A defining moment of my life came while I was a Company Commander at Ft. Benning, GA, in 1972. After about four months in command, I looked around one day and decided that my troops knew me and I knew them, and there was no one who would go AWOL (absent without leave).
I was right. My company went a whole month without an AWOL, and as a result, we received a training holiday. Then it went another month; then a third time, during which I received some new troops, and I impressed upon them that this unit had something going for it, and I was commanding the Company but very concerned about them. After our fourth month without an AWOL, I received a letter from the Commanding General commending me.
Meanwhile, two other companies succeeded for one month, though there were rumors about how they compiled their Morning Reports. Now it looked like the whole battalion was on track to receive a training holiday. There was only one more day to go, when a cook from Headquarters Company who had already been AWOL twice was sent to my company on a Rehab Transfer.
Sure enough, he was AWOL in the morning. I sent up a Morning Report listing him as AWOL. The Battalion Commander called me up to his office, along with his S-1. He explained that if I changed my report to list the man as being sent back to Headquarters Company, we would have our training holiday, and the next day he could be dropped from the rolls (DFR) of Headquarters Company after having been AWOL three times.
I went back to my unit, and then called my father, a Brigadier General, Chairman of the Cadet Honor Committee when he was a First Class Cadet, explaining that I thought that the Battalion Commander was quibbling, as we called it back at West Point.
He was shifting from the point in question (AWOL) by using a seemingly unimportant detail (transfer between Companies). I wished to do “the harder right instead of the easier wrong” as we learned in the Cadet Prayer**, and fully expected that I might be relieved of command for refusing to change my report. I felt that I had to uphold the honor of the Corps. He agreed.
The S-1 submitted a report instead of mine. Although I wasn’t relieved, I received a mediocre Efficiency Report after a year, and left active duty after my five year commitment. I continued as a Reservist for 28 more years.
Follow-up: In 1974, when I was about to leave active duty, I was invited by the recently retired Chief of Engineers, LTG Clarke, USMA ’37, to his house for dinner. During the course of the meal, he asked about my next assignment. I told him about the Morning Report incident, and the mediocre OER. I was going to resign my Regular Army commission, and had already turned down my programmed assignment to civil school and then to teach Civil Engineering at West Point. He said his own son had had a similar incident the year before, and lamented the fact that it had happened again. The Engineer Branch is a small one and it was not hard to watch the career of the Battalion Commander who submitted the false Morning Report – it was a short one; I never knew exactly why. Maybe, someone noticed.
**USMA Cadet Prayer
O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.
Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country. All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all.