A Different Kind of Homecoming

by

By: Jan Hathorn
Athletic Director

This week I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Colonel Lee Cummings, Class of 1986.  My introduction to Lee was a chance meeting in the main office on Monday afternoon when he stopped by to see if Coach Miriello was in.  I wasn’t really listening to what he was saying until I overheard him say to Emily, our administrative assistant, that he was hoping to pass along something to Frank and the football team.  My curiosity got the best of me and I thought to myself, “I want to meet this person”, so I got up from my desk and went out to introduce myself.

Immediately we hit it off, because Lee doesn’t meet a stranger. He’s a proud alum who has an ease about him, and who immediately exudes loyalty and commitment when talking about those things which he loves – his family, his time at W&L, and his friends. He told me he was a former player under Coach Fallon and that he had something special to present to the football team.  As he is speaking, I notice that he is holding a sack or something in his hand and he notices me looking at it.

Chris Coffland '88 was killed in action last November

So he starts to carefully unwrap this sack, which turned out to be a military-green pillowcase, and while he’s doing so, he’s got a somewhat nervous but excited look on his face.  I even thought I saw his hands shaking as he so carefully and painstakingly took the brick out of the case.

Yeah, it was a brick.  I was somewhat surprised to see that this was all it was; I thought it was something that was fragile, because of the way he so slowly and gently removed it. But then I quickly learned that this wasn’t just any brick.  It was a brick that had Chris Coffland’s name on it, the #6 (Chris’s number) glued to two of the brick’s corners and the saying, “Lest they be forgotten” handwritten in white paint across the bottom edge. Lee then began to tell the story of how his unit, and several other units from the Boston area, staged an eight-mile walk to honor their fellow soldiers who had passed away in the war.  Each man who marched carried bricks with names of these fallen brothers in their backpacks for eight miles

I was, to say the least, very touched by the intensity of Lee’s pride as he showed me this prize possession.  We talked all about the walk, and while we did so, he very carefully and gently put the brick back in the pillowcase.  Not long after that, Coach Miriello came into the main office and, after some hugs and “welcome backs”, Lee went through the whole routine of ever so carefully removing the precious item from the pillowcase and telling Coach Miriello about the brick.  It was such a privilege to watch Coach Miriello’s face as he listened, and to watch Lee’s face as he so proudly told the story of the walk. It was even more inspiring to hear Lee tell Coach stories about Chris and the way that he lived life and played football: with a passion that went above and beyond the norm.

Before long, Lee and Coach were making plans to meet at the football locker room where Lee was going to present the brick to the team and tell them the story of Chris Coffland. Needless to say, I have thought about Lee and the brick all week.  What I can’t get over is the incredible depth of honor that poured out of Lee as he reminisced about Chris and their athletic experiences on the football field at W&L, where their friendship was forged.  I am so thankful that I met Colonel Lee Cummings, and as a result of my chance meeting with him, I am as proud as I have ever been to be associated with athletics. Whether he realized it or not, bringing that brick to the football team was a kind of Homecoming for Lee and Chris.  And in my 25 years of being involved in athletics, it was one of the most memorable and meaningful Homecomings I have ever had the privilege to be around.

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3 Responses to “A Different Kind of Homecoming”

  1. darkmoonjourney Says:

    As an undergraduate at W&L, I don’t think I properly valued the kinds of respect and honor that you talk about in this posting. As an older (and a bit wiser) mother of a young son and daughter, I now better understand the importance of these values and how well they can serve people in the world that is so much broader and darker than the one we strive to raise our children in. Last year we brought our son to the last men’s home basketball game to get his picture taken with his favorite player – senior Zac White. When we spoke with Zac’s parents and our son’s admiration for theirs, I noticed tears in his mother’s eyes. I think I understand that as well. How proud would any mother be to have such a son as these – real heros in anyone’s eyes? To have a part in raising young men who can show others the value of honor and what it means to take things personally enough to share your love with others – what a joy, and how humbling.

  2. Burr Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to leave your desk and engage Col. Cummings, which opened up the rest of the story for all of us. It did indeed bring a part of Chris back to campus, lest he be forgotten.

  3. Craig Carlock, VMI '74 Says:

    Thank you for your recent reflection of Chris Cofflan ’88. Athletic competition brings out the best in people and not only defines one’s character but reveals it as well.
    Washington and Lee University in my humble opinion is one of the top ten academic schools in this country and the W&L community has been blessed by an extraordinary man of integrity, sacrifice, and courage in Mr. Coffland. Godspeed to the Cofflan family.

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