Harper, Thomas Jackson

A Good Lesson for Mids ... and For Us AllBy Randy Harper '71"As far as I am concerned, Tommy Harper can stay here until he either dies, or graduates."-Rear Admiral Kinnard McKee, Superintendent, United States Naval Academy, 1974"The personal courage of Tom Harper is a hallmark of this class."-Opening remarks of Rear Admiral Kinnard McKee, Commencement, Class of 1978With many other new Plebes, Tom Harper arrived in the Yard in 1973, fresh out of a stellar year at NAPS and eager to prove his athletic ability as a Navy football player. And prove it he did, as George Welsh tapped him to be the starting tight end just before the Michigan game. A freshman, a Plebe, starting for Navy? In 1973 at least, that was something! Tom was psyched for the engagement, and his performances in the early practices for the contest with the Wolverines went very well. He caught every pass thrown anywhere near him, and destroyed any and all defenders who had the misfortune of being his blocking assignment. A Firstie, crushed by a big Plebe who would smile as he took you down? This guy should have been playing for Notre Dame, Penn State or Texas... but he chose Navy. He was well liked and respected by all the players on the team.The gown was too small, and I thought I'd break the sleeves as I bent over and put on my black socks, the green garment tight at the elbows and bunching up under my armpits. The bottom didn't even cover my knees, and I was glad to be wearing shorts, because the lower portion of my rear end was clearly out in the open. I left the exam room and went through the double doors again to x-ray, my left hand grasping the front of the gown above my naval as I tapped the wall of the hallway every so often with my right. Here was a big football player; waiting for a flight to go play national power house Michigan, dressed in black socks, skivvy shorts, and a green hospital coat that was slit open down the middle, too tight and way too short. I passed too many people in the hall and half ran, half skipped to quickly close the door of the x-ray room behind me."You're the Navy football player, huh?" the technician on duty asked as he was fiddling with the machine. Unfortunately, Tom never played against Michigan in 1973, and in fact never again wore a Navy game jersey after September of that year, until 19 April 2002.The Michigan hotel lobby wasn't crowded, and not many people were at the registration desk, just a few feet from where Sandra Welsh was sitting. It was quiet the night before the game, and Sandra shared her husband's intensity for the next day's contest.Red Romo was talking to Dr. Eichelberger. Sandra smiled upon seeing their friendly faces across the lobby. She saw Red acknowledge something to the team doctor, but Marty had his back to her, and he entered an elevator as she got up and walked across the library. Red gave her a chagrined look when he saw her approach, the elevator door closing behind them. He had told her earlier that I'd missed the flight, saying only that l had to go to Bethesda to get a groin injury checked. "One of our ball players has cancer" "Tommy Harper?" "Yes, they've removed a tumor. Marty says they think it's malignant." Tom Harper was a relatively young man of 48 years when he passed away on Friday, 12 April 2002. It marked the end of a remarkable physical journey that began almost thirty years ago. With the support of the Naval Academy, his family and many understanding friends, along with good doctors and nurses, Tom beat the advanced cancer that had attacked him as a 19 year-old plebe. The water spray hit me directly in the face, the pellets rinsing my hair and rolling down my back. I felt as if I'd jumped into a clear, cold pool on a hot summer's day. The hospital soap made excellent lather, the suds clinging to me, and I washed twice and then again, standing lazily under the nozzle for several moments, the soap suds making swirls around the ceramic tile and gurgling away down the drain. I had to hold on to the vertical, two-foot-long stainless steel bar attached midway up the shower wall. My God, was I weak! My muscles felt flabby, and it was difficult to stand. I lowered the cover to the commode, sat on it, and gingerly dried my toes, spending almost an hour in the little bathroom. I was sure Navy would do well against Syracuse the next day, and I had to get back in shape. I'd missed a full week of class now, and it would take at least a couple of weekends to catch up. I had to get back to the Academy, back to playing football, and maybe these goals shielded me from everything the hospital was doing. Bethesda was just another obstacle, and l thought then that chemotherapy was just another hospital procedure. l was too