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Thoughts on attending my 50th college reunion at West Point

Posted by John T. Reed on

50th West Point reunion

On May 20 to 23 I attended my 50th college reunion. Four years ago, I attended and wrote about my 50th high school reunion. Are they essentially the same?

Hell, no!

I attended my high school, took tests there, played sports there, ate lunch there, made friends there. It was your basic run-of-the-mill public day school (no dorm). Actually, it was Collingswood High School in Collingswood, High School in Collingswood, NJ (Philadelphia metro area. A Northeast Philadelphia teacher I dated around 1971 asked me where I went to high school and said mine was the best one in the region—because they were the only school district in the Philly area that hired experienced teachers—not just rookies straight out of college. Rookies are cheaper. This was all the more remarkable since the town was lower middle-class, not affluent. Anyway, other than the extraordinary teachers, it was just your basic public high school.

The ‘high school on the Hudson’

Notwithstanding our joke that it was the “high school on the Hudson,” West Point ain’t high school.

You do not merely “attend” or “go to” or “study at” West Point. You are marinated in it. It is 24/7, eleven months a year. It changes its graduates in a uniform way and perhaps more than any other college does, including the other service academies.

West Point ain’t Annapolis or the Air Force Academy either

Aren’t the service academies all the same except for the color of their uniforms and the inevitable influence of their parent services: walking, sailing, flying? No.

We had some contact with the Naval Academy at Annapolis. I spent a long weekend there as did most of my classmates. The others did the same at Air Force and maybe the Coast Guard Academy. I also hosted Annapolis midshipmen in my barracks room at West Point when they came there for their corresponding long weekend. One of them admitted during that visit that girls sometimes did not understand where they went to college until they said, “It’s the West Point of the Navy.” Ha! In a very rough sense, maybe. More precisely, neither Navy nor Air Force have a West Point.

U.S. Military Academy cadets at West Point admit to being military

To me, the Annapolis guys were fundamentally anti-military—too cool for military school. We West Pointers might have liked to be that way—especially in 1964-8—an extremely anti-military period—far more than today. But West Point simply did not permit such. If we were asked if we were as military as we seemed, we would have had to shrug our shoulders and confess, “Yeah, we have no choice.”

Out in the boondocks

For one thing, West Point is located in the middle of nowhere—next to the Village of Highland Falls in a forbidding, mountainous, thickly forested, sparsely unpopulated part of upstate New York best known through the stories of Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which featured Ichabod Crane, the Headless Horseman, etc.)

I think the surrounding area is largely state parks and the federal outer West Point reservation. Plus, when I was there, we were literally not allowed off post. Most West Point grads of my era could not name a street in Highland Falls and it sure as hell ain’t no college town. On the rare occasion when we got out, e.g., one weekend leave per semester sophomore year, we sure as hell were not going to Highland Falls. We went to New York City 50 miles south.

The cities of Annapolis and Colorado Springs

In contrast, the Naval Academy is in Annapolis, Maryland, the state capital and a significant town with nearby colleges and its midshipman are allowed to leave the campus. Similarly, the Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, CO, a significant metro area.

My West Point classmate and best man and I went there one weekend when I was on my way to Vietnam in 1969. We saw one cadet on the entire campus. He was a freshman, and had to excuse himself when his ride to Denver appeared! The place was a ghost town during our visit on a normal Saturday during the school year.

Without a doubt, on that same weekend, thousands of West Point cadets were on the West Point campus—because they rarely could leave and it was 50 miles to civilization if we could. We were not allowed to have cars until Spring of senior year.

‘The professionals’

Navy marched into the Army-Navy Game stadium first in 1964 when I was a plebe. My Uncle Jack and a friend of his were standing right next to them as they marched in. The friend commented that the midshipmen looked like a bunch of bums close up. They were joking and screwing around—intent on proving to the nearby civilians what I said above: they were too cool for military school.

