aches.”
Her problems were noted, and she moved through the line to see a doctor.
Vasquez was among more than 5,000 patients the New Hampshire National Guard Medical Command treated during a medical readiness exercise in rural El Salvador in late April. Stories like hers were central to the team’s experience.
“You know what’s amazing?” asked 1st Lt. Jim Piro, 46, a nurse from New Boston. “For people to spend hours waiting in the hot sun for Tylenol and Motrin and things that we can just go to the store and buy at home. People are coming in with bare feet and mud and waiting. It chokes me up.”
At a time when New Hampshire soldiers are serving and dying in controversial missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, the medical command was on a peaceful goodwill trip. Its goals were simple and straightforward: to help people in a poor, rural environment, to train for future missions, to work together as a group and to strengthen ties with El Salvador.
Along with the satisfaction of helping thousands of people with medical needs great and small came the frustration of knowing that some of their fixes were temporary – and that some patients who needed help most desperately were beyond their reach.
The work was hard, and the hours were long.
“You have to have a very selfless attitude – the kind of person that feels that doing their job is more important than enjoying a high quality of life while they’re out here,” said Sgt. Jen LaClaire of Concord.
‘Level one’ care
The medical team met Vasquez and her neighbors in Chilanga, a brightly painted town with cobbled streets surrounded by ancient volcanic hills. Their two-week mission had already taken them through Tablon, Quatajiagua and Chapeltique. This was the fourth and final destination for the doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical personnel.
Their mission: “level one” care – medical and dental screenings and treatment of basic concerns.
“We can’t do any major surgeries or anything serious, but we can identify issues, provide some prescription drugs and refer treatment to hospitals as needed,” said Capt. Mike Moranti, 32, of Manchester.
The 30-member team pulled 446 teeth, fitted 241 pairs of eyeglasses, treated thousands of aches and pains, and saw, among other things, a goiter the size of a cantaloupe, an infected toenail and injuries from an attempted suicide.
“We can kind of be like a Doctors Without Borders,” said Moranti, the medical command operations officer. “Most medical professionals want to help people, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The group’s primary function is to support the National Guard at home.
Members provide medical screenings for soldiers and track those who are deploying or returning from active duty. They can be deployed themselves but are generally sent overseas individually, attached to other units.
“This gave us an opportunity to train as a group . . . doing a mission together, getting used to wearing the uniform, sleeping in tents and stuff like that – in a more relaxed atmosphere than going straight to Iraq and not knowing anybody and not even knowing how to put your Kevlar on,” Moranti said.
Many members have done tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Some, like LaClaire, 34, a former Russian linguist for the Navy, have never been on a field mission.
“This is a completely different universe,” said LaClaire, a patient administration sergeant. “I was not aware of just how much I was taking for granted. Until you live the experience and see people face to face, you don’t know how much luxury you have had in your life.”
Base camp basics
For nearly two weeks, the team slept co-ed style in canvas tents on an old runway in the Morazon province, in the northwest corner of El Salvador.
They rose before dawn to hearty egg-and-meat breakfasts shipped in boxes from the United States, served cafeteria-style in a trailer and eaten in the open air. For lunch, they picked up Meals Ready to Eat or Salvadoran pupusas, fried cornmeal tortillas filled with beans, cheese or pork. They drank plenty of water.
Surrounded by razor wire and filled with heavy equipment, the base camp was shipped from the United States in pieces for the Army’s New Horizons exercise.
There were Humvees, trailers for a mess hall, showers, generators, tents and a gargantuan washer and dryer system, all to support humanitarian objectives, which included building schools, wells and clinics and running medical readiness exercises.
The Army’s work was focused near former rebel territory, pieces of which were once held by a former guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The area is also home to the city of El Mozote, where, in 1981, Salvadoran soldiers killed an estimated 900 civilians in an anti-guerrilla campaign, one of the worst massacres in Latin American history.
The country’s civil war has passed, and today, El Salvador, roughly the size of Massachusetts, is home to more than 6 million people.
Agriculture is an important industry, but recently there has been a decline in the export of coffee and a rise in clothing manufacturing. According to embassy personnel, about 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from money that people working in the United States send back to their families.
Rashes, dizziness, foot pain
The Chilanga medical mission was set up in an elementary school, an open-air cement block building brightly painted in blue and white, the national colors.
Piro sat at an intake table; next to him was a Salvadoran Army interpreter translating medical complaints. Piro held a cheat sheet of ailments listed in Spanish – rash, dizziness, foot pain, low appetite, fever, fungus, sweating, stomach ache, vomiting, chicken pox. By Day 8, he knew most of them by heart.
First Lt. Lezli Clark, a nurse from Rochester, worked next to Piro, shuttling people through the line. Last year, Clark won the Army Nurse Corps excellence award for her work with soldiers returning from war.
She and Piro have both been part of a team of New Hampshire soldiers in charge of case management for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They tracked injuries and managed care for nearly 400 people. When soldiers came home, Clark gave them her cell phone number.
“I’m a nurse,” she said. “That’s what nurses do.”
Inside the medical area, Capt. Jen Moranti, 30, a nurse from Manchester, gave out hundreds of bags of pills, took temperatures and blood pressure and saw people with aches and pains, lice and dehydration.
“You want to do so much for them,” Moranti said, “but you can really only do so much without follow-up care.”
Lt. Col. Robin DeLeon, 41, a doctor from Boise, Idaho, called a group over to listen to a young girl’s heart. Instead of the normal glub, glub, her heart whooshed – a sign of trouble.
DeLeon told the family she needed to go to the hospital. Her condition would require a more serious operation than the mission could handle.
Situations like that were not easy for the team. The short duration of the trip, the extent of the need and the level of care they were able to provide could be frustrating.
“Not being able to do the things that I can do back home is hard,” said Lt. Col. Susan Caprio, 59, a nurse practitioner from Goffstown.
Chronic disease was the most difficult problem she wrestled with.
“I’m worried about the women (having a stroke),” she said. “We tell them to go to the clinic, but if they could do that, they wouldn’t have come here.”
While the team treated and bandaged and shared smiles with people again and again, it was the people they couldn’t help that some remembered most.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said LaClaire.
The team had been up since around 5:30 a.m. At the end of the day, as members waited to get on the buses in the stifling heat, the soldiers’ sleeves were rolled down to show solidarity with the troops in Iraq.
“I’m tired. It’s hot. It would be nice to sleep in a bed again,” said Caprio.
‘Dentists can be fun’
Inside the dental room, a four member team prepared for an extraction – with a little levity.
“Dentists can be fun,” said Col. Ralph Ergas, 46, a pediatric specialist from Manchester.
Maj. Patrick Racz, 38, a dentist from Bristol, added, “Yesterday, we were joking about how we don’t have repeat customers, and then we had a woman come back for more.”
A line outside the door attested to the popularity of their services. Roborto Porg, 55, asked Ergas to remove eight teeth so he could be fitted for partials. After anesthetic, Porg sat stoically, calloused hands folded on his lap, as his teeth were pulled one by one.
“Let’s say he goes to the clinic,” said Ergas. “He pays his bus fare and he misses work, which costs him money.” Local dentists charge $5 a tooth to be pulled, Ergas said; having eight pulled could cost nearly a month’s salary.
“That’s a big deal to him,” said Ergas.
As the last tooth for the day was removed, Porg stood, shook Ergas’s hand and said, “Gracias.”
“They have so much disease here that they have a higher pain tolerance and don’t take as much anesthetic,” Ergas said.
Ergas learned how to say, “no crying” in Spanish – “no llores” – and when he said it to children, the crying stopped.
“They don’t need as much coddling,” Ergas said. “The Salvadoran children are a little more independent (than their American counterparts). They are tougher, and they listen to their parents.”
They also had more tooth decay.
The dental team saw case after case of baby bottle tooth decay, a condition that destroys a child’s upper front teeth because of prolonged contact with sugary liquids.
A fine line
Members of a military medical team walk a fine line between soldiering and healing. In fact, the Geneva Convention gives them their own category in the rules of war. Medical and religious personnel are considered noncombatants even though they wear uniforms and can carry small arms.
That doesn’t mean they haven’t tasted danger.
While riding the buses home to the Salvadoran base camp one night, fireworks exploded in the roadway ahead of the team.
“My heart stopped,” said Staff Sgt. Roy Lowes, 44, a medic from Wolfeboro who spent time in Afghanistan advising a medical company.
Loud noises surprise him and take him back to his tour.
“In Afghanistan, I had to straddle both positions,” he said. “I’m a pretty compassionate person, but at the same time, you have to watch your ass.”
What the Americans learned in El Salvador about teamwork and sacrifice will quickly be put to the test halfway around the world. The youngest member of the group, Pfc. Ashley Philibert, 19, of Weare will leave for Iraq this summer. Philibert, who joined the Army at 17, describes her time in El Salvador as “awesome.” She knows Iraq, where she will be working in security rather than dentistry, will be tougher.
“Normally I’m very cautious, but lately, I’ve been like this is my only opportunity to do this,” she said.
“When else am I going to have a chance to come help people?”
Philibert volunteered for the tour in Iraq. She’s excited, but when she watches the news, she’s scared too.
“I have no idea what to expect.”
Making life better
Inside the eye exam room, Rebecca Calles, 25, the first female pilot in the Salvadoran Air Force, worked alongside Senior Airman Lindsay Lassonde, 21, of Rochester, helping fit residents with eyeglasses.
Petronilo Lopez, 81, had such poor vision he couldn’t read any letters on the chart in front of him.
“Can you see this?” Calles asked in Spanish.
“No,” he answered.
“How about this?” she asked again.
Lassonde sighed. Hundreds of people needed glasses. There was only one Lassonde.
The team told about a young boy who came in. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t read because he couldn’t see.
Groups had donated glasses for the trip, but there were not enough exact prescriptions to go around.
Lassonde did the best she could. When she was through, amid hugs and handshakes, her Salvadoran patients smiled and said, “Gracias, gracias, gracias.”
“I can’t get them to see 100 percent, and I can’t fix all their problems, but I can help them,” she said. “And to see their gratitude makes it all worthwhile.”
LaClaire said later: “It’s the most personally satisfying thing that I’ve ever done – because you know what you are doing is making a difference.“It’s not a symbol. You are really making their quality of life better.”
Steve Cratty, 37, was still wearing his hospital ID bracelet as he and the other members of “The Pennsylvania 4” sloughed their way against the current on the slimy, rocky Upper Ammonoosuc River in New Hampshire.
The team of four through-paddlers, on a quest to conquer the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, had been on the water for several weeks when Cratty fell and broke two ribs on the rocks. It was a small setback in a string of misfortune that included wrapping their canoe around a boulder, a week of nonstop rain and food poisoning.
“In it to win it” had become the team motto by the time they reached this midpoint through New Hampshire. And still, what they really wanted to talk about was the people they met on the journey and the places they’d seen.
“Being out here is probably changing my thoughts on life,” said Brad Kohler, 30, of Pittsburgh, Pa. “Living in the city makes me doubt people. I used to think that there were only a few good people out there, but now I think there are millions.”
The crew can’t remember what day of the week it is, but they all remember the couple in a fishing boat who led them during a lightning storm to their camp where they made them a fire and offered them hot food.
“They didn’t know us from nothing. We could have been serial killers,” Kohler said.
Long Distance Trail
Not everyone who travels the Northern Forest Canoe Trail needs to experience such extremes. The path, which traces Native American trade routes through New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine, has many shorter, quieter sections.
Finished in the spring of 2006, the trail consists of a string of interconnected rivers and lakes linked by portages (which require the canoe to be carried) from one waterway to the next. Sometimes called the Appalachian Trail for canoeists, it passes through some of the most renowned waters of the East, including Lake Champlain and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
The trail is divided into 13 mapped sections, which include campsites, trail signs, local information and access points. To complete the entire journey, paddlers must possess a variety of skills. They must be able to travel upstream by poling, a technique that uses a long, usually wooden, setting pole to push the boat forward against the current. They also must have the endurance to portage 55 miles, carrying the canoe up and around obstructions. Paddlers must descend rapids up to a class IV, which is defined by the Safety Code of American Whitewater as “Advanced. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water.” They also must fight through large bodies of water where wind and waves batter their small crafts.
Unlike hiking however, the trail is not always considered backcountry as it passes both developed and natural areas. In some areas paddlers can canoe from inn to inn.
Typically, people who want to paddle the length of the trail begin in the west and move toward Maine. In that direction, the New Hampshire section becomes tricky. The four bodies of water that make up the more than 72 miles of the trail that cross the state – the Connecticut, the Androscoggin, the Upper Ammonoosuc and Lake Umbagog – flow in different directions. (For shorter trips, section paddling in the direction of the current can make things more enjoyable.) But taken piece by piece, each of the New Hampshire waterways has its own character and adventure to offer.
Connecticut River Section
The largest river in New England, the Connecticut curves its way along an ancient tract. Wide and meandering, sandy beaches grace its oxbow loops. Above its banks rise fertile agricultural valleys. In the distance, mountains and hills emerge.