naive. "Tom, the disease has spread to your lungs-all throughout your lungs. It's gone farther than we anticipated. Of course, additional surgery is out of the question for now." The x-rays Dr. Timmons held looked as if someone had blasted my lungs with a shotgun full of quarter-sized tumors. Defeating cancer had cost Tom the effective use of one lung, but he persevered. He persevered to suit up again for Navy during the spring football drills of 1976. He returned to the squad, his blue-chip status a memory, and forced himself to re-enter the field of play. He persevered to complete a 10 K that had been named in his honor, finishing dead last in the He survived to graduate, prosper as a Navy Supply Corps officer, business executive, Little League leader, Atlantic Coast Conference football official and most importantly, a father. He made over 300 speeches for the American Cancer Society. He persevered to complete many Division 1 NCAA college football games as an official, sprinting through four quarters with many Florida State receivers, to collapse later, alone in his car. He persevered to survive a heart attack in his mid-thirties, brought on by the experimental, but necessary, treatment he had received for cancer. Not surprisingly, he suffered the attack while lifting weights. "The news keeps getting worse," was all I could say, shrugging and looking at my sister, who gently held my hand. I could tell she was worried about something, but there wasn't anything I could do to make her feel better. I'd be in the hospital even longer now, but l was happy the next operation had been canceled. They wouldn't have to split my chest open, and maybe that meant there was a good chance I'd get back to the Academy soon. l didn't know that the surgery had been intended to stop the disease from reaching my lungs. The cancer was already there. The news wasn't getting any better, although the doctors were positive and cooperative and the facility was ideal. Testicular cancer is typically a young man's disease, and a military hospital like Bethesda would experience more of it because of the relatively young age of men in the U.S. military. The relatively larger number of Bethesda cases, though actually infrequent, had resulted in this hospital having the best treatment available. The spread of this cancer, though, would have made it all hopeless had it not been for my family's deep faith, the support of the Academy, and at the time, my self-centered attitude toward life-the Naval Academy and football, in particular. On 18 February 1999, Tom, vice president of marketing for Universal Systems Inc. (now known as Integic) went into bypass surgery, still asking questions about the software needs of the hospital. He went in with his usual confidence and ”lan, declaring that he was looking forward to it, because when he recovered, he would be back to dunking the basketball, beating his boys on the court, and spanking his brothers whenever they were in Purcellville, to visit. He was a lean 210 pounds, filled with a competitive spirit and style that gave him an edge in the cut-throat software business where he had carved a solid niche. l was doing better than some others in the ward. There was an older gentleman, a retired admiral, who died a little every day-a proud man, still resolute despite the disease which raged within him. We talked a lot, but l mostly listened as he told of his wartime experiences and of past fellow officers now dead, the exploits garnished over the years. He knew he was going to die and resigned himself to that fate. What was inside him would kill him and was something over which he felt he had no control. The old admiral would lie in bed, at times taking an interest in all the newspapers and magazines that cluttered the top of his small, movable vanity. He'd moan during the night, and l tried to help, holding him tightly as he'd cry on my shoulder, waiting to die. I was only a Plebe. Tom never recovered from the surgery in early 1999. Instead he entered another chapter of his remarkable life, beginning a three-year odyssey that should not have lasted but for three days. Twice in the few weeks after the surgery Tom's beloved wife, Lynn, was asked to get their boys, to say goodbye. The extent of the 1973 damage to Tom's pulmonary system was more than anyone had anticipated-his body was not responding as it should. The early goodbyes proved unnecessary-Tom simply, wasn't ready to go. He should have gone by any medical measure. Arrangements were in place, and he couldn't speak, but he kept himself alive by his sheer will and indomitable character. He chose to fight, again. I had a new problem if l was as sick as everybody said. I would be discharged from the Academy, and then what would