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By Courage and Faith - A Love Story

Terry '66 and Jacquie Van Meter

Van Meter - Wedding PhotoThere are some people you meet that just make you a better person. They emanate. And you can’t help but get in the way of it or breathe some of it in. If you spend a little time with them, they make you look at life differently. They make you more thankful, stronger, wiser, kinder, or all the above. That is the case with Terry and Jacquie Van Meter. God has given them a special gift. Or maybe it is better stated that God has given us a special gift in them.

“By Courage and Faith” is the class motto of the Class of ’66. This is a story about two amazing people for whom this motto is real.

From Perseverance to Courage
One reason why Norwich graduates are successful is that they have to endure far more than others of their same age. It is safe to say that having to endure more turns into perseverance, the ability to recover from misfortune or failure, brushing it off, accepting what happened, and having the ambition and strength to try again tomorrow. Perseverance is the most cited characteristic that alumni share with me as the most important value of their Norwich experience.

And perseverance yields courage, because now one does not fear failure. One understands it is necessary on life’s road.

Terry Van Meter was a handsome, strapping,and tall ’66 graduate who rose very quickly to a command in Vietnam. Jacquie was a beautiful Army nurse with no shortage of admirers, but it was Terry who won her heart - oddly enough - in the end.

Terry was a natural leader, and his Norwich experience honed his leadership skills well, establishing a foundation of endurance and perseverance, and as such, planting some seeds of courage. So by the age of 25 and in the middle of Vietnam, Terry’s leadership abilities already shone brightly. He was likely to be one of those Norwich grads to rise to high rank and meritorious service. And his dream of a career in the military would be fulfilled.

But fate wouldn’t have any part of it.
Van Meter - Army Headshot
Fate
Fate is ruthlessly and coldly silent about its decisions. It never explains itself. Perhaps it feels it doesn’t have to. Or maybe it just can’t. It never allows you to determine why, or why not. It is impossible to say what may have been different in any one of our lives had this or that not happened or this or that did happen. We can only surmise, not live life over again to see. And because of that, endless wondering and questioning of the what - if’s leads to chronic yearning and heartache, but accepting and moving beyond the past leads to faith and wisdom. And so fate, in its silence, forces us to be weaker or stronger. It is our decision which way we go, whether we allow fate to weaken or strengthen us. 

Fate’s Decision for Terry
Ho Bo Woods was used by the Viet Cong as a base during the Vietnam War. It was the location of several storied battles. In August of ’68, Terry’s company was dropped in with several others during an intense three-day fight. Terry assessed his portion of the battlefield for his troops. He educated them on it, he scouted it himself, and he gave clear instructions as to what was to occur. In such close and violent quarters, each decision that a person is faced with comes with a container of fate strapped right to it. Things happen fast. Lasting things. The decision to advance, the decision to retreat, and the decision to hold ground each weaves itself into a mesh of reality and a victory, defeat, draw, or death. Terry was faced with a decision at Ho Bo. And he decided to advance. And so carrying his container of fate, he moved ahead into the forest. In this case, it took only a second for fate to decide. The first shot “cold-cocked” Terry, sucker-punching him right in the throat. The second burned through his torso, and still another plugged into his arm. Terry immediately turned over, noticed his legs didn’t work, and heard his chest squishing. He said a prayer “Father, if possible, please help me get out of here”. He now recounts: “I immediately had the most peaceful feeling I have ever had, and I knew that I was going to get out somehow.”

In less than one second, fate’s container had been opened, and its decision was that Terry would not walk again. Nor would he fulfill his dream of an Army career. But those outcomes would have to wait. First he had to fight to stay alive.

From August 1968 to February 1969, Terry did fight - hard - and he did survive. His recovery would occur at Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania, a place where he would spend the most difficult period of his life. As he worked through the questions, the why’s, the why not’s, and the what-if’s, he sunk to the lowest point in his life. But as we discussed above, in the end, fate makes you decide to become weaker or stronger. Sometimes it takes a while. In this case, it took a while for the seeds of courage that were planted in his Norwich days to win out over the fear of his uncertain life ahead. But they did win out. And Terry did, in fact, become stronger. Having battled for and won his mortality, his acceptance of his plight lit a small-but-growing flame in his heart. Terry was slowly getting ready to move forward in life.

But fate had one more thing to decide before Terry could leave Valley Forge General Hospital.

Beauty and The Beast
Van Meter - Jacquie Nurse Pinning Jacquie Nemetz was an Army brat. She had moved around most of her life. Her mother and father were well grounded, working hard in the church and community and including the kids in the process. Everyone in her family had a job to do, and Jacquie was up to any task. She was accepted into the Army Student Nurse Corps program her senior year in college and commissioned six months prior to graduation. After passing the state boards, she began her career. Her first assignment - drumroll… Valley Forge General Hospital.

Jacquie’s first day on the job was February 15th, 1969. Her patients that day included one of Valley Forge’s long-term residents, Terry Van Meter. There were no instant sparks, no angels singing in heaven. Each of them already had a romantic interest in someone else. But sometimes fate doesn’t decide things in one second. Sometimes it doddles and tarries. In this case, if there were to be a courtship, there were some things that would take some time to process, the least of which were his injury. Would she want a man who might need extra care the rest of his life?

