In the spring of 1982 I became Commanding General of the Military District of Washington which was headquartered at Fort Leslie J. McNair in South West Washington D.C. It was a kind of homecoming for Lady Char and me since years before I had been the Deputy Commanding General of MDW. It also meant that we could continue living in Quarters Two, one of the large, gracious homes along General’s Row nestled on the banks of the Potomac River at Fort McNair.
My job was to take care of the needs of the soldiers, officers and military families who lived and worked in the National Capital Region. This included providing pay, health care, goods and services, and supervising the administration of military communities such as Fort Myer and Fort Belvoir in Virginia and Fort McNair.
“Arlington National Cemetery” as well as the “Tomb of the Unknowns” also came under MDW’s coordination, along with the “Old Guard” ceremonial troops who could always be counted on the represent the nation at formal ceremonies with dignity and perfection. The troops were accompanied by the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” which provided music for the ceremonies and concerts. MDW also coordinated special events at the White House, especially those concerning foreign dignitaries.
This particular summer day was bright, cheerful, and sun filled. I donned my rumpled gardening coveralls, slipped a pair of pruning shears and gloves in my back pocket, and headed for my wife’s, Lady Char’s, rose garden to perform my weekly “groundskeeper’s gardening duties.”
A short time later a large delivery truck chugged up the street along the front of the houses of General’s Row. A tall African American delivery man was hunched over in the driver’s seat peering out the partially rolled down window as if he was searching for a specific house number.
When he saw me he smiled, pumped his air brakes, stopped, stepped down from the cab and sauntered across the lawn towards me. I stopped my pruning, dusted off my coveralls, and walked over to meet him.
“These people nice to work for?” he inquired, extending a heavy calloused hand.
I pulled off my gloves and we shook a warm greeting. “Yes,” I said, “They’re very nice to work for … very considerate … very thoughtful.”
“How long you been working for them?”
“A little over two years,” I answered.
“Uh-huh,” he took off his baseball cap and wiped his sweaty forehead with his shirtsleeve. “Years ago I used to work all up and down this street, just like you. “Everybody treated me real nice. These are fine people to work for.”
I nodded in agreement.
Satisfied that things hadn’t changed much from the time when he had worked as a groundskeeper at Fort McNair, he again shook my hand, ambled back to the truck, stepped up into the cab, started the engine, gently meshed the gears, and pulled away from the curb.
I didn’t tell him that I was the Commanding General of the Military District of Washington; I just went back to pruning Lady Char’s roses.