I do? Go to some veterans' hospital in California? Hang around my room in San Mateo? No longer be a football player? No longer be a Midshipman? But maybe I would be dead before it came to all that. Many people seemed to think so. I talked with Dr. Timmons about it, and while he was sympathetic he was also realistic, saying that he hoped nothing like that would happen, but it was a distinct possibility. I mentioned this to Coach Welsh and Commander Smith, and they both said they would help me, but I knew there was only so much effect their influence could have. The Navy's Bureau of Medicine was faceless to me, and if Admiral Mack couldn't help, I would no longer be a midshipman.../ lay in bed thinking about that. It was a quiet afternoon, my therapy over for the day, and l was tired, not really hungry, and wondered how long it would be before I could leave Bethesda. My upper chest felt as if it was falling down to my groin. I was queasy, weak, and as I touched my hands together my fingernails came off. It wasn't painful. They just crumbled softly between the sheets and onto the floor. For 38 months Tom was connected to machines and equipment that kept his body breathing and functioning. His world went from visiting boardrooms around the country to the interior confines of his home, shrinking gradually from the whole down-floor expanse to his bedroom. His independence, his professional stature, his active role as a loving husband and father, his ability to play and have fun, his dream to be the caring, country gentleman with the beautiful landscaped estate all these left him, gradually at first, but then completely gone The final score was Navy 51, Army 0. The game was dedicated to me at the pep rally the day before, and a large sheet poster with my name on it hung with all the others in the Bancroft Hall rotunda- "Beat Army for Tom Harper" it read, the words intermingled with other portrayals of our supremacy over West Point. l received several telephone calls during the next few days, everybody from Annapolis calling to cheer me up and telling me not to worry. Worry? Worry about what, l thought? And Phil Nelson finally told me what happened. An over exuberant cheerleader had grabbed the microphone during the Pep Rally, exclaiming to the excited crowd in front of him that the game was dedicated to Tom Harper, a Plebe football player dying of cancer. I had no intention of lending any accuracy to that well-meaning dedication. His weight went down to almost 100 pounds. His body began to resemble the haunting corpses from Dachau, pallid flesh wrapped around bone-on-bone. At times he was so weak he couldn't hold his head up. He went from a shuffle walk to baby steps to not walking at all. At first he relied on a vent machine to give him some relief from the laborious process of breathing on his own, forcing and thinking about each breath, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, until finally the constant "wheez-wheez-wheez" of the vent machine was with him all the time and everywhere. "What did you say, Doctor?" "Tom, today's your birthday, right?" "Yes." "I have the best present you'll ever get. You were sound asleep when Admiral Mack called. He told me to tell you that you could come back to the Academy whenever you're ready." Early-on he tried to exercise, using an indoor bicycle machine. He bragged once on improving from four to five minutes, for one revolution. His abdomen would swell, his feet would swell, his "gluteus maximus" evaporated into sharp points of pain. Constant invasions were made into his body, to drain liquids, to suction material from his lungs, to check his trac, and to insert a feeding tube. Infections would come and go, with varying degrees of intensity and effect. Pneumonia was a constant threat, as well as depression. Tom felt at times his affliction was not only destroying him, but also his family.I knew it was time when Captain Forbes, the commandant, also watching that afternoon's practice, commented to Carol about the length of my hair, telling her that the Academy couldn't let up on me once the academic year started. I wanted to stay with my class-1977-but it would be difficult...My new classmates were talking about things I had already done. I'd had my Plebe Summer, and while at Bethesda and living with the Smiths was encumbered by all the rituals of that fourth class year.. .I was introduced to the new Plebes as a turnback.. .It took a couple of days for me to move back into Bancroft Hall, and both Sandra and Carol were there to help. It was hard moving all my gear, my lungs aching with the exertion, and I wondered how I was going to handle the rigors of fourth class year if merely moving my belongings was hard work. Sandra Welsh thought