My uncle said, “Wait until the professionals” come in,” meaning us West Point cadets. His friend scoffed, “You’re just saying that because you were in the Army and worked at the Hotel Thayer at West Point.”


Meanwhile, out in the railroad yards next to the stadium, we formed up and started marching toward the same entrance. Were we joking and screwing around? Sure. We were college kids.

But as we got closer the acronym “GAP” (pronounced Gee Ay Pee) was heard coming from the seniors in the units ahead of us and then our own seniors. It meant “Great American Public.”

In its main sense it meant, “knock off the screwing around.” We are going to be close enough to the public who pay for our education that we must live up to their expectations of us, live up to the West Point image, “get into character.”

And we always did, there and in other such public appearances like other away football games, the Armed Forces Day parade on Fifth Avenue, the inauguration Parades, etc. Like “Norma Desmond” in Sunset Boulevard, we were “ready for our close-up, Mr. DeMille.” The midshipmen couldn’t be bothered.

As we passed within a couple of feet of my uncle and his friend, the friend said, “I’ll be damned. You’re right. The West Point cadets look as good close up as they do from afar.”

Knew in advance

One more pertinent anecdote: An AT&T top executive once told me they hired graduates of all the service academies. He said when you hired a West Pointer, you knew what he would be like before he arrived. But with Air Force and Navy, you did not know what he would be like until he arrived and you got to know him.

That is not to say we were not individuals. I might be Exhibit A in the case that we are individuals. But there is a consensus, perhaps reluctantly arrived at, but arrived at nonetheless among West Pointers of a bunch of ways of behaving and thinking that create the Je ne sais quoi that enables me to spot civvies-clad West Point grads, whom I have never met, as West Point grads, even the female grads they started producing 12 years after I graduated.

Spontaneous combustion

So a West Point reunion is a sort of spontaneous combustion. I think our wives and grown kids and others who were there would probably say West Point reunions are different from other college and grad school reunions they have attended. The Shakespearean phrase “Band of Brothers” comes to minds—long-separated brothers.

Since the full context of that phrase in The St. Crispin's Day speech is a speech from William Shakespeare's play, Henry V, in Act IV Scene iii 18–67 that was written in 1600 and therefore not covered by copyright, I will reproduce it in full here:

What's he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Sorry about the “olde English” in which it is written, but it really captures our time at West Point and the contrast between us and our Baby Boomer peers at civilian colleges who were partying and burning their draft cards in the 60s. I also read this to my freshman high school football players on the first day of conditioning at 8:00 AM in the morning during their summer vacation while their non-football classmates were still asleep. One of my assistants with multiple degrees, and who had actually coached football at Annapolis, laughed that a West Point grad coach was starting a football coaching season with Shakespeare. 

A six-year experience

And understand that for most West Point grads of my era, West Point was a six-year experience, not four: four years at West Point then Ranger School, Airborne School, Officers Basic and specialty courses, e.g., I was a Signal Corps (communications branch) radio and satellite communications officer. Other signal corps officers were specialists in wire or microwave or battalion communications. Then a first non-war assignment in the U.S. as a platoon leader followed by a tour in Vietnam.

My class was easily able to schedule weddings, for example. We knew where we were going to be every month until about two years after graduation. Today’s West Point grads only seem to know where they will be for about one year after graduation. Then their experience diffuses and become less common as ours did. So the West Point Class of 1968 reunion was about the six years, not just the four.

Artillery and tank guns, not party noisemakers

And what experiences! Civilian college and university grads talk about parties and sports and classes during their college years only.

They may or may not have lived in a dorm, most likely, not for more than one year. We had plenty of common experiences to talk about regarding our extremely regimented lives in a military boarding school, parades, the three-times daily unique experience of a cadet mess hall table, intramural athletics (mandatory for three seasons during the school year if you were not an intercollegiate athlete), our public appearances like the annual nationally televised Army-Navy Game, “trip sections” (official cadet trips like to a national college conference where I represented West Point and the Glee Club’s performances at the Hollywood Bowl and CA Disneyland on which I was a “sound technician”), mandatory chapel attendance, inspections, summer combat and other field training, ranger school (the 60 days of which may generate half the stores being told at our reunions), jump school, branch schools, and above all, the Vietnam War where we were platoon leaders and many of us lost men and saw classmates killed in action.

