By BEN GRAFTON
Over the period of May 20 – 23, the United States Military Academy Class of 1952, of which this reporter is a member, held its 60th Reunion at West Point, New York. A review of The Howitzer, the yearbook for West Point, reveals that about 530 young men graduated that year and were commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the United States Army. There were 120 members of the class, about one-half of the surviving members, present at the reunion. A very respectable number considering all are octogenarians. Almost all were accompanied by their wives, other family members and some guests. The feelings of friendship, camaraderie and respect among these men are exceptional and very difficult to describe.
West Point today is very different, yet still the same as it was 60 years ago. The Corps of Cadets now numbers approximately 4,000 young men and women compared to an authorized strength of 2,400 men in 1952. Now as then, the academic standards are exceptionally high, but the number of degree fields have been broadened from the standard curriculum offered then to a program that now offers a number of degrees in both liberal arts scientific fields. As an example, we talked to a cadet who was majoring in sociology with a minor in mechanical engineering. And, of course, training in military history, strategy, tactics, and weaponry plays a major part in every cadet’s life.
At its business meeting a new class president was elected and approval was given for gifts from class funds to establish an endowment to bring outstanding people from different fields to the academy to lecture the cadets on subjects of national and international interest and concern. The first of these presenters was Henry Kissinger, who not only lectured but who participated with cadets in a well received question and answer session.
There were many reunion highlights which included: A presentation by the Superintendent, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon about current issues at the academy; A moving memorial service in the Cadet Chapel for classmates who have passed from this life; and, an excellent lunch featuring baked chicken and New York cheesecake for dessert was served at tables set for 10 people in the cadet mess hall where there is enough room to serve a meal to all 4,000 cadets at one time. One cadet was present at each table to assist as needed and to answer questions that came up. This reporter’s table was blessed with a petite attractive young woman, Cadet Comacho, a Yearling (sophomore) who, believe it or not, was a member of the academy’s intercollegiate womens boxing and rugby teams.
Best of all, without question, was the opportunity to sit one-on-one, informally, with Cadet Mike Janowski of Dallas, Texas, a friend of this reporter’s granddaughter Ashley, and talk about life at West Point then and now. These points, among others, were made: A greater number of meritorious cadets are sent as exchange students to study in the academies of America’s allies and to gain greater understanding of how to work with them. Cadets are now sent on assignment in the summer to our regular army stations in the USA to gain experience in serving with the troops. Physical conditioning has always been important, but now it is emphasized more than in the past. Cadets can now leave the academy for short visits to Highland Falls (A small village outside the main gate) and they can even order fast food from McDonald’s for delivery to the barracks. Plebes (freshmen) go home for Christmas now. And some things stay the same: Plebe minute callers still announce the uniform to wear and the minutes remaining between first call and assembly for formations and all cadets still pray for rain so that scheduled dress parades will be cancelled.