Rosenberg was 50 miles north of the city and a long way from home. She’d grown up on East 84th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues, in a cozy sixth-floor two-bedroom. She could lean over the railing of her apartment’s rooftop deck and see the Met. Rosenberg’s parents are both semi-retired corporate lawyers with refined literary tastes. She’d gone to Hunter, one of the city’s elite public high schools, and a place where a liberal political viewpoint is as assumed as the school building’s staying upright.
By tenth grade, Rosenberg was feeling aimless. So when an unsolicited postcard from West Point arrived in her mailbox, along with dozens from conventional colleges thanks to her stellar PSAT scores, Rosenberg was curious, if unserious. “I thought it was hilarious,” she says. “It seemed so out of character in terms of everything I was doing. I said, ‘Well, I’m not making a commitment if I send in the card.’”
Marya’s father, however, was more intrigued. To Richard Rosenberg, West Point seemed a strangely perfect fit. When Marya and her younger sister, Alexandra, were small, their father would read them nightly bedtime stories, selecting the books with care. “I happen to like knight stories,” says Richard. “So in the beginning, there was a version of King Arthur, by Sir James Knowles. The last thing I read Marya was Moby-Dick, which I would say is a weird, sad, modern knight story. The medieval romances are, of course, fantasies—but nothing just happens in those stories. Everything is intended to teach—specifically, the values of the warrior class.”
Making the decision to go to West Point during a polarizing war is a bold choice for a high-school student living in one of the deepest-blue precincts of a staunchly antiwar city. “Everybody was all busy protesting the war at the time,” says Marya. “Hunter is really liberal, and I’m a liberal too. But I had one girl ask me what I was thinking about doing for college, and when I told her, she said, ‘How could you do something so immoral?’ They made fun of me in the yearbook.”
She is regularly reminded that, apart from her parents’ place on East 84th, New York is not her home anymore. “There’s a graduate of West Point who endowed this great program that sends cadets to the opera,” she says. “A couple of years ago, we went to the Metropolitan Opera and The New Yorker wrote an article and they were dubious about the idea. There was a line in the story, something like ‘After all, Josef Mengele liked to listen to opera when he was torturing people.’ That made me so angry. Do you guys recall who stopped Josef Mengele? It was not reporters at The New Yorker, or people in New York City with correct moral principles. It was people in the Army.”
Richard Rosenberg, sitting in his Upper East Side living room, becomes visibly distraught at the thought of his daughter’s choice going unappreciated. “I grew up in Liberty, New York, the Catskills,” he says. “When a child from Liberty gets into West Point”—his voice breaks—“they get their picture in the paper, you know? They make a big deal of it.”
But the reaction Marya got from her Hunter teachers and classmates only confirmed her decision to join the Army. And her sister has followed in her footsteps. Alexandra is now a plebe, finishing up her freshman year at West Point.
Richard glances up at his wife, who is slicing some coffee cake from Greenberg’s. “Kate was upset when Marya got interested in West Point,” he says.
“I just knew it was going to happen,” she says quietly, adjusting her tortoiseshell glasses.
“Like the fates had been arranged,” Richard says.
The attackers have Mark Zambarda surrounded. They’re rushing in, fists flying—first one, then another pair, then a fourth, closing fast. Everyone is taller and heavier than Zambarda. But he doesn’t wait, or run away. He charges the nearest man, pins his arms, and uses him as a shield. Punches rock Zambarda’s head, but he doesn’t panic. He keeps moving, pivoting, warding off blows with the body of one of his enemies, sweat turning his fatigues a dark swampy green.
The whistle blows after two minutes. Zambarda and his attackers—his classmates—suck wind. He’s exhausted, but he’s upright, staggering across the matted floor inside Arvin gym. “Most kids are crushed the first time,” says professor Jason Winkle. “They forget what they’re doing and end up cowering or becoming a punching bag. Mark was a natural. He was the aggressor, and he stayed under control. As far as heart, he’s one of the biggest kids in the world.”