Even Harvard Business School can’t compare

I also go to the Harvard MBA reunions of my class and my wife’s. What do they talk about?

Mostly stuff that happened in class discussions and post-MBA business experiences (which were almost all unique).

My wife does not go to her college reunions, but they occasionally have reunions of the school newspaper staff where they talk about the weekly adventure of getting the paper out.

Pretty tame compared to the extreme nature of so much of what West Pointers go through together. Movie and TV dramas and documentaries have been done about West Point cadet life and, of course, about ranger school, jump school, and wars. Not so many about civilian college life. The lives of West Point cadets and recent West Point graduates in war time are often quite dramatic and thrilling. And the reunions there necessarily revisit and thereby relive that drama. My date for homecoming weekend there once said she felt like she had left real life and stepped into a technical movie screen when she came to West Point. Yeah. That was our lives every day there. For example, we had live, in-person, military bands playing background music about six times a day as we did our cadet routine.

‘What was I thinking?’

What about the 50th reunion itself? I was trying to use it to figure out what the hell I was thinking when I decided to go there for college. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What lessons should I pass on to my readers?

First, all selective colleges are gathering points of excellence. I went to some small K-12 schools (about 60 in my class) and one decent-size high school (388 in my class). My West Point class started with 1,000, exactly, and graduated 706. So there is typically a heightened level of competition just from the larger numbers of classmates in college. I was the “brain” in one small school, one of the few “brains” in another and top third in the larger K-12 school. I played interscholastic sports in high school. At West Point, I was none of the above.

‘Most selective’

Then there was the selectivity of West Point. It was a big-time athletic school then. The Army-Navy game was perhaps the biggest football game of the year in that pre-Super Bowl, pre-popular NFL, pre-BCS, pre-national-championship-decided-on-the-field era. We had over 100,000 at the game each year in the 1960s; never before or since. Army was often ranked nationally. So our intercollegiate athletes were elite by college standards, and hyper-elite compared to even all-state high school athletes.

Ditto the “brains.” After being considered a “brain” in K-12, I was at just the top of the bottom third of my college class (although that ranking at West Point includes more heavily-weighted athletic and leadership and conduct components than a civilian class rank). And just an intramural athlete.

Natural-born leaders

Then there was the leadership potential. Your high school class had one class president, one football team captain, and so on. My college class had hundreds and hundreds of such high school class leaders. You learn a lot about leadership from them, including the fact that the best is far better than you realized.

And then there is the faculty at West Point. When I was a cadet, our instructors were about 98% recent West Point graduates. No grad students who could not speak English. Rarely a tenured professor. Rather, they were recent grads who had experience as Army officers, gone to grad school in the subject they were teaching us, and were there to teach us, period; no publish or perish or playing games to get tenure. Generally, they were the top students in their West Point class. After two or three years teaching at West Point, they went back to being Regular Army officers.

Heady atmosphere

So when you go to a selective college like West Point, it is a gathering of the best high school graduates in the nation, not the cross section of American society you experienced in the vast majority of high school or in non-selective colleges and junior colleges. And it is thus also when you go back for a reunion.

Some professionals, like hospital doctors, spend their work days in a heady atmosphere like that of a selective college. But for most of us, being surrounded by your top peers in the nation, was something that happened in college, but rarely after. So it is a great treat to reunite with such people again, especially those with whom you shared so many intense, dramatic experiences as West Pointers do.