it was a strange sight; who at the Academy had ever heard of the wife of the head football coach actually helping a 20-year-old Plebe, who wheezed, huffed, and puffed like an old man, haul his belongings into an elevator and up to his room? Through it all, Tom remained mentally sharp, with clarity of purpose, irrepressible attitude and sense of humor. He studied and knew the purpose of each foreign device attached to his body-how it should be put together, operate, be disassembled for cleaning, and reassembled. He dealt with the pain and boredom, the hopeless feeling of being alone and many times being unable to move, a clear mind encumbered with cold, biological apparatus whose operation would interrupt the stillness of the night-every night, winter, spring, summer, and fall. Most of my uniforms had to be retailored because of my weight loss, and I was still wearing the loose-fitting summer whiteworks when the Brigade switched to blues. This was a sore point with Twelpin*,and he picked up on it about the time a heat rash developed on my right thigh and along the lower side of my back. He was after me in particular to wear the service dress-blue uniform for evening meals and grew increasingly irritated when I kept telling him that my blue uniforms were being "recut," He'd say every day, "I want you in the proper uniform, Mr. Harper. What is this?" Perhaps it bothered him that I stood out in the squad, a fourth-classman in white, off-balance with the dark blue attire of everyone else. I put toilet paper under my clothes to conceal the rash, keeping it from moving through to the surface, as I was bleeding from the irritation. My roommates, Buck Wickland and Andy Cuca, would help me undress during come-arounds, peeling off my trousers with fresh paper ready, my skin rough, ugly in places, with little bubbles and pockets that oozed a clear fluid and a yellowish substance along with the blood. l had the shingles-herpes zoster aggravated by the chemotherapy, as painful a hurt as I had ever experienced, and now I had to juggle that along with the chemotherapy, hospital routine, nausea, sickness, academics, and my Plebe rates. My lack of a proper uniform started to wear thin with some of the other upperclassmen in the company, adding fuel to Twelpin's* interest, and when my clothes finally arrived from the tailor shop clean, reshaped and freshly pressed-I gingerly pulled the virgin material of my trouser leg over the tissue and freshly carved skin. The shingles were ugly, and running sores were on the flank of my thigh, slivers of pain shooting up and down the middle of my back. My tie, shirt, blouse, spit-shined shoes, and cap went together well, and I proceeded to visit Midshipman First Class John Twelpin*. "Mr. Harper! You look great! So professional!" he said, scrutinizing me from head to toe. l wanted to reach out and grab his tiny throat. "Just fine, Mr. Harper, just fine. Don't you feel better?" I didn't smile as I looked into his eyes, my face expressionless while the insides of my wool pants rubbed my thighs raw. "Yes, Sir. l feel great." I went back to my room, each step feeling like my legs were being pushed across broken glass. Andy Cuca helped me into a chair, my face ashen white and palms covered by sweat from the outside of my fists. I undid my belt buckle, and Andy pulled at the bottom of the trousers as I eased out of the top. There were pieces of bloody skin on the inside of the seat, as if somebody had spilled raspberries all over the inside of my pants and then stepped on them. "My God," Andy said, but l finally had the upper hand on Twelpin*...I was readmitted into the ward that night. Tom dealt with it by teaching himself to become a gourmet cook, a connoisseur with unique culinary expertise. He dealt with it by staying on top of his boys' sports and academics, and those of their teammates. He dealt with it by laughing heartily when told his application to be a Chippendale had been turned down. He dealt with it by engaging with vigor in verbal volleyball with his brothers and oldest nephew regarding the relative merits of the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame, the Texas Longhorns, the Big 12, any team in the ACC, and when Navy was going to win a football game. He dealt with it by making mail delivery the highlight of his day, and was rewarded ten-fold with communications of love and concern. He dealt with it by communicating with his tongue, moving it against the roof of his mouth, the "click-click" sound always strong, timely and coming your way. Admiral Mack was pointing at me, as he did with all midshipmen, in the direction of truly knowing a sense of duty, but more importantly he was helping me in goal orientation, as my preoccupation with