A Salute to West Point

Discussion in 'Military Academy - USMA' started by momoftwins, Jan 5, 2010.

  1. momoftwins

    momoftwins 10-Year Member Founding Member

    Jun 11, 2006
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    A Salute to West Point
    The school tries to build a military led by officers of character.


    Even in the age of emails, blogs and tweets, the formal letter can still command attention. Especially when it bears the signature of the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point—and congratulates the recipient on his appointment.

    Along with hundreds of other anxious high-school seniors, my nephew opened such a letter over the Christmas holidays. For his family, it brought back many memories. Just about all of us live within an hour's drive of West Point. For most of our lives, the academy has been a beautiful backdrop: for football games, wedding receptions, the occasional drive up for lunch at the Thayer Hotel, and so on.

    Now the beauty mixes with apprehension. For me it was brought home in 2006, when I attended the commencement as part of the president's entourage. Theirs was the first class to enter West Point after the attacks of Sept. 11. As I watched these happy graduates, I thought: In a few years, some of those celebrating today will not be with us. Thus far, alas, war has claimed two young men who received the gold bars of a second lieutenant that day: Lt. Nick A. Dewhirst, killed in Afghanistan; Lt. Timothy W. Cunningham, killed in Iraq.

    Can my nephew comprehend the sacrifice he commits himself to? The critics say we romanticize war and hide the realities from those who will do the dying. I'm not so sure. At West Point this past autumn for a football game, I went to the refrigerator of a helicopter pilot-turned-instructor in search of a Diet Coke. On the door I found a yellow ribbon with the name of the officer's West Point roommate, an infantry captain named Doug DiCenzo who was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad when his son was just 16 months old.

    On a campus where the cemetery includes the dead from two centuries of American wars, sobering reminders are everywhere: the young wife and children left behind, the good friends who do not make the trip home, the empty space at the reunion. The true glory of West Point is that all know the fear and cost of war but refuse to surrender to them.

    Whether character can be taught is an age-old question; usually we refer to its being built. West Point does not pretend its cadets are immune from the normal temptations of our culture. After all, they come from the same towns and high schools other universities draw from. The difference is that at West Point, words such as duty, honor and country are spoken without irony—and a scandal is a scandal because behavior is still measured against standards.

    A paper on the academy's Web site explains the honor code this way: "An officer who is not trustworthy cannot be tolerated; in some professions the cost of dishonesty is measured in dollars—in the Army, the cost is measured in human lives. The ability of West Point to educate, train and inspire outstanding leaders of character for our Army is predicated upon the functional necessity of honesty."

    In other words, the promise is not that West Point will produce the next generation of Grants, MacArthurs, Eisenhowers or Petraeuses—though it will. The promise is more consequential. To the moms and dads of all those in uniform, West Point says: When America puts your sons and daughters in harm's way, they will be led by men and woman of character and ability.

    In the days since my nephew's acceptance, the reaction has been interesting. Some are impressed. Others . . . well, let's just say the assumption often seems to be that a student chooses a service academy because he or she was not accepted anywhere better, or is going simply because it's free.

    In my nephew's case, neither is true. His father and his father's father both served in the Navy; his other grandfather was a Marine. So his loved ones are a little saddened when we come across people apparently unable to process the idea that an intelligent young American with the world at his feet could be led by a sense of duty to West Point in a time of war.

    When I look at my nephew, I can still see the baby I once lugged to the car in his carrier. A few springs from now, if he rises to this challenge as we know he will, I will sit in that stadium high above the Hudson as Timothy Dore, USMA Class of '14, takes his place in that long gray line. Around me that day will be thousands of other uncles, aunts, moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents who are now, with great pride, passing around a letter from the West Point superintendent like the one my nephew received.

    This academy is not for everyone. But the choice made by these young men and women makes this uncle want to salute.
  2. pedro4

    pedro4 5-Year Member

    Dec 16, 2008
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    Thank you for posting this. I believe that these Cadets are fully aware of what lies in store. The lunchtime announcements, the books written by and about fallen graduates, etc. all remind them of the decision they have made. In our small town, appointments are well received and lauded. But old friends from the big city had that "couldn't he get into a real school" attitude. They were shocked when I told them the schools he turned down.

    A lesser sacrifice was revealed to us this past vacation when our cadet would visit with his old friends, who were also home on break. He would come home early most nights, because his friends were doing what college kids do and he did not want to be in a compromising situation. He is already having to adapt to a different standard of conduct.
  3. Chockstock

    Chockstock "Forever One Team" 5-Year Member

    Feb 1, 2009
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    What a great piece of writing! I was shocked to read that some of the writer's friends gave him those kinds of reactions when he said his nephew would be attending West Point.
  4. NV_USMA_Mom

    NV_USMA_Mom 5-Year Member

    Oct 21, 2009
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    Another 'Thank you' for writing this!

    As the mom of a upcoming USMA cadet, I am so happy for my son who has wanted this since he was 7.Yes, 7! He worked hard, he earned it, and this is his dream. We also come from military families on both sides. Both grandpa's, uncle, and great-grandparents served in the Army or Navy-some during war time. That being said, his best friend who had that same dream and is the same type of kid, decided not to apply to our service academies specifically because we are at war. Our son had opportunities for his higher education at very prominate Ivy league schools-which he declined so that he can attend West Point.

    My son is one of those kids who understands what he is getting into, and he still wants to. He wants to serve his country, period. The fact that he gets the opportunity to learn at (in our opinion) the premier educational institution for military personnel, is an honor. He is ready to pursue his dream and do it with determination and pride. He knows the sacrifices will be many, but he also knows he will be with other cadets with the same dreams and the same desire to serve their country.

    I understand that this forum is small, but for those of us who come seeking advice, instruction and support, I find it so valuable to have the support from others who do understand and feel the sacrifices that our families and our especially our cadets are making.

    I have the greatest admiration and pride for all of these promising young adults pursuing this route. I know my son will be in great company! Thank you, again for your piece and your support of our cadets. I look forward to being there in the stands with you!

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