West Point is extremely narrow

West Point, like the other service academies and some specialized schools like culinary institutes are extremely narrow, especially when their founders decide they need to locate the place out in the middle of nowhere like a monastery. Because it adjoins Highland Falls, NY, West Point is far narrower than the other service academies. Even the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academies are in New London, CT and Kings Point, NY. In contrast, my wife and I went to grad school in Boston and my oldest son to college in Manhattan. Our other two sons went to Santa Barbara, CA  and Tucson, AZ for college, neither of which would be mistaken for Highland Falls. Such surroundings take your higher education experience more out of the narrow monastic experience of the bucolic “islands” of intellectual activity like West Point.

One haircut fits all

And, of course, the focus of West Point is extremely narrow in terms of that for which it is famous—regimentation that among a million other things tells you when to get your hair cut (weekly) and how short (very) and pervasive pressure to make a career of being an Army officer after graduation.

It is an extremely bad idea for a college-age person to get locked into a narrow environment and career path like that of West Point. You don’t know enough about yourself or the Army or the alternatives to exclude all that you have to exclude to go to West Point.

But a launching pad

However, paradoxically, the narrow experience of West Point was for me and probably most of its other grads, a launching pad to the wider world. By being so narrowly focused, West Point achieved notoriety that it likely would not have if it were just another small liberal arts college trying to be all things to all students.

I learned about Harvard Business School (about two dozen from each West Point class go there—it is sometimes called “the West Point of American Business”) and I probably would not have gotten accepted there had I gone to my safety school, Rutgers, instead.

HBS, in turn, caused me to become a nationally-known writer and a Californian. West Point also made me a veteran officer, although I could have done that with a lot less trouble as a draftee who went to OCS.

The West Point curriculum including the military stuff and extracurricular activities did introduce me to a broader world than I had experienced in high school, but I could have gotten that even at a monastic liberal arts college.

The most geographically diverse student bodies in America

The student bodies at the service academies were far more geographically diverse than at almost any other college in America. The main path to the academies goes through Congress, which, by definition, is about as geographically diverse as any American institution could be. The Army is similarly diverse—albeit not as much as during World War II when almost every military-age male was serving. There is a bit of a Northeast bias at West Point now; and a former Confederate states bias in the Army in general now.

So, yes, I went to college in Highland Falls, NY and served in an Army that put me in Columbus, GA; Augusta, GA; Long Branch, NJ; Fayetteville, NC and Phu Loi, Vietnam; but when you look at where my classmates were from, I went to college in America more than almost any other non-service academy college in America can claim they offer.

And although Highland Falls and Fayetteville and so on were truly narrow, isolated, parochial, provincial, in-bred little collections of small ponds, the cumulative effect of living and working in a half dozen such places is broadening. Ditto serving with all the geographically and demographically varied people in the Army for eight years (in my case). Like the World War I song said about the narrow origins of the draftees, “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

Diverse people; narrow mindset

But beyond the sources of the people in the Army, the institutional mind set of the Army is narrow, narrow, narrow. With each passing year, Army officers become less valuable to civilian employers, more bureaucratic, less skilled in the ways of civilian life, more cynical, learning how to “play the game” that is the way to “have a good career”—an extremely narrow, odd, dysfunctional, life in which, paradoxically, that which got you admitted to the very selective Academy atrophies to a distant memory.

So West Point can be a launching pad to a much better life than you would have had if you stayed in Podunk and went to Podunk CC or State University, Podunk, but only if you do not stay in that military world. You gotta launch; not just stand there and bureaucratize.

The dose makes the poisson

There is a saying in medicine that “the dose makes the poison.” In other words, everything is poison if you get too much of it, and almost nothing is if you get too little of it. Hyponatremia—too much water—can kill you. So can too much West Point and the Army kill your potential to “be all you can be.” Ironically, that phrase was the Army recruiting slogan in memory.

Being in Fayetteville, NC for four months was instructive; being there for years and years is deadening for all but the most narrowly-focused special-ops career soldier.

The Corps has not

We old grads of West Point invariably think of the current cadets that “The Corps has” [gone to hell.] In other words, greater leniency than in our day means they are not as good or as West Point as we were back in the day.

