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Whether Ben Carson falsely claimed that he was offered a scholarship to West Point

Posted by John Reed on

When Rush started his show this morning. he was talking about Ben Carson falsely claiming he was offered a scholarship to West Point. It is very common for people who did not go to West Point to claim they could have, but turned it down.

He did make a false claim

Writer Ben Shaprio at DailyWire—whatever that is—says Carson did not make a false claim.

Here is exactly what Carson said in his autobiography:

At the end of my twelfth grade I marched at the head of the Memorial Day parade. I felt so proud, my chest bursting with ribbons and braids of every kind. To make it more wonderful, We had important visitors that day. Two soldiers who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Viet Nam were present. More exciting to me, General William Westmoreland (very prominent in the Viet Nam war) attended with an impressive entourage. Afterward, Sgt. Hunt introduced me to General Westmoreland, and I had dinner with him and the Congressional Medal winners. Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point. I didn’t refuse the scholarship outright, but I let them know that a military career wasn’t where I saw myself going. [emphasis added]

West Point does not use the word scholarship. If you insist on that terminology, all West Point cadets are on full scholarship.  No college, not West Point or any other college offers admission or scholarships without an application—although Dartmouth accepted my son verbally without his applying. He then sent in the paperwork and was told he would get a “likely letter” if he chose to go there. That is the way athletic recruiting works at the Ivy League. So he sort of got admitted without applying—no financial aid because of lack of financial need. I just add that in the interest of full disclosure. Dan also got the same from Columbia and Yale and went to Columbia. Generally, no college offers admission or scholarships without a full application. This is especially true of West Point. To get into West Point, you must pass more standards than almost any other non-service-academy college: 

  • citizenship
  • secret clearance
  • more difficult physical than to join the Army
  • grades
  • test scores
  • teacher recommendations
  • athletic ability test

I had to go to Fort Dix for two full days as I recall to do the physical and the athletic tests. Carson apparently made a nice impression on some West Point alums who urged him to apply. Probably a million people can say that happened to them. But none of them, not even General Westmoreland who was a graduate of West Point and a former superintendent of West Point, can say for sure that a kid will get in.

Could my son ‘have gone to West Point?’

When my oldest son Dan was a freshman in high school, I took him to a West Point football game weekend. When he met one of my classmates, who also became a professor at West Point, that classmate instantly said, on sight, that Dan would make a great cadet. At the game, we ran into Mike Palone, my classmate and the guy who won the best athlete of the class award, and his farther Joe Palone who was the highly revered soccer coach at West Point for 29 years. His record was 228-80-35 and he had 26 winning seasons. As I said, he was also the father of a West Point grad: Mike.

He took one look at my son and said “You should be a cadet.” While he was in college, Dan was used as a model once in a GQ spread. We was 6' 2 1/2" and 230 as a senior tailback at Columbia. Blue eyes, “dirty blond” hair, and broad shoulders. He looked like a recruiting poster cadet—or at least a pre-diversity cadet.

I also took Dan to a Stanford Football game when he was in 8th grade. I was a high school football coach then so I got free tickets. When Dan and I walked up to the special window to pick up the free tickets, which was also the window for Stanford recruits and their parents, a couple of Stanford coaches pounced on us thinking Dan was one of their recruits to get a scholarship to come to Stanford. “Is he one of our recruits?” they asked me. 

I was flabbergasted. “NO!” I said. He’s only in 8th grade. I hope you’ll recruit him when he’s a senior in high school, but not yet.”

I think it’s actually illegal for a college to do any recruiting stuff toward a kid that young.

This appears to have been a similar experience to what Ben Carson had in high school. I mean we’re talking about a grad who was also a professor and a 29-year West Point coach who was also a father of a top West Point athlete. They ought to know, shouldn’t they?

My son Dan never said he “could have gone to West Point”—or played football at Stanford. The thought never occurred to us. 

My middle son Steve got a letter from West Point I think when he was in 8th grade—apparently based on their asking his school who would be a good candidate for West Point. He never would tell anyone he could have gone to West Point based on that letter.

Carson’s losing his temper repeatedly in his youth might have disqualified him from going to West Point. Some thing we don’t know about might have prevented him from getting the secret clearance.

He may have flunked the physical which was extremely rigorous and had very high standards.

He may have flunked the athletic ability test. I know nothing about his athletic ability.

Furthermore, being the best candidate does not get you into West Point. If you go the Congressional route as I and maybe most cadets do, and you are not the principal nominee, you don’t get in unless the principal fails. I was the principal nominee. There were something like 10 or 15 alternates behind me.

Carson is younger than I so he would not have been competing with me. But let’s say he was my age and more qualified than I, but he was one of my alternates. It wouldn’t matter which one. If I was deemed adequate by the West Point admissions, I would get that appointment and Carson would not have received an appointment.

I did meet the standards thereby keeping all my alternates out. Neither General Westmoreland nor any other grad could predict in advance whether a congressman or senator was going to make a candidate like Carson a principal nominee. If that does not happen, the candidate’s qualifications, no matter how fabulous, are irrelevant. I don’t agree with that policy, but that is the way it’s been since West Point was created in 1802.

Even Carson’s claim that he did not refuse the scholarship outright is not the way it works. The last sheet in the fat envelope that you get when you get the appointment is your refusal of the appointment. Another sheet has you accept.  You must send back one or the other, by a deadline. If you do neither, they might call you, but I suspect more likely they would just rescind the offer and extend it to your next alternate who met the academy’s standards.

What has happened between when he wrote the autobiography and now is Carson has changed his story. Now, he says he was told he would have no trouble getting admitted if he applied and deflected the urgings by saying he planned to go into medicine instead. That is accurate. What is not accurate is the notion that his book paragraph said that. It did not. It implied that he got the appointment letter and ignored it in spite of the  Academy’s asking him to accept or decline in writing by an early deadline.

Rich Dad Poor Dad author made a similar claim

Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki claims he turned down going to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy instead. He was not offered an appointment to Annapolis, and about 99.9% of those who could go to USNA or USMMA would choose USNA. See my article about him which includes that discussion.:…/61651011-john-t-reeds-analysis-of-ro…

Only if you got the appointment letter can you claim you could have gone there

You could have gone to West Point if you got a letter from the Adjutant General of the Army congratulating you for getting an appointment to the Academy. My letter is in a frame on a book shelf in my office. If you do not have such a letter, you cannot claim you could have gone to West Point had you merely accepted.

When I encounter such claimants, I ask if they got an nomination and, if so, who from. My principal nomination was from Congressman, later governor, William Cahill. The appointments come from the President if and when you are the highest ranking nominee of your nominator and you pass all the criteria to get admitted—grades, test scores, physical, athletic ability test, secret clearance background check.

The typical answer I get is the guy received a letter from West Point during high school encouraging him to apply. My middle son got one of those. Everyone who went to Boys State got one. I went to Boys State.

West Point recruits heavily to try to improve their ranking in US News, but receiving one of those recruiting letters is a far cry from receiving an appointment.

There is no such thing as a scholarship to West Point. Cadets are active-duty members of the U.S. Army. West Point is their current assignment. They receive a paycheck monthly, free room and board, and they attend classes as their primary duty. Just like a buck private recruit to the regular army going to basic training is not on a scholarship.

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