Founder’s Day

 

On March , 1802 –two hundred and seven years ago, on 16 March 1802, Congress authorized the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.  Last night about a hundred and fifty of us “old grads” celebrated the founding of our alma mater here at Fort Leavenworth Kansas.  Our oldest grad was class of ’48 and the youngest “old grad” was class of ’07.  It was sometimes fun, sometimes interesting, sometimes boring, and often a humbling evening.  We had the Dean of Academics, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, as our guest speaker and he was effective, if a bit long,  in nudging our memories and stirring our hearts. 

The Dean was particularly effective at high-lighting the sacrifices made in the Global War on Terror by the junior officers who are the graduates of the last decade.  Unlike us Cold War warriors, they have directly borne the burden of combat and long deployments.  Some 68 graduates, mostly captains and lieutenants,  have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Their service has reaffirmed that West Point continues to do exactly what its mission has called for:

To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.

The corps motto, “Duty, Honor, Country,” is well met by the current generation of cadets and graduates.

Another part of the evening was a contest to see who could remember some of the cadet trivia that all plebes are required to remember.  Two pieces that several officers were able to recite very clearly struck me as particularly important aspects of officership.  I reflected as I heard them again, more than thirty years after I first encountered them in my Bugle Notes back in the summer of 1977, that at the time I  first memorized them I didn”t realize how important, and prophetic they were.  When I was a cadet, I assumed that they were really just restatements of common sense.  I didn’t realize how difficult the standards that they represented would be to meet on a daily basis in a complex and challenging environment. 

Worth’s Battalion Orders

But an officer on duty knows no one — to be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offences in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated, the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.

Brevet Major William Jenkins Worth

Schofield’s Definition of Discipline

The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

Major General John M. Schofield
Address to the Corps of Cadets
August 11, 1879

Its funny how ethics and leading American soldiers hasn’t changed too much in over 200 years.

So it was a night to reminisce and renew old friendships.  It also was an evening which reminded us of the mission of the military academy, affirmed for us that that mission is being well met today, and allowed us to appreciate how fortunate we are to have been part of something special.

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