It’s the kind of river that defines a “float trip,” as its gentle, clear current makes for a leisurely day. On Sunday, it’s also the kind of river that brings out locals and their coolers.
Five boats, full of good-natured North Stratford natives, wind their way down the river on a lazy afternoon. They argue and joke about who can catch more fish. Challenges are issued. Taunts are hurled. Everybody knows everybody. They speculate that the largest graduating class in town was 25 people. Then, at a nondescript bend in the river, they raise their drinks to salute a friend who died there. Their arrival at the abandoned railroad trestle is ritualistic. Several people disembark onto the island of driftwood and stone to light debris on fire.
Past another bend, David Curtis, 42, a teacher from Burlington, Vt., fights his way upstream like Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. His face is stubbly, but there is a smile below his Green Mountain Club hat.
Curtis decided to paddle the New Hampshire and Vermont sections of the trail a week into his summer vacation. “I haven’t been in a canoe since high school,” Curtis says. “My only preparation for canoeing was a book, something like Canoeing in the Wild by some master canoeist who has me doing the c-stroke.” (The stroke traces the letter “c” underwater and keeps the solo canoeist moving forward in a straight line. It’s easier said than done.)
He admits to a penchant for checking things off a list. (He’s also working to finish the Long Trail, a 270-mile hiking trail that runs the length of Vermont.) In his boat is a large, old gardening cart for portages, an external frame pack, dry bags, food (kale, noodles, carrots) and a fishing rod. He’s already done one 3.8-mile portage from the Androscoggin to the Upper Ammonoosuc by himself. The road is hilly, windy and narrow. He’s feeling cranky and over-packed.
Some of the portages are rough. Steep banks greet paddlers trying to make their way around dams or carrying their canoes to the next waterway. Supplies must be unloaded, moved up and down, then reloaded while the canoeist scrambles through thorny bushes with wet shoes, mosquitoes feasting on fleshy legs.
Curtis is doing the trip all by himself and says he feels more solitude in the water than on land.
“When you are hiking, even if you are alone on the trail, you are running into somebody,” Curtis says. “But here you are all alone.”
Umbagog Lake and Androscoggin River Section
Umbagog Lake is a destination in itself. Wide, shallow and protected, it’s more than 10 miles long. The haunting call of the loon echoes from its shores.
Then as the waterway approaches Errol, the peace is interrupted. Here, the Androscoggin River begins with menace. Trees, staked like spears along the banks, point at the sky and a set of Class III rapids await. Once a superhighway for the logging industry, the river now serves a variety of recreational purposes.
Coming through the crashing water, Kay Henry, the founding president of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, executes a perfect eddy turn near the boat ramp with Todd Papianou, owner of Northern Waters Outfitters in Errol. In whitewater boating, an eddy turn is used to extricate the boat from the current and halt its downstream motion. It’s an advanced maneuver. They make it look easy.
Henry and her husband, Rob Center, former chief executives of Mad River Canoe, formed the nonprofit NFCT in 2000 to develop and manage the trail. It was first envisioned in the late 1970s by a trio of men interested in tracing Native American routes through New England. More than 30 years later, the trail officially opened.
“From a historical perspective, rivers were really what joined the community,” Henry says. Today, she hopes that communities will embrace the idea of a water trail as both a recreational/cultural outlet and an economic driver.
The vision is that the trail becomes part of the fabric of the northern forest communities, encouraging conservation and keeping the water pristine.
The New Hampshire river section is a cultural byway to different chapters of the region’s past. It runs next to both Brunswick Springs, an Abenaki area used for its purported healing powers, and the town of Stark, where a former World War II German prisoner of war camp was located.
Papianou’s business and other local country stores and campgrounds may also benefit from an increase in river tourism. Some of them don’t even know it yet.
Pam Feldhouse at the Cedar Pond Campground near Milan didn’t realize that her campground was central on NFCT map No. 7 and smack dab in the middle of a tough 3.8-mile portage on Route 110A between the Androscoggin and Upper Ammonoosuc River. It was advertising, she says, that she didn’t even have to pay for.
As the whitewater of Errol fades off into the Pontook Reservoir, remnants of logging days sit neatly below the water. In the 1930s, river drivers worked from large boats called “bateau,” directing logs down the chutes of this river. Stone islands, underwater timbers, and coils of metal rope sunken to the bottom are the only remnants. Soon though, the river is churned up once again by the power of the Pontook Dam. Class II and III rapids follow rocky and fast.
Upper Ammonoosuc River Section
The slender and shallow Upper Ammonoosuc River snakes its way through the heart of northern New Hampshire. It’s the smallest and least traveled of the rivers. Low water levels in late summer cause many of the rapids to become a minefield of boulders difficult to navigate – but also create an assurance of isolation.
The winding stream abounds with wildlife. A young moose bathes in a deep eddy, shaking flies off his growing antlers. He lumbers to the shore, knees bending backward awkwardly. It is quiet.
Northern Forest Canoe Trail campsites along all the rivers are new and relatively unused. They offer designated places to stop and camp for the night. In the morning, it rains fog, leaving a layer of condensation on tent roofs. Campers sleep under thick river mist, while canoes sit idle.
It’s possible to kayak the trail, but canoes, with their extra storage capacity, provide a more versatile way of completing it.
“A canoe is a vehicle to go exploring with,” Henry says.
In a way, the trail is an ode to the transportation of the past. Long before roads were built through the thick North Woods, Native Americans navigated through a series of well-known river systems in traditional canoes.
Although the exploration of uncharted territory might be complete, the essence of the journey remains. There is a beginning and an ending, and in between, teamwork is paramount. The power of the paddler in the bow must be matched by the skill and guidance of the paddler in the stern. It’s the partnership involved in canoeing, Henry says, that makes it so satisfying.
For “The Pennsylvania 4,” teamwork seems to move them along the trail. In their blog from Saturday, July 28, they write “WE ALL GOT TO SHOWER TODAY!!! Today was a good day for all of us, but I’m sure that Sara (Maits) enjoyed today the most. She no longer has to hang around three smelly guys all day. Today was our third shower of the trip. After our showers, we got to line up our canoes and walk through the water most of the day.”
A few days later, they write, “We were very excited about finally reaching Maine. We took advantage of the emotional high and paddled 20 miles.”
In the latest report, dated Wednesday, Aug. 15, the group writes, “The last couple of days have been rough. I can now see why so many paddlers average less than 15 miles per day. Lake Champlain seems like it happened so long ago. The good news is that we have less than 100 miles to go. Once we finish, we will start planning our trip for next summer.”
For Steve Cratty and Sara Maits, two of “The Pennsylvania 4,” the teamwork that keeps them on schedule is vital. Their goal: make it to Fort Kent, Maine, by Aug. 25. If they arrive in one piece, there will be a bridal shower, their own, to attend.
In April 1978, flames began licking the rare books in the basement of Chaplin Library. A fire—the second on campus that year—was alight. As smoke rose through the joints of the 1907 structure, leaking from the windows above, the alarm was raised. By the faint last light of day, the Norwich Student Fire Brigade sprang into action.
By the time Jim O’Brien ’79 arrived on the scene, smoke clouded the hallways, making it impossible to enter without oxygen tanks. Brigade Fire Chief Ken Morton ’78 (now fire chief of Williston, Vt.) remembers working frantically to set up the portable ponds as tanker trucks rolled onto the UP.
Finally a hose line was established, and several NU cadets entered the building. As they moved cautiously down into the basement, they saw a blur—a shadowy figure dressed in 19th-century breeches and a Hussar coat—valiantly attempting to bat out the flames with his overcoat. Then, in the blink of an eye, he disappeared.
Was it Captain Alden Partridge back from the grave to save his beloved university? Or was it one of the many nameless ghosts rumored to haunt his venerable institution? Is it fact or is it fiction? Or possibly a little of both?
A university with a history that goes back nearly 200 years harbors an abundance of shadowy corners to investigate, legendary figures to unearth, and clandestine organizations to explore. Students of all generations find themselves wondering about the cadets who lived on the hill of yore. And many claim to have been visited by a spirit or two from the past.
“Something happens after the Dog River Run. You’ve been baptized and all of sudden you really dig Norwich history and want to know its secrets,” says Randall Miller ’93, author of the recently self-published book, Norwich Matters.
Norwich University librarians are quick to point out that one of the most popular searches in the archives is the topic of ghosts. And there is no shortage of material to pore over. Personal accounts of paranormal activity on the Hill abound—unexplained rapping on walls and doors, footsteps in empty hallways, and, out of nowhere, sudden cold drafts. Disembodied spirits have been “seen” marching in step with cadets, peering out from windows, even levitating Christmas trees.
Or so they say …
Miller defines Norwich rumor as “information shared as a matter of historical record, often supported by crystal-clear memories of events that never happened.”
The incidents told here may just be Norwich rumor, or they may be more than that. But whether they truly took place or exist only in people’s minds, they remain an integral part of Norwich lore—as real today as mortar between the bricks of buildings that no longer cast their shadows on the Hill.
Throughout the University’s long and storied past, many Norwich souls have been taken prematurely. On October 26, 1821, the Norwich Corps of Cadets lined up for the funeral of Cadet Thomas Hurlbut, the first student to die at the “Academy.” Reverend Rufus William Bailey, the school’s first chaplain, delivered Hurlbut’s eulogy at the parish church in Norwich, Vt. Under the white steeple, its Paul Revere bell gleaming, a somber procession formed.
Carefully organized and scripted by Partridge himself, the procession wound through town, ending at the young man’s grave. As cadets, professors, militia, and townspeople solemnly walked down the street, the band played a “dead march.” The dirge continued as the body was lowered deep into the earth and honored with the firing of three volleys.
History books mention three cadets dying in the early years: the second, Ralph A. Wikoff at only 19 years old, caused the Corps to wear black crepe on their arms and draw up resolutions upon his death.
Do young Hurlbut and Wikoff continue to march, drill, and rise at dawn to the call of reveille? Is it possible that they and other cadets who passed through Norwich’s gates in life still frequent the familiar stomping grounds of their youth?
Whether perishing in defense of country in one of its many wars, succumbing to illness (the 1918 influenza epidemic took five), dying from sports-related injuries (football claimed two in 1913), accidents (beloved Cadet Henry Way cut his finger in 1887 and developed tetanus), or from self-inflicted injury, is it too far-fetched to suppose that these once vibrant youths remain among us? Do they still feel that this is where they belong?
In 2003 and 2006, John Zaffis from the Paranormal Research Society of New England visited Norwich to speak about his ghost-hunting career and to search for spirits. On both occasions he toured the campus to sense the energy in various buildings. What he found was “activity”—lots of it. He felt it on the top floor of Dewey, where he sensed “two spirits that had been killed.” He felt it in Ransom, Hawkins, and Goodyear. And he felt it in the basement of Alumni Hall.
Built in 1905, Alumni Hall is the oldest building still extant on campus. (Dewey was erected in 1902 but was rebuilt in 1925 following a fire.) The granddaddy of Norwich buildings, Alumni has spawned its fair share of haunting tales—but none so infamous as the “bricked-off room.”
There is hardly an alumnus alive today that hasn’t heard the tale of a young cadet who supposedly hung himself from his wardrobe in a windowless room on the south end of the basement. As the story goes, his brother came to Norwich the following year, was given the same room, and he too hung himself.
The hangings were viewed as tragic but unrelated coincidences until (relates Jeff McGowan ’96, who heard the tale from an older alum) one fateful day, when a cadet walked into the same basement room and saw his buddy standing on a chair getting ready to hang himself. Quickly a group gathered round to stop him. As they talked him down off the chair, they asked, “Why?” He replied, “The people in the mirror told me to do it.” The cadet then explained that the woebegone victims had each appeared in the mirror, coaxing him to join them.
Apparently, the administration at the time was so disturbed by this incident that they sealed off the room permanently, and from that day forward it has never been used.
Today if you knock on the east wall in the basement of Alumni, you can hear the echo of an open space where a door once was. Behind it, two rooms have been joined together to house the dorm’s heating, electrical, and plumbing facilities.
But despite the sealing off of the cursed room, custodian Todd LaValley says creepy things still go on there. Former residents recount tales of disembodied voices, mysterious knocking on doors, and loud banging in bathroom stalls. And if you talk to the students who live there today, they will tell you the ghosts are still around.
Perhaps from the beginning a pall was cast over the building.
At Alumni Hall’s dedication in 1906, the keynote speaker was Colonel Henry Oakes Kent, an 1854 graduate, Civil War veteran, longtime NU trustee, poet, and former member of Norwich’s earliest secret society, the University Regulators. Begun in 1852, the cloaked and hooded group was created to maintain student discipline and “regulate” the University. They achieved this by enforcing strict standards of behavior among the cadets, using whatever means they deemed appropriate.
The Regulators went “underground” in 1856 when Theta Chi fraternity was founded by two former Regulators: Arthur Chase ’56 and Frederick Freeman ’57. Some say that when Alumni Hall was being constructed, Colonel Kent, in a symbolic gesture, placed relics from the Regulators in the foundation of the building to preserve for future generations.