There is some truth to it, but one of the main things I got out of the reunion was I met with one cadet for a couple of hours and talked briefly to several others. They are us, in general. Sharp guys. Believers in defending freedom and all that. A lot of details of the four years have changed names and are a bit different, but the main focus seems to be unchanged.

Extreme diversity now, but mostly in the Superintendent’s politically-correct dreams

Some of us old grads’ unhappiness stems from current West Point brass PR that is not accurate. For example, the extreme emphasis on diversity seemingly for diversity’s sake and at the expense of merit and national defense is more in evidence in the Academy’s printed material than in the actual Corps of Cadets.

There is an alumni parade at West Point during Spring reunions. We alumni marched onto the parade ground to pay homage to Sylvanus Thayer, the “Father of West Point.” Then we took our places in front of the reviewing stand. The cadets passed in review in front of us—about two feet in front of us for some reason! Here is a photo of it.

I marched in four of those parades as a cadet and have been in a couple more as a grad. I never saw the cadets pass in review that close.  We were talking to them an they went by. Never had that when I was a cadet or in prior alumni parades as an alum. “You guys are going to look like us in 50 years. Sorry.” “Wipe those smirks off.” “Hey, C-2. Looking good, just like 50 years ago.”

But the salient thing we saw from two feet away from the marching cadets was the lack of the advertised Democrat identity politics diversity. The Corps of Cadets is a bunch of white boys just lack in our day. True, we only had nine blacks at graduation; and they seem to have about that many per company (about 120 people) now. But I did not see many more Asians or Latinos or Muslims. We saw one Sikh cadet who had a full beard, mustache, and turban. He looked great.

Also true, they have girls now. About 16% I think I heard. But almost all the commanders above company commander seemed to be 4-foot-tall females!? The First Captain girl was about six feet tall (and a black Rhodes Scholar), however three of the regimental commanders and many of the battalion commanders appeared to be something like 5’3” girls.

But the rank-and-file cadets were white males. They reminded me of us. They might be a bit chunkier on average than we were for some reason.

Twelve parades a year versus four a week!

They do about 12 parades a year now! We did four a week in the early Fall and late Spring and at least one a week during Beast (July and August before freshman year) and Buckner (July and August before sophomore year). (Four a week was the schedule of how many you could observe. Individual cadets only marched in three a week because two of the parades were one-regiment only.

Casual Tuesday for the alumni parade

For the alumni parade, which took place in rain on 5/22/18, they wore white short-sleeve shirts with no tie. (Called Sierra in our day; white over gray now) I do not recall any non-summer parades in Sierra.

Why did they wear it for us? In 2016, it rained on the full-dress-gray alumni parade, which destroyed the wool full-dress coats (that can only be dry cleaned) such that the subsequent graduation parade and graduation ceremony itself a few days later had to be in the unprecedented-for-those-occasions all-white (“India”) uniform. And I guess the Academy had to pay to replace all the underclass full-dress coats.

Note to the new supe: if it is expected to rain on the alumni parade, wear the more formal all-white uniform. Those will not be ruined by water and the old grads will say “WTF?” less. Short-sleeved white shirts are what we wore on our first day at West Point to take our oath. The alumni parade is a big formal deal, as evidenced by the fact that it was formerly always in full-dress gray over white, not Casual Tuesday.

‘The Corps has...’

“The Corps has...” is an inside baseball phrase that mean The student body of West Point has gone to hell because standards have been lowered.

I was surprised at how much has changed in some respects and how little in others.

No dress-offs

When we wore uniforms with shirts—combat fatigues, class uniform, and the white over gray Sierra short-sleeve white shirt—we had to get a “dress off.” Ideally, that was done by a roommate who took hold of the side seams of your shirt and used his thumbs to create a pleat just to the back of your side seams. It has the effect of making your shirt look like it was custom fitted from the front. You could also give yourself a dress off, but it would lose part of its tightness when you let go of the shirt to fasten your belt.

