I grew up in a blue-collar family in CT so there were not a lot of college options for me. I was my Congressman’s 1st Alternate and his Primary Nominee had accepted his appointment, so I was totally unsure what my college future was going to be — or if it would exist at all! One week prior to 1 July 1965 I received a letter in the mail informing me that I could enter West Point with the Class of 1969 as a Qualified Alternate. (Thanks to JFK for asking the question that led to the increase in the size of the Corps of Cadets so that it equaled the Brigade of Midshipmen at Annapolis.) Despite having grown up in CT, I had never visited WP until my Mom & Dad drove me there on 1 July. With visions of “The West Point Story” dancing through my head I eagerly said goodbye to my parents and unwittingly launched myself into Hell! What a shocker — I was totally unprepared. As William Bendix used to say on the Life of Riley, “What a revolting development this is!” I had some serious misgivings during Beast, BUT staying the course was the best decision that I ever made, and I have had a far better life than I could ever have dreamed of! Perhaps most importantly of all, I am immensely proud and grateful to be a part of the brotherhood that we all share!! Thanks for sharing your stories of “Day # 1 of our joint journey”; I have enjoyed & appreciated every single one of them! We are all incredibly lucky and blessed in so many ways!!!
I took United Airlines from SFO to NYC; found Port Authority, & a bus to the Thayer. When I arrived, I did run around with a group of guys who were sooo impressive, patriotic, excited to be at USMA, & ready to serve in Vietnam. I, myself & several others, weren’t exactly prepared for the shock of being screamed & yelled at, starting with the Man in the Red Sash. For naive suburban-ites & my other country-boy friends, that day was a truly life-changing experience.
I was so terrified (from ZERO & I mean absolutely NO prior Military experience), that, here goes: One time, I did well at “tables” & perfectly “saying the days” at a lunch in Washington Hall. Thus, I was “rewarded” with an extra apple & orange. While walking back across the yard toward my quarters, I knew I had to “Salute” an upperclassman. What to do, with an apple in one hand & An orange in the other? Of course, Salute, no matter the fruit! Uh-Huh?! Instant yelling plus 2 more demerits.
My parents dropped me off at the entrance to central area after a couple days drive from my home near Chicago. We stopped one day in PA to visit my Dad’s relatives and drop off my siblings. We arrived in the morning of R-Day and I didn’t see my family again until Christmas. It seems kind of harsh especially since I was only 17, not turning 18 until December, but I didn’t know any better! It might have been harder on my parents; I was the oldest of 5, so this was new for everyone.
My dad had given me a haircut the day before. I remember going to the barber shop and being asked why I was there since “it’s obvious” I had already been there for a haircut!!!
I knew nothing about the military, so the rest of the day (and all of beast summer) is a blur. I do remember marching out to Trophy point for the swearing-in ceremony.
I also remember a guy standing next to me before reporting to the “man in the red sash”, quit on the spot and left!!
On June 30th, my 18th birthday, I went to Woo Poo and spent my night before Beast in the barracks at West Point, due to the “wisdom” of Coach Knight and the Basketball program. The theory was I would get a head start and be one of the first ones, (if not THE first one, I am not sure), to report in and go through the fitting for a uniform, (shoes were too small for me and I limped around for a week waiting for bigger ones to arrive, until an officer asked me what was wrong; good news, bad news again, as I caught s….. for walking instead of double-timing everywhere, even though I was authorized to do so), haircut, learn to march and salute, etc., etc., first day drill. However, my assessment is it just gave them more time to give you s….., and stress/hazing, (as so few new cadets there yet—I wanted to hide), and I would never recommend this as SOP thereafter, I told the coaches. Looking back, it was the worst, and best experience of my life. It DOES BUILD CHARACTER!! BOTL ’69-
My story was about how my attitude was formed as I met the man in the red sash. After about 4 times being directed to pick up and then drop my suitcase, I noticed that the man in the red sash had to bite his lip to keep from smiling (or laughing). At that point, I realized that he was just doing the kind of hazing to me that he had gone through. From then on, I had the attitude that if all those who had gone before me could do it, I could too.