Another building purported to harbor spirits is Chaplin Hall, now home to the School of Art & Architecture. Financed by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the brick and stone edifice opened in 1907 as Carnegie Library.
In the early days, students were greeted by a life-sized oil painting of women serving tea, above a blazing fireplace. Gentlemanly cadets sat in leather armchairs in the main reading room, studying, smoking, and speaking in hushed whispers. The basement, on the other hand, was a dark, dusty tomb. It is here that alumni and staff witnessed books flying off shelves, heard the eerie echoes of footsteps, and saw lights flicking on after the building was closed.
Or so they say …
One often-told ghost story is of a librarian who repeatedly found a book lying open on the circulation table as if someone were in the middle of reading it. Each night she would put the book away, and each morning it would reappear—open to a page further along in the text. Another version of the story claims how the book, locked inside a glass case, had pages that would mysteriously “turn” on their own.
Ann Turner worked in the library for 25 years, most of them as head librarian until she was granted emeritus status in 1990. Although Turner has never refuted the rumors of hauntings (because she believes in good fun), she herself never experienced the sensations that her fellow librarian Margaret Partlow. Partlow routinely reported hearing voices and moaning, and felt the coldness in the air.
“She firmly believed,” says Turner.
So do many others who have seen a shadowy figure staring out onto the UP from a window above the building’s arched entryway.
Who is that specter dressed in 19th-century garb? Some wonder if it could be the illustrious Alonzo Jackman, Class of 1836, longtime member of the faculty, and the man for whom Jackman Hall is named.
General Jackman briefly worked as a librarian when the University was still located on the Norwich, Vt., campus. Inventor of the ocean telegraph and a United States Army general who trained dozens of Civil War officers, Jackman taught mathematics, natural philosophy, and civil engineering at the University until his death in 1879. On that day as he stood at his window, dressed in uniform, “he suddenly fell dead, dropped like a soldier at his post,” according to William Arba Ellis’s History of Norwich University.
Jackman was not one to be absent from the University—ever. Some conjecture he still isn’t—even now.
So great was the respect of Norwich librarians for whomever was haunting Chaplin that, in 1993, when the book collection was moved from the old library to the new, they left behind a cart labeled “GHOST” on the last night, so that, in the morning, if the spirit wanted to make the journey to the new library, it would know it was welcome.
Apparently at least one spirit did indeed cross over from the old structure to the new, as a number of ghostly occurrences have taken place in the new library. In 2003, Athletics Administrative Assistant Cathy Diego and Archives Librarian Krista Ainsworth were frantically trying to locate a photograph. The old black-and-white portrait—taken by longtime University photographer Homer Smith—was needed for the Athletics Hall of Fame program, and Diego was convinced it had to be in one of the dozens of archival boxes stored in the basement of the library. After searching in vain for over an hour, Ainsworth spotted Homer Smith’s chair sitting in a dark corner of the room. In desperation she walked over, grabbed the chair, and, invoking the dead man’s spirit, said, “Okay, Homer, we need your help. Where is that photo?” A strange feeling came over the women, and in the next box they opened, lying directly on top, was the very photograph they sought.
DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
Dorms and libraries are not the only structures that have historically sparked the imagination.
Arguments over the existence of underground tunnels connecting buildings on the UP have been going on for decades. Alumni and students alike swear they exist. Facilities/Operations personnel swear they don’t.
Many of these subterranean rumors harken back to Norwich’s erstwhile secret societies and the tale of a cadet who died as the result of an obligatory beating or an initiation rite gone awry. Even though former society members have been sworn to secrecy, versions of the supposed student’s untimely demise have provided grist for the rumor mill for generations of Norwich students.
His tragic tale takes place at the Norwich of a bygone era. During this period, the “breaking in” of rooks was a common and accepted practice. Yearbooks from the 1920s show upperclassmen sporting masks and wielding paddles, looming menacingly over rooks cowering in their bunks.
According to one version, the ill-fated cadet was taken into the tunnels near Chaplin Hall for initiation into Skull and Swords—one of two secret societies then at Norwich—and died from injuries sustained there. Another possible clue to the existence of the tunnels is the mysterious mention in the 1926 War Whoop of an incident in which the Royal Order of Night Riders—the other secret society—sneak back onto campus via “a means known only to them.”
As for whether tunnels have ever existed, most old-timers concede that between the time old Jackman first opened in 1868 (duly commemorated with full Masonic ceremonies, a parade, and an assembly of 3,000 people) and the first Dodge Hall was built (1892), followed by Dewey Hall ten years later, there were indeed underground passageways connecting at least two of the buildings. However, it is generally accepted that when Jackman and Dodge were demolished to make way for the new Jackman Hall in 1964, the tunnels were filled in.
But this doesn’t explain why what looks like the entrance to a small passageway in the basement of Gerard is cemented over. Nor does it dispel the persistent rumor that one entrance to the tunnels still remains open “somewhere” beneath one of the dorms on the UP, or why to this day students say with absolute certainty that they have been inside them. If tunnels do exist in one form or another, those who know the truth, aren’t talking.
BIDDEN AND UNBIDDEN
Given every generation’s fascination with the occult, it is not surprising that many Norwich students have actually encouraged visits from spirits. Ouija BoardsTM, invented in 1890, are no less popular today than they were a hundred years ago, when students would descend the stairs to the basement of Chaplin Hall to conjure up a good scare. It is documented that the late Bill Wilson ’18, World War I artillery officer and cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was a notable user.
So it was hardly unusual that around Christmastime 1978, David Carter ’80 and four of his buddies decided to hold a séance. Their intent was to make contact with a former cadet who had died several years earlier. They entered the student’s old room in Wilson Hall, joined hands, and attempted to get in touch with his spirit.
After a period of silence, things suddenly started happening. A radio, which was unplugged and held no batteries, began playing; a Christmas stocking hanging on the wall turned upside down; and outside the window, one cadet saw the reflection of a ghostly face staring back at him. Terrified, the students fled the room.
Other spirits have made their existence known in the absence of such beckoning. Reports of being woken from a dead sleep to a feeling of being “held down” in bed in a sort of “night paralysis,” such that they can’t breathe or move, are commonplace.
But not all Norwich spirits manifest a menacing presence. It appears some stick around because this is where they feel most “at home.” (Paranormal experts agree that the unifying characteristic of ghosts is that they are unaware they have died. Stuck between this world and the next, they remain behind to haunt the living.)
A former NU security guard was closing up White Chapel one night when he heard the strains of piano music. By the dim glow of the exit sign he could see the figure of a man seated at the grand piano. The patrolman let his presence be known, but the piano player ignored him. A second time he identified himself. This time, the figure turned his head and asked, “Can I still play?” It was then that the security guard saw he had no face.
THE GUARDIAN OF SABINE FIELD?
Students and staff aren’t the only ones who have experienced paranormal activity on the Hill. In December 2009, NU parent Kristi Sjoholm-Sierchio had left Plumley Armory and was walking past the Sabine Field gates to her car when she sensed someone following her. Turning quickly around, she saw the head and left shoulder of a uniformed female cadet, walking behind her.
Students past and present similarly report being “followed” by a spirit marching in time with their steps near the North entrance to campus. But occasionally the ghost carries out his (or her) watch on horseback, and no wonder, considering the school’s revered cavalry tradition. Tory Decker Hook ’00 remembers crossing the UP one foggy night and hearing the sound of a galloping horse. And several alums from the ’60s recall hearing the whinney of a horse in Alumni Hall.
Could this riderless horse be the steed of Moses Taylor, Jr.—a member of the Class of 1920 loved for his “empathy, sense of humor, bigheartedness, honesty, fearlessness, and loyalty to his men?” Wounded while leading his platoon against the Germans in the trenches of WWI in France, First Lieutenant Taylor later died and was buried at Vigneulles, the local cemetery.
Soon after, his father donated funds to build an indoor riding hall—a welcome asset for a school where horsemanship was a requisite component of military training. But after the army transitioned from cavalry to armor in the 1940s, Moses Taylor Arena was converted into Norwich’s first enclosed hockey rink—only to be demolished and replaced with Kreitzberg Arena in 1998.
The 1951 yearbook is dedicated to the memory of Moses Jr., who “died with his face to the enemy and gave his life to his country.”
Perhaps this young hero, laid to rest on a distant shore, still rides home to Norwich, the beating of his horse’s hooves echoing through the valley. Perhaps he’s come back to remind us of the unstoppable passage of time and our own inevitable mortality. Or perhaps he’s admonishing us to wrap our loved ones close, hold tight to the fleeting moments of our numbered days, and remember to always, always be faithful to the past.
– by Lori Duff
Concord, New Hampshire,
Sunday, June 3d, 185
To the Cadets of N.U.
I sympathize with you in the recent melancholy death
o’ poor George*, and ever bear in lively remembrance,
“The old grey walls, the well known halls, and the cherished
friends of N.U.”
Henry O. Kent
Hearken ye not for the well known tread;
Call ye not after the name of the dead;
Sadden ye not in the wonted room
That he changed for the damps of the chilly land.
No more shall ye greet neath the barrack’s walls;
No more shall awake him the reveille’s call.
The drooping flag and the booming gun,
Telleth for aye that his course is run,
Telleth for aye of a death stroke fast—
Of a shattered sail, of a broken mast—
Of a manly heart and a friendly hand,
That has left forever our earthly band—
Of a form that looks from a realm afar,
Beyond the world’s contentions jar,
On the band that stands as brothers true
Within thy cherished wall, N.U.
*Cadet William George, who died in a hunting accident in 1855.
Cadet Henry Oaks Kent, Class of 1854. He became a colonel and served as a University trustee.
It was his first ocean crossing. He was seven years old—a small, dark figure clad in white against the backdrop of the vast open sea. Behind him, on the Greek Island of Chios, remained his entire family and the only life he had ever known. In front of him, on the western horizon, loomed the inscrutable possibility of America. For 50 days George Musalas Colvocoresses sailed between the old world and the new. It was 1823, and he had no inkling that this first taste of salt air would be a mere prelude to a lifetime bound to the world’s deepest, darkest waters…
George M. Colvocoresses and the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842
Setting Sail – 1838
It was Saturday, August 18, 1838, and passed midshipman Colvocoresses was once again headed to sea. Standing on the deck of the brig Porpoise, a steady breeze ruffled his dark hair. Deeply tanned, his hands hardened, the sturdy 21-year-old watched Norfolk recede into the distance under clear skies and smooth seas. It was an auspicious beginning to an adventure that would consume the next four years of his life.
Christened the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, the six-vessel squadron hoisted anchor 175 years ago with Colvocoresses onboard. It was the golden age of sail, and a fledgling America planned to make its mark on global waters by sponsoring its first international scientific expedition.
With a crew of 346 commanded by the talented but controversial Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, the squadron had at least two students from Captain Alden Partridge’s American Literary, Scientific & Military Academy on board: George Colvocoresses, Class of 1831, and First Lieutenant Thomas T. Craven, Class of 1824.
Nicknamed the Ex. Ex. and authorized by an act of Congress, its objective was to “extend the empire of commerce and science” for the young, ambitious nation. Carrying some of the most preeminent artists of the day, their orders were to explore the as yet undiscovered continent of Antarctica, map long-isolated regions of the Pacific, and open up the globe to future trade for the United States.
At the same time they were to collect biological specimens and document the natural world—its creatures, plant life, peoples, cultures, and habitats—a monumental task that would eventually establish the foundation for the Museum of Natural History in the Smithsonian.
It was a daunting undertaking: Ships routinely wrecked on rocky, uncharted shoals; pirates plundered defenseless vessels; and interactions with indigenous populations could be violent and unpredictable. There was indeed great risk—but Congress was confident that the rewards would be equally great, if not greater.
But on that balmy Saturday in 1838, the last expedition to circle the globe using only wind power could not have foreseen the loss of two ships, 28 lives, or the years that stretched like the vast, uncharted sea before them.
Greek Uprising – 1822
Born in 1816 on a small Greek island off the coast of Turkey, George M. Colvocoresses was five years old when his homeland took up arms and revolted against Ottoman rule. As an example to the people, the outraged Sultan ordered his troops to pillage and burn the island, killing the men and taking the women and children as slaves. In the rampage that followed, an estimated 25,000 people were murdered.
Young George and his family fled to the interior on horses and mules. Holed up in an abandoned house, his mother begged her husband to run, telling him, “If you allow yourself to be taken you will be killed without a doubt, and then what will be the fate of myself and the children?”
As her husband fled, the Turks arrived at the door, their swords unsheathed. They were repulsive, said Colvocoresses, violent, pock-marked, and disfigured. They forced the family back to the city. Along the way the boy watched as his uncle was stripped of his money and shot.
Colvocoresses soon found himself the prisoner of a Turk with one eye. The soldier was obligated to report to his commanding officer every day at the castle, bringing the child with him. One day, Colvocoresses had a chance encounter with his grandmother. The two exchanged information, crying for joy. The next day, she came to find Colvocoresses, telling him of his father’s escape to safety. A day later she again returned, but this time the angry Turks began to beat her. On his knees, young George begged for his grandmother’s life to be spared, but they continued the assault, first with their fists and then with their swords, until she could no longer stand. Taking her by the hair they dragged her onto the street, leaving her for dead.