As the cadets passed within two feet of us at the alumni parade, I could not help but notice that the dress off no longer exists at West Point. The sarcastic rhetorical question “Are you jumping today?” was asked by upperclassmen to plebes who had no dress off or a lousy one. It meant that the back of his shirt looked like a half opened parachute. If a plebe had a lousy dress off in formation, he would often be asked “who gave you that dress off?” and the roommate who did would get his ass chewed.

The entire corps of cadets was apparently jumping on 5/22.

The more gray (overly enthusiastic about West Point) grads probably still give themselves a dress off at age 71. I admit to running my thumbs inside my pants from my belt buckle to the side to eliminate wrinkles on the front. That does not result in as neat a back as the dress off, but I don’t plan to go back to dress offs.

We had to spit shine our shoes in the 1960s. Now they wear Corfam or some such shoes that are permanently spit shined. I suggest a similar fix for the dress-offs: tailor the shirts so they fit more snugly. Nowadays, I generally buy shirts labeled as “slim fit” or “custom fit.” Being slim enough to fit such shirts ought to be a requirement of being a cadet. We had to pass various physical fitness tests throughout each year while we were at West Point. Failing meant losing your privileges and being assigned to remedial physical training.

New Cadets with no physical activity background

About 30% of incoming new cadets are now people who did not participate in physical activity before coming to West Point.

When my class were kids in the 1950s, we played outside. There were only three TV channels and they had no programming for kids except on Saturday morning. During my childhood, the Mickey Mouse Club started with an after-school weekday program. There was also a whole-family Disneyland program on Sunday nights.

There were no computers or video games or DVRs or cell phones or Internet. The only recordings we had were music records. So we went outside and played with our friends. We rode our bikes miles a day and played sports and tag and a bunch of other things. Back then, to be a kid was to be physical. We also had PE in school and sitting sullenly on the side refusing to participate was not allowed. And we played team sports three seasons a year, including sandlot, Little League, and high school.

One manifestation of that is our plebe year physical education program now takes four years. We had four phases: boxing, wrestling, swimming, and gymnastics freshman year. In the ensuing three years, our PE was a succession of so-called “carryover” sports.

The theory was we would remain fit for the rest of our Army Officer careers by participating in some sport that post-college men can play. Not tackle football or soccer, rather golf or tennis or squash. I adopted volleyball as my carryover sport and I continued to try to play it until I was about 40.

In fact, West Point’s carryover sport theory was incorrect on at least three counts:

1. Many post-college sports are impractical especially team sports. Volleyball, for example, requires two teams of six players, a referee, and a indoor court that meets a number of standards regarding ceiling height, outside of court area, tension on the top and bottom of the net, and volleyballs. I had to drive great distances to get to my various teams, which in turn had to go great distances to away games. Also, I had to match the team’s abilities. Often, I was either not good enough or too good.

2. West Point was wrong to rule out non-carryover sports. I played adult and semi-pro baseball (hardball) fro around age 40 to age 48. Many of my classmates were and are into triathlons and marathons and adult swim competition, tennis, squash, and so on.

3. All carryover sports, including some of the most long-lasting carryover sports like golf, are simply inadequate for maintaining fitness. My current routine is upper body weight lifting on day one, elliptical machine on day two and lower body weight lifting on day three. I also try to get 10,000 steps a day of walking including the elliptical machine workout. That covers all the muscles and both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Lifetime fitness needs to be comprehensive as far as the muscles trained, anaerobic, and aerobic. Sports like golf are too wimpy. Tennis develops your dominant arm and has you running. Long participation in outdoor sports increases your chances of skin cancer.

Today’s cadets sound better prepared than we were with regard to survival swimming. They have a whole special pool devoted to it. Otherwise, it sounds like the 30% with no physical activity background are sort of physically retarded. They literally have to teach them how to move. Movement is in the name of the course.

