The AJT reported last week that Marissa K. of Savannah was set to become the first Jewish woman from Georgia to graduate from West Point.
We were wrong.
Among the many truisms in journalism is that if a story sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I had suspicions in that direction but failed to follow through, so, as several people told us and many others know, we had an embarrassing error right on the front page.
It was bad enough that we did something we almost never do: After we went to press, we redid the online version of the newspaper to make the electronic version correct.
It’s important to understand that the mistake is ours, particularly mine as the editor of this newspaper, and that neither Marissa nor her family did anything wrong. Nobody tricked us or misled us. We were told about what sounded like a great story, and we didn’t do our due diligence to confirm that what we heard about Marissa was true.
It’s also important to recognize that whether she was first, third or later, Marissa is someone worthy of being profiled in the AJT. She’s an impressive member of the Georgia Jewish community doing something few of us do, and along the way her Jewish identity has been strengthened. I hope we’ll continue her story in the future.
We haven’t had time to research the question of how many Jewish Georgia women have gone through the U.S. Military Academy, which first graduated women in 1980, but we now know of at least two others.
Catherine “Kitty” Ball Spencer from Lincolnton graduated from West Point in 2012. She reached the rank of captain while serving as an intelligence officer until leaving the service in 2017. Her brother-in-law, Peter Rivner, tells us that she was active in Jewish organizations at West Point.
I hope we can interview her and tell story in more depth this summer.
Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to interview Jeanne Britanisky Hutchison, an alumna of Campbell High School in Smyrna who graduated from West Point in 1984. Hutchison, who made a career in the Army, died in February 2009 at age 43 after a sudden illness.
She was a lieutenant colonel stationed back at West Point, where she was buried. She was married to a fellow Army officer, Robert Hutchison. Her daughter followed her to West Point after her death; her son, we’re told, is at the Air Force Academy.
She was a signal officer, and her service included Operation Desert Storm and postings in South Korea, Kansas and close to home at Fort Gordon. Her medals included a Bronze Star and, posthumously, the Legion of Merit.
She set school swimming records as a West Point freshman, then, according to the PointerView newsletter, gave up the sport she loved to focus on academics. But she always found time to be active in West Point’s Jewish community, both as a cadet and as an officer.
In an email to PointerView, Rabbi Carlos Huerta, who was an Army major and West Point’s Jewish chaplain when Hutchison died, wrote: “In our tradition, the body of the deceased does not enter the synagogue due to the sanctity of the location. Exceptions are only made for those remarkable members of the community who have made selfless contributions that have greatly impacted its members. This honor is being given to Hutchison by the members of the Jewish community for her love, dedication and selfless service.”
If, like me, you never knew Hutchison, I urge you to read the tributes to her at www.army.mil/article/19820/signal_regiment_remembers_battalion_commander and defender.west-point.org/service/eulogies.mhtml?u=45012.
To Susan Britanisky, who had the unhappy task of calling days before Memorial Day to tell me that we had overlooked her late, heroic, beloved daughter, I can only say that I am sorry, and that I hope no one forgets your daughter again.