An Update From Center Court

Posted by            The Real Don Johnson on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 7:21:34 PM

An update from center court

My wife and I recently had the privilege of attending two memorable occasions, each held at center court of basketball arenas.

US Military Academy at West Point NY. The occasion was the retirement of Col. William (Woody) Held and his wife Sally. Woody was also promoted to Brigadier General during the ceremony. Sally was Diana’s best friend starting in kindergarten, until both of their fathers were transferred from Butte, Montana during the girls’ high school years. Before leaving Butte, the two friends made a pact, that in the year 2000, they would get together again no matter where in the world each lived. We somehow managed to stay loosely connected with the Helds over the years, and in 2000, with our daughter and her family living in New Haven, Connecticut, just two hours from West Point, Diana and Sally were able to rekindle their friendship on a more frequent basis.

Woody and Sally are a special couple. During our visits to West Point and New Haven and their visits to San Diego, we discovered first hand just how special they are and were to the young cadets. Woody, you see, was the head of the language department at West Point for the last 15 years. The Helds had an open door policy in the years at West Point, and their home was open, literally, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for cadets needing a break from the grind: to watch TV, make a sandwich, play pool, or just to hang out. We met some of these kids, and heard their stories; the love Woody and Sally have for these young soldiers is incredible, and it shows in love returned to the Helds.

Being 6’8” tall, Woody was also a basketball player, and played a year or two at Butte High, and then played under Bobby Knight and with Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke fame.

The retirement ceremony, held at center court in Cristl Arena at West Point, was very special, well attended, with the uniform being camouflage fatigues, rather than full dress uniform as Woody could have chosen. Woody’s two brothers were there; one a retired FBI agent, the other a retired CIA agent. The father of these men was an FBI agent, so you get a picture of a family dedicated to the service of their country. One of the honored guests was a classmate of Woody’s from 1967, a four star general (ret.) who was the Commander in Chief of the UN force and the joint American and South Korean force in Korea. General Schwartz had many good things to say about the Helds. The most memorable was his comment that over the years he tried to model his life after Woody’s example. Another guest, also a classmate, is now a Deputy Secretary of the Army.

Cadets, past and present, were also well represented, giving glowing tributes to this couple. They told of how their lives have been impacted by the Helds’ example. I talked one-on-one with quite a number of these soldiers, and came away much impressed with the quality young men and women I met. There were also foreign cadets and their stories were impressive as well.

It’s obvious that this family will be missed in the life of the academy but the legacy they leave behind will only serve to strengthen the generations to come. We count it a special privilege to be counted as friends of General and Sally Held.

University of San Diego. The occasion was the 2007 graduation, held at the Jenny Craig Arena, and in particular, that of Kevin Sweeney, a family member from Seattle, and Ben Lee of San Diego, the son of a friend and co-worker. It was great to be witness to such an occasion, and to hear of the accomplishments and dreams of so many of our young people, the future leaders of our American civilization.

There was ample reason for everyone in the arena to have a large measure of pride, and hope for the future with such young people perched at the edge of their own personal contributions to the betterment of the world.

I would like to draw your attention to a particular graduate by the name of Daniel Akech Thiong of Sudan. Daniel’s graduation story is one of remarkable accomplishment in the face of truly daunting odds, and highlights for me, several important points. First is the amazing unquenchable human spirit and the great things that can be accomplished when that spirit is coupled with and cradled within a society that values human dignity and liberty. The second point is one of great pride in that society, the American civilization, that gave this young man the freedom and opportunity to receive the rewards and recognition he so richly deserves on his day of graduation.

Daniel and his story is yet another example of why the United States of America is the greatest nation on God’s green planet, and furthermore, the greatest civilization of all human history.

Read Daniels story at


5 responses to “An Update From Center Court

  1. I hope you don’t mind me posting but ended up here after a Google search for Sally and woody held. Must say I totally agree with your blog on west point, what a wonderful family….I must explain.
    My name is jonine McCoy, previously jonine osmond.
    In the summer of my primary 6 yr of school, back in the 1980s I had the privilege to stay with them at their home in fort Jackson south carolina as part of the america loves Irish children summer programme. Lately I have been trying to get back in contact which as I said earlier has led me here.
    If you are still in contact with them I would be truly grateful if you could pass this message and my email
    Yours in anticipation

    • Dear Jonine,
      Hearing from you is an absolute delight.
      I’ve long believed that if you put your hand out in faith that God will once in awhile put a ‘token’ in your hand, as if to say ‘I’m still here and I still care about you.’
      I have the ability to look at who might be nosing around in my web site, and when I looked just a short time ago, there you were. I commented to my wife Diana that I wonder who that could be? She is from a very Irish American family and a cousin’s son’s graduation is the other ceremony I wrote about.
      So then I look my e-mail for my web site and see your message. I take that as a token from God, and this is a time when I am grateful for such a gift.
      We’ve tried to call Sally on the phone, and I am anxious to share with her my excitement over this unlikely exchange.

      Best regards,

  2. Hi Don
    What wonderful news :), my twin sister Dana will also be very excited. She was also on the trip to America with the group and altho not placed with Sally and woody she also loved them and their generosity to let her stay in their home also :).

  3. Thank you thank you thank you!
    Received an email from Sally. We’re eternally grateful for all your help

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