Title: Alma Mater
Summary: Hannibal takes the guys to his alma mater
Notes: 1. Answer to the `What I Did on My Summer Vacation' challenge
2. A virtual tour of the Thayer Hotel is available at
John `Hannibal' Smith drowsed to the rhythm of the train. Even in his half-asleep state, though, he could hear his men murmuring among themselves.
They had left Grand Central Station with its constellation-adorned ceiling about an hour before. B.A. had waxed nostalgic about his Chicago home as they passed through the soot-tinged brick high-rises of 125th Street in the Bronx before reaching the greener expanses of Westchester County. As they'd traveled further north, Murdock had been amazed at how close the tracks had come to the edge of the river, and had entertained a brief fantasy of the train actually traveling underwater.
He grunted when, about fifty miles north of New York City, Face nudged him gently.
`Hmmmm?' he responded sleepily. He opened his eyes to see his lover pointing out the window. Looking across the water, he saw crenellated grey granite battlements nestled among the trees, overlooking the wide expanse of the Hudson River. It looked, for all the world, like a transplanted medieval castle.
`What's that, Hannibal?' he asked.
`That, Sunshine, is our destination,' Hannibal told him. `The United States Military Academy at West Point, the oldest continuously-occupied military post in the country.'
`Man, I never thought anything connected with the military could look that nice!' B.A. said in amazement, and Murdock agreed.
`Yeah, it's pretty amazing place,' Hannibal concurred. `We'll pick up a car in Beacon, then cross the river and head south to Highland Falls. I've been looking forward to giving you guys this tour for a long time.'
He smiled at Face. It was so nice to be going back openly, and not having to hide behind false identities.
They presented their ID cards to the cadet at the main gate. He took one look at it and did a double-take.
`The Colonel John Smith, sir?' he said, looking up at the little group.
`You've heard of us?' Hannibal said, a hint of the Jazz glinting in his blue eyes.
`Heck, everyone's heard of you, sir!' the cadet replied. `Welcome back to West Point, sir!' He snapped off a crisp salute as the guys entered the grounds, thinking about how he'd be telling his fellow plebes that he'd met the legendary A-Team.
Hannibal drove past the Visitor's Center. Being a West Point graduate, he and his guests didn't have to wait for an official tour. He was just as glad, because he wanted to share his favorite places on this visit, and he knew some of them weren't on the official route. Besides, his new husband still wasn't completely recovered from his latest injuries, and he knew that Face wouldn't want to be seen as an invalid by using a wheelchair. Face didn't need his cane as much anymore, but there were still times when he would tire easily.
Hannibal pulled up outside a building that looked like something out of Oxford or Cambridge University.
`First stop, guys,' he announced. `The West Point Museum. There're a lot of special displays here that you'll never see anywhere else.'
`At first,' he said as he guided them through the doors, `this location was merely a military encampment during the American Revolution. Because of the way the river bends here, George Washington considered it to be the most strategic point of the entire war, and I guess I'd agree.' He pointed out the sword of Polish artillery officer Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Revolutionary War uniforms from both sides, and displays featuring noted graduates like Eisenhower, Lee, Grant, and Bradley. `It wasn't until 1802 that President Thomas Jefferson signed the orders for West Point to become a military academy. I guess you could say that was beginning of the "Long Gray Line", as the graduates are called.'
Proud as he was of his school, Hannibal still pointedly steered them away from the `History of Warfare' gallery, with its displays of weapons ancient and modern. Though Napolean's sword and pistols may have been interesting, his men had seen too much of the real thing, he felt, to be comfortable.
`Come on, guys,' he encouraged as they approached the second floor.
`I cain't imagine trying to fight with this stuff,' B.A. said as he looked around at the displays of trophies from historical battles. `How'd they do it?'
`Well, B.A., it was all state-of-the-art to them,' Hannibal reminded him. `The flintlock of the 18th century was better than the matchlock of the previous century. With it, we beat the British twice at Saratoga, which was the turning point of the American Revolution, and where that drum was surrendered to the victors.' Hannibal pointed into one of the display cases. `The rifles of the Civil War were an improvement on the musket, and so on down the line to the AR-15's and AK-47's we're familiar with today.'
