The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: West Point

GRIGGS: I started with mathematics. Seems strange now, but that’s why I went to West Point – wonderful mathematics department. So I got myself two wars instead.

Table of Contents

West Point –

Since its founding two centuries ago, the Military Academy has accomplished its mission by developing cadets in four critical areas: intellectual, physical, military, and moral-ethical – a four-year process called the “West Point Experience.” Specific developmental goals are addressed through several fully coordinated and integrated programs.

From the day of its founding on March 16, 1802, West Point has grown in its size and stature, but it remains committed to the task of producing commissioned leaders of character for America’s Army. Today, the Academy graduates more than 900 new officers annually, which represents approximately 25 percent of the new lieutenants required by the Army each year. The student body, or Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,000, of whom approximately 15 percent are women.

A favorite expression at West Point is that “much-of the history we teach was made by people we taught.” Great leaders such as Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Westmoreland and Schwarzkopf are among the more than 50,000 graduates of the Military Academy. Countless others have served society in the fields of medicine, law, business, politics, and science following their careers in uniform.

A Brief History of West Point

West Point’s role in our nation’s history dates back to the Revolutionary War, when both sides realized the strategic importance of the commanding plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River. General George Washington considered West Point to be the most important strategic position in America. Washington personally selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko, one of the heroes of Saratoga, to design the fortifications for West Point in l778, and Washington transferred his headquarters to West Point in l779. Continental soldiers built forts, batteries and redoubts and extended a l50-ton iron chain across the Hudson to control river traffic. Fortress West Point was never captured by the British, despite Benedict Arnold’s treason. West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.

Several soldiers and legislators, including Washington, Knox, Hamilton and John Adams, desiring to eliminate America’s wartime reliance on foreign engineers and artillerists, urged the creation of an institution devoted to the arts and sciences of warfare.

President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy in 1802. He took this action after ensuring that those attending the Academy would be representative of a democratic society.

Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, the “father of the Military Academy,” served as Superintendent from l8l7-l833. He upgraded academic standards, instilled military discipline and emphasized honorable conduct. Aware of our young nation’s need for engineers, Thayer made civil engineering the foundation of the curriculum. For the first half century, USMA graduates were largely responsible for the construction of the bulk of the nation’s initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads.

After gaining experience and national recognition during the Mexican and Indian wars, West Point graduates dominated the highest ranks on both sides during the Civil War. Academy graduates, headed by generals such as Grant, Lee, Sherman and Jackson, set high standards of military leadership for both the North and South.

The development of other technical schools in the post-Civil War period allowed West Point to broaden its curriculum beyond a strict civil engineering focus. Following the creation of Army post-graduate command and staff schools, the Military Academy came to be viewed as the first step in a continuing Army education.

In World War I, Academy graduates again distinguished themselves on the battlefield. After the war, Superintendent Douglas MacArthur sought to diversify the academic curriculum. In recognition of the intense physical demands of modern warfare, MacArthur pushed for major changes in the physical fitness and intramural athletic programs. “Every cadet an athlete” became an important goal. Additionally, the cadet management of the Honor System, long an unofficial tradition, was formalized with the creation of the Cadet Honor Committee.

Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, Arnold, Clark, Patton, Stilwell and Wainwright were among an impressive array of Academy graduates who met the challenge of leadership in the Second World War. The postwar period again saw sweeping revisions to the West Point curriculum resulting from the dramatic developments in science and technology, the increasing need to understand other cultures and the rising level of general education in the Army.

In 1964, President Johnson signed legislation increasing the strength of the Corps of Cadets from 2,529 to 4,417 (more recently reduced to 4,000). To keep up with the growth of the Corps, a major expansion of facilities began shortly thereafter.

In concert with the increasing role of minorities and women in society and the military over the past three decades, greater numbers of minorities and the first women were brought to the Military Academy and the Corps of Cadets. Their presence has enhanced the quality and maintained the traditional representativeness of the institution.

In recent decades, the Academy’s curricular structure was markedly changed to permit cadets to major in any one of more than a dozen fields, including a wide range of subjects from the sciences to the humanities.


George S. Patton, Jr. – member of the 1912 U.S. Olympic Team; commanding general of the 7th Army 1942-44, commander of the 3rd Army European Theater 1944-45.


