West Point - Home of the Brave

Two Hundred and Eleven Years of History

West Point, fifty miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, was America's first engineering school. It was created in 1794 to ensure a resource of trained military leaders. The fear was that a collection of experienced officers may not always be readily available when conflicts arose.

The term "cadet" was applied to the first students, some of whom were already officers in the regular army. It came from European custom referring to a younger son who attempted to replace the status of being the heir in the family with the status that came from military rank.

The first officer/students may have objected to being reduced to "pupils" and may have expressed their anger by burning down the original two-story instructional building in 1796, along with all the books and instruments of study. Congress created the Corps of Engineers as a branch of the military in 1802 with the stipulation it would be posted at West Point as a national military academy.

Cadet Gray, the traditional color of West Point uniforms, has a practical history going back to 1815: a wartime shortage of the dark blue dye for military uniforms.

In its first hundred and seventy-four years, all cadets graduated with a bachelor of science in engineering degree. Today cadets receive degrees in a variety of disciplines, but all have a foundation in the maths and sciences and prepare USMA graduates for military leadership.

Leadership. Lee, Grant, Patton, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Odierno, McChrystal. Duty. Honor. Country. These names and words are now (or will be) written on the buildings, engraved in brass, and bled into the hearts of the many who are called to apply to go to this college - and into the long grey line of the few who are chosen.



Trophy Point overlooks the Hudson River

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I was an A-Squader

My personal experience with West Point began in 1971 when I was the girl back home to a cadet in his first year at the academy - a plebe. Due to the strict restrictions on the time, attention, and physical being of a plebe, I didn't make the trip from Georgia to New York until fall of his sophomore year when he was lovingly referred to by the Corps as a cow. We met in New York City. We went to a football game at Rutgers, followed by my first ride up the Palisaides Parkway, through the village of Highland Falls and its all girl college known as Ladycliff, and through the Thayer Gate onto the military reservation at West Point.

(Ironically, Ladycliff closed it's doors after women joined the Long Gray Line in the mid-1970s. It is now a West Point visitor's center.)

Pictures don't do the place justice today any more than they did in 1972. The ones I've included (except for the first one - mine was just too pixelated) were all taken by either me or my cadet during my visits. In addition to the ones I display, there are many places on the reservation a picture can't describe. There is also one place a tourist is not allowed.

Flirty - Flirtation Walk was only accessible to a cadet who was accompanied by a young lady. It was a wooded path that meandered along the banks of the Hudson River. Near the end of the trail was the Kissing Rock. Legend held that if a young lady did not permit her cadet to kiss her under the rock, it would fall into the Hudson, taking the couple along with it. I don't believe the legend was ever imperically tested. The only other people who made the effort to traverse this trail were the intrepid tactical officers who were determined to catch the cadets in their charge in violation of the restriction against PDA's (public displays of affection). That is if crawling through the woods to a remote site can be defined as catching a cadet in public.

50 miles north of New York City

ARMY Football is a big part of USMA tradition

It is easy to forget the impressive history of West Point's football program. I wonder how successful the teams at Alabama and Ohio State would be if when they recruited a potential player they had to include the fact that at the end of the young man's college career he could look forward to being sent off to war. Not possibly, but for the last thirteen years, certainly.

The Black Knights have three national championships, three Heisman Trophy winners, and 26 Hall of Fame members on their all-time roster. Granted, their heyday was back in the 1930s and 1940s, but that record is still impressive by anyone's standard.

One title West Point still holds is "the most beautiful football stadium in America." It is certainly not the largest capacity stadium like a Penn State (107,282) or a University of Texas (100,119), but set on the side of Lusk Reservoir and surrounded by an old growth forest, it is a picturesque setting that makes in impression on any visiting team Army comes up against.

BEAT NAVY!


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West Point is a Must-See

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Forty Years Later

My cadet and I dated long distance, long before the benefit of free long distance via cell phones, and the instant gratification of email and SKYPE. I still have a shoebox full of letters and cards from our courtship. We got pinned. We got engaged. We got married. We spent 20 years as an Army family, living in two foreign countries for a total of seven years and in the state of Washington for four years (a state as far from our home state, Georgia, as geographically possible.) I became what is known as a two percent-er: the percent of women who dated her cadet while he was at West Point, married their cadets after graduation, (when we were legally allowed to do so) and were still married to them at the 20-year retirement mark from active duty.