Only days later, Colvocoresses was forced to leave his mother and sister. As they parted, his mother gave him this advice. “Remember to say your prayers daily. The Bible is full of instances of God’s goodness toward those who have remembered to pray to him in the hour of adversity.” The child listened and remembered, recording her words years later.
In America – 1823
Back in the Vermont, Captain Partridge opened his copy of The Statesman & Advertiser and read about the struggle of the Greek people. Having recently won their own war for independence, Partridge, like many Americans at the time, was sympathetic to the Greek cause.
Colvocoresses had just arrived in Baltimore with nine other boys on the brig Margareta (his father having ransomed him from servitude) and his fate now lay in the hands of the Greek Relief Committee. His intelligence and character soon drew praise from influential gentlemen, who decided he deserved an education.
After reading about the children of Chios in the newspaper, Partridge was so impressed with Colvocoresses’ story that he wrote to the Committee. He offered to educate the young boy at the Academy and bring him up as his son.
When he first came to Norwich, Vermont, in 1824, Colvocoresses was eight years-old and the Academy—an experiment in military education for citizen soldiers—was still in its infancy.
Though teased at first by the older boys for his traditional Greek garments, Colvocoresses proved an adaptable and exceptional student, learning English in two months. He also gained a champion in Partridge. Years later he would write, “It is not enough to say that I found a friend in Captain Partridge. He was to me as a father. He spared no expense during the nine years that I lived with him that could conduce to my comfort or promote my future welfare.”
Off to Sea–1832
Using his political leverage and social connections, Partridge was able to obtain a midshipman’s appointment for Colvocoresses, and at age 16 he entered the Navy on board the U.S. Frigate United States, bound for the Mediterranean.
The cruise gave him the chance to see his parents for the first time since the massacre—and, unknowingly, the last. It also served as a rude awakening to life at sea. As the Navy’s lowest ranking officer, he was thrust into the grueling duties of a sailor. Training was physical. With hands torn and bleeding from rope burns and a rolling stomach still adjusting to rations, a new officer was expected to be a seaman too–learning to splice ropes, watching the tides, navigating by the stars, using a compass, and reefing a sail.
Years passed before Colvocoresses would return Stateside for any lengthy period. Finally his training ended, and on June 23, 1838, he underwent a grueling examination to become a Passed Midshipman, succeeding with great aplomb and ranking number 34 on the list. With a great sense of accomplishment he received his official Passed Midshipman’s Warrant: a small parchment signed by President Martin Van Buren, his name now forever spelled in Naval history as Colvocoressis.
Nicknamed “Colvos” and “Crawl-over-crosstrees” by his fellow sailors, Colvocoresses had less than two months to enjoy his new status before being ordered to report for the voyage of his life.
Yet a sailor’s life is at best, but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous. — Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before The Mast
Painted black with a white interior, Lt. Wilkes’ flagship—the sloop-of-war Vincennes—was the Rolls Royce of the adventuring world. The first U.S. ship to circle the globe, she was smooth, fast, and carried 190 men. Another sloop-of-war, the Peacock, followed the flagship with a crew of 130. Next came the heavy store ship Relief, carting provisions, followed by the brig Porpoise, with Colvocoresses on board. Bringing up the rear were two light schooners—Flying Fish and Sea Gull—each with a crew of 15.
The crew settled into their berths, the ship becoming their floating home. Instructed to keep journals to be turned over to the government, Colvos started writing what would become his book, Four Years in a Government Exploring Expedition.
As an officer, Colvos had a bit more privacy than the average sailor, but harsh conditions were shared by all. The smell, noise, and mess of livestock crowded the decks, and by September most of the crew suffered from dysentery. There was a communal “head,” a grated area near the bowsprit where sailors relieved themselves, their feces swept overboard by the waves. Failure to use the head properly was an infraction that could result in flogging: U.S. Navy code allowed for up to 12 lashes to be delivered as punishment for disobeying ship’s rules. As the voyage progressed, Wilkes would routinely exceed the maximum by whipping sailors to delirium, a practice that would ultimately result in his court martial.
But despite less-than-favorable conditions, the journey was still magical for Colvocoresses, who wrote that on the 25th of September, as they weighed anchor out of St. Jago in the cloudy night, the ocean glowed—the phosphorescence so great “we could almost see to read by it.” He noted that the crew remained on deck for hours, straining the water through muslin to examine the “animalculae, which in the dark shone as brilliantly as the fire-fly.”
Orange Harbor at Tierra Del Fuego
As they approached the equator, stars showered the ships. One by one the vessels arrived in Rio de Janeiro for restocking. The Porpoise was “smoked” to exterminate the roaches that had plagued the crew since their departure. Wilkes notified the crew of the intent to sail for Antarctica.
After surveying the Negros River in Argentina, the squadron headed down to Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of the known world. Near this fragmented and icy shore, the winds of two oceans meet in unexpected and violent ways. It was here, amongst the jagged rocks of Orange Bay in Tierra del Fuego, that the ships would encounter their first significant storms.
Colvos was now onboard the Relief, which stayed behind for a collecting expedition and a survey of the Strait of Magellan. Three weeks in they were hit with a gale. Through sleet and fog, they fought with the wind. “The waves rose in mountains, and the ship was rapidly drifting towards the coast.”
To save themselves they sailed desperately towards Noir Island, hoping to ride out the storm in a small snow-covered, icy peaked cove. Relief commander, Lt. Long, ordered two anchors dropped in the deep water, one landing at 120 fathoms, or 720 feet below the sea. Then they braced themselves.
As the morning approached, they prayed that the winds would calm, but to no avail. The next day the wind shifted, sending the rolling sea towards them. The ship strained against the anchor chains and as the day and evening wore on Long ordered the men to put in the last two anchors for the night. At daylight, the crew was horrified to discovered two of their anchors had broken and there seemed to be no end to the storm.
“The sky grew more angry as the day declined. After the sun went down the storm raged with greater violence than at any previous time. Never had we seen it blow so hard before, nor ever beheld such billows. A little after 8 o’clock the ship commenced dragging and a tremendous wave came over the bows, which dashed a number of the crew against the masts and guns, and completely inundated the birth-deck.”
At every moment the water was becoming shallower. “And the storm still raged with unabated fury.” Dragging its one remaining anchor, the ship drifted closer and closer to the reef behind them. Finally, the chain could hold no more and with a snap the ship was set adrift. As they began to float, it looked as though their destruction was imminent.
Then, as if touched by divine providence, the wind shifted. To the amazement of the crew, they slipped within inches of the reef.
Long was able to finally make a move. He quickly set the sails and headed to sea. “Had the storm continued a few moments longer we would inevitably have been lost,” wrote Colvos.
They turned out to be the lucky ones. When the squadron reunited in Valparaiso, Chili, the crew soon realized that the Sea Gull was missing. After last sighting her vanishing form in a storm near Orange Bay, they sadly concluded that the lovely ship, her captain and 18 crew members were all lost.
The South Pacific Islands – 1839
Wilkes’ first foray to the South Pole also had disappointing results. Icy jams all but encircled them, stalling their progress and with it their dreams of discovering the seventh continent.
Reunited again, Wilkes soon reshuffled his officers, transferring Colvos to the Peacock and sending the sluggish Relief to drop supplies in Australia and Hawaii. The rest of the squadron soon headed up the coast of South America to Lima, Peru and prepared to head west across the Pacific. They had now been at sea over a year. As they sailed into the Pacific Islands, Colvos remarked that they had officially traded freezing weather for “oppressive heat.”
Today this vast collection of more than 20,000 islands has been divided geographically into three major groups: Polynesia (including New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa and Tonga); Melanesia (including New Guinea, Fiji and Vanatu); and Micronesa (including Guam, Marshall Islands, and Palau). But in 1839 the number and location of the islands remained a mystery: There had been no systematic surveying or charting of this region of the globe, where reefs and rocky shorelines routinely claimed both ships and the lives of sailors. The squadron set in with gusto.
As they arrived at their first stop, the Island Clermont de Tonnere (today known as Reao), they were greeted by armed natives, who stood on the beach brandishing swords. Provoked, Wilkes used birdshot to force the islanders to retreat, clearing the beach so they could disembark. It was a violent and aggressive beginning, and a clear indication of how Wilkes planned to deal with acts of defiance.
On September 12, Colvos and the Peacock reached Tahiti, where in 1788 the mutiny of the Bounty took place. The ships were immediately besieged by natives in canoes selling pigs, yams, oranges, and the charms of women. Though missionaries had come to the island more than 40 years prior, their influence had not yet fully transformed the culture, and Colvos remarks that the women in the canoes were “not the most chaste.”
A month later, the squadron left Tahiti to head to Tutilla, one of the Samoan Islands. Anchored in Pago Pago, they found circular houses, and as a prelude to their journey ahead, runaway convicts from Botany Bay, Australia.
The South Pole – 1839-40
At the time of the Ex. Ex., there was hardly a location in the known world that famed explorer Captain James Cook had not visited, and Australia was no exception. Following Cook’s discoveries there, the English established the colony of New South Wales in 1788, and when Wilkes’ squadron arrived, it found Sydney to be a bustling commercial center, perfect for preparations to the South Pole. Now transferred to the Vincennes, Colvocoresses and the rest of the crew began to “secure the ship from the cold, boisterous weather.”
In 1840, no one really knew what lay at the southern most region of the world. Cook held the record for the furthest journey to the south, but the reality of what they might find in this immense frozen space was totally unknown. On December 26, 1839, the Ex. Ex. set off to find out. Three weeks into the journey they sailed into what Colvos called “a magnificent spectacle” of floating ice.
“Every fantastic form and variety of tint was there. Masses, assuming the shape of a Gothic church, with arched windows and doors, and all the rich drapery of that style, composed, apparently of crystal, showing all the shades of opal, or of emerald green; pillars and inverted cones, pyramids and mounds of every shape, valleys and lakes, comes supported by round transparent columns of cerulian hue, and cities and palaces as white as the purest alabaster. The liveliest imagination could not paint to itself a scene more rich and grand, and we stood gazing at it with astonishment and admiration until it was again enveloped in fog.”
They pushed on, navigating through narrow ice passages, picking their way through the frozen ocean, while weathering snowstorms and the fickle winds. By January 31st after several near death encounters, the crew had had enough. The sick list had swelled and most of the men were suffering with boils and “rheumatic affections.” The ships doctors presented Wilkes with a request to return north.
As February wore on it became more and more obvious that what they were seeing in the distance was land. On the 14th Colvos and crew “effected a landing on an iceberg and found embedded in it sand, gravel and rocks. These last were several feet in circumference, and composed of basalt and red sandstone. Many of the smaller stones were brought on board, and they very soon disappeared, for everyone was anxious to possess for themselves a piece of the new continent. There is no doubt in my mind, but that this mass of ice had once been a part of the icy barrier, and that the surface now exposed to view had rested on the bottom of the sea.”
By the 21st with the crew exhausted from exposure, and ice nearly encircling them, Wilkes was ready to head north. By then they had mapped 1,500 miles of coastline, named Wilkes Land and established the presence of a seventh continent.
And they were only halfway through their journey.
Fiji Islands– 1840
After brief stops back in Sydney, then New Zealand, and Tonga, the squadron’s next significant task was to explore and map the Fiji Islands. Feared by explorers for the violence of the natives and their practice of eating human flesh, the expedition prepared for the worst.
They began their work on the Island of Ovalau where they were greeted by a throng of natives hooting “admiration” from the beach. That afternoon the chief and an American, David Whippy, came on board to welcome them. Nantucket born Whippy had had lived among the Fijians for the past 18 years after deserting from a whaling ship. He now served as an advisor to the chief and a translator for the expedition.
The expedition made much headway among the islands, surveying uncharted atolls, establishing trade treaties for American commerce, and allowing the scientists valuable time to make observations and collect samples of flora and fauna. But their stay was not to be without conflict. As they had entered the Pacific Islands with violence, so too did they leave.
A week before the survey work was scheduled for completion, Lt. Joseph Underwood and the commander’s nephew, Wilkes Henry, were ambushed while trying to buy food on the island of Malolo.
The Americans were in the middle of negotiating for pigs when the cry of “Turanga! Turanga!” was heard. Two Fijians seized the musket of a sailor named Clark, who took out his knife and stabbed one while Underwood, who had been wounded with a spear, knocked the other down with the butt of his pistol. Suddenly, a horde of natives jumped out from behind the mangrove shrubs, and Underwood issued the order to head to the ship. As he called out to Henry to help cover their retreat in the knee-deep water, clubs and spears began flying. After shooting Underwood’s pursuer, Henry tried to run to Underwood, but was clubbed from behind, falling face first in the water, his attackers pouncing on his lifeless form and stripping him of his clothes. Underwood countered by drawing his pistols and shooting a native before being clubbed over the head himself. As Underwood tried to recover from the blow, Clark, whose own face had been run through by a spear, ran to help him. But he was too late; cut across the forehead with a pole-axe, blood flowed from Underwood’s mouth. As more crew stormed the beach, the natives fled, leaving the lifeless bodies lying in the sand.