We had to take a physical aptitude test to get into West Point. These 21st century eloi would not pass that test I guess. So they get years of remedial PE at West Point. I felt that we had to be better than average athletes to get into West Point. It sounds like nowadays, about 30% of incoming freshmen are below average, non-athletes.

There was a book that came out a little while after my class graduated. Its title was Be as Fit as a West Point Cadet. The public and even the grads are not yet aware of it, but a whole lot of today’s Corps of Cadets start out as “special ed” when it comes to physical fitness. WTF!?

M-14’s are inoperable

They still carry M-14 rifles in the parades and for under-arms inspections, but they do not ever shoot them or use them in summer field training. They have had their firing pins removed and are otherwise modified to prevent their being fired. When we were cadets, our M-14s were fireable and we used them for all purposes including parades and summer field training.

BYO sneakers

Cadets nowadays do a lot of working out on their own and in groups. I noticed they were wearing sneakers of all different styles and brands. I asked a PE colonel about that. He said they are told to bring their own sneakers to prevent blisters. Uh, okay. We dd the same with one pair of black shoes for use in our first month there. But these cadets are second-, third-, and fourth -year cadets. They wear whatever sneakers the want with the PE uniform—including different colors.

 Uniforms for escorting

“Escorting at West Point means being in the presence of a non-cadet, officer, or civilian employee of West Point. Typically, the people you would be escorting would be your family members, friends, or your female date.

First, we could not escort except on Saturday afternoon and evening until 1 AM and on Sunday before supper. Second, when escorting, we had to be in a Class A uniform, namely, dress gray and full dress gray and white over gray (Sierra). We could not escort in Army fatigues or gym clothes or even class uniform (long-sleeve “Pendleton” shirt and tie).

Today’s cadets seem to default to the camouflage combat uniform or shorts and a tee shirt and wear either everywhere. Next to my table at the Thayer Hotel fancy MacArthur restaurant was a senior cadet wearing unmarked black shorts and an unmarked gray tee shirt. He was with his parents and one of my 1964 Beast Barracks roommates and his wife.

I spent about two hours with a cadet in Grant Hall, which is now entirely a restaurant and almost the only cadet restaurant. It is also frequented by construction workers and civilian staff. He and almost every other cadet in Grant Hall were wearing combat cammies, unless they were wearing gym shorts and tee shirts. I never saw a cadet wearing dress gray or any sort of cadet rain coat all week—even though it was frequently raining. I only saw a couple of cadet guards wearing white over gray with red sashes.

The look of the cadets was that of a marine boot camp base, not West Point.

When we were there, the uniform of the hour was set by the uniform flags. If it was between classes, you would see thousands of cadets all wearing class uniform, maybe with gray jackets or short overcoats. Everyone would be wearing the exact same uniform. Now, there seems to be little guidance on what to wear.

Indeed, I was subject to more strict uniform rules during my reunion at West Point than the cadets who were there at the same time. The Thayer Hotel has a dress code and the cadets are clearly exempt from it. And we grads also had to wear navy blazer, khaki colored trousers, dress shirt, tie, and class baseball cap around the Plain during the reunion.

Does this mean the world has come to an end? No. It just makes me wonder why we had to be so dressed up all the time.


West Point has also talked a great deal about branding in recent years. That is Harvard MBA talk. I am a Harvard MBA. West Point was really branded back in the sixties, mainly by our wearing dress gray and full dress gray. I welcomed the sierra uniform for comfort, but it was not recognized then, or now, by the public as a West Point cadet uniform.

Staying at the Thayer Hotel

I was the only one in my class, I believe, to stay at the Thayer Hotel at West Point for the 50th reunion. Everyone else stayed at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, NY. The Thayer is not big enough for a class reunion other than the oldest ones—like 60th or later.

Indeed, there were three other reunions at the Thayer when I was there: December 1943 (World War II classes graduated in both December and June to hurry them to the war theaters), 1948, and 1953.

