As the training of