They buried the men on an isolated beach, where they hoped the graves would not be dug up and the bodies eaten. Saddened and burning with anger, the crew prepared to retaliate.
The following day, 80 sailors landed on the west side of the island and set course to lay waste to the land—kill the men, burn the villages, and uproot the crops. By the end of their assault, more than 70 natives were dead, their island in flames. The next morning the remaining people of Malolo begged for a truce on their knees, Wilkes agreed to cease hostilities if they supplied the squadron with water and provisions, and promised to never again attack a white man.
“Thus ended this affair.” Colvocoresses writes. “An awful and a severe lesson to the savages, but not more so than they deserved.”
For the next 30 days the sailors wore the badge of mourning for their fallen friends. With half rations and heavy hearts they pressed onward, their next stop: Hawaii and the Sandwich Islands.
Hawaii – 1841
Placed on the map of the world by Cook, the nine islands held the promise of civilization for the sailors who had finally earned a couple weeks of freedom and relaxation. There were letters from home waiting, along with the pleasures of the port of Honolulu. A whaling epicenter for American ships, the city had grown up catering to the needs of sailors. Food, liquor, dancing, and women greeted the crew.
The visit was an auspicious time to for the journey to stop as well, for it soon became clear that the expedition, initially slated to last three years, was about to add one more. For the sailors and marines who signed up for a shorter commitment, it was time to make a choice. For those who decided not to reenlist, Wilkes was ready to reason with them using the lash.
Colvos himself was ordered to help with Wilkes’ inducements. He escorted four shackled Marines from the Honolulu jail, where they had been sitting in solitary confinement with half rations until they could see the light. When they returned to the ship, however, they still refused to enlist. It was only after 12 lashes with the cat that they were able to see his point of view.
With the crew reinvigorated, they began a survey of the islands, studies of the volcanoes and Wilkes’ legendary scientific investigation atop Mauna Loa. Finally preparations for the last leg of their journey were about to begin.
Northwest Coast of America: 1841
On the morning of April 5 they began their cruise to the northwest coast of America. The winds soon shifted, the weather cooled and Colvos and the crew put back on their “woolen clothing.”
In 1841, the Oregon Country, now the northwest corner of America, was a remote chunk of land whose “joint occupation” had been shared by the United States and Great Britain since the Treaty of 1818. Though Americans had settled the coast in large numbers, the region’s commerce and control still remained in the hands of the British owned Hudson’s Bay Company.
The center of that universe was the Columbia River. Explored by Lewis and Clark, the mouth of the river was, and still is, legendary for its extreme danger. One of worst intersections of river and sea in the world, the Columbia River Bar is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Three miles wide, with unpredictable shifting currents, huge waves, and wind, the bar has claimed more than 2000 ships since it was first discovered in 1792.
The Ex. Ex. had been warned of its notorious dangers and in May, when the Vincennes and Colvos arrived, “the weather was boisterous.” The chaos of the water was so great, and Wilkes so apprehensive, he decided not to risk his ship across the bar. Instead he moved on to chart the environs north near Puget Sound.
When the Peacock arrived in July, three months behind schedule, and got set to tackle the bar, she wasn’t so lucky. Commander William Hudson made a navigational mistake that landed the ship wedged on the bar. Caught aground, the ship was pummeled by the crashing sea. As it broke around them in pieces, the sailors could do nothing but hold on until the weather could calm enough for an escape. As the sky finally cleared, they began their evacuation, vessel by vessel, until all the crew was safe. Hudson remained until last, saying goodbye to the beloved ship and the hundreds of scientific artifacts she carried.
Soon the squadron broke into exploring groups. The Porpoise and the Flying Fish continued the survey of the Columbia River while the Vincennes sailed to San Francisco and smaller parties surveyed some of the surrounding rivers.
Colvos and the scientists were attached to an overland party headed to California. Warding off illness and Indians they trekked for more than a month to reach the Sacramento Valley. Arriving at Captain John Sutters’ place, where on his land gold would be discovered 7 years later, they were greeted warmly. Soon they boarded the Vincennes launch and headed to San Francisco.
In California Colvos was transferred to the brig Oregon, purchased as the Peacock’s replacement, for the long journey home. They set sail westward, back to warmth of Hawaii, a stop in the East Indies, a swing by the Cape of Good Hope, past the tomb of Napoleon and finally catching the wind up the Atlantic into New York. Arriving on July 3, 1842, Colvos had been “absent from home and friends for 3 years and 11 months.”
Upon its return to the States, controversy clouded the accomplishments of the Ex. Ex. The political climate in the United States had shifted, and debate raged about the expedition’s discovery of Antarctica. A series of court-martials also cast a shadow on the voyage, and Wilkes himself was put on trial. While most of the counts against him were dismissed, he was found guilty in 17 instances of exceeding the number of lashes he could give as punishment and underwent a public reprimand. Colvos was present and testified during the courts-martial as to the whipping of the marines in Hawaii.
The fracas diminished the importance of the discoveries of the expedition in Colvos’ lifetime. But its accomplishments were great. When the Ex. Ex. finally returned, the squadron had traveled over 87,000 miles, surveyed 280 islands, and produced 180 charts, some of which were still being used as late as World War II. Their forays into the southern hemisphere confirmed evidence of the continent of Antarctica, and charted 800 miles of the coastal Oregon Territory. Colvocoresses himself had three geographical features named after him on the new maps of the world; Ndravuni or Colvocoressis Island in Fiji, Colvos Passage, a tidal strait in Puget Sound, and Colvos Rocks. The expedition also collected enough natural history specimens to lay the foundation for what would become the Smithsonian Institution.
A Violent and Mysterious End
The journey was pivotal in Colvos life, but at 26, he still had most of his life before him. The next year he was promoted to lieutenant. Then at the age of 31 he married Eliza Freelon Halsey with whom he had four children. (One of which, his only son, George Partridge would follow in his footsteps and retire from the Navy as a Rear Admiral.)
Colvocoresses would also become a national hero for his conduct during the Civil War, when while commanding the USS Supply, he captured the blockade runner Stephen Hart. The glory though was not without pain. During this time his beloved wife died and to his heartbreak he was unable to leave the ship for her funeral. He eventually remarried Adeline Swasey, the younger sister of Captain Alden Partridge’s wife. Then 1867 he was made a captain and retired. For five years he lived quietly at his home in Litchfield, Conn. Then, the fates, which he had dodged since his youth in Greece, finally caught up with him.
On Monday, June 3, 1872 just as the evening church bells rang eleven o’clock, police officer L.M. Bailey heard the explosion of a pistol from his post on the docks in Bridgeport, Conn. Running quickly up the road, he found Capt. George M. Colvocoresses lying in a pool of blood, his shirt aflame. Gasping twice for air, the adventurer, hero, and author died. He was 55.
Bound for the night boat to New York, he had been waylaid along a side street. His cane, which held a hidden sword, was broken and his satchel slashed with a knife. His watch and $8,000 in cash had been stolen, and nearly $80,000 worth of bonds were eventually reported missing.
News of the hero’s death spread swiftly, splashed across American newspapers from New York to Ohio, and rumors raged as an insurance policy worth $200,000 was revealed. Rewards were offered for the discovery of the killer and the famous Pinkerton detective agency even became involved, but the murder remains unsolved to this day.
On the mornings after the rains came, 7-year old Carroll Werren would race outside his Maine farmhouse and scan the horizon. Standing in the field, he could hear the roar of a biplane coming. It was 1963.
Flying low over the trees, the crop duster would swoop overhead, spraying the nearby orchards. Werren could see the pilot in the bumblebee-colored, brilliant cockpit. He would wave his little arms and the pilot would wave the wings of the plane in
Forty-four years later, Werren recalls the memories and his dreams to fly – as he himself waves to people below. From the perch on his powered parachute, Werren says that whenever he goes up, it feels like the first time. Floating, weightless. This is what a bird must feel like. Houses look like miniatures from a train set, the Merrimack River casts a deep blue, and the dome of the State House reflects the setting sun.
A retired Concord firefighter, Werren flies over the station, circling overhead and waving to former co-workers below. Everyone who sees him in the sky waves back. There is a great joy in the sharing of that connection. Just think of something you have always wanted to do, Werren says, and then you get to do it. That’s what this feels like.
If you want something in life, he says, you reach out. And it is there.
In late July 2010, senior Casey Ashfield volunteered for a patrol in eastern Afghanistan with former Norwich student Sgt. Steven DeLuzio. Their mission on that cloudy day was to man traffic control checkpoints with the Afghan National Police. Authorities were looking for two kidnapped Americans whom they feared would be smuggled through the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Afghans were in charge of the checkpoint, so Ashfield and DeLuzio perched on a nearby rock. They watched as one of the officers casually twirled his loaded rifle and then began wrestling with a cohort. As the game grew progressively more dangerous, Ashfield feared the weapon might accidentally go off. The two American soldiers talked about the policemen’s antics and the possibility of their own death amid the jagged peaks of the Afghan mountains.
“I hope I don’t get knocked off by a sniper,” said DeLuzio, before he and Ashfield moved to address the Afghan police.
DeLuzio was no stranger to conflict. At 25 this was his second tour of duty with the Vermont National Guard. In 2006, he left NU to deploy with Task Force Saber. With dark, cropped hair and cheerful brown eyes, his friends at Norwich joked about his “loveable Italian charm” and penchant for good-natured ribbing.
DeLuzio and Ashfield finished work for the day and headed back to the base. It was the last time they were together.
A few weeks later, DeLuzio and Sgt. Tristan Southworth, 21, of Walden, Vt., were on patrol when their unit was attacked.
During the two-hour firefight, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire exploded around them. When the dust cleared, both young men were dead.
By DeLuzio’s August 26th memorial service in Herrera, 77 hours had passed and Ashfield still hadn’t slept. He remembers leaning against a dusty truck, weeping, when a physician’s assistant came by and told him it was time to go to bed.
Back at Norwich, Ashfield, 22, wears a cold black metal band around his wrist. On it is engraved, SGT DELUZIO STEVEN J, 22 AUG 2010, ACO 3 172IN(MTN), ROQIAN AFGHANISTAN.
It is a physical reminder of his year-long deployment with the Vermont National Guard’s A-3/172 Infantry, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (MTN). In 2010, more than 30 Norwich students deployed with the 86th this last time.
This fall will mark 10 years since Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom began. DeLuzio is one of five Norwich students who have been killed during that time.
Ashfield says his wristband serves as a memorial to a friend he doesn’t want to forget.
“The worst week I ever had was when DeLuzio died,” he says.
VERMONT GOES TO WAR
Last January, more than 70 Norwich alums and students packed their rucks for Afghanistan in the largest Vermont National Guard deployment since the Second World War.
A year later, their ACUs faded by the sun, 14 students joined the ranks of the roughly 100 veterans already on campus for the start of the spring 2011 semester.
In March of 1942, when almost the entire Corps of Cadets marched off the Hill to fight in World War II, the campus was instantly transformed into a skeleton of its pre-war status.
By comparison, today’s student deployments go largely unnoticed. Soldiers trickle in and out of school, leaving as individuals or in small groups. Many don’t return, choosing instead to resume their education at some later date, somewhere else, or perhaps not at all.
Those that do come back right away ride a difficult line: expected to perform like combatants in war and then seamlessly transition into being carefree undergraduates. It’s harder than it looks. And as the last large group of Norwich students who left with Task Force Saber found, sometimes the gulf between their worlds is too great.
World War II’s warriors came back to a heroes’ welcome, the toast of their hometowns, with the entire nation celebrating the end of the war. Today’s youngest veterans are virtually invisible to everyone save their families and closest friends. And with no clear end in sight to U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of future deployments is never far from their consciousness.
BAND OF BROTHERS
It was only a year earlier the student soldiers stood side-by-side at the Army Aviation Support Facility, with a winter chill in the air and the strains of the Army band playing.
Junior Scott Gumpert, 22, the only person from his Douglasville, Pa. graduating class of 500 to join the military, stood, his lanky frame at attention. He wondered how long the ceremony was going to last, as politicians’ proxies and military leaders delivered their goodbye proclamations. An outdoorsman with a perennially upbeat nature, Gumpert has dreams beyond his deployment of hiking the Appalachian Trail and biking across America. His friends like to joke that his athleticism comes from his “smoke-free, dip-free lifestyle.”
Also in formation, junior Brett Johnson, 21, from Lynn, Mass., waited, anxious to get going. His father, himself an Iraq vet, along with his mother, grandfather, and brother, were there to say goodbye. “My mom was crying. My dad was choked up. It was hard for them to see their son going to war,” says Johnson.
The students weren’t surprised when they found out they were going to be deployed. The war in the Middle East was already the longest war in U.S. history. They signed up knowing full well that they would likely be sent overseas. The question was never if, but when?
James Chido wanted to deploy. At age 26, he’d served on active duty for three years and had started and stopped school at Norwich twice. Married and divorced, he already had a lifetime of experience under his belt.
Other students were fresh off the training field. Josh Davis, now 23, a burly Norwich rugby player and gentle giant, enlisted to support a good friend.