In all that time, West Point has seen many changes, some more significant than others. My husband still has the slide rule he used for the many math and engineering courses he took as a cadet. Now we talk about having that relic bronzed. Today cadets receive emails from their professors notifying them of any changes to their homework assignments. All the technological advances of the past twenty years have made the cadet experience something very different than it was for "the Old Corps," a term every class seems to claim includes them.

The class after the class my cadet was a member of included the first women at West Point. At the time I thought the admission of women to The Corps was an absolute waste of the country's resources. Going to USMA was all about turning out combat officers, and women were and to this day are excluded from those branches. I was wrong.

While graduates now enter all branches of the Army, not just combat arms, the officers West Point produces are by and large much more well-rounded, less socially inept young people than the "old grads" from the all-male years. The officers' ladies from the pre-1977 classes lovingly referred to "The Cadet Syndrome" to describe the condition that limited their husbands' ability to interact with the fairer sex after the four formative years at the male-only academy.

In spite of recent reports of sexual misconduct among some cadets, which is particularly heart-breaking to grads considering cadets and midshipmen are supposed to be "the cream of the crop", the presence of women at the academies has resulted in officers who have successfully worked with members of the opposite sex as equals and superiors. Their higher education has included building experiences with females that are made up of more than opening the center-fold of a men's magazine.

And in today's military that has endured more than a decade of constant war, we've seen two theaters in which the "front lines" of the war zone have not been clearly defined. Many women have been among our casualties and fatalities while doing their "non-combat" jobs. There is no longer any justification for not giving both sexes the same opportunity for the most advanced military leadership training our country has to offer.

In the main library at West Point there is a display made up of one class ring from each class to graduate from the academy. It is a lovely collection of the styles of rings over the years. But more moving than the beauty of the jewelry is the fact that most of the rings were donated posthumously, by the families who had lost a son or daughter, a husband or a wife, a father or a mother, in war.

The ring from the class of 2003 belonged to First Lieutenant Laura Walker, the first female graduate killed in action. She died in Afghanistan in 2005 by a roadside bomb. Her two brothers and her father are also members of the Long Gray Line.


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Pass in Review

West Point no longer does full Corps parades on a regular basis. Parades of today usually only include two of the four regiments that make up the entire number of cadets. From 1971 to 1975, the West Point of my experience, the last companies in the last regiment spent a total of three and a half hours more than the first companies in total time on The Plain during their four years as cadets. The first cadets on the field could watch the last of the parade from their rooms if they lived in Washington Hall, which faced The Plain.

In preparation of experiencing my first game day parade, my cadet assured me that I would absolutely be able to pick him out of the crowd of 4,000 cadets I was about to see en-mass upon the parade field. "I'll be the one in the white gloves," he said. Can you believe I married him four years later anyway? (Reference the previously mentioned "Cadet Syndrome.")

West Point has experienced many changes in the last forty years. Old grads have been talking about the days of "the old corps" for as long as I can remember. They cite examples of how much harder the cadet experience was in their day and how much easier cadets of the current day have it. This tradition will no doubt continue as long as the long gray line marches on the plain along the banks of the Hudson River.

Books by Kathleen Cochran

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20 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Never visited but always wanted to. Thanks for the tour; great pics.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

billybuc: Thanks! Get in your car and go. No passport of plane ticket required. I recommend the fall or the spring just for the beauty of the countryside. I didn't even mention the Thayer Hotel, which is an experience in itself.


Ghaelach 2 years ago

Hi Kathleen

Just about the time you started your personal experience with West Point in 1971, I was sailing up the Hudson on a ship called the "Joya McCance." It was a 50,000 ton oil tanker that brought oil to NY which was delivered to a place on the East River. After which we cleaned the oil tanks and then sailed round to the Hudson River were we sailed 60 miles up river to take on fresh water to take to the island Curacao (Dutch). A small island at the south end of the Caribbean.

While saling up the Hudson we passed on the Portside (left) what looks like a ships burial ground. Loads of ships next to each other and not a light to be seen. At night it was real spooky.

Around 50 miles up the Hudson you got a wonderful sight of West Point. All the times we sailed passed there was always cadets doing their tranning. You got the feeling that the place was very old just by looking at it from the river. Your story bring back wonderful memories. I more than likely will never set foot in the grounds of West Point, but I am one of the lucky ones that has seen the parade ground of USMA West Point with my very own eyes.

Super hub, voted up and sharing.

LOL Ghaelach


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Exvellent hub and my husband's cousin teaches there. We hope to visit one day! Up and more and sharing God bless, Faith Reaper


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Faith: Absolutely go while your cousin is stationed there. He'll know things you can never learn or see on a tour.

