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[Col. John Thornton Knight, Jr., 1894-1989. Kodakslide film, hand held light meter, manual adjustments]
I knew my grandfather forty (40) years. I consider him one of the most remarkable and influential men I have ever known.
He was born 118 years ago, on May 9, at Fort Reno, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). His father, Brig. Gen. John Thornton Knight, was a graduate of West Point (Class of 1884) and a career cavalry officer. His mother was the daughter of a career cavalry officer and no stranger to the desert southwest.
Granddad left home in 1911 and worked as a ranger in Yosemite National Park. While there, he met John Muir, the conservationist and naturalist. After two years, Granddad worked his way across the country to Washington, D.C., where he attended prep school. That winter, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and reported for duty there in June of 1914.
Granddad excelled at West Point, where he was elected class president, appointed “first captain” of the Corps of Cadets, and lettered in football and wrestling. During his first year, two of his football teammates were Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower.
Granddad’s West Point class graduated early, in August of 1917, because of the outbreak of World War I. Granddad was commissioned in the field artillery. He reported for duty, married Grandmother (his wife of 71 years), and shipped out to France.
On September 12, 1918, Granddad was commanding an artillery battery along the Western Front at the outbreak of the St. Mihiel Campaign. During the battle, he was seriously wounded, but refused to abandon his post. Eventually, he was evacuated to a field hospital. In due course, Granddad was cited for “extraordinary heroism” and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Nation’s second highest award (just below the Medal of Honor). Granddad was proud of that DSC. Whenever he wore a jacket, he often attached a miniature “DSC” lapel pin to his lapel (shown).
I took this picture of Granddad during a visit to Williamsburg, Virginia, in May of 1970. This was just days after my graduation from VMI (Virginia Military Institute), and Grandmother and Granddad had made the long journey from New Orleans to attend the ceremony. In fact, I had just been commissioned a lieutenant in the army, and Dad and Granddad administered the oath and pinned on the gold bars.
Granddad was an eternal optimist, with the sunniest disposition. And this photo captures his personality, just as I remember him. He was 76 here.
Granddad was a man of the most sterling qualities – a force for good. What a blessing to me and his extended family. He is not forgotten!
Also by Richard Knight
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