It was a memorable Memorial Day for newly commissioned 2nd Lt. David Witt
Following a graduation at West Point that attracted thousands, Eagle native son’s commissioning ceremony was an intimate, family affair
Last week, 2nd Lt. David Witt marked his first Memorial Day as a commissioned officer in the United States Army.
On May 22, he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point as part of the 996-member Class of 2021. That ceremony drew a crowd of thousands and featured an address by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III.
On May 28, Witt participated in a decidedly different, but equally memorable ceremony. The crowd at this event numbered a dozen and instead of gathering at Michie Stadium, the audience assembled in the living room of the Witt family home in Eagle.
There, in front of family and friends and a special surprise visitor, Captain Robert Witt performed the commissioning ceremony for his grandson, David. The elder Witt was attired in the same uniform he proudly wore during his service during the Korean War.
“I always knew that my grandfather was in the Army, and when I found you can have an Army officer commission you, I thought that would be really cool to have my grandfather do that,” David said.
In a normal year, unaffected by a global pandemic, the commissioning ceremony would have been held on the West Point campus. “But his year, we had to rethink it a little bit,” David said. “A lot of people did their ceremonies at home.”
At Friday’s intimate affair, Captain Witt’s voice only faltered briefly as he instructed his grandson to raise his right hand and take his oath, solemnly swearing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
And then, immediately after David completed his oath with the words “so help me God,” another member of his family stepped forward. His aunt, retired Sgt. Major Ann Erenheim who served during the Gulf War, rendered the first salute to the newly commissioned officer. As tradition demands, 2nd Lt. Witt returned and dropped the salute first, and then passed a silver dollar to his aunt during their formal handshake.
Witt explained that while attending West Point, cadets don’t receive salutes from enlisted soldiers, and military protocol states when dealing with unequal ranks, the lesser-ranking member initiates the salute. “The first salute is something special because it signifies your transition to an officer,” David said.
As for the silver dollar tradition, David admitted he didn’t really know the significance of the gesture, only that it is a tradition. A bit of research revealed that no one really knows for certain where this tradition originated, although some suggest that it was passed on from British regiments garrisoned in the U.S. during the Colonial Era.
After the formal silver dollar exchange, the next thing that happened Friday night probably doesn’t occur after most commissioning ceremonies. Nephew and aunt shared a huge bear hug.
Although he isn’t family, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Darren Freyer of the High Altitude Army Training Site at the Eagle County Regional Airport also participated in the ceremony, officially reading 2nd Lt. Witt’s promotion orders.
“He has been one of my mentors, so I really wanted him to be a part of the ceremony,” David said.
Freyer also had another important job on Friday night. He was assigned the task of picking up a surprise guest and bringing him to the Witt home. The eldest Witt sibling, Navy 1st Lt. Ben Witt, surprised both his brothers for their celebratory weekend. Along with David’s commissioning ceremony, the family celebrated Sebie Witt’s graduation from Eagle Valley High School on Saturday.
It’s a short reunion for the Witt boys. Ben, who graduated from the U.S. Navy Academy at Annapolis, will head back to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, on Monday. On Friday, David is headed back to West Point for a summer assignment and then to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to begin Army flight school. At the end of the month, Sebie will report to West Point to begin his college career at the U.S. Military Academy.
In another time, unaffected by COVID-19, David’s commissioning ceremony would have looked a lot different. But as he prepares for the next stage of his military career, David had no regrets about the way things played out last week.
“It was really special having my commissioning ceremony with my family, and I was really glad I got to be home for it,” David said.
It was the stuff of memories, on Memorial Day weekend.