Ghaelach: What a great name and thanks for sharing your experience. I had no idea such things happened. It's a small world, isn't it, and we see it from a million different points of view. Makes life interesting!

Thanks for the comments.


Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 2 years ago from New York, NY

You really caught my attention in the intro - I had no clue that West Point is America's first engineering school. What a fascinating piece of history! I loved reading about your personal experience with the military academy.


Ghaelach 2 years ago

Morning Kathleen.

A little update on my last comment.

The word Ghaelach is my pseudonym that I have used the last three years on HP. It comes from my love of Ireland and simply means Gaelic. For me the word has nothing to do with religion, it's just something that bring me closer to Ireland.

Take care and have a nice weekend.

LOL Ghaelach

Europe 09:50am


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Global-Chica: A year or so ago we took some friends with us to a class reunion at West Point. Walking around and showing them the sights triggered more memories than I'd thought about in ages. Writing this hub did the same thing. I keep thinking of things I should include. Glad you enjoyed this one.

Ghaelach: I write under a pseudonym as well. Mine is my middle name and my grandmother's last name as an homage to her.

I've been to Ireland once on a bus tour that was 100% enjoyable. Would love to go back, spend some real time, and learn more about the emerald isle.


Ghaelach 2 years ago

Once again Kathleen.

To carry on from my last comment.

With names as Kathleen and Cochran there must be some Irish down the line in your family line. Mine is 100% Irish, as is my love for Ireland.

You seem to have followed me to the places I have been too.

I worked in Saudi Arabia in 1975-1977 for what was BAC later BAe. I was across from the island of Bahrain in the Saudi town/city of Dhahran on the east coast. Did almost two years working on the night shift. Since 1989 I have lived and worked in Germany in Neuss which lies between Dusseldorf and Cologne in Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Have a nice weekend.

LOL Ghaelach


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

We have travelled the same roads! Dhahran in the 1970s must have been amazing. You will find my pictures along with hubs from my book on Saudi especially interesting because you will be able to compare them to the Saudi you knew.

We were in Germany from 1980-1983 near Geissen. I've been to Cologne to see the beautiful cathedral there. In my hub about Christmas flashmobs, there is one on the step of that very cathedral. That's why I chose that one.

Don't want to lose a friend right off the bat, but we Cochrans are Scotish - with a little Irish mixed in for good measure I'm sure. Still friends?


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Wonderful hub and great pictures. I am ashamed to say I knew almost nothing about West Point. Not that it was 50 miles from New York; not that it was on the Hudson; not that it was so incredibly beautiful. Sharing. Theresa


StephanieBCrosby profile image

StephanieBCrosby 2 years ago from New Jersey

I love West Point. I went there once for one of their balls. The whole night the female cadets commented on how they loved looking at the civilian females in gowns. It was a truly great experience. I wish I had more time to peruse the whole campus.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Wow, you have certainly shown us how beautiful the West Point campus is. I love to visit picturesque college campuses. I enjoyed this!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Stephanie: I can't imagine attending a ball with female cadets in uniform. But my era of attending balls was like being in a Doris Day movie. I used to stay with my cadet's sponsor family and once the Dad of the family let me drive around post in his spitfire sports car. I swear the cadets saw me driving around the all male campus and would say, "Man, that's a great looking car!" It was a neat place to be a girlfriend though. I'm sure it still is.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Rebecca: Most would tell you West Point is the un-college, but I know what you are saying. Some of the most beautiful places in America are college campuses.


swilliams profile image

swilliams 2 years ago from Arizona

Very well written Kathleen! The pictures are amazing! I now hope to visit West Point Campus! Voted up.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

swilliams: It is definitely worth the trip! Thanks for commenting.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 24 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Well, the Black Knights almost did it this year: 17 - 10. I still say, try recruiting football players when you have to tell them after their four-year college career they get to go get shot at. Army has been doing that for the 13 years they've been losing to Navy. Nobody mentions it. But it is the elephant on the football field. BEAT NAVY - and after a decade of two wars, give us some PEACE for a while.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 24 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

KAthleen.......Wonderful, informative Hub.....great photos. I was there so many years ago it's only a haze of a memory. This brought it all back. Thank you so much!...UP++++


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 24 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

fpherj48: Thanks for your comment and I'm glad to hear from someone who has been there. My husband's 40th reunion is next fall and I'm looking forward to un-hazing some of my memories too.

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