From Dick Leister 1949, 1951 C
I found this letter stashed away with other treasures in a folder long forgotten, and after some thought, I thought that some of you may enjoy reading it. I wrote it to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
I know the private thoughts we had for General Medenbach during our cadet days when he seemed much like a dictator imposing impossible discipline upon us but when I got to know him with some intimacy as an adult my opinions began to change. I saw him as the true backbone of Valley Forge….He had the vision as did General Baker of exactly what the institution should look like and what kind of man it should produce…If I had not had the privilege of attending Valley Forge, God only knows what would have happened to me….
So here you have it…like it or not it is the way I will always remember the man who shaped my life.
Dick Leister….God Bless the Band. 7/2011
25 January 1998
I have known you for fifty of your ninety years.
You were an absolutely awesome figure of a man when I first saw you in September of 1947. My early years were an experience of small town Pennsylvania. There were no individuals there that rivaled the magnitude and magnificence of men like John Black, Frank Kobes, Bill Koons, Al Sanelli, Mate Blank, Anthony Flores and the rest. All shinning with perfection from sunrise to sunset. I could not reason how these men could look so perfect every day. I will never forget the first words my Commandant uttered to me while crossing the main area in those hateful “Plebe skins”. You said, “stand up mister, shoulders back, and be proud of yourself.” No one had ever spoken those words to me before and the thought of being proud of myself had never crossed my mind.
In November of that year, on the day of recognition when we officially joined the Corps, my diary tells me that you informed us that we had just joined a lofty tradition established by former cadets that had fought their way through a great world war and that we would forever be part of the Valley Forge heritage. These were indeed words that should be tucked away in memory. It is my belief that thousands of cadets have tucked away those words that you uttered to us over many years and those words have caused many of us follow the continuing climb to succeed in life. In those days as a cadet, I knew you as 1 strict administrator of discipline and I thank you for it.
In 1968, I had just returned from Vietnam and was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground MD. I flew a Cobra to Valley Forge, landed on the parade field and had a cup of coffee with the PMS. The next fall, 1969, I arrived at Valley Forge as the PMS. These years were truly a dismal period for Valley Forge. General Baker retired, you retired and General Strong appeared on the scene as Superintendent. Enrollment was at a minimum, Vietnam raged on, the hippies were burning the flag, bills continued to arrive and Johnny Mauk our comptroller confided with me that things were indeed at a panic situation. We constantly heard about the old prestigious military schools around the country disappearing in bankruptcy. Every week, General Strong would meet with Al Sanelli, Ralph Jones and myself to game innovational scenarios that would build enrollment. Organize a Boy Scout troop (we named the troop 171 because it was established in September of 1971) admit women on a limited basis, relax the military standards. There was even guarded talk of going to blue blazers and grey flannel slacks-things were really tough. Through all of this you steadfastly held to the established tradition of Valley Forge. You told me in your office, just before you retired, “We must not trade off our heritage”. “We must keep the Corps in tact”. “We have come too far to turn back or give up”. As an instructor of Aerospace Science, working for Al Sanelli, I spent time in the faculty lounge with the instructors between classes. The moral there was unmistakably in the doldrums. But remember, these were all men who had been through a war and witnessed appalling times before. They were always innovative with their classroom activities and constantly strived to provide an excellent education-never a thought of doom or failure.
I look in my chapel book and see that you delivered a sermon on the eleventh of May 1971 in which you stated that the “Traits which are the backbone of the Valley Forge Military Academy are six in number:
1. Integrity – a total acceptance of your actions.
2. Concern for ones elders, peers and subordinates. Loyalty is a two way street.
3. Professionalism – help others to generate confidence in themselves.
4. Involvement in life. Don’t be afraid to step up and take a chance.
5. Moral Courage- stick to tough decisions.
6. Initiative- be aggressive and self reliant.
It seems to me that these traits that you so effectively outlined in 1971 are the ideals that the founder, General Baker envisioned in 1929 and still are totally creditable for the institution in 1998. In these days as an adult, I knew you as a man who would not give up the vision of the future and we all thank you for it.
On this, the occasion of a grand celebration of your ninetieth birthday, our best wishes are with you, but I would be remiss with this writing if I did not mention Jean’s and my thoughts of a wonderful woman who touched our lives deeply, your wife Helen. She is a lady of impeccable character, impressive intelligence and most of all a dear, dear friend. I dusted off my Guidon and therein found two things, a Valley Forge football schedule for 1949 and an invitation to attend tea at the Commandants Quarters on Fariston Road at 4 P.M. hosted by Mrs. Medenbach. The date was May of 1951. This is the house that I would occupy 18 years later with my family.
I saw you last in 1996 at our 45th reunion. When I shook your hand and we had a brief time together, you still had that sparkle in the eye. I could instantly tell you were so proud of all those who attended, all those men who you had helped to mold. Well Milton, we somehow made it through the depressing years of the early 70’s and we have a Corps and an institution that you have always envisioned. We are all members of that lofty tradition and are part of the Valley Forge heritage that you talked about back in 1947. We are all proud of it and we thank you for it.
I will see you next in the first year of our new century, 2001. It will be my fiftieth class reunion and I know as well as God made little green apples you will still have that sparkle in the eye. It will always be there. We will sit in the parade field stands and watch a sparkling Corps pass in review with the cadency of the best band ever. We will have our class pictures taken and I will wonder why so and so looks a little older and I don’t. We will watch Bert South try to organize the alumni classes for a pass in review without resembling the last dregs of the Civil War. Lastly, we will again sit in that beautiful chapel and become inspired, yea with a tear or two as we together sing our Alma Mater. “Hail, Alma Mater, dear. High wave thy colors clear”;
Milton there is one thing that I never confided in with you. I timed everyone of the sermons delivered by those speakers for the four years that Jean and I attended chapel and here are the numbers:
1969-70 6 hours 35 minutes.
1970-71 7 hours. 16 minutes.
1971-72 6 hours 17 minutes.
1972-73 7 hours 42 minutes.
Have a very happy birthday and I will see you in the next century.
Ltc. Dick Leister 1949