There are days in our lives, few though they might be, that are so packed with emotion, both good and bad, that you know they will remain in your heart and mind forever. Yesterday was one of those days for me.
It began with a Cadet memorial military mass at Holy Name Church in Garfield. These special masses involve a great many people, some actively participating in the execution of the mass, and others working behind the scenes to ensure its' success. For that "usually unseen" labor special thanks go to Dr. Joseph (former corps director and current hall of famer) and Sophie Cinzio, Alumnus (and also hall of famer) Greg Cinzio, Mrs. Irene Izsa (Mother of Cadet Alumni Fabian and Mark Izsa), Alumnus Jeff Males, and Plebe Alumnus Joe Nikischer. I hope I didn't miss anyone. If so, I sincerely apologize.
We are fortunate that Holy Name Church has a Pastor, Rev. Monsignor William Reilly, who understands the deep bond that exists between the church where it all began, and the many thousands of Cadets who have called themselves Holy Name Cadets (and we all do) both before and following the separation.
We returned to Holy Name Church for the first time in 50 years in 2009 for our first memorial military mass in celebration of our 75th Anniversary. It was a very moving experience, and in the years since, these services have continued to help connect our past and present, and we ferverently hope, our future. Many people are unaware that The Cadets were never a singularly catholic corps. Over our many years of existence, both church affiliated and independent years, Cadets representing many different religions. nationalities, and cultures have worn the maroon and gold, myself among them.
Why a military mass? Because in 1939, following official approval from West Point to duplicate their dress uniform in the colors of Holy Name Church, a strong social bond developed between many West Point Cadets and their counterparts in The Holy Name Cadets. It was primarily social and unofficial, based on shared values and life styles. Our meeting place was a now long-gone German beer hall located just off Times Square in Manhattan. The Cadets from West Point were periodically granted 24 hour passes, and they would meet up with their friends from The Holy Name Cadets to enjoy a few beers, a little singing, and a little comradeship with young men from outside their constricted military world. The connection today, though now existing in memory only, is something we continue to honor.
Yesterday that connection was renewed, as we gathered to honor and remember Cadets who now belong to the ages. It is an occasion full of pageantry and symbolism. Two buglers, Alumnus George King and Alumnus Vince Randaisi, and a single percussionist, (Blessed Sacrament Alumnus) Bob Messineo, played an opening fanfare from the choir loft, It was an original composition meshing our Holy Name Hymn with fanfare flourishes. The procession entered lto the sound of the fanfare, led by the clergy, the Reverend Monsignor Reilly and Deacon Rich McGarry, a Cadet Alumnus and current staff member.
The music played by organist Liz Cantrel and our special guest vocalist, Amanda Males (daughter of Cadet Alumnus Jeff Males) was "America The Beautiful." Following the clergy was our revered American Flag, carried by Cadet Alumnus Ken Shedosky. He was followed by Cadet Alumnus Tony Tantillo carrying a sabre representing the two sabres, now missing, presented to The Cadets by two West Point Officers in 1940. Tony was followed by two uniformed 2011 Cadets, Anthony and Taylor from the pit section, with one carrying a shako and plume to be placed on the memorial table, and the other a mounted Holy Name Cadet shield and photo of the original corps, also placed on the memory table.
The Cadets were followed by Alumnus Tony Bartello, the drum major of the corps in 1957, the year the last national championship was won as The Holy Name Cadets. Tony was followed by Alumnus Al Mura, our drum major in 1940, the year we won our first national championship, and his brother Alumnus Art Mura, a junior drum major in the early years and later an outstanding percussionist. Al and Art represented the founding members of The Cadets.
The memory table was located directly in front of the altar. As the clergy ascended to the altar, the American Flag bearer placed the flag in the stantion positioned to the right of the altar. The sabre was then symbolically passed from the Alumnus to the 2011 Cadets. After exchanging salutes The Cadet placed the sabre at the foot of the memory table, along with the crest and symbolic shako. The two current Cadets then saluted the older alumni moving through the honor party The Cadets had formed on either side of the aisle
Al Mura, a revered founding member, former drum major, and former music instructor for the corps, then lit the candle on the table. Directly in front of the altar was a huge flower arrangement contributed by Joe Nikischer and his family, longtime supporters and members of The Cadet family. Directly in front of the memory table was a basket displaying a complete Cadet uniform with a huge black ribbon of mourning. Surrounding the basket were innumerable single white roses, each dedicated to a single deceased Cadet by family, or a fellow Cadet. They were also adorned with black ribbons, and each had a special message. Most read, "In Memory of Cadet ---- ---- 60-63, FHNSAB...
The mass began with a special blessing, and a homily from Monsignor Reilly honoring all Cadets, past and present, particularly noting how in many ways not obvious to most, The Cadets have enriched the world and honored their corps with the example of excellence they have displayed every day of the past 77 years. Monsignor expressed his belief that there are many ways to serve The Lord, and that what The Cadets do and have done every day of their existence is an example that most do not see, but is there nonetheless.
The gifts were brought to the altar by members of our 1969 female guard, the first female guard in our history. Doing us proud were Cindi Carroza DeVivo, Margee Gearthart Estelle, Denise Kolbusz Schlachter, and Patti Lovas Trojanowski.These women do so much in the alumni area of our corps activities, most of it behind the scenes and unrecognized. They deserve our deep gratitude for all their work and devotion, and for having the courage to be the first to break the gender barrier in The Cadets. The entire first female guard was elected to The Cadets' Hall if Fame several years ago. It should also be mentioned that Patti's husband Steve is there with assistance in every project, and has become an honorary member of our Cadet alumni family by acclamation.