Omar N. Bradley
Commanding general, lst Army, 12th Army Group European Theater in World War II; Army Chief of Staff 1948-49; first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1949-53; chairman of the board of Bulova Watch Company 1958.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe 1943-45; Army Chief of Staff 1945-48; president of Columbia University 1948; President of the United States 1953-61.


Clark succeeded Ridgway as U.S. and Supreme Allied Commander, Far East, from 1952-53. He successfully negotiated the armistice with the Communist forces in North Korea in July 1953, and later served as president of The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, S.C., from 1954-65.

Ridgway served in many positions during World War II, including commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Later, he served as U.S. and Supreme Allied Commander, Far East, from 1951-52, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, from 1952-53, and Army Chief of Staff from 1953-55.


Commanded the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day, and during the Battle of the Bugle and the drive through Germany. Taylor served as Superintendent, USMA, 1945-49. He returned to Germany as U.S. Commander, Berlin, 1949-51, then took command of the Eighth Army, Korea, 1953-54. Taylor was Army Chief of Staff, 1955-59 and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1962-64; after retirement in 1964, with the rank of General, Taylor served as U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, 1964.


Commanded the 5307th Composite Unit, also known as Merrill’s Marauders, in 1944. Following World War II, Merrill served as Chief of Staff of the Western Defense Command, and later served as Chief of Staff and as Commander of the 6th Army. In 1947, he became deputy Chief of the American Military Advisory Mission to the Philippines.


Darby organized and commanded the 1st U.S. Army Ranger Battalion in 1942. From 2,000 volunteers, Darby selected and trained 500 Rangers that successfully operated in North Africa and Tunisia. Darby trained and organized two more Ranger Battalions in 1943. The 1st, 3rd, and 4th Ranger Battalions were known as “Darby’s Rangers,” and were famous for their endeavors in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. He was killed while leading a task force from the 10th Mountain Division in Northern Italy and posthumously promoted to brigadier general.


Creighton commanded the 37th Tank Battalion in World War II. He served in the Korean War as a Corps Chief of Staff and commanded at all levels from regiment through corps. General Abrams commanded the U.S. Army Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, from 1968 to 1972. He successfully ensured the safe withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam at the end of the conflict. Appointed Chief of Staff of the Army in 1972, he guided the rebuilding of the Army. The Abrams main battle tank is named in his honor.


Killed before his 24th birthday, Alexander “Sandy” Nininger died a hero. His heroism, character and commitment to the West Point ideals of Duty, Honor and Country made him worthy of emulation by future Army Officers. Nininger single-handedly charged into the enemy positions with a rifle, grenades and fixed bayonet. For his heroism “above and beyond the call of duty,” President Roosevelt posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor. In his honor for outstanding leadership and the virtues he embodied, the Corps of Cadets named the First Division of Cadet Barracks in his memory.

William T. Seawell
commandant of cadets, U.S. Air Force Academy 1961-63; former chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Pan Am World Airways.


Wesley W. Posvar
Rhodes Scholar; chancellor, University of Pittsburgh.

Reuben Pomerantz
Former president, Holiday Inns of America.


Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
Chief of Staff to the president 1973-74; Supreme Allied Commander in Europe 1974-79; president, United Technologies Corporation 1980-81; Secretary of State 1981-82.

Brent Scowcroft
Military assistant to the President, 1972; National Security Advisor, Bush Administration.


John G. Hayes
Former president, Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

Puckett formed and commanded the 8th Army Ranger Company during the Korean War. Following the war, Puckett served as commander of the Mountain Ranger Division of the Ranger Department, and as the Ranger advisor in the U.S. Army Mission to Colombia where he planned and established the Colombian Army Ranger School.


Frank Borman
Astronaut 1962-70; commander of the first circumlunar flight; president of Eastern Airlines.

One of the Academy’s international cadets, Ramos served as a Philippine Army officer after graduation. He eventually became the country’s military’s Chief of Staff and later Secretary of National Defense. He later served as President of the Republic of the Philippines from 1992-1998.


Roscoe Robinson, Jr.
Commanding general, 82nd Airborne Division 1976-78; commanding general, U.S. Army Japan 1980-82; U.S. Representative to NATO Military Committee, 1982-85; first African American four-star general in the Army, 1982.

Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin
Astronaut 1963-72; participated in the first manned lunar landing.


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