Like the poignant tale, Beauty and the Beast, Jacquie was able to see a prince inside Terry’s riddled body. Jacquie didn’t know exactly what moment fate instructed Cupid to pull the bow, but by June, the two of them would have to say goodbye for a while, and that goodbye included the words “I love you”. Somewhere between her first day of work and June, Jacquie uncovered, in her words, “integrity, principled, goal-oriented, cute, very honorable, gentlemanly, and old school”. She found her prince.

Now, for the most part, the Army doesn’t care if you fall in love. Assignments must be honored, and hers included a year in Vietnam. His included more recovery, some thank you’s, awards, paperwork, pinnings, and then a discharge from the Army. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and so while the relationship was growing in such fondness, there were also other items of fate to address, including Terry’s career.

His career’s first change was a result of being medically retired for his wounds, much to his dismay. His case went clear to the Surgeon General, but despite approvals to remain in the Army the whole way up the chain, the Surgeon General turned him down.

Van Meter - Army Award The second change followed almost immediately when Terry went back to Norwich for a visit. During that visit, Professor Frank Sargeant challenged Terry to not go the MBA and corporate ladder route, which is what Terry had settled on given that he was not able to be an Army man. Rather, Professor Sargeant stated that Terry should allow life to reward him, for a change, by choosing the one thing that he most loved to do, and that was military history. And so one more important piece of Terry and Jacquie’s puzzle fell into place. He chose a career in military history, one that would benefit his alma mater one day.

In April Terry met Jacquie in Hawaii while she was on leave. She came home from Vietnam in August 1970. In October they were married. And they lived happily ever after.

They didn’t live “easily” ever after. And they didn’t live “without challenges” ever after. They didn’t live “comfortably” ever after. With Terry’s injury, simple things can be hard to navigate at times. It’s just more complicated. But they did live “happily” ever after. And, Jacquie insists that she does not do much extra for Terry. He is as independent as most husbands and far more hard-working.

At a young age their lives and marriage had been tempered by an extra hot forge of endurance, perseverance, fate, and faith. They have built a wonderful life for their children, their grandchildren, and their friends. Terry has been a faithful public servant as a military museum curator in a variety of venues around the nation, and terminating 31 years of service as Director of Army Museum System at the Center of Military History in Washington DC. And Terry and Jacquie have BOTH richly supported Norwich, serving on the Board of Fellows, Sullivan Museum Advisory Board, and contributing richly to the school’s Reunion and capital campaigns. He and Jacquie visit the Hill often.

Van Meter - FamilyFrom Fate to Faith
Faith is an acceptance of what we do not understand. It is also an acceptance of what has already occurred, a sort of reckoning with fate, as to the wisdom of seemingly random and undesired results. And faith means having confidence that someone outside of your own person will be there to pick you up after fate delivers its blow. This “picking up” is a powerful concept that will not be developed in this article, but which countless alumni have told me is one of the premiere takeaways of being trained in the Corps. There is always something bigger than you.

For Terry and Jacquie, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see”, Hebrews 11:1. It is a statement that  sustains people in an uncertain world. It gives them courage and calmness. It allows them to be happy despite fate being horribly unkind.

Jacquie is a tiny lady. And Terry appears shorter than most as he relaxes in his wheel chair. But they tower over everyone around them, emanating their great love for each other, their great faith, their great courage, and their great love of Norwich. And for the Class of 1966 and their triumphant 50th year march onto Sabine Field this Homecoming year, there was no more honorable, meritorious, courageous, or faithful leader to lead them on than Terry Van Meter.

And every one who is reading this was a part of it.

Norwich Forever.

Post Script - Mottos
To young people, mottos are often meaningless vestiges of some past generation’s experience, success, or hopes. They are rarely relevant when we are first introduced to them, and most times we store them away like an old school book after we graduate. They spend years on the shelf or in a box in the attic with barely an ounce of thought devoted to them. Most die an irrelevant death as we mature and move on to other things.

But, there are some mottos that are more meaningful, more lasting, and more relevant. They too are shelved, but many years later, and often when we least expect it, they bloom in our minds, taking on a life of their own inside our hearts, our souls, and our actions. They were, in fact, seeds that a past generation was wise enough to plant in us. Organizations who have mottos that later bloom are indeed very special organizations.

Essayons”,  “I will Try”,  “Norwich Forever”, and “Expect Challenge - Achieve Distinction” are all groups of words minted by past Norwich generations trying to define an experience or inspire individuals to a code of conduct, a way of living, or a way of thinking. And I can tell you that these mottos absolutely (and in grand fashion) show up in the lives of Norwich alumni just like they did in Terry and Jacquie Van Meter

By Courage and Faith” was one such motto.  Many classes at Norwich had class mottos. This one happens to belong to the class of ’66, which of course is Terry’s class. But many years later, it would serve to inspire, define, and sustain the life of one of its most inspiring graduates.ay attention to the mottos in the Norwich world. They are real. They have defined us for 200 years. And they will continue to define us for... well, forever.