West Point: Two Centuries of Honor and Traditionby Robert Cowley (Editor), Thomas Guinzburg (Editor), H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Introduction)
Published in conjunction with the Academy's bicentennial, this handsome volume commemorates the first two centuries in the life of an institution that has become the model for military schools around the world. Since the Academy's founding in 1802, West Point graduates have been high-ranking officers and leaders in every war in which America has fought. This institution's distinguished alumni include Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, Jr., Dwight Eisenhower, Frank Borman, Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and AOL founder James Kimsey.
- Grand Central Publishing
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- 9.32(w) x 11.25(h) x 1.25(d)
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By Robert Cowley
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 West Point Project, LLC.
All right reserved.
IntroductionNearly from the day I could walk I wanted to be a West Pointer. I never had a shred of doubt. My father was a West Pointer and he always told me the Academy shaped his entire life. "Duty, Honor, Country" was his creed and in time it came to be mine as well.
I reported in on June 1, 1952, like so many thousands before me, clutching an athletic bag that contained a razor, a toothbrush, and a $300 check to cover the cost of toiletries and other incidentals. Four years later, I carried away a system of values to live by, and a lifelong calling.
Ask any West Pointer what day they remember best and almost all of them will say it's that first day. It's scorching hot and you find yourself standing in a long line of other reporting cadets, nervously glancing around at the imposing gray fortress, at the other faces, and worrying whether you'll measure up. Suddenly, there's nobody in line ahead of you. Suddenly, an upperclassman in a gleaming white uniform fixes you with a hard stare and harshly barks, "You, Mister, step forward. Stand at attention. Get your shoulders back. Pull in that chin. Get that chest up. Drop that bag. No, wrong. Not fast enough. Pick it up. When I tell you to drop your bag, you drop your bag right away."
You know in that instant you've entered another world: You know your life is going to be immeasurably changed. By the end of that day, you haven't been given a single instant to stop and think. You've been run ragged. You've been outfitted with uniforms, been taught to march and salute, been given your first severe lessons on military etiquette, and are standing in packed ranks with the rest of your classmates, waiting to take the oath that makes you a cadet. You are unsure, proud, and awed all at once. Your heart is racing. Suddenly, you raise your right hand and commit your life to serving your country. It's a profoundly moving moment.
West Point doesn't have fraternities, or sororities, or secret societies. Its graduates think themselves as part of one Long Gray Line that stretches right back to that very first Class of 1802. They are part of a huge extended family that finds unity in a common experience and the character and purpose molded by that experience. To West Pointers, those three words, "Duty, Honor, Country," are more than a motto; they're, immortal ideals that guide your life.
A day I will never forget came shortly before my retirement, after all the parades and celebrations that welcomed home the troops from Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Academy invited me back to West Point to be honored in a full dress review, a singular privilege that's bestowed on very few. Having marched in a few of these special parades in my days as a cadet, I had always wondered what it must feel like to be on the receiving end of such a great honor. As I stood on the Plain, the entire corps of cadets arrayed in perfect ranks, I finally learned. It is profoundly humbling. You feel boundless hope for the future, knowing that your days in service may be ending, but that within those anonymous ranks of gray are more great leaders who will step forward and do great deeds when America requires it.
Academy professors like to say that at West Point you are taught the history made by its own graduates. It happens to be true. We spent countless hours studying those who went before us. We looked back to Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee as the fathers of modern warfare; to Blackjack Pershing and Dwight Eisenhower for the skills to lead coalitions in battle; to George Patton and William Tecumseh Sherman and Stonewall Jackson for how to campaign; and Doug MacArthur for how to build upon victories just won. And this is only the tip of the iceberg; heroes are something West Pointers have in awesome abundance. But the Academy's contributions haven't been limited to wars; an equally impressive history exists away from the roar of the battlefield. West Pointers mapped this country and discovered the routes that carried us westward. They built the railroads that connected us together; the great dams that tamed our waterways; the Panama Canal that married the two mighty oceans on our flanks; and the atomic bomb that ended World War II. They led great corporations that changed how Americans live, from Henry DuPont who made his family's chemical company a household name, to Jim Kimsey, who co-founded America Online.
The professors and tactical officers of my cadet days were nearly all World War II and Korean War veterans. Chests cluttered with ribbons are one of the things that make the Academy's faculty unique. We were always looking for sly ways to rush them through our lesson plans and coax then into telling us what it was like to be a tank commander sweeping across France and Germany under George Patton, or an infantryman battling back up Pork Chop Hill under Matthew Ridgeway Our curiosity had nothing to do with the glories of battle; I didn't know many cadets foolish enough to have romantic notions about war. We wanted to prepare ourselves for what lay ahead. We wanted to be ready for the fiercest duty a nation can ask of it citizens: To lead soldiers in war; to win battles without wasting the precious lives placed in our trust. When my generation later came back from the jungles of Vietnam to serve faculty duty, I felt the same intense curiosity from my cadets.
Two hundred years have now passed since West Point was founded. For a young nation that revolted against Great Britain in large measure to halt the abuse of English soldiers against our citizens, it was a hard step to found an Academy to train professional officers. Not surprisingly, there was great resistance. Would it create a permanent military caste? Would it create a pool of elitist of officers? Would such a school prove destabilizing to a frail democracy that was still struggling to find its moorings?
This book is a look back at that 200 years. It's an inspiring narrative that is expertly told in a series of chapters by some of America's most prominent and respected writers and historians. It's a celebration of the wisdom of George Washington, who advocated the Academy, and of Thomas Jefferson, who gave it life. Reflecting back, it truly was one of the bright and shining instances of political farsightedness. When you think of how much of America's history and how many of its proudest moments were the result of leaders forged inside the Academy's walls, you cannot help but be thankful. West Point is today the finest military academy on earth, a model for other nations to emulate; not an impediment to American democracy-an invaluable guardian.
It would be terrifically naive, though, to think all this happened without birthing pains and turmoil and sometimes, disillusionment. Within sixty years after the founding, West Pointers were forced to choose sides in a civil war that pitted classmates against classmates in a bitter struggle for the country's future. They were sent to fight in agonizingly unpopular wars, against Mexico, and later in Vietnam, that strained the trust and affection that must exist between the Army and its society. Twice in the last century, West Pointers helped mobilize and lead America through global wars against powerful enemies. They saw us through the long, tense years of the Cold War, and its occasional lapses into real war. It's no exaggeration to Sly that the fate of the world hung in their hands. And throughout, the Academy had to make never-ending changes to adapt to a continuously changing world, most recently the thrust to achieve racial and sexual equality.
America is now the most powerful nation on earth. We have obligations and alliances that span the globe. The responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of our senior military officers are mind-boggling. Warfare is staggeringly more complex, faster-paced, and lethal than when I first pinned on my lieutenant's bars. Military leadership is not an undertaking for amateurs: it takes highly trained professionals who are willing to dedicate full careers to the study and practice of arts that are not taught in any other university but West Point.
The barbaric attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and all that has followed, have underscored again our reliance on our men and women in uniform. As we have so often in the past, we are calling on them to defeat our enemies and ensure our safety. Scattered in their ranks are thousands of West Pointers. America needs to know their history. America needs, more than ever, to contemplate the unique national treasure we call the United States Military Academy.
Excerpted from West Point by Robert Cowley Copyright © 2002 by West Point Project, LLC.. Excerpted by permission.
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