Last week I received a package from a student who attended NCCC in 1981 my second year of teaching full-time. I was still pretty green but I like to think my enthusiasm and ability to be a decent role model made up for any deficiencies in teaching ability. Below are the letter and an edited picture of his gift. I've also edited the letter slightly. This student is not one to seek the limelight so I have left out his name and a few other minor details.
What this student left out of his letter was how young he was when he came to the WRL Program (17), how much potential he demonstrated during his years at NCCC, (lots) and the tough family situation he came from. I had no doubt that this seedling with time would flourish. As I told him upon receipt of this gift, “I will look at it often and think of the sacrifices you and your colleagues have made in defense of our country. Some, like your colleague, have made the ultimate sacrifice. I will also swell a little with pride knowing that perhaps I had a very small part in your success.”
Damn, receiving a letter like this is why we teach.
15 March 2014
I hope this long-overdue letter finds you, and finds you well.
I’m afraid I must start this out by offering my apologies for my delay in contacting you. lt's been close to 30 years since we've last spoken, which I sincerely regret.
As I’m sure you recall, I was one of your students in the Wilderness Recreation Leadership program at North Country from '81-'83, participating in the '81 Summer and '82 Winter Practicums. Even today, terms like "gorp," "bushwack," "food drop” and the infamous "Paul Petzoldt Bum-Out Tent" still bring a quick smile to my face.
As you may also recall, despite my passion for both learning and for the outdoors, and my good fortune at being both a native “Adirondacker” and having been accepted into your program, after two years, and the exhilarating - and humbling - experiences in both Practicums, I came to the realization that I simply lacked the mental and physical attributes required to become an effective Outdoor Leader. So, I left the program, and following a couple of "wasted" years of chasing my tail while accomplishing absolutely nothing, I decided that it was time to finally address those very same issues, lest they continue to shape my future as they had my past. Enter the United States Marine Corps.
Enlisting in 1986, my intention was to spend only one four-year enlistment learning leadership and discipline, while developing the physical and mental toughness for which the Marine Corps was renowned, all of which would undoubtedly serve me well when I returned to NCCC to complete my journey as an Outdoor Leader. I wanted to learn from the very best our armed forces had to offer, and boy...did I ever learn! Ding-ding...the School of Hard Knocks was now in session.
The Marine Corps’ Leadership mantra is the foundation of everything we do in the Corps, and also provides us each with our core identity as Marines. It is also the proverbial "deep end of the pool" for guys like me, who were blessed neither with innate leadership qualities or physical attributes prior to our arrival. I cannot even begin to recall how many times I felt completely overmatched and out of my depth, more so than I ever did while in Wilderness Rec. But, I managed to persevere, and it wasn’t long before I realized being a Marine was no longer a stepping stone to bigger and better things. The Corps wasn’t simply what I did...it was who I was. So, four years quickly turned into eight, and so forth and so on, and before I knew it, some 22 years later, I found myself a Master Sergeant standing at my retirement ceremony at the Pentagon in June, 2008.
In the interim, I had somehow managed to travel a fair portion of the globe at the Corp’s behest, seeing, doing and experiencing more than I had ever could have imagined in the process. I travelled to four distant continents, sailed across the vast expanses of thee oceans, and dipped my hands in the waters of four different seas. I trekked on high ridges and stood atop snowy mountains, though none with the acclaim or majesty of a Mount McKinley! I rappelled down sheer cliffs of unforgiving rock, and humped through deep lush valleys of rivers and streams. I plodded over the sands of massive deserts, and waded through the shoulder height grasses of vast plains. I walked the black volcanic sands of Pacific islands, and slashed my way through the dense canopies of impenetrable tropical rain forests. And throughout it all, regardless of the mission or circumstances at hand, I always tried to find a moment or two to take in the many wonders of the world around me, a habit which to this day I attribute to your influence. And on more than a few occasions, when finding myself staring out over some jaw-dropping natural wonder, I can actually remember saying to myself..."Now this is something that Jack would appreciate!"
Over the years, I continued to hone my own skills, based on the tenets of Marine Corps’ Leadership through its many Leadership Traits and Principles. But it certainly didn't take long for me to realize that my first exposure to the very same concepts and principles of leadership did not occur while I was a Marine, but rather years before, during events like the ascent of Algonquin, or the portage near Little Long Pond, or the canoe trip to Fish Creek, or the bushwhack down St. Regis, or any one of a hundred other occasions, through both the words - and more importantly, through the actions and leadership example - of Mr. Jack Drury.
Thank you, Jack. For going "above and beyond" in caring about who we would someday become...for relating to each of us your passion for nature and the outdoors...for instilling in each of us a sense of responsibility to protect it for future generations...for planting the seeds of leadership in me which would one day be reaped by the Marine Corps...for everything! The enclosed photo was taken at an "undisclosed location". At the time, we were engaged in combat operations. Shortly thereafter, I was awarded the Bronze Star. Although not the original medal, which I later placed in the casket of a good friend and fellow Marine who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2008, I nonetheless hope you will accept it as a small token of my appreciation.
Like anyone who was fortunate enough to have been around the Drury clan for even a short time at some point over the years, I was deeply saddened indeed to learn of your son Eli’s passing. Though I have lost my share of Marines over the years, as a father myself, I cannot even begin to imagine the depth of your despair. I remember Eli as a happy a little guy invariably perched on his mother’s hip, making all of us laugh during practicum prep or food drops or get-togethers at your home or whenever he was around. He was like a baby brother to all of us, and I will always keep happy memories of him. My heartfelt condolences remain with you and yours.
Though I know it is simply impossible to assuage such a deeply felt loss, I hope that you continue to find some small measure of solace in the collective lives and accomplishments of the thousands of other "kids" you have scattered about this great country - and the world - your “extended family" of former students and outdoor "disciples." Regardless of our ages, occupations, or individual endeavors, we all share the common great good fortune of having had your influence and mentorship in shaping our lives. You’ve made a difference in the world, Jack...and I for one am a better man for having known you. Keep leading from the front, and please give my very best wishes to your family.
Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful),