A month after graduating as a Saint (and what an odd choice of mascot that looks like now), I entered West Point and instantly understood Dorothy’s comment that “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
After four rigorous years of education and training I graduated in 1969 with a basketful of value: a BS in Engineering, a commission as a second lieutenant, an appreciation for the Jersey Sound and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and friendships which have lasted a lifetime.
Since that event I’ve been in combat in Vietnam and served on the Frontiers of Freedom in then-West Germany. I’ve been to Harvard Business School in the years between George Bush and Jeff Skilling. I’ve been married, and raised two wonderful sons, Max and Alexander, who are good people.
Rick Whitaker (second from right) with West Point classmates in Vietnam, 25th Infantry Division, March 1971
I’ve learned and then forgotten how to speak Czech, Japanese, German, Bahasa Indonesia, Russian, French, Spanish, and the language of love, which I most regret. I’ve visited 6 continents, and lived and worked in New Canaan, Singapore, Boston, Heidelberg, Tokyo, Menlo Park, Kabul, Houston, Monrovia, the Bay Area, Baghdad, and Dubai. I’ve been rocketed and ambushed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thrown out of my own club in Washington DC.
I’ve had intestinal discomfort in almost every place I’ve visited.
I’ve introduced fuel cell power plants to the world, established Bain & Co.’s consulting business in Japan, survived the demise of Enron, and resurrected the Liberia Electricity Corporation.
I’ve lost my friend and brother-in-law, Steve Cohee, to heart attack on a High Sierra fishing trip. My sister Gail and I still visit the spot.
I’ve completed marathons (including New York in a tropical rainstorm) and triathlons, and several 1-mile open water swims, although I still don’t like dark water. I’ve fished tiny little streams in the New Jersey highlands, the ocean off West Africa, rivers in Montana, and mangrove shorelines in Florida. I’ve caught every type of trout except Golden; blue marlin, smallmouth bass, tuna, snook, redfish, and tarpon; and some unidentified sea creatures that made me nauseous just to look at.
I’ve converted to Catholicism, and been inside more churches and temples and shrines and sacred caves than I can name. I’ve been to the Vatican where I was blessed by the Pope, along with 5,500 other people. But he was looking right at me.
Incredibly enough, I’ve done all this with only one medical mishap, falling off my bike in Katy, TX, and breaking my collarbone.
So what have I learned from all these doings, these comings and goings, and activities and diversions? That you don’t have to use your frontal lobes all the time; often it is better to just let intuition and instincts flow.
Words to live by? “Seemed like a good idea at the time” pretty well sums it up.