Artist recalls life in military family, Fort Myer
by Nancy Nichols Jagelka
Pentagram staff writer
Life as a studio artist in modern America, as with any career, has its positive and negative sides.
For Peter Exton, pursuing his dream has meant holding fast to a passion for a certain type of medium, or discovering the beauty of a new one. It also has meant pursuing a career that may challenge typical family or societal expectations.
In any case, finding that internal button that says “this is it” is something that brings artists closer to their art and into the showcases of craft shows such as the recent Smithsonian Craft Show at the National Building Museum. About 120 artists representing the elite of studio craft artists nationwide were featured as were all mediums for creating works, including ceramics and porcelain, printmaking, glass and jewelry.
Artists came from as far west as California or north as Maine, but for Exton, of Oneonta, N.Y., coming to Washington, D.C., was like a trip home. Exton lived at Fort Myer for two years with his parents and family before his father retired from the Army in 1972.
Exton's family includes four generations of West Point graduates, three of whom are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Exton remembers visiting the old clinic at Fort Myer, to get his shots and a physical. The building is now the Fort Myer headquarters building.
Exton also used to play tennis with former Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland.
“Sometimes Westmoreland would look for someone to hit a ball with,” Exton said. “If one of the generals wanted to get in a game, they'd invite you.”
As a budding musician, Exton also recalls playing folk masses in the Old Post Chapel, and while he was finishing high school in the late '60s, Exton began playing in clubs along King Street, in Old Town Alexandria, emulating folk legend Bob Dylan. He later turned to book publishing with Simon and Schuster in the 1980s.
Although he did not choose the military path, Exton holds his father's service in the highest regard. Hugh M. Exton passed away at age 81 in 1995, and Peter Exton had to fight back the emotion as he reminisced about the man who for years displayed an autographed photograph of Patton on his walls.
“He was honorable,” Peter Exton said. “He was just an honorable man, and I am proud as hell of him. He had a strong sense of duty and country.”
Hugh McClellan Exton, was the last of the Exton men to attend West Point. During his service, he won three Silver Stars as well as the Air Medal and Distinguished Service Medal in World War II, and retired as a lieutenant general.
His service, though, wasn't without personal sacrifice. According to Peter Exton, his father had not planned to attend West Point.
“My father was going to break the line by going to Yale,” Exton said. “But during the depression money disappeared and he could go to West Point for free. He thought he could get an education and then get out. He wanted to be an engineer.”
Hugh Exton served during World War II, and after 10 years in the service, it seemed an inopportune time to leave.
“He had a family to support,” Peter Exton said, “and he needed to stay.”
Although Peter Exton's life is in strong contrast to his family's military life, this hasn't deterred Exton or his siblings.
General Exton died in 1995 and was buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Marjorie Louise Grant Exton (1915-1993) is buried with him.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard