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Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, United States

Monday, February 7, 2011

USMA Class of 1949

906 young men were admitted to West Point in the summer of 1945.
Only 574 graduated four years later, an astonishing loss.
The reason is that over half the entering cadets were in the armed services,
And many saw this as a ticket to a free college education.

About that time, the G.I. Bill was beginning to be used by disabled veterans,
And would later be financial assistance to all in seeking higher education.
Thus a considerable number of admitted cadets decided rather quickly
That they didn't need all the verbal harassment afforded "plebes."

But many servicemen stayed, resulting in a great age disparity:
Five years, from seventeen to twenty-two, in the 1949 class.
The effect was soon realized in promotion opportunities for cadet rank,
And in ability to absorb the limited Army officer training cadets received.

Half the class was destined to join the new Air Force service,
Because the Air Force Academy was still an unrealized idea.
Army training was rudimentary, occuring only on the West Point reservation,
Outside orientation was almost entirely at airbases.

Otherwise, the college education at West Point was superb,
Utilizing the system of daily recitation and grading instituted by
Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, the superintendent of early years, who is
Memorialized on his statue as the "Father of the Military Academy."

He enjoyed the academic instruction in all phases,
Forging a linear engineering approach to solving problems.
He was entranced by military history, devouring textbooks of the subject
As if they were first rate novels.

He should have been on the dean's list, missing academic stars by a hair.
His parents were disappointed that he didn't apply for a Rhodes Scholarship.
But his last two years were occupied by other interests,
That is, by someone else who commanded his attention.

Most important, he absorbed the ethos of the military academy,
Its emphasis on the motto:  "Duty, Honor, Country."
West Point molded his entire life thereafter, giving him an attitude
Of righteousness which was not always well received.

West Point's culture of self-reliance gave him the fortitude
To cope with almost any situation he faced.
He was not awed by authority figures,
Walking into meetings of the mighty as an equal.

He has attended every one of the class reunions held
At five year intervals at West Point.
A picture taken at the 60th reunion shows him standing erect,
Holding the guidon for the class, waiting for the Corps of Cadets
  to pass in review.

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