David William Bottcher seemed larger than life in the summer of 1986 to me and nearly all of the other 1,400 new cadets gathered in a loose formation at the River Courts athletic fields near the banks of the Hudson River during pugil-stick training. We were in the final weeks of what West Point calls “Cadet Basic Training” which is the 6-week period of time before the start of the academic year. Most graduates of the Academy have another name for it however….Beast Barracks! The purpose of “Beast” was to prepare new cadets entering West Point for the school year ahead. The cadre, made up mostly of rising seniors, had taken their mission very seriously and most days it seemed less like we were getting prepared for the school year, and more like we were being broken down from high school punks to men and women of discipline.
“Bottch”, as many would call him, was one of us, but he was physically bigger, stronger and in some ways, a lot faster, especially when it came to pugil sticks. Bottch was a recruited heavyweight wrestler for the Army team, but like all new cadets, he still had to go through Beast Barracks with all the rest of us. His wrestling prowess was testimony to his superior skills at pugil sticks.
Now, if you don’t know anything about these “sticks”, then let me explain. Imagine a long wooden bar, probably about 4 feet long with two cylinder pads wrapped around each end. When assembled correctly, the sticks looked more like giant Q-tips than anything else. When doing the training, which was designed to replicated having to fight one’s enemy with just the bayonet attached to the end of a rifle, we were also suited up with helmets and gloves, as if that might give us more protection and a little more courage.
Bottch didn’t need any more courage. He was 120% courage. The cadre set up a bracket completion of sorts for all the cadets, gender-specific, of course. And when Bottch literally crushed all the other new cadets in the summer camp, the cadre picked their biggest, strongest, and fastest representative to take on Bottch. We broke formation but none of the upperclassmen seemed to care and the two competitors were quickly encircled forming a make-shift ring.
It wasn’t even close. Bottch crushed the cadre member with three or four powerful strikes. Immediately, Bottch was a hero to the class. He was one of us and he took out one of the bad guys! The defeat of the cadre member made things a little tougher on all of us that evening with more yelling, more hazing, and more tasks. But we didn’t seem to mind.
Bottch’s legend continued through his cadet career, after graduation while he served the Army, including combat tours in Iraq as an Infantry officer. Our paths would crossed sparingly over the years, mostly at Infantry officer schools at Fort Benning, Georgia, or at class reunions at West Point. Bottch always filled the room with his giant personality yet gentleness of ease.
His nickname for me was “Lenny” from our early days at school. But every time I ran into him over the years, hearing him yell that nickname always put a smile on my face. This giant of a man was human, after all, and that made him much more of a leader and friend.
Last week, classmates received frightening news that Bottch, recently retired as a Colonel, was in the hospital near Fort Benning fighting an enemy that even he struggled to defeat. Dave had been working in the yard of his home the weekend prior near Pensacola, Florida, and had gotten several scratches on his legs. A consulting job with the military took him to Benning a couple days later and when he was feeling uncharacteristically sluggish, his supervisors suggested he visit the doctor.
There at the Army hospital on the base, Bottch was given the shocking news that he had contracted some form of bacterial virus from the yard work scratches. Though he was under excellent medical care, Dave’s health declined extremely quickly, leading to kidney failure, and having to be put on a ventilator.
Yesterday, Dave’s family made the decision to remove him from life support after realizing that he would not be able to recover from the catastrophic illness. No one saw this coming and as a very close group of graduates, we are all stunned and saddened beyond belief. There are no words to explain our grief nor condolences enough to heal David’s family and friends who are heartbroken.
Today, I’d ask that you join me and others in prayer for Bottch and his family. Over the past week, there’s been a tremendous outpouring of love and support. Classmates near and far came to his bedside in the days leading up to yesterday’s decision, even though Bottch was unresponsive and not awake. I think the words from the family put it best when describing David as a “warrior” who was going home for the last time.
Often times, I’ve read about soldiers who’ve “fallen” in battle. Not sure if that is ever appropriate. I am ever more convinced that my friend, my classmate, my hero has not fallen…but he has risen, even if for one final time.
Going through an experience like West Point is like no other. Bonds of friendship are tight like a brotherhood. Years can go by, but bonds tighten over time.
This week, the Academy’s “Long Gray Line” was weakened a little bit in the loss of our warrior. God’s shiny fortress in Heaven just became a lot stronger, however. Maybe God needed some help with pugil sticks too.
Carry one, faithful soldier. You are missed, my friend.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.