B.A. nodded, realizing that it was all a matter of perspective.
As he guided them around, Hannibal paused at the Medal of Honor Wall. As one, they offered a silent prayer for all those, graduates or not, who had won this supreme honor.
`B.A.,' Hannibal said quietly, `there's something I want you to see.' With that, he led them past displays about the Manhattan Project and Panama Canal before gesturing to a very special area.
He smiled as his Sergeant stood dumbfounded, staring at representations of black soldiers in Cavalry uniforms.
`Buffalo soldiers?!' B.A. said, his hackles rising. He'd heard the term before, and he didn't like the sound of it. Hannibal laughed gently.
`Now calm down, Sergeant,' he said with a grin. `Believe it or not, it's not derogatory. The name was given by American Indians, not white men, and it was a term of honor, because they felt that black soldiers were brave and fought with the tenacity of a buffalo. You, my friend, uphold that tradition, and I'm proud to have served by your side.'
`So'm I,' said Face.
`Me, too,' Murdock added.
`Thanks, Hannibal,' B.A. said, blushing slightly. `You, too, guys.'
`Uh, Hannibal?' Face said, breaking the awkward silence that followed. `My leg's beginning to bother me? Could we go somewhere I can sit down for a while?'
`Sure, kid,' Hannibal said. `I know just the place.'
As he drove, Hannibal pointed out the soaring Cadet Chapel with its stained-glass representation of the West Point coat-of-arms, which had replaced the old chapel in 1900. While it was impressive in its medieval gothic grandeur, he preferred the more intimate setting of the Old Cadet Chapel. Arriving at its new location outside the cemetery, he set a pace that accommodated Face's use of his cane while he pointed out some of the more notable grave markers.
`A lot of Revolutionary War soldiers and civilians were buried here before it was designated a strictly military cemetery,' he told them. `This is the oldest one, from 1782, for Ensign Dominick Trant.' He moved between the headstones, indicating many of the most interesting, Generals Sylvanus Thayer and George Armstrong Custer, several Buffalo Soldiers, and Medal of Honor winners among them.
Afterwards, they entered the Old Cadet Chapel, with its simple New England-style interior. Hannibal's team all agreed that it was a very restful place.
Looking around at the assorted memorials, Murdock saw something that puzzled him. At the back of the nave was a raised gallery. On the wall behind it, there were several memorials, one of which was a black plaque that read 'Major General, born 1740', with no other inscription.
`Hey, Colonel?' he asked. `What's that all about?'
`That, Captain, is a memorial to Benedict Arnold.'
`Say what?!' said B.A., not sure that he'd heard correctly.
`You've got to remember, Sergeant,' Hannibal continued, `that General Arnold was a talented commander in the Continental Army, even helping to raise the siege at Fort Stanwix in what is now Rome, NY. Unfortunately, he felt he was not getting the recognition he deserved, and that's what led him to become a turncoat. That plaque is a tribute to the services he rendered to our country; that fact that his name isn't on it reflects his attempted treason.'. He leaned back against a pew.
`There's an interesting story connected with that, by the way,' he went on, the military historian in him coming to the fore. `There's a little town on Long Island called Oyster Bay, right on the Long Island Sound. Well, in that town in a house called Raynham Hall, home to the Townsend family in the 18th century. During the American Revolution, the officers of the Queen's Rangers were billeted in their home without so much as a `by your leave'. British spies would stop by and leave off messages for their contacts among the officers. One day, Sally Townsend was putting something away in a corner cupboard, when she noticed a slip of paper left there. Being a resourceful woman, she read the note, then put it back, but passed the information to her brother Robert, who was part of the Culper Spy Ring. Because of her presence of mind, the Americans were able to stop Major John Andr, who had the plans to West Point in his boot, and prevent Arnold's attempt to turn it over to the British. Andr was later hanged.'
`Wow, that's one wild story, Colonel!' Murdock exclaimed. `
`As they say, Captain, truth is stranger than fiction. '
`That's for sure, man!' B.A. agreed, shaking his head in disbelief.