What about 1963? I don’t know. I expect their 55th is a Fall reunion and they probably need to hold it at the Marriott.

Virtually everyone who knew about my staying at the Thayer expressed astonishment and that I had screwed up. In retrospect, we are glad that we stayed at the Thayer, although we should have moved to the Marriott for the last night.

We got back to the Thayer late Tuesday night then went straight to the Marriott the next morning. We should have checked out of the Thayer on Tuesday and checked into the Marriott or a nearby hotel Tuesday night. We got no benefit from having to go back to the Thayer that night. And it is about an hour one way.

We did benefit from the other six nights at the Thayer—no spending hours in busses and no needing to hurry back to the busses after the few-hours events at West Point. We were able to fully explore West Point including the AOG Gift Shop, cemetery and the museums at the information center. We also spent some time in Highland Falls which we enjoyed. And I got my 10,000 steps in each day—16,000 a couple of days.

Book sales

The Association of Graduates Books Store totally controlled our class’s official book signing on Monday in Eisenhower Hall at West Point.

You were required to sell your books to the AOG for something like 60% of retail and ship them to the AOG in advance at your own expense. I assume any unsold books had to be shipped back to you for a full refund, the standard practice of the trade-book industry.

My business model

I have 35 different books. They are about real estate investing, football and baseball coaching, succeeding, self-publishing, protecting yourself from hyperinflation and depression, and my novel The Unelected President.

Generally, I would not expect such subjects to be of interest to a bunch of 70-year olds. So I had no idea how many to take to West Point. I also did not want to sell through any book store, even the AOG.

I sold through book stores for 20 years. It was a bad experience. I ended selling through any book store in 2001. My net income went up 257% as a result.

I took six novels

So all I did bookwise for the 50th was to send one box of six of my novels to my son in Jersey City. We visited him before going to West Point and grabbed the books—also my reunion straw hat which I thought was too fragile to go in luggage or the overhead compartment.

I also took a Succeeding book and a Best Practices for the Intelligent Real Estate Investor book in my luggage to give to the cadet I met on Monday. He is interested in those subjects.

Conversation pieces on the meal tables

I did not try to sell any books at the Monday AOG book signing. Rather I took one to lunch that day in the same building. A classmate bought it there.

I took two more to the dinner that night and just put them on our dinner table. A couple of classmates bought them as well. And I took the remaining three to the final dinner and they were also bought by classmates. I did not hawk them. I just put them on the table in front of my place as conversation pieces.

Any classmates who want can still get signed books from me

I sold all that I took. No big deal. If any classmates want any more of them, they can order from my web site If they want them signed, they just need to ask for that via the “comments” line in the order form. I do not regret not participating in the AOG “book signing.”

The top three authors in our class seem to be me and two of my C-2 companymates and the fourth ranking author is arguably a “former cadet” (classmates who flunked out junior year). I was there, but only with my six novels. The other three guys did not attend the reunion.

One of the authors there was a Class of 1966 guy; another, Class of 1967. I suspect each of the 1968 authors who were there had written one book each.

So the Class of 1968 book signing was a bit odd omitting the authors of about 45 books and only having class authors of about five books total present. Had they organizers taken less of a “this is how we do it, take it or leave it” approach and tried to get max participation it would have been 100% or thereabouts representation.

The authors who did not attend probably would have been willing to send pre-signed books and have been represented by former roommates or some such.

I was a college roommate of Brian Utermahlen who wrote a spy novel and an award-winning fiction trilogy about three generations of a West Point family. I, with some help from classmates, probably could have taken care of selling their books and mine in a C-2 book store if any effort had been made to accommodate my business model and the absences of the other authors.

Instead, the AOG was the one accommodated. One other author sold his book on the first evening next to the sign-in tables at the Marriott. I probably would have done that if I had known it was a option. Actually, I could have easily done such a C-2 book store all three evenings and at the final brunch. 

But what would I know about selling books?

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