“My roommate said, ‘I’m going to basic and I’m getting deployed,’” says Davis, whose older brother had already finished a tour of Iraq. “I said, ‘Don’t worry dude, I’ll go with you.’ Then I went and enlisted.”
When Davis got to basic training, however, his roommate was nowhere to be found. “I was like, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘They are not letting me join: I’m too big,’” Davis laughs. “He’s a big football guy… So I deployed and he stayed back here at school.”
Although Daniel Hart always knew he wanted to become an officer, he signed up to have the experience of being an enlisted man. “To learn to do something, first you have to have it taught to you … like wrestling,” Hart says. “You really need to be in the hold to do it correctly. I thought being enlisted and doing the grunt work would make me a better officer.”
There they were. This small band of Norwich brothers lined up; and group by group, ceremony by ceremony, they headed off to war.
STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND
“The plane door opens and you are like, ‘this isn’t so bad,’” says John Lara, 20. “Then all of a sudden you are hit in the face with a burst of scalding hot air” at an elevation 6,400 feet higher than the training site. “You get off the plane gasping.”
The landscape at their feet looked like “the surface of Mars,” says senior Jim Black, 21, of Lynnfield, Mass.
For Johnson, the barren remoteness of the country inspired feelings of adventure on the American frontier. “Like the people that were going out exploring and looking for gold,” he says.
As soldiers in the same company, Gumpert, Johnson, Lara, Black, Chido, and Davis, along with Jared Labello, Logan Howard, and Justin Macura, were attached to the Cavalry’s Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition unit, sharing most of their time on a fairly remote outpost, surrounded by the odor of burning trash and with only a trench for a bathroom.
Purposely scruffy, they worked to grow beards—when they could—an indication of manliness in Afghan culture.
They also adapted to the close, physical contact between Afghans. “Personal bubbles don’t exist over there,” says Davis. “When you come up to talk to somebody, they come up to shake your hand and say ‘Salaam Alaykum,’ and afterwards they hold you [in an embrace] for a good three minutes while talking to you.”
On days when there was no hugging, both their greatest adventures and their most terror-filled moments took place. For Norwich senior Labello, a one-day road trip turned into the longest night of his life.
The slim, quick talking Labello was part of a platoon sent out on a reconnaissance mission to find a new route to Jalalabad through the area’s cragged wildness. The soldiers set out in the freshness of morning, clamoring aboard armored monster trucks stacked with a turret on top. A strategic military city, Jalalabad sits at the base of the Khyber Pass in eastern Afghanistan. Situated between two large mountain ranges, the Hindu Kush to the north and the Safed Kuh to the south, it marks the entrance from Afghanistan to the Indian Subcontinent.
The top-heavy vehicles struggled through tight mountain passes, their wheels teetering on the edges of the road, with more than a 500-meter drop below.
After hours of terrified driving—but only a few miles under their belts—Labello remembers turning a sharp corner to find the team’s forward truck dangling from the cliff.
The ground was slowly giving way.
The drop didn’t look deadly, but their position on the road next to a small village, known to be a Taliban stronghold, would turn them into sitting ducks. As the soldiers tried to extricate the million-dollar vehicle, it tipped over, smashing on its side, the bullet-proof glass cracking.
Desperate, the unit radioed for permission to blow up the truck and head back to the FOB. The response came back a strong “no,” but to alleviate concerns they were grudgingly promised backup choppers for protection. As the sky darkened and it began to rain, Labello and his fellow soldiers waited anxiously for the hum of rotor blades that never came.
For hours they stared at the village and the village stared back. Labello could see eyes watching their every movement. As they hunkered down for the night, he realized that the soldier to his left had only a shotgun for a weapon.
Labello recalls thinking, “This is either going to be a very quick night or a long one.”
A LAND OF CONTRASTS
Some of the greatest sunsets Chido has ever seen happened that year. There were, quite literally, rainbows and puppies everywhere, so it seemed ironic that in the midst of all this beauty there were bullets too—lots of them.
Johnson says combat is the biggest rush he’s ever felt. “I felt scared the first couple times, then after that you just get used to it and you are actually mad when you don’t get hit,” he says. “After you get over the fear of dying, it just becomes a huge rush that you’ll probably never feel from anything else.”
There has to be a balance though,” says Lara. “You need to control it because if you let it control you, you can never do your job. So you need to find that balance.”
“That’s where the people around you come into play” says Chido. “They bring you back to where you were before. You talk to them. You sit down and have a meal or something like that. So you can ease back into that state that you were in before you got hit.”
But even within their tight-knit Norwich group, there are things no one likes to speak of: patrols that didn’t go quite right, accidents where civilians or friends were hurt, and haunting guilt over things they might have done differently.
They’re bruised physically: some worn down by body armor, some with hearing loss, some with injuries left from a rollover. And there are emotional bruises as well. Back home, in world where modern conveniences mask the frailty of human existence; their classmates are texting back and forth about their weekend. In Afghanistan, the soldiers spent every day exposed to a stripped-down version of life. They made tough calls, the kind that rip you up inside, like whether or not to open fire on a civilian vehicle, or trust an innocent-looking child who might be working for al-Qaeda.
But life goes on, regardless. Johnson turned 21 while in Afghanistan. His mom sent a marble cake, with frosting in a separate package. One of his favorite memories from that time is of frosting the cake in his dusty room, and afterwards the gift of a Snack Pack and grenade from his lieutenant.
By November, the affable Davis was really looking forward to coming home. Including training time, he’d been away from his family, friends, and girlfriend for 16 months. Most of his rook buddies had graduated and he was ready get on with his life. He wanted to be normal, hang out with friends, go to bars, and “not be in a war zone.”
Black, who had his Norwich ring sent overseas, was looking forward to “just being able to sit on a couch and watch some television.”
They had missed out on graduations, formals, friends, parties, and a year of school, and they were ready to come back—unaware of just how much they had changed inside.
OUR GOAL IS TO “GET OUT OF SCHOOL”
In Afghanistan Labello remembers the feeling of always being watched by eyes on the mountains. The first thing he did when he walked into his dorm room was close the curtains.
“Then I realized that I didn’t need to do that,” he laughs.
But habits developed in combat are hard to shake. Likewise, the emotional extremes of exhilaration and terror that accompany deployment are not easily replicated in college life. Very quickly the excitement over coming home is tinged with a longing for the action of war and soldierly duties.
“Coming back the first week was very hectic for all of us,” says Labello. “We are still trying to get back into the swing of things. You go from being an authority figure to being a student again. It’s a very strange concept.”
“I was actually talking to Professor [David] Orrick about this earlier,” agrees Ashfield. “He was talking about how the academic gears in your head have a little rust on them. You haven’t had to think about abstract concepts. [Over there] you just had to worry about staying alive, dodging mortars, stuff like that.”
Johnson has had moments of drifting off in class. “You start thinking about something else, then you come back two seconds later and you missed a good paragraph of what [the professor] was talking about, and then you are completely lost the rest of the class.”
“You have to relearn everything. It’s really hard,” says Chido. “The teachers try to give you a little more attention but it’s hard because they have 14 other people that are already up to speed and this one person who isn’t.”
Overall, the group has experienced mixed success with everything from getting re-enrolled to registering for classes to figuring out their housing situation. By far the most difficult transition has been going back to the life of a cadet.
“Being in the Corps is very hard … for all of us,” says Chido. “Been there. Done that. This is not how the real Army works. It’s hard to sit there and take it.”
For many it’s the minutia of day-to-day cadet life that is the most taxing.
“I like to have my stuff neat, but not to the standard that they have … like, why do my socks have to be arranged like this?” says Johnson. “When I was a freshman I thought it was good because it gives you attention to detail and some sort of structure. Now we want to be in the Corps but we don’t want to be messed with. We just want to be here and graduate. Period.”
Their deployment has left them feeling older than their peers. Their classmates and rook buddies have graduated and commissioned, and except for each other, many of their close friends are gone. The realities of their deployment are hard to explain, no matter how well-intentioned and interested their peers may be.
“Our goal is just to get out of school,” says Chido.
Most are working hard to simply buckle down and finish up. Stuck in what feels like no-man’s land, school has become a weigh-station between the before and the after. But what the after is, no one really knows. The old cliché, “you can’t go home again,” rings painfully true. Not only has home changed while the students were away, but they have changed as well.
EASING THE TRANSISTION
To address the students’ concerns, Norwich created a Veterans Affairs Office in 2009 to provide advocacy, coordination, and referral services. The office acts as an ombudsman, helping with such things as class selection, drill pay issues, congressional inquiries, military leave of absence and, for the first time, registering for classes before returning to campus.
“After a combat tour your perspectives and priorities change,” says Joyce Rivers, the Director of Veterans Affairs. “Military transition is hard enough, but when it comes to a combat tour, it is particularly hard. Many soldiers feel like they can’t share their experiences, or if they ask for help it will be held against them later on.”
Because stress-related issues such as PTSD, alcohol abuse, and divorce are statistically higher for veterans, the office also provides confidential counseling and referrals. But oftentimes veterans are slow to take advantage of what is offered.
“The reality is that if you go in for treatment, you could be disqualified for service,” says Rivers.
Ironically, the students don’t really think of themselves as veterans—young and strong and with their lives still ahead of them.
“When I think of a vet, I tend to think of World War II, Vietnam,” says Davis. “Those guys were hard core. And now I’ve come back and I’ve got vets from that time saying, ‘thanks for your service.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ You go back and watch ‘Band of Brothers’ and you are like, ‘That is War.’”
“You were a trench warfare guy, a jungle warfare guy,” adds Ashfield. “We just went to Afghanistan.
“We all often talked about the guys that were in the Vietnam War and we have a lot more respect for them after this experience. I guess you could say those guys are our heroes,” Labello says.
THE WAY WE WERE
In the Wise Campus Center mess hall, they sit around Formica-topped tables, their uniforms stripped of rank, their past colliding with their future.
“I miss carrying a weapon,” Chido says, his comment met by nods.
Their M16s, M4s, M249s, M9s, and M203s twitch like phantom limbs: They reach reflexively for them and find they are not there. Ashfield likens it to a cell phone for the average person. “If you forget it, you start freaking out.”
Despite how different they may feel on the inside, the soldiers gradually drift back into the stream of their former lives, swept along by the current of the academic year. Their own cell phones are once again powered up for spring break planning—the pleasures of cars, bars, and dating no longer a distant fantasy. There are tests to take and projects to finish, but they hold on tight to each other, checking up on one another if someone doesn’t show up for class or acts a little odd.
“Everyone else doesn’t understand what we went through—and are still going through—trying to readjust,” says Johnson. “It’s hard at some points.”
Back at the Wise Campus Center, Black opens his camouflage backpack to reveal a neatly folded Norwich flag.
“This has been everywhere with me,” he says. Tucked away in his ruck, the flag traveled from the green hills of Vermont to the barren mountain ranges of Afghanistan. It bumped over dirt roads, hung in B-huts, and came out for ceremonial occasions and photo ops. It’s just an object, but it holds the memories of this group of Norwich brothers in both their joy and their grief. On a larger scale, it’s a symbol of the things they share.
“Touch it,” says Black. “You can still feel the sand from Afghanistan.”
At the turn of the century the ladies in the Whitefield, NH “Women’s Study Club” heard about a program funded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to build libraries for towns with industrious citizens looking to help themselves.
So they gathered their forces, gained approval of the town and sent off their application for a $10,000 “Carnegie Library” – one of 2,500 the industrial tycoon and philanthropist would eventually fund.
Their determination was rewarded and in 1904 the Whitefield Public Library held its grand opening.
The town pledged to “support the library forever and forever,” said Sandy Holz, Whitefield librarian since 1974.
And they have. One hundred and six years later, however, that same little small town library – with its lamppost symbolizing enlightenment and its stairs embodying elevation by learning – was badly in need of a facelift.
One of the few public buildings in this small town, it served as a community center for generations. But its space was antiquated – bulging with books, lacking hot water and out of compliance with accessibility laws. Its single bathroom stall doubled as an office space and the basement was growing mold.
The library board and supporters had seen the need for improvements, said Holz and started a handicap accessibility fund years ago. But they still had a long way to go.
That changed last year when local residents heard about the USDA Rural Development Community Facility Direct Loan and Grant Program bolstered by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
With their matching funds of $150,000, the library was able to secure a loan of $80,000 and a grant of $170,000 through USDA Rural Development.
“Everything fit into place,” said Holz. “There is no way we could have done this project without the RD grant.”
USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program offers direct and guaranteed loans and grants designed to finance capital projects and equipment for essential community facilities in rural areas, and libraries are a special target for that funding.
The new 1,400 square foot addition, which will be fully accessible with a 34-seat meeting room, kitchen, office, bathrooms and children’s room, is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2011.
“The library will be accessible to all, at long last,” said Holz. “The new meeting and childrens’ rooms will allow programming and story hours, which we could not have downstairs in the moldy old basement.”
The renovations will be “modest” and preserve the historic character of the building, something Holz feels is right in line with the original mission of the Women’s Study Club.”
