The new arrivals had made it to Fort Myer at last, and the Army was ready to welcome them in a way few recruits expect.
On the reviewing stand on the edge of Summerall Field stood Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Edward C. Meyer and Gen. Robert Arter, commander of the Military District of Washington.
On the expansive, newly mown field, so shiny with dew that it looked almost polished, stood a platoon from the Army Fife and Drum Corps, resplendent in their red Revolutionary uniforms; two platoons from the Commander-in-Chief's Guard, decked out in blue Revolutionary uniforms; the Colonial Color Guard; and, in dress blues, two platoons from the 3rd Infantry -- the elite Old Guard at Fort Myer.
The post commander, Col. Walter G. Kersey, and a few hundred guests looked on as Col. Don Phillips, commander of the Old Guard, gave the command signaling the start of the ceremonies.
From the far corner of the field, the first of the 10 new arrivals was led in, marching ever so hesitantly to the sharp cadenes of the Fife and Drum Corps and the applause of the assembly. Standing at attention before the military brass, the recruit nodded his head in salute -- and then snorted.
This is the Army? Yes, this is the all-volunteer Army -- and the new "recruits" were 10 Lippizan horses, "volunteered" to the Army by Tempel Farms of Niles, Ill., which breeds these cousins of the world-famous Lippizan stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.
Tempel Smith Jr., who shared the reviewing stand with the assembled Army brass, said he was donating the stallions in memory of his father, who thought it was "proper to join these horses with the military in some way."
Originally superior war horses ridden by European noblemen, the rare and exotic Lippizanners later were carefully bred and trained by Austrians for the art of classical dressage. The are sometimes known as "dancing" horses and are famous for their "airs above the ground" routines. Born black or brown, they turn snow white around the age of four.
The averge age of the Lippizaners donated to the Army is eight, or about 23 in human years. Tempel Farm representatives would not set a value on the horses, which they said the farm breeds for show, not for sale, but they described the horses as exceedingly rare.
Except for use in such Army pageants as The Spirit of America and Torchlight Tattoo, these Lippizaners will spend their stint in the military with the Old Guard's caisson platoon -- the funeral detail.
Capt. Richard R. Wylie, in charge of the platoon, said the Lippizaners will join the 15 white and 16 black horses that draw the caisson two to four miles daily in more than 800 funerals a year at Arlington National Cemetery. m
The stallions were sent to Fort Myer because the Old Guard station there is the home of the last Army-owned horses. While other posts have some horses, Wylie said, they are not owned or maintained by the Army.
Since the Old Guard is authorized to have only 32 horses, Wylie said, nine of the veteran horses eventually will be put out to pasture or sent to veterinary research clinics, once the Lippizaners are trained in the caisson detail. None of the regular Army horses will be destroyed, Wylie added.
Wylie said he knows of no plans by the Army to train the Lippizaners for show purposes, although he thinks it is a fine idea.
"There's no reason why this horse platoon can't be as popular as the Fife and Drum Corps and travel around the country," Wylie said. "It would be excellent (public relations) for the Army.
"Everybody's image is of the infantry and fighting in holes. But this would be an opportunity to show kids there are other aspects of the Army and they might think again about joining.