the challenges of Plebe Year kept my subconscious from emphasizing cancer. When told I couldn't do what I wanted to do because of the therapy, I took it as a personal criticism, putting me on the offensive, to fight and regain lost ground. I worked with Dr. Perlin and Dr. Ruppenthal on the response to the Medical Board inquiries, the input going through the Academy staff and on to Washington. Although they could have discharged me at any time, or kept me in the Navy until therapy was completed before discharge, Admiral Mack sold them on the idea of letting me stay. As long as I kept up they would retain me, sufficient enough reason to approach the tasks of fourth class year without dwelling on the fact that I'd been through some of it once before...I couldn't have received better cooperation from the leadership at USNA because they didn't let the medical opinion tell them what to do. Most importantly, Tom dealt with it by accepting the support of his family, parents, siblings, co-workers, classmates, and many friends. They would do whatever they could, and did not hesitate to help him with even the most basic of his needs. It was tough for many, but those that loved him never turned away, any embarrassment for patient or provider acknowledged, accepted-and dealt with. His wife, his sons, his siblings-they would massage his feet, clean his trac, move his arms-for Lynn, she did it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For over three years, she never slept for more than four hours continuously, waken every night by some adjustment that had to be made to Tom's equipment. The effects of Tom's condition were just as difficult for her as it was for him. Relief was sporadic, but she endured. Charlie Tongue was the field equipment manager for the football team and was assigned the daily responsibility of taking care of the Navy mascot. Charlie was a 30-year veteran of the Academy, a short, heavy, jovial man with close-cropped hair and a twinkle in his eye. He was an accomplished handyman, driving an old pickup loaded with odds and ends and yard paraphernalia, and he would do anything for you, sparing the time from his home and beloved garden to help anybody out. Charlie was a cancer patient, but nobody knew too much about his treatment because he was quiet, always smiling, and in good spirits. He was a living example of positive emotion and just before his death, when he was given a game ball by Coach Welsh, in a poignant locker room meeting with the football team, I realized that the Naval Academy will always stand for something good. In October of last year, Tom was driven to Football Senior Night, his oldest son, Adam, the starting quarterback for a good high school team. His stood nearly erect by his wheelchair near the end-zone, slightly stooped over and accompanied by thin poles with the dangling connections of medical equipment, and accepted the handshakes of every senior on the squad. Someone commented, "There stands a Naval Academy graduate." Tom never had a prouder moment. Adam later gave Tom a framed print of Stonewall Jackson leading his troops into nearby Harpers Ferry, with the words "This reminds us of you, Dad-Thomas Jackson, at the head of the line, leading our family." I wasn't in many scrimmages during spring ball, and ended up finally on the fourth team. I remember one play distinctly-the same play I ran during practice almost three years earlier as a blue-chip Plebe, when I'd wiped out Chet Moeller, our All American safety. I tried it again, doing it the same way, but I couldn't make the block, my opponent tossing me aside to make the tackle. I was hit hard on a pass route the very next play, fumbling, and before hitting the ground I thought to myself, I never would have dropped the ball before. I'd caught a perfect pass in the Blue-Gold game, right over the middle, and there was one defensive back between me and the end zone, but I ran right toward him with my head down. He didn't tackle me-I tackled myself into him because I was too tired to make any moves and run any further. I remembered thinking then, as we both fell in a heap to the turf, that if this was three years ago, this guy wouldn't have had a chance; I would have scored. I walked back to the huddle, and Coach Spa looked quizzical, raising his eyebrows and saying, "That should have been a touchdown." "I know...tired," I responded with a sigh, the coach's look saying, "Tom, maybe one day you were good, but not now. Sorry." I had played football again, which was a goal, but deep down I realized I was no longer a good player. Cancer had taken away more than I realized. I telephoned the Welsh's from home, and after talking with Sandra I asked to speak with George, who, aware of my