What an oath

In being commissioned, an Army requirement was that I have an officer administer to me the oath. The oath – the United States Uniformed Services Oath of Office. That official thing.

The officer could be on active duty or retired – it did not matter.

I called Kristin’s grandfather and asked him if he was available. Eric was a retired Army officer – Infantry – having served in the California National Guard after being commissioned through the then-new Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Actually, though an Infantry officer, he had initially been assigned to an honest-to-god Cavalry unit – cavalrymen, horses, wagons, etc. On December 8, 1941, he had been called to active duty in the US Army, where he remained in service to the country until mid 1946 – rising from the rank of Captain to the rank of Colonel.

“Would you be willing to come to Fort Benning in late January for my commissioning, to administer my Oath,” I asked him.

He didn’t even pause. “Do I have to put my uniform back on? I haven’t worn one in a while.”

“Absolutely not,” I told him. “You are entitled to wear whatever you want.”

“It’s a deal, then” he said. I could hear his smile 2,000 miles away.

I submitted his details to my unit, noting the important dates regarding his time in the service. Such things are important. On the actual day, a large group of us moved to the site – a portion of my class had chosen the recently-finished Ranger memorial as the site for administering the oath – while one of our NCOs explained how it would all work.

“We’ll proceed by date of rank,” he said, referring to the rank of the officer administering the oath, and the date on which they had been promoted to that rank. It’s one part rank, but also one part seniority. Peers of the same rank, you still defer to the one who was promoted prior to you.

There with us was the Provost Marshall for Fort Benning. He’d invited all of the to-be new Military Police officers to be there, so he could administer their oaths all at once. I got the impression that he viewed this as a big deal and a huge honor for them. Everyone knew he was the Provost Marshall, because he told everyone he was the Provost Marshall, several times.

As we prepared to begin, this Provost Marshall stepped forward and began to assemble his group and move them into place. I guess that made sense – to him. He was a full-Colonel. Looking around, there weren’t any COLs there that he could see. He was large and in charge, and ready to get things going.

“Up first, COL Eric Lotz and Candidate La Flamme,” our illustrious leader proclaimed.

And for the life of me, I forget the exact wording – I am sure I will think of it at 2am – but Eric spoke quietly to the Provost Marshall, just loud enough so only he and I could hear it, and he said something along the lines of, “Step aside, sonny – you’ll get your turn.”

What are the odds that you’re there – a full Colonel – and another shows up, and he’s got at least 40 years date-of-rank seniority on you?

The look on each of their faces was priceless. Eric was beaming. The Provost Marshall was aghast. I just did what I was told, and followed Eric forward to the memorial.

As he and I walked up there, Eric and I were away from the crowd and our families. Just he and I – out of earshot of everyone else. I positioned myself so that I was facing the others, with Eric facing me and the actual memorial, but with his back to them. I had prepared for him a 3×5″ card, on it the oath in large, block, easy to read letters – just in case he needed it. No one would see whether he did or not – except for me.

We each raised our right hand, and Eric began. “Repeat after me,” he said. “I, state your name….”

And then he went entirely off script.

He started to… just make stuff up. He was doing improv. He was being funny. He was trying to make me laugh. And he was trying my nerves, on purpose – to see if I could still recite the oath, while he had a good time of it all.

Apparently, this is what you do as a retired COL.

I’m told that I kept a straight face. I’m told that I sounded wonderful – clear, crisp, articulate. No one knew the struggle. No one knew his immense joy.

Four years later, as I was preparing to be promoted to Captain while attending the Military Intelligence Captain’s Career Course at Fort Huachuca, I called Eric. I asked if he’d like to join us there in Arizona for my promotion, and to again administer the oath. He would, and he did – with no less of a comedic effort.

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