All the music during the mass was sung by Amanda Males. (Note: to hear a recording of Amanda singing at the mass you can access her facebook page at acm110384. It will be posted tomorrow, 6/13 according to Jeff). Following the distribution of communion the two uniformed Cadets, Andrew and Taylor (both 2011 ageouts) positioned themselves facing the sides of the memory table, and as Amanda sang the beautiful song from Phantom of the Opera , "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again", the two uniformed Cadets executed the moving "salute to a fallen comrade." There were few dry eyes in the church by that time.
Alumnus Tony Bartello then ascended the pulpit and led all Cadets and Cadet Alumni present in the singing of The Holy Name Hymn. Following the hymn he descended the stairs and extinguished the candle on the memory table.
The entire congregation remainned standing to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," followed by the recessional music of "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Yes my friends. I know this report is very, very long. I know too that I am gushing, and that what I am saying is interpreted by some as "drinking The Cadet koolaide." All True! But I am not motivated by any desire to be the voice of The Cadet Alumni or an egotistical need to write this down for posterity. Most of our Cadet Alumni live in locations where they are unable to attend these events, and many of them write thanking me for the detailed reports that they say makes them feel as though they were a part of everything that happened. For those of you to which this does not apply and who are simply aggravated that I take up so much space in your email message lists, I apologise for the length of this and other reports (Note: you can request removal from the mailing list by replying to this message with the single word "REMOVE" in the reply box). Since we will not be seeing our 2011 Cadets in this area now until the first week of August I promise you respite from my writing-mania.
But, we're not done yet. The best was yet to come that evening at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, NJ.
The entire day had been threatening and dreary with occasional periods of rain. By show time it still looked as though there was a good chance we were all going to get soaked. It didn't happen, but I think most of the sizable audience would have still been in their seats anyway. They were there, as was I, to see the much-discussed uniform variations we had all fretted over so much all winter, and to see just how talented a corps we have this year.
The Cadets' program was not yet complete, and the color guard uniforms had only arrived a few hours earlier, but too late to be fitted. So, we did not have the opportunity to see the complete picture. The execution of the drill was certainly not flawless yet, and the weather conditions obviously affected the sound of the horn line. The percussion and pit both wailed, and seemed totally oblivious to everything except the good time they were having with the material they were playing, and they communicated that joy of performing to those of us in the stands. We were also treated to several encore numbers that gave us a far better take on the extraordinary talent level of the horn line. All in all I think everyone in the audience was glad they came...I know I was. The uniforms were pretty much a hit with everybody, even our most intransient alumni.
Following the performance it was party time, and wow did we party. Because of the weather our pizza and cap party was moved inside the school. The cafeteria was huge, and so was the crowd. Beside the Cadets and their staff, we also had a large number of our alumni, parents, fans, and members of the host band. We also had 100 pizzas and an all'you-want, make-your-own, ice cream sundae table. Plus, the corps had salad fixings for anyone not into pizza. All in all it was an "eat yourself silly" event that went over really well.
Following the food we had distribution of the caps-for-cadets that many of you had supported with your contributions. Donations were received from Cadet Alumni across America, coast to coast, as well as from some of our Canadian Alumni. For those donors who will not get to see the caps, they are white as always. On the front was embroidered in big maroon letters "CADETS," with smaller numbers in gold on either side reading "20 - - - - - 11." Just above the peak of the cap, in small maroon letters they read "history - heritage - pride." On the right side, also in maroon, was "HNCC." HNCC stands for Holy Name Cadet Corps, the formal name by which the corps was originally known...though pretty much everyone just called us "GARFIELD."
I think everyone can pretty much guess what came next. We gathered, Cadets and Alumni as one, we embraced, and we sang our beloved "O Holy Name," directed by drum major Ben Pouncey. My ferverent wish is that at some point in the future I'll be able to get through the entire song without choking up.
The final surprise was VIP snack-packs assembled by Cindi and her 1969 guard crew (and funded also by our caps-for-cadets donors), and distributed to each Cadet to bring onto the bus with them as they prepared to depart for their great tour adventure. Our Alumni, one and all, wish our Cadets God speed, safe travels, memories by the bucketfull, an experience filled with happy memories, and of course all the success we think they deserve. Goodbye to our 77th Anniversary, 2011 Cadets - - - - - we'll see you in August.
There were, for me at least, sad components to this occasion as well. I learned that one of our original female Cadets is fighting a frightening and exhausting battle with an advanced stage of Cancer. I cannot mention her name without violating her privacy, but I ask that all Cadets, Cadet Alumni, and members of The Cadet family pause for a moment to offer a silent prayer for a fellow Cadet currently fighting a battle for life.
There was also another Cadet Alumnus present at the mass who for almost my entire Cadet life has been someone very important in my life. We shared many adventures and wonderful memories, but now he too is battling a terrible and very disabling disease. There is no feeling of helplessness more frightening than wanting more than anything to help someone you care about when you are totally helpless to do so. If he reads this, and I think he will, I hope he will realize how many people, how many of his fellow Cadets, care about him. He too needs our support and if you're so inclined, your prayers.