“I think the ‘ladies’ would LOVE the idea,” she said.
Six-year-old David Quantock ’80 was at his grandparents’ house in upstate New York the day a taxi pulled up to the curb. He remembers his grandfather looking out the window and asking, “Who called for a cab?” The cabbie got out, knocked on the door, and delivered a Western Union telegram addressed to his mother, Phyllis.
Its sparse, typed words were brutal and direct.
YOUR HUSBAND HAS BEEN CRITICALLY INJURED IN THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM AND IS CURRENTLY IN A COMA.
It was 1964, nine years into the war. Quantock’s father, 1LT Earl G. Quantock, was riding with his men in an M113 “green dragon,” when suddenly a blast ripped the vehicle apart, killing everyone but him.
Today the army would call his wounds a “traumatic brain injury,” but back then there wasn’t a name for what he suffered.
Young David watched his father battle back through therapy and, despite his injuries, return to Vietnam for a second tour. He eventually spent 26 years in the Army, earning three bronze stars and retiring at the rank of major.
“That’s a hero to me,” says Quantock. “He was my idol. He was hard as woodpecker lips.”
At Quantock’s commissioning ceremony in 1980, MAJ Quantock gave his son the following advice, which he has never forgotten.
He said, “Dave, your success in the Army cannot be measured by rank, but in the success of your soldiers. The Army is not about you; it is about taking care of those soldiers.”
His father passed away in 2004 and never got to see, not one, but two sons become generals in the United States Army. Had he been alive, there is no doubt he would have saluted with pride last September as MG David E. Quantock was sworn in as the 14th Provost Marshal General, Commanding General of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command and Army Corrections Command.
His eldest son was now the Army’s “Top Cop.”
THE BEST LAID PLANS
In his Norwich yearbook photo, David Quantock has a full, lush head of dark hair and a bushy mustache. He’s smiling slightly. His heavy brows rim grayish-green eyes. If eyes are the window to one’s soul, Quantock was born with a soul the color of the army combat uniform.
A quote below his bio rings with idealism: “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it. —Voltaire.”
When Quantock speaks, his voice is nuanced with the timbre of all the places he grew up as a nomadic “army brat.” There are echoes of a Southern drawl mixed with the open parlance of upstate New York.
His hope out of high school was to head to West Point, but first he needed to improve his SAT scores. In the meantime, he enrolled at Plattsburgh State, joining the football team. With one twist of the leg, his knee was torn, and with it his carefully scripted plan.
“I was actually on the waiting list to go to West Point after my sophomore year but [my knee injury] disqualified me,” he says. “Then I remembered playing football against Norwich and I said, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if I could go the ROTC route through Norwich?’”
Turns out, he could.
So junior year he packed his bags for Northfield, Vt., to start rookdom.
His roommate, Rick McGivern ’80, describes Quantock as a model cadet. “If you had to write a textbook on how to be a rook, you could take pictures of Dave. If he was told to shine shoes, you could shave in the reflection of his shoes.”
According to McGivern, Quantock wasn’t trying to outdo anyone, it’s just the way he was.
“He was the most focused person I ever met,” says McGivern. “There were three places you could find him: in the library, in the gym, or in the mess hall, eating as much red meat as a human could consume in a single meal.”
A year later, Quantock had made company commander, ROTC cadet battalion commander, and was named the number one ROTC cadet in America.
“Dave was straight and narrow: Every inch of him was army,” says classmate David Casey ’80. “If anyone was going to be a general, it was him.”
While disciplining his fellow cadets, he maintained the utmost professionalism.
Gary Wheaton ’82 would know. With the loudest stereo system on the floor, a penchant for good times, and a room right next to Quantock’s, he was poised for trouble.
One memorable night, Wheaton spared himself a trip to the men’s bathroom, instead, opening his window and relieving himself on the parade ground below.
The next day Quantock appeared at his door.
“He knocked on my door gently, handed me 10 demerits, and didn’t make a big deal out if it,” says Wheaton. “He didn’t say a word. It was over and done with.”
It’s not that Quantock didn’t appreciate a good time. He was just busy. When he transferred from Plattsburg to Norwich he switched his major from math to criminal justice and had to make up the credits fast. There was no dallying for him, because when he came back his senior year he also had a wife to think about.
“By God, I wanted to graduate in 1980. I think one semester I took 26 credits,” he says.
His newly married status was an added incentive to finish on time. Quantock met his wife, Melissa, as a high school junior in Germany. Kindred military brats, they quickly became sweethearts.
They married in the spring of his junior year, a week before Quantock left for advance camp at Fort Bragg. Soon after, she moved in with his parents while he finished school. Her unwavering support has been a hallmark of their 33-year marriage.
“She keeps me grounded,” he says. “She’s down to earth. In fact, a lot of people say the only reason I was successful was because Melissa carried me for my entire career.”
Quantock initially had no intention of making a career out of the military, so after washing out of aviation due to colorblindness, he chose to branch something that would give him options when he got out—something hopefully leading to law school. He decided to join the Military Police.
It was during the Cold War, and what he didn’t anticipate was that he would end up guarding a nuclear weapons site in “middle of nowhere” Germany. Living in an antiquated farmhouse with Melissa, his first assignment was “miserable,” but he made the best of it.
“It taught me a lot about leadership. How do you motivate guys that have to sit in towers from two to four hours?”
It was the start of a career that would take him around the world: to Grenada (Operation Island Breeze), Haiti (Operation Uphold Democracy), Egypt (Bright Star 2000), and Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program). It would also see him command the 16th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and lead the United States Army Military Police School in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
IRAQ – TAKE ONE
In the book Warrior Police (a term Quantock coined) he is re-garded as a “famed contemporary leader.” Quantock doesn’t think of himself in those terms; instead, he sees himself as a “due course guy” with a focus on doing the best job he can.
“My philosophy has always been, ‘Don’t get fired from the job you’re in,’” he says. “Which to me focuses on, don’t get worrying about the next two or three jobs … take care of your soldiers and civilians and develop them and train them, and if you do all that … the jobs will take care of themselves.”
The jobs have indeed taken care of themselves, which is how in 2003 he found himself gearing up to go to war.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was just beginning, and Quantock’s soldiers at Fort Bragg were next in line to deploy. As part of his preparation, he headed overseas for a pre-deployment site survey. One of the places he visited was Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad.
Built by British contractors in the 1960s under Saddam Hussein, the facility had been a cesspool of inhumanity. The BBC called it “one square kilometer of hell.” Mass executions, rape, beatings, hangings, electric shock, castration, and mutilation were all routinely practiced at the site, which observers estimated held as many as 15,000 inmates. Months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Saddam declared amnesty for all prisoners, leaving the prison empty when U.S. forces arrived. The Americans seized control and began using the facility to hold detainees—eventually replacing the Saddam portrait outside with a banner that read in English and Arabic, “America is the friend of all Iraqi people.”
The site ultimately became the focus of America’s own abuse scandal, when photos of U.S. soldiers tormenting naked Iraqi detainees exploded in the media.
During Quantock’s pre-deployment visit, those pictures had not yet come to light, but Quantock’s sixth sense (what he calls his “spidey sense”) was already up. Physically, the place was filthy, with raw sewage and human bones left from the Saddam era. Operationally, it wasn’t faring much better.
“You could tell discipline, standards were awful … I mean, I was looking at folks who looked like they had been defeated. There was no leadership. I said, ‘God, we’ve got to instill some desire in these folks.’ Everybody seemed to be in different uniforms,” he says. “It was a disaster down there. And so it was ripe for something bad to happen.”
The investigation was just starting in January of 2004 when now Colonel Quantock came back for his tour. One of his myriad duties was to take over Abu Ghraib from BG Janis Karpinski.
Thus began what Quantock describes as the “12 toughest months” of his life.
He began by working to clean up the prison: providing oversight, establishing standards of behavior and discipline, instituting interrogation procedures, and making sure that detainees were treated humanely and with dignity.
“It was 22- … 23-hour days. And that was just one of our missions. We were still doing route security. We were standing up the Iraqi highway police. We were standing up police academies down in Hillah. We were doing convoy escorts. I probably put 100,000 miles on my vehicles,” Quantock says.
Despite the hardships, the tour put him face to face with countless soldiers risking their lives in service.
“It was also inspiring because of what I got to be a part of—so many great Americans out there doing their busi-ness, just doing the best they could. The kids inspired me every day. I probably aged 30 years in that one year but it was worth it.”
His ability to see the positive in those around him served him well during the tour. As did his ability to maintain a sense of humor. His two biggest stress relievers remain PT and laughing.
“You’ve got to have a sense of humor. You’ve got to laugh at yourself,” he says.
He needed it, especially during 2004 and 2005. They were losing soldiers and under the pressure of constant work—but he was determined not to let it get his troops down. As a morale builder he instituted the “Loose Grip Award.” Each Saturday night at their Battle Update Brief, a soldier would be nominated for the biggest screw-up of the week … and the kicker was, it only had to be partly true.
“The guys and gals would scheme … take a picture of somebody doing something stupid or make something up.” The winner of the award would write a detailed (and colorful) report of their transgressions in a little green book, which was read aloud at the meeting. The hilarity was resounding.
“It was to try and break the stress,” he says, “to team build, to have everybody realize that we are in this fight together. We are going to laugh together. We are going to fight together, cry together.”
And there had been plenty of tears. In that year alone, the brigade lost 13 men. As a reminder, Quantock keeps replicas of all 13 sets of their dog tags suspended with red, white, and blue ribbons from an eagle on his fireplace mantel.
“There’s not a single day that I question whether I did everything [within my power] to protect their lives,” he said at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery on Memorial Day 2011. “Even though I feel that I did, their loss is no less.”
Throughout his long career, Quantock has spoken at far too many funerals.
For the 600 people congregated at Northside High School in Va. for the funeral of Army Sgt. Timothy John “T.J.” Conrad, he told them what he tells his soldiers. “Every day, their fingerprints are on the history of the United States. You cannot read the history of the United States and not understand, that without an Army, there would not be a United States of America to go out and defend. I tell them to look at the flag, and understand their fingerprints are on those red, white, and blue colors. T.J.’s fingerprints are on those colors.”
Back home, Quantock’s family was also carrying the red, white, and blue colors of war. While he was in Iraq, Melissa was doing more than simply holding down the fort. Their children—David, Chris, and Heather—were getting older, and Melissa expanded her attention to supporting the families around her. It was early in the war, and there were very few protocols in place to provide for soldiers’ loved ones—especially in the case of injury or death. To address this need, Melissa formed “care teams” and worked to get the wives involved in volunteer activities on and around the base.
And in 2006, when Quantock was named Commandant of the United States Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, she moved her care and consideration there.
“As I went through my military career, there were two things that were important to me,” Quantock told the post newspaper, “being successful in the Army, and at the same time being a successful husband and father.”
Like his father before him, making family a top priority has always been an inextricable part of who Quantock is. He worked very hard throughout his career to make sure he was there for his kids at all of their significant events—ball games, dance recitals, even family dinners.
“We raised three kids in the Army; understanding what is important in those kids is key,” he says. “I mean, I love golf, but I stopped playing golf for 10 years until my kids were able to play with me.”
Not that he had much time for golf. In 2008 he was tapped for yet another move when Gen. David Petraeus chose him to become the Deputy Commanding General (Detainee Operations)/Commanding General of Task Force 134 in Iraq.
At that time, the United States still had 22,000 detainees in custody, and as head of the new task force it was up to Quantock to deal with them.
But this deployment was going to be different. For the first time, both his sons would be serving as soldiers on the same battlefield as their father. It was a thought that was a bit scary for all of them.
It wasn’t Quantock’s intention that his children follow in his footsteps; they chose it on their own.
“They’ve been wanting to go into the army since they could walk,” he says. “I think from Melissa’s perspective she looked at it like, ‘Dave’s there to look over them and take care of them,’ but from my perspective, there is no way in heck. At the end of the day, God’s looking over them and they understand the risk. That’s why we’re soldiers … with soldiers comes inherent risk. They are willing to accept those risks and I’m very proud of them for that.”
IRAQ – TAKE TWO
In November of 2009 Quantock sat for an interview with CNN. He’d aged since his senior portrait, his head now smooth, shining under the overhead light. He wasn’t smiling. Long vertical lines ran between his dark brows down to his army gray-green eyes. His hands, resembling blades, gestured together slowly as though conducting an army orchestra, squashing the opposition. He looked tired—raising his eyebrows and creasing his forehead like a bulldog—but his tone was level.
Since his arrival, it had been his job to orchestrate the release or transfer of thousands of detainees in U.S. custody from prisons like Camp Bucca in the south to Camp Cropper, near Baghdad, or Taji in the north. According to the security agreement signed in December 2008, he needed an arrest warrant or a conviction to hand a detainee over to Iraqi authority; otherwise he had to let them go.
“When I showed up in Iraq in July of 2008 with 22,000 detainees and the security agreement impending on us, I remember Gen. Odierno walking out of the room telling me, ‘Dave, just let the good ones go.’ And I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh my God. Most of these guys are bad but we have no paper on them.’”
