When I was nine years old, West Point was a wonderland. My father taught math at the academy. Aside from the cadets, summer was green grass and tall, stately pines. Winter snow frosted the ground with a carpet of white, perfect for sledding and skiing. There was a big hill in front of our house where my older brother practiced skateboarding; winding paths through the woods; the Hudson River; and Delafield Pond with bullfrog tadpoles, a huge metal slide that could hold 4 cadets stacked on top of each other, and high-rising diving platforms. But what I remember most were the songs. Songs that my father taught me, songs that I played on the piano, songs that I sung at football games, parades, and celebrations: The West Point Alma Mater, The Corps, The Official West Point March, and Benny Havens, Oh!
Last month I revisited West Point with my father’s class of 1947 for their 65th reunion. I looked forward to the trip with excitement and trepidation. Would I remember the roads, the buildings, my house? Or would my memory fail me?
Memories are tricky, though. The perspective of a nine-year-old is a far cry from that of an adult, especially after so many years. Delafield Pond seemed much smaller than I remembered. There are no tadpoles or diving platforms, and the metal slide has been replaced with squiggly plastic yellow tubes. My house on Barnard Loop does face a hill, about as steep as the first step on a staircase. And the horrendous walk to school through the woods is, according to Google, a mere 482 feet.
By invitation of a Firstie (fourth year cadet) we visited Nininger Hall, which houses three cadet rooms that have been preserved going back to the early 1900s. Everything in perfect order—shirts, towels, buckles, spit shined shoes—just like in Officer and a Gentleman.
As we left the Hall, the manager ran after us with the 1947 Howitzer and showed us my father’s yearbook picture. “What a ‘stud muffin’” one of the women in our group remarked. We all laughed, including my dad, and I heartily agree.
Heritage is an important part of who you are. This trip helped me find the pieces of my past that I treasure.
Here’s to the Corps.
[Last verse of the West Point Alma Mater]
And when our work is done,
Our course on earth is won
May it be said, ‘Well done;
Be thou at peace.’
E’er may that line of gray
Increase from day to day,
Live, serve, and die, we pray,
West Point, for thee.