frustration, said, "Tom, you don't have to prove anything to us. The great thing is that you wanted to come out and play again. You were here the first day and every day, in pads, you did everything, you hit people. You made people believe." I didn't know what to answer, and when Coach Welsh invited me to join the team as a coach for summer practice, I accepted.The Harper household in Purcellville, VA, reconfigured to serve Tom with around-the-clock care, was full of medical equipment, oxygen bottles, emergency machinery and plastic tubing, all circulating around a patient either in an adjustable bed, shuffling from the bedroom to the kitchen, or somewhere in between. It was also full of children and teenagers, who would gravitate there despite the intensive care ward around which they would congregate. With every football, basketball or baseball game, many of the players would gather before and after and Tom would give his counsel. Tom had an embarrassing moment one day, to which his youngest son, Phillip, responded while cleaning, "Don't worry, Dad. We do what we have to do." Phillip's older brother, Nathan, always did what had to be done, taking care of his father's bedside and ambulatory needs every day and at any hour. Admiral Mack retired in August of that summer...and he wanted the new Superintendent, Rear Admiral Kinnard McKee, to be as supportive of my efforts as he had been...Commanders Smith and Renard were of the most help. They had discussed many ways of handling the new superintendent, and they were present at the meeting Admiral McKee convened before the start of academics where a decision had to be made. Was I to stay there, or was I not fit for duty? "Admiral," Commander Smith said, "the only thing that's keeping that boy alive, outside of his own courage and determination, is this school. Without it, it would not be very good, I'm afraid to say. This school...this institution, the Academy, gentlemen, is what's keeping this young man alive." Admiral McKee looked at everyone in the meeting, the grouping of senior officers in summer white uniforms accentuated by the dark green felt of the table around which they all sat. He paused briefly, then leaned back in his chair, saying, "Well, as far as I'm concerned, Tommy Harper can stay here until he either dies or graduates." At the beginning of this article I mentioned that 12 April 2002 was the end of a remarkable physical journey for Tom. While indeed it was, the spirit that was brought into the world on 12 December 1953 by Dorothy and Jackson Harper has no end. A Navy game jersey with "T. Harper" over the number "88" was given to his family at the celebration of his life at United Methodist Church in Round Hill, VA, on 19 April of this year. Tom's spirit is all around us, reflected not only in the faces of his sons, but also in the courageous attitudes and deeds of those who endure with perseverance the suffering and trials thrust a upon them. In this case, notably, Lynn. I had an extra instruction literature class the morning of the presentation but excused myself early, saying to the prof, "I've got to go meet the President." "Sure you do, Harper." he replied, and I couldn't help but grin as I left Mahan Hall to meet my parents at the Capitol Hilton. We met Admiral McKee there and Marvella Bayh, the wife of the senator from Indiana and a courageous cancer patient herself. We were driven by limousine to the White House, where we were shown to the Roosevelt Room. I was happy Marvella was there, as she had listened to several of my speeches and we often talked afterwards. She had a cancer far more advanced than mine, but she had resolved to get the most of each and every day. Rosalyn Carter came into the room, accompanied by some Japanese dignitaries, and was shortly followed by her press secretary, who informed us the President was ready to see us. The ceremony was a touching event, if only to see my parents in the company of the President of the United States. Everyone listened attentively as President Carter spoke and presented the award. I kept my comments brief, and no sooner did it seem we entered the White House than I was standing in the East Wing with my parents, the three of us alone, waiting for our limousine. "I can't believe I'm doing this," Mom said, "standing here in the White House, waving goodbye to everyone." Dad and I joined in her laughter. We were doing research for the 1984 book, I Choose to Fight-Tom Harper's Courageous Victory Over Cancer when Tom was still in the Navy in DC. One night he wanted to show me Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he had undergone treatment. I asked him how we were going to get into Bethesda so late at night and he replied with a nod and a wink, "No problem-I'm