`There's more,' said Hannibal. `A possible relative of the Townsends, Peter Townsend, was the man who constructed the Great Chain that was strung across the Hudson from here to Constitution Island to block British warships from going upriver. When I take you to Trophy Point, you'll see a section of the chain - thirteen links, one for each of the thirteen original states.'
Hannibal turned to his lover.
`Are you feeling better, kid?'
`Yeah, but I think I'm ready for some lunch now.'
`If he ain't, I am,' B.A. said. Murdock just looked at him.
`You gotta be the hungriest, as well as the ugliest, mud-sucker I've ever known,' he quipped,
lightly skipping out of the way of his partner's half-hearted lunge.
Hannibal laughed as he helped Face to rise before guiding them back out to the car.
After lunch, Hannibal continued his tour, and his companions eagerly drank in all that he showed them, from barracks and classrooms to the parade ground, known as the Plain, and the cadets in their grey uniforms marching between classes, to Keller Army Hospital with its view of the surrounding woods, to the battlements, from which they could see Constitution Island, where the first local military fortifications were raised during the Revolutionary War. He was eager to share this part of his life with his friends, especially Face.
In late afternoon, Hannibal brought his companions to the beautiful garden that had originally been laid out by Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish officer who had designed the fortifications Face had spotted from across the river. Looking around, the Colonel sighed. It was so very different from the way it had been when he was a cadet, having been restored in 1969. The contrast between the garden's beauty and what he and his men had been going through that same year was stark.
`Duty - Honor - Country,' murmured Hannibal as he sat on a bench with Face, the others on the ground nearby. `That's the motto of the USMA. These three virtues are instilled in every cadet. I'm happy to say that there are very few who haven't lived up to them.' He thought of some officers he'd known. `Even if I don't respect the individual, I have to respect the values of those who did.' Once again, he felt the impact of Morrison's betrayal of all three.
`I learned so much here, guys, but it was no match for experience. When I first saw combat in Korea, I was just as scared as any raw recruit. My training left me somewhat better prepared, though, and that helped me keep my men as safe as possible.'
`Just as you did us,' Face whispered, his eyes shining with love.
Hannibal shook his head.
`Every time I lost a man, every time one was hurt, I took it personally. It shook my faith in my ability to lead, pointed up my failings as a commander. I doubted myself.' His voice began to shake. He felt Face's arm go around him, and his men's hands on his shoulders.
`But then, in the quiet times, I'd think of this place. The majestic view of the Hudson River; the cadets on parade; the memorials to Washington, Kosciuszko, Sedgewick, and so many others. I'd remember that I was not alone in this, and it grounded me, and I was able to go on.'
`Hannibal,' Face said softly, `we were the team with the best success record in `Nam, and it was all due to your leadership. No one else could have gotten us out of that prison camp.'
`Without you, man,' B.A. added, `we woulda been daid.'
`And I'd still be in the loony bin,' said Murdock, `if I was alive at all.'
`Not to mention getting us out of Bragg, and guiding us during the fifteen years we spent on the run,' Face finished.
Hannibal took a deep breath, overcome with emotion, and looked up.
`Thanks, guys,' he said quietly. `You'll never know how much your words mean to me.' Pulling himself together, he stood.
`It's getting late. What do you say we check into the hotel and get some dinner?'
When they walked into the lobby of the Thayer Hotel, Face couldn't help but whistle. This place, he thought, would put half of the most elegant hotels in L.A. to shame.
The spacious lobby, with its marble floors, was furnished with a elegant simplicity. The white-painted walls gave a sense of airiness, and contrasted nicely with the honey oak accents. Even though it was late summer, a fire was laid in the fireplace, ready to be lit. He had to admit that the overstuffed sofas looked inviting! However, it had been a long day, and he decided he needed a shower before they dared appear in the dining room.
As they headed up to their rooms, he thought back on some of the things they had seen. There were monuments to Eisenhower, Patton, and MacArthur, among others, which had not been there when Hannibal was a cadet. Most poignant, though, was the bronze plaque dedicated to those who lost their lives in Southeast Asia, particularly in Viet Nam. Sensing his thoughts, Hannibal gave his shoulders a squeeze before unlocking the door to their room.
