David Webster's After-Dinner Remarks

Presented Saturday evening, June 10, 2017


No one has brought up the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and I do not mean that as an autobiographical reference. Livingston Taylor brushed up against it during his wonderful performance last night but didn’t confront it directly.

And that subject, of course, is age: the passage of time, our accumulating years.

On that subject I have two points to make:

The first is to disagree with and oppose something Thomas Jefferson tried to promulgate. Pulitzer prize winner Joseph Ellis, notes that Jefferson:  “had always claimed that each generation should not linger beyond its appointed time, that one had almost a moral obligation to clear the ground for the next generation by placing oneself beneath it.”

Well, fuhgedabout it. I disagree! We’re a generation that was founded on telling those older than we that we had all the answers, that their ways were obsolete, and that we knew better. As far as I’m concerned, we should take the same approach with our own juniors. The Gang from 1950 should stay in the saddle as long as possible. I’m counting on you for this.  

The second and closing point is a story of World War II, which I have taken from Anton Gill’s “The Great Escape.”

The real Great Escape was quite a bit more dark and sinister than the movie, in which charmingly-American Steve McQueen leads the German Army on a Merry Motorcycle Chase about 500 miles from the prison camp, Stalag Luft II, which is in modern Poland, to the Swiss border.

There was no American on a motorcycle; the men who laboriously dug a tunnel to break out of their prison camp in March 1944 were all officers in the air forces of Britain, its commonwealth countries, and several European countries under the heel of Nazi rule.

The idea behind the whole thing was to tie up the German military tracking down a large number of POW escapees, and thereby to disrupt the German war effort, which they succeeded in doing for several critical days. Seventy-six men cleared the tunnel; three escaped officers made it back to England, two via a Swedish ship, and a third through Spain.

The forfeit paid was that the Gestapo, in violation of every known law, treaty, convention or anything else, murdered 50 of the escapees, in cold blood, when they were recaptured. A war crime and atrocity of the first rank.

One of the recaptured officers shot by the Gestapo was a man named Jack Grisman. His widow, whose name was Marie Brochin, gave an interview to the London Daily Mail on the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Escape.  She told them, “I’ve never forgotten him.  I still see Jack in my dreams.  I had a dream the other night and I said to him, “We’re all so old now,” and he said simply, “It doesn’t matter.  We still love one another.”" 

We’re all so old now.”

Well, we’re not all that old, but even if one day we were to be: It doesn’t matter. After all, as Jack Grisman’s spirit put it, we still love one another.

And as I see it, that particular love, the love in this room, will go a long way to help keep us forever young.

Thank you.