Tom Harper!" We went over to the hospital and Tom told the Chief on duty, "Chief-Tom Harper. I'm going to need 15 minutes or so to check a few things out. I know it won't be a problem for you!" With that, we went on a tour of the hospital area. I wanted to walk the same paths as Tom did many years ago, and we went deep into the facility. We ended up in the radiation therapy arena, which at the time you could view through small windows, looking down into a large chamber. The room was tiled all around-floor, walls and ceiling. The technicians could look down on an austere, single stark table accentuated by a single shaft of light. I remember asking Tom how he was able to handle all the therapy, particularly the consistent bodily abuse, probes, invasions, needles and such. I get psyched out a couple of weeks before getting a simple blood test. Tom replied that as far as his body was concerned, he would do his best, but that his body would do what it would do. He couldn't control that. He had to put faith in the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. As far as his attitude was concerned though, he could control that, and as far as that was concerned... then he said four words very forcefully. During the course of Tom's recent treatment, I asked him basically the same question-how was he handling all the tubes, needles, charts, vents, probes and medical stuff he was hooked up to-it looked like something out of Star Wars or the underbelly of a KC-130 at night, where I had linked up once to get fuel. He took his pad and pen and wrote-"Remember Bethesda!" I wrote four words down on the pad, and showed it to him. He replied with a wink and a confident nod. Those four words he had spoken very forcefully way back when, as far as his attitude was concerned, were: ''I Will Not Fail!'' ...and he never did. I would have proven not only to myself but to many others that faith and support predominate any unseen foe. It was a personal commitment, a vow not to lose, to keep going through radiation and toxic drug treatment, harassment and academic pressure...It was a goal that meant something different than just being able to say I graduated from the United States Naval Academy. I did it with my body, my heart, and my soul, and with the many people who were an integral part of what the Naval Academy is all about. It was impossible not to think about dying from cancer, but it was possible to look past it. I didn't concentrate on dying. Everyone is required to get the most out of his or her life; to contribute something of quality and not to be judged by merely how long they live. I was prepared to die, but I refused to give in to that possibility... I would do it! I had to build myself up, increase my resistance, control my senses, my emotions, combine them into one tool to work for me...I prepared to die by preparing to live with determination, dedication, the support of others, and by the grace of God. I went through so much just to graduate and wanted to be part of what the Naval Academy stands for. Without... the contribution of my Academy family, I would not have had the tools to survive and compete with cancer on my own terms. This celebration...is my thanks to you for your love and devotion in helping me accomplish the goal that we set out to do years ago. When they tell you that you have cancer, you can give up or you can fight. I chose to fight ...I thank God for the strength He gave to you to give to me. During the course of his treatments, both in the seventies, eighties and from 1999 to 2002, Tom should have left us. Not once, twice or three times, but many, defying all medical opinion and practicality. During the last week of his life he was on 100% oxygen. His heart would stop but he would come back, fighting to the end, drifting in and out of consciousness with absolute determination. A little before noon, on 12 April 2002, God was making His daily rounds about heaven, as He is pre-disposed to do. As He usually does, He stopped by the new arrival section, and saw a man walking out of the mist towards Him. He was about 6'3", 210 pounds, a hint of a tan, a little thin on top, but accentuated nicely by a good moustache. He knew immediately who it was-Tom Harper. "Tom," God said, "When I originally called for you, I expected you to be here in ninety days. But it's been almost thirty years-what's the story?" Tom looked God straight in the eye, and smiling said, "Your Lordship, it’s not a problem (tapping on his watch) ... I've been on Tom Harper time!" Remarks from the Celebration of the Life of Tom Harper, Round Hill, VA, on 19 April 2002. Shortly thereafter, Tom's oldest son, Bill and his wife Laurie, were blessed with their first son. Appropriately, his name is Jackson.