The task ahead of him was daunting. He and his soldiers had to somehow find evidence and sift out the good from the bad. As Warrior Police describes them, the detainees were “a dog’s breakfast collection ranging from hard-core criminals, al-Qaeda fighters, Sunni insurgents, former Saddam gunmen, Mahdi Army fighters, and a growing mob of semiliterate unemployed young men who drifted to the various factions out of economic need or quasi-religious fervor.”
They labored with intensity, setting up a web portal to gather evidence from the field, putting cases together to be tried in front of an Iraqi court, getting arrest warrants and detention orders in accordance with the security agreement.
“It was like building a bridge as we walked across it,” he says.
In the meantime, they created educational programs, vocational training, and Islamic discussion groups for the detainees. These opportunities represented his core values as a commander.
“[You treat] people with dignity and respect inside those facilities, because … you don’t want to create more terrorists by treating them improperly,” he says.
The detainees learned valuable skills —reading and writing, computer literacy, and math. Along the way, Quantock says they also learned that Americans weren’t so bad.
“There were some hard-core individuals that could be there for 100 years and not change their mind. But even those you treat with dignity and respect. That is what we stand for as a country.”
By the end of the task force, the team had enough evidence to transfer 8,000 prisoners to the government of Iraq—closing Camp Bucca—and in January of 2010 they handed over control of all Iraqi prisons to the Iraqi government.
RISING IN RANK
As he walked away from the razor wire and 15-ft. chain-link fences, Quantock exchanged Iraq, once again, for the green, humid climate of Fort Leonard Wood. Upon his return in May 2010 he became the first non-engineer Commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence.
In his short tenure there, the base came under fire from the media for a lengthy list of pending court-martial cases for sexual assault. And as if that wasn’t enough, on New Year’s Day 2011, tornadoes ripped across its face.
But, as with all his previous assignments, Quantock dealt with these challenges in preparation for the next job he would be given. In September 2011, he was named the Provost Marshal General/Commanding General of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) and the Army Corrections Command.
The last time he had an office in the Pentagon, he shared a cubicle with eight office mates. These days he’s got a ten-person conference table, a desk, and even a window. “The fact that I have a door that shuts is pretty cool,” he says.
His 100-picture digital photo frame flips through images of his family, and though he’s on the side of the building where the plane went down on 9/11, he can’t quite see the memorial.
His Pentagon office is only one of three in his command, but he spends most of his time there when he isn’t traveling because, he says, it is “where the decisions are made.”
He now wears three very important hats: As the Provost Marshal General, he’s in charge of anything that deals with policy and procedures of law enforcement in the Army and his office is in the Pentagon. As the CID Commander in charge of criminal investigations, his office is in Quantico. And as the Corrections Commanding General, he is in charge of all Army jails and has yet a third office in Washington, D.C.
Parts of his work he can’t really talk about, though some of the cases under his jurisdiction filter out to the press now and again. Some of what he commands deals with procedural change, such as allowing post and garrison commanders to do away with motor vehicle registration on bases. Some of it is sensational, for example, when Army investigators probed the video of a sheep being beaten by laughing soldiers. Occasionally it is gut wrenching, like murder and rape.
“When you are in the position that I’m in now … it can get you down,” he says. “You start wondering for periods of time, ‘Is there anyone doing anything good out there?’ But then you have 30 years of experience to lean on that says 99 percent of the folks out there are doing unbelievably great things.”
When he talks to new recruits and young officers, he emphasizes the importance of being an “ethical and moral role model.” It is one of Quantock’s personal Ten Commandments.
“You know the old saying, ‘The higher you go on the flagpole, the more your back end’s exposed.’ It’s a true statement. That is why you have got to lead that ethical and moral life if you in fact get the honor of leading the sons and daughters of our American population around the world.”
Quantock takes his responsibility as a role model seriously. So seriously that his workouts have been known to serve as a platform for his own fatherly advice to recruits.
Quantock PT’s every single day. Religiously. He laces up his shoes, dons his gray ARMY T-shirt and black trunks, and hits the road. While he was a commander at Fort Leonard Wood, one of his favorite activities was to run with the kids going through basic training. He’d jump into the middle of formation and just talk to them. He’d ask them things like: Why did you come into the Army? What are your goals? How has the training been going? And then he would rotate, talking to 10 to 30 new soldiers at a time.
“I enjoyed hearing why they came into the Army,” he says. “And it was good for them to see that, hey, a 52-, 53-year-old guy can go out there and run.”
But the most important part came later when, as his father had done 25-plus years earlier, he reminded them of their duty as soldiers.
“After I get done running with those young troopers,” he says. “I’d explain to them about the profession. ‘This is an organization. It’s not about you. It’s about serving the nation, serving the country. It’s about something bigger than you. It’s about being part of the nation’s history because you can’t talk about our country, our nation, without talking about its military and where it has gone. Whether it’s Korea, WWI, WWII, Spanish American, Civil War, without understanding that all of that … a thread that ties all of that together is military service, and you are a part of that.’”
From a financial standpoint, taking a black paint pen to his 2003 Nissan 350Z was probably not the most sound decision artist Ted Mikulski M’07 ever made. But in the summer of 2010, Mikulski decided not to worry about resale value or insurance complications: he was “just going to do it.”
He had the clear coat removed from the silver two-door sedan and began drawing. With no preconceived ideas or plan for the finished product, Mikulski painted. Eleven days and 160 hours of painting later, he was done.
“I showed up and they started asking me questions: ‘Were you on drugs when you made this?’ and I said, ‘No, no, I’m not on drugs’…Then the manager comes over and says, ‘I’m actually really happy this car is leaving, because all the employees take breaks and start finding things on the car to look at.’”
Indeed, the gas-powered art display turns heads wherever it goes.
“I’m not a very gaudy person. I don’t … necessarily want to get noticed. And I realized halfway through the project that that’s what was going to happen,” says Mikulski. “But part of the beauty of it is that you are putting art on something that people don’t expect. People unfortunately in today’s world go through the motions. They go to work and they drive home and they do their thing. It’s kind of nice to see something that’s not advertising—that’s just a beautiful piece of art right next to you that you didn’t expect. That can be pretty powerful.”
Some people are confused by the car. But that might be the point for Mikulski, whose artistic inclinations run the gamut from abstract expressionism to sculpture—he likes to get people talking.
With a master’s in architecture from Norwich, Mikulski’s background isn’t typical for the art world. He is also by no means the most famous—or even a representative—alumnus of the school of architecture. But what Mikulski lacks in art-specific education, he more than makes up for with self-promotion: part of a new generation of artists, he uses outside -the-box methods and digital technology to get noticed.
Instead of waiting around to be discovered, Mikulski has thrown himself into the world of cybermarketing: managing websites, Facebook pages, and Tweets galore. Captivated by the power of the Internet, Mikulski has channeled his knowledge of digital technology and big ideas to fuel his career as an artist.
And it seems to be working. In the last several months he’s had a solo exhibit, seen a project “Tweets in Real Life” go viral, been contracted to create customized sculptures, and picked up his second college teaching job.
AN ARTIST IS BORN
Growing up, Mikulski attended an all-boys Catholic high school, which he detested.
“I dreaded every morning. I was very quiet and reserved in that school, mostly because I disliked every moment of it. The structure, the pent-up hormonal aggression, but most of all the overbearing religious presence,” he writes on his blog.
To survive, Mikulski sought refuge in the art room, the only place he felt free enough to express his true self.
Ironically, after graduating, he chose another highly structured environment: Norwich.
“There were so many rules and control that I thought I would explode,” he continues on his blog.
His reaction to what he saw as inflexibility, however, helped shape his personality by forcing him to positively channel his energies.
“[The rigidity of the school] is exactly what made me who I am … I do not enjoy lots of rules and regulations, but that’s what turned me on to design and turned on my creativity, and you can’t fault that,” says Mikulski.
And in spite of the formal structure of the school, he did find ways to have some fun at Norwich. Moriah Gavrish ’07, a friend and fellow architecture student, describes how Mikulski organized creative events for the class—including bicycle jousting with cardboard weaponry and extreme sledding, where he attempted flight with a self-constructed hang glider.
“Ted’s a big guy—well over six feet—and he has a big personality that goes with [his height],” says Norwich architecture program director and professor David Woolf. “He’s not a quiet person … He’s not shy. If he has an opinion about something, he will let you know.”
Woolf served as Mikulski’s advisor during his thesis year in which his culminating project was the creation of an architecture school in the 3-D virtual world of “Second Life”—not typical for someone in the architecture program.
“Ted was really interested in digital technology,” says Woolf. “He took a few art classes, but … I was surprised that he’s become so dedicated and exclusive to art.”
Many architects have “two lives” says Woolf, living in both the world of architecture and also the world of art. One reason may be that while architecture is a hierarchical profession with a very long learning curve and distant rungs up the professional ladder, art has the advantage of being immediately available for creation.
“It was never really my pursuit to be a full-time architect,” says Mikulski. “I wanted to use my architecture degree to do other things, which in my own mind included teaching and perhaps web design.”
So it wasn’t surprising that after graduation he opened a small web design company and eventually started teaching part-time at Tunxis Community College in Connecticut. And although the work suited him, staring at a computer screen day in and day out became tedious after a while, so he decided to set up a little art studio in the basement of his apartment.
“I started painting with no real experience and no real skill set, and I just absolutely loved it,” he says. “I never left that studio.”
THE NEXT GENERATION
He started by diving into the realm of abstract expressionism, which he describes as “essentially paintings of nothing,” both abstract and beautiful. But in the last year he’s moved toward more recognizable art.
“The one thing about abstract expressionism is that it is kind of humorless … I like putting humor into [my] work,” says Mikulski.
Part of the humor in his newer pieces is represented by colorful, robotic characters.
“When I was younger I always thought about how funny it was, that in the ’50s and that time period, they always thought that robots were going to be part of our everyday lives—that they were going to be cooking and cleaning and talking to us and hanging out with us—and yet they designed them to look like microwaves,” he says. “They are very rigid. I just thought that was a very funny aesthetic … and I use it as a metaphor for the possibility of us as humans to be programmed.”
Mikulski experimented with this idea during his solo exhibit, “Color for Color’s Sake,” at the Brother Kenneth Chapman Gallery of Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., last March.
“Ted’s a great communicator and he’s so nice. He’s organized and passionate about his work,” says Madalyn Barbero Jordan, gallery director. “Throughout the whole process it was a pleasure to work with him.”
Mikulski’s exhibit, which focused on the intertwining and interweaving of humanity and the loss of humanity, featured human-sized robots, disembodied human forms, and layered abstract expressionistic canvases, as well as painted sunglasses and sneakers. On top of that, in order to tie in the digital world, Mikulski included QR barcodes on his work that when scanned with an iPhone took viewers to information about the works of art online.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from my everyday world,” says Mikulski. “Van Gogh used to say that he was inspired by the hills and the landscape around him. The hills and landscape around me are billboards and cars and McDonald’s.”
This landscape, paired with Mikulski’s dynamic presence, were something the Iona College students connected with. After his talk he invited them to come back later if they were free and help him take down the show. Several accepted.
“In my six years here, I’ve never seen students come back to help,” recalls Barbero Jordan. “But they did. It’s a testament to him.”
As a thank you, Mikulski handed out free prints from the show. And the icing on the cake? He’s been invited back next year to curate.
Not bad for someone four years out of school with only one art class under his belt.
He’s accomplished it by working hard and creating opportunities for himself through connections and virtual self-promotion. Even the opportunity for the show at Iona came about through a tip from an online friend who works at the college but had never met Mikulski in person.
“You can’t be in your studio working diligently and expect some guy in a suit to show up and say, ‘I’m buying these works. You’re a genius. You are the next big thing.’ That just doesn’t happen anymore. The Internet has really changed the game,” says Mikulski. “You have to get [your art] in front of people and that’s a very difficult thing to do today with an oversaturation of artists and … art in our everyday lives in videos and com mercials …You have to kind of rise above.”
A recent project that has helped him do just that is the popular “Tweets in Real Life,” in which Mikulski affixes Twitter posts to objects in real-world settings and then shoots a photo of them, reposting them online. [http://www.tedmikulski.com/tweets.htm] The idea was so popular, it was blogged about on Wired.com.
Among other projects Mikulski has also self-published the book Art is Dead, creating his own publishing company, Artoholic Publishing, LLC, to market and sell it.
Gavrish describes her classmate as a “natural-born entrepreneur.” Mikulski, on the other hand, believes his skills have been born out of necessity.
“I could do without the marketing and all that stuff. I would prefer to have someone else do it for me. Most artists would,” says Mikulski. “As artists, we’re not marketers. We’re not salesmen. But you have to wear a number of different hats these days, and the best artists seem to be able to do that.”
That said, even if no one cared what TedMikulski.com was up to, he would still be obsessive about his work.
“I’m just trying to get people interested in visual art, even if it’s not my own. My passion is to spread that fever, that joy, that attraction to what visual arts can be. I have to say I’m never going to stop making art. I love it … I cannot stop and no matter what happens in the future, if people totally abandon me, I will still be making art, even if it is on cardboard.”