Looking back now from fifty and fifty-four years when I respectively graduated from and entered West Point, there are two clear areas of the strong impression West Point has made on me—the institution itself and the people encountered. Some things in life do fade with time, but the strong influence of the West Point experience isn’t one of them, then or now!
Even before seeing West Point, its reputation as a unique training ground for national leaders was well known in our country’s history, especially for leaders in wartime. The popular TV series in the late 1950s, “The West Point Story”, was another great source of wider knowledge about the Academy, as were a popular series of books about cadet life. Finally, the annual Army-Navy game was another glimpse into the image and mystique of West Point. All of these advance insights, however, paled in impact when compared to the firsthand influence of actually becoming a Cadet. Over the four-year period of being there, West Point as an institution served to both inspire and to transform in fundamental and lasting ways. The tenets of Duty, Honor, Country as well as the overriding attitude of service to the nation seemed to become inseparable between the institution and the Cadets.
While the institution of West Point itself loomed large, in the terms of lasting influence it was the people of West Point who made perhaps the most lasting and certainly living impression over a lifetime. The faculty and staff at West Point were highly qualified and dedicated to their mission, and without question had a significant impact on all of us over four years. Additionally, the upper classes of Cadets, who were our leaders and role models, had a very personal influence on our development, usually in a favorable direction.
Finally, in terms of a persistent influence in our lives, it is fair to say that it was the relationship developed with our contemporaries—our West Point classmates—that has had the greatest meaning. Time spent together in the crucible of West Point coupled with years of service as well as informal friendships over an extended period has cemented ties and made the West Point experience a fundamental core in our lives.