At 7:00 PM, they met outside the dining room, which was just as stunning as the rest of the building. Here again, light-colored walls contrasted with oak framing for the doorways, some lintels curved to match the barrel ceilings. The tables with their white cloths and napkins, silverware, and crystal were classic in their simplicity.
It was hard to choose from the wide variety of dishes available, but at length they did. Once the waiter had taken their order, Murdock turned to Hannibal. He could tell the older man was still bursting with information he wanted to share.
`All right, Colonel,' he said with a smile. `I know you want to tell us all about this place, so you might as well spill it while we wait for our food. You're gonna explode otherwise.'
`You know me so well, Captain,' Hannibal grinned. `And you're right. This hotel, Thayer Road, and all things "Thayer" are named for General Sylvanus Thayer, a West Point graduate, and later Superintendent of the Academy. He's known as the "Father of West Point", and with good reason. He standardized the curriculum, taking it beyond simply artillery training and establishing a broader academic scope, including mathematics and engineering. He also set strict disciplinary standards, and emphasized honorable conduct, which is embodied in the Cadet Code of Honor. I owe a lot of what I am to his foresight.'
Whatever else Hannibal might have said was forestalled by the arrival of their dinner. Talk turned to less serious subjects as they turned their attention to cuisine that outshone many of the best restaurants in the world. By the time they'd finished dessert, they were thoroughly enamored of the place.
Looking around at his men, Hannibal decided it was time for some less serious information.
`As you know, guys, a lot of famous people attended West Point,' he said with a twinkle in his eye, `but not all of them graduated. Edgar Allan Poe was here for less than a year, deliberately getting himself court-martialed so he'd be dismissed.' Lowering his voice, he continued in a conspiratorial tone. `Legend has it that, one day, he appeared for parade without the sash that was part of the uniform of the time. His company commander sent him back to the barracks, ordering him not to come back unless he was wearing it. A little while later, he returned wearing the sash - but nothing else.' He sat back, his eyes filled with the Jazz.
Face nearly spat out his wine, and Murdock barely contained a whoop of hilarity.
`I can just see that,' B.A. giggled.
`Did you pull any pranks, Colonel?' Murdock asked.
`A few, Captain,' Hannibal admitted, `but nothing that drastic. And no, I'm not going to tell you about them,' he added at the look from his lover. He grinned over the edge of his own wine glass.
Face was yawning by the time they exited the elevator. After a round of `good nights', each couple went to its respective room.
Hannibal stood by one of the diamond-paned windows of their room, his arm around Face's slim waist, the younger man's head on his shoulder. They stood in silence, looking down the back lawn towards the river. He could tell from how heavily his lover was leaning on him that he was exhausted, but he had to admire him for his tenacity. Smiling, he turned his head and placed a kiss on the golden hair.
`Are you hurting, Tem?' he asked quietly.
`No worse than during our honeymoon,' Face responded with a dazzling smile. `Yeah, I'm tired, and I probably overdid it a bit, but I don't think I need more than an aspirin, and I've already taken that.'
`I shouldn't have pushed you so hard, kid, but there was so much I wanted to show you. And we only scratched the surface. Maybe we could take in the football game tomorrow?'
`Sounds like a good idea.'
`Or maybe the concert at Eisenhower Hall? Did you know that it's second in size only to Radio City Music Hall?' Hannibal asked, remembering the visit to New York City when they'd run into Decker in the lobby.
`Whatever you decide is fine with me, John,' Face told him. `But right now, the only sight I want to see is you.'
Hannibal turned his lover's face so he could look into the younger man's eyes.
`Okay, baby,' he murmured against the soft lips before kissing him deeply. When he was done, he helped Face get into bed, then climbed in beside him.
`I hope you enjoyed yourself today, Tem,' he whispered, placing another kiss on the younger man's lips.
`I sure did, John,' Face replied with a smile. `I love it when you share parts of your life with me. I just wish I had such happy memories to share in return.'
`Don't worry about it, kid,' Hannibal smiled, pulling the younger man close. `We've got plenty of time to make our own happy memories - together.'
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