Sixty years on, the Magnificent Class of 1959 charges forward
By Matthew Crowley
Photographs by Karen Kasmauski
The Norwich Record | Winter 2020
On Saturday morning, as thousands milled about before the start of the alumni parade, Harrison Baldwin ’59 was rehearsing his bugle call, playing the opening notes to “charge” again and again. Sometimes the notes rang true. Sometimes they came out flat. But Baldwin’s enthusiasm never flagged.
Backslaps and how’ve-you-beens broke through the bugle bleats.
Before long, 70 classes would march in an orderly mass along the road past Plumley Armory and across Sabine Field at Haynes Family Stadium’s gates.
Joined by the Regimental Band drummers, an audience seated in folding chairs in front of the grandstand waited to welcome what President Richard W. Schneider called the largest gathering of alumni in Norwich history.
But back to the bugling: Baldwin explained that he was his group’s designated musician, appointed by “bigwigs in the class.” He said he was playing to remember Pierson Mapes ’59, a friend and departed classmate, who’d spent four years in the Army after graduation before beginning his meteoric rise at NBC Studios, where he ultimately served as vice president of network planning.
Ba da da BUM da BUM, Baldwin bugled.
Nearby, Baldwin’s classmate Joe Jordan ’59 joked that being back on campus made him feel old, but glad. “I never would have guessed I’d make it to my 60th [reunion], but I did,” he said. “It’s great to be back. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen since five, ten years ago.”
Jordan explained that he only gets up to Norwich from his home in Mechanicsville, Pa. every five or ten years. Class reunions are the draw.
“In the early days, I didn’t get to a lot of them, because I was in the Army, and I was on the wrong side of the world half the time.”
Baldwin blew more notes.
“It’s going kind of rough,” Baldwin said of his pre-parade music. He played the tuba and euphonium and was in the Regimental Band years ago as a Norwich cadet but hadn’t really tried the bugle.
“Let me get through the parade,” he said, laughing, “and then I’ll let you know if I feel bad or good about playing.”
Whatever the result, Baldwin and his fellow Class of 1959 alumni had plenty to celebrate. A 60th reunion. Thirty-eight out of 95 class members in the Partridge Society. A Sustained Service Award for Richard Thayer ’59 for faithful, honorable service to the university. And Saturday’s symbolic donation check of $2,281,637.66, actual funds raised from Jan. 1, 2015, to Sept. 24, 2019.
Baldwin, like Jordan, said he was happy to see classmates. “Some of these guys I haven’t seen for ages,” the Keene, N.H., resident said. “And some of them haven’t been back for 50 or 60 years. So, there they are.”
Standing nearby was Bill Black ’59, one of four ’59ers who leave the comforts of home (in his case, Cape Cod) to make it back to Norwich every year for Homecoming. He called the camaraderie wonderful and the bond strong.
“You couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys,” Black said, adding that his class achieved a participation rate of more than 90 percent for the milestone reunions —50th, 55th, 60th—raising, according to Development Office records, $17.8 million during those tentpole events. “We all care for each other and we care for Norwich.”
As parade time drew close, the group began walking. Richard Thayer ’59 took one end of a yellow “Magnificent Class of ’59” banner, David Bockoven ’59 took the other.
Henry Pierpan ’59 stood near the front of the line. He explained that the class had been through a lot. One hundred and fifty of them had graduated and commissioned into the Army together. Or as Pierpan colorfully put it, commissioned on a Saturday, graduated on a Sunday, and into the Army on a Monday.
Some among their ranks became generals. Gordon Sullivan ’59, perhaps most famously, would serve as the 32nd Chief of Staff of the Army and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We went through so much here at Norwich for four years, and that wasn’t the easiest thing to get acclimated to,” said Pierpan, who spent 20 years in the Army and now lives in Williamstown, Mass. “Then we started crossing one another’s paths into the service and had a great deal of respect for one another.”
It was time to move. Slowly, the Magnificent Class of 1959 walked down the path, into the stadium, and onto the turf. Baldwin kept playing when they arrived. He stepped to midfield. Then he blasted one last charge!