John Marion of Warwick graduates from U.S. Military Academy

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    WEST POINT-Picture this. The sun shined high above Michie Stadium and the 945 graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point on Saturday, May 29. They sat in strict formation, similar to the way they had lived their lives as West Point Cadets. Among the graduates was John Marion, a native of Warwick. Marion and his fellow graduates watched and listened as they were addressed by United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld delivered a strong speech, talking about their future roles with the ongoing war against terrorism. The graduates might have been thinking about that, but Marion, who graduated as a Second Lieutenant with a degree in Law, had something else on his mind. "I was thinking about how hard I was going to throw my hat," Marion said. Marion remembers his graduation as a hectic day, which capped off a week full of parades and getting up at 4 a.m. to prepare for them. These days of formation were the last for Marion, who said he will not miss folding his underwear into little tiny squares. Now that Marion's days at West Point are over, he still has at least seven years serving his country. They will begin on July 13, when he reports to Ft. Rucker, Alabama for flight school. "I have always dreamed of flying," Marion said. "I want to fly a Black Hawk or an Apache." With the amount of helicopters that have been shot down since the war on terrorism began and films showing such tragedies such as Black Hawk Down, Marion's family and friends are concerned. "You try not to think about what could happen," Marion said. "You can never feel like you are completely prepared, but I feel when I have to make a decision, I will be prepared and make the best decision I can." Almost four years ago, on June 24, 2000, John Marion was among more than 200 graduates of Warwick Valley High School that sat on C. Ashley Morgan Field for commencement. His high school career had come to an end. He felt the same excitement as every other graduate, but knew his higher education experience would be much different than theirs and begin five days later. What awaited him was a challenge no other WVHS graduate had to face, for Marion's future would begin at the United States Military Academy at West Point. "I was very excited for him," John's mother, Carol Marion, said. "I knew it was his dream and what he wanted to do." John's earliest memory of West Point came when he was in the 5th grade. He went to a parade with his family and remembers thinking what it was like behind the gray walls. Never did John think then that someday he would be within those same walls. About five years later, as a WVHS sophomore, John was unsure about where to attend college. "I always wanted to go to a renowned school, but was unsure about what to study," John said. Although John considered attending the University of Notre Dame, he was most attracted to West Point. Towards the end of his junior year, John had several interviews with Congressman Ben Gilman. Gilman wound up nominating John, which is a requirement to be accepted at any of the country's defense academies. About halfway into his senior year at WVHS, Marion found out he was accepted into West Point. It was a joyous achievement for John, who had been preparing for his future at West Point throughout his high school career. To prepare for mental challenges, Marion attended the R-Day rehearsal with West Point's Cadre. This showed John the stresses he would be facing. Although John could not prepare for the mental challenges that were waiting for him as much as he wanted to, he knew no physical challenge would stop him. An active athlete at WVHS, Marion lettered in football as well as indoor and outdoor track all four years. His determination was in a class by itself, which took off after his freshman football season where he made an appearance in less than 20 plays. He started defense in his next three seasons and was a captain in his senior year. That year, Marion wore Warwick's vaunted No. 44 jersey, which had been passed on to him by John Marsilio. Football wasn't Marion's only playground. He made as much of an impact in indoor and outdoor track as he did in football. Marion competed in many events, but his best was pole vault. At the end of his senior outdoor track season, Marion had reached a personal best of 14.' Despite constant preparations, Marion experienced a culture shock the moment he got to West Point. He calls it a "180-degree culture change." To help get him through his first semester, John received tons of mail, e-mail, and instant messages from his family and friends. This support didn't stop, as it remained constant up until his graduation. At the end of his first semester, Marion felt he had more of a handle on things. Several months later, John was already in his sophomore year. His excitement about no longer being a freshman didn't last long. "There was more responsibility and less privilege during my sophomore year," Marion said. Marion's sophomore year took a turn for the worse and unexpected on Tuesday Sept. 11, 2001. "Inside our little world nothing changed," Marion said. "Everything at West Point has a focus, a focus that suddenly shifted towards terrorism." West Point Cadets have until the end of their sophomore year to leave. If they decide to quit after that, they owe military time. Marion never seriously considered leaving, but he remembers some of his fellow Cadets left after their sophomore year just to fight in the war against terrorism rather than waiting two more years. Something that kept John focused and at West Point was his most memorable experience. He was on the indoor and outdoor track teams all four years. Continuing his love for pole vaulting from high school, Marion excelled in his favorite event. He immediately reached 14'1" in his first semester at West Point and graduated with a personal best of 15'11." Besides striving for personal bests, Marion also loved the camaderie of being on teams and having relief from the daily stresses he experienced. John had other memorable experiences, some of which came last summer. It was then when John went to airborne school and learned how to jump out of an airplane. The myth of jumpers not being ready to go when asked to was just that for Marion. "Of course I was ready to jump," Marion said. "They have so many safety checks that I had no reason to fear jumping." Besides going to airborne school, Marion also went to South Korea where he spent time near the Demilitarized Zone north of Seoul for two weeks where he shadowed a platoon leader in a U.S. army Military Police Company amidst land mines all around him. "West Point affords you very unique opportunities and experiences," Marion said. Marion cannot explain his experiences at West Point for anyone interested in going there. "It is such a different world," Marion said. "Those who know can't explain and those who don't know can't understand." Marion is excited about flight school, where he will have the opportunity to make his lifelong dream a reality. He has left the "different world" called West Point behind, but will never forget what he learned there. "The hardships at West Point really help you to appreciate some of the little things in life," Marion said. "I feel that it accelerates your level of maturity because of the daily challenges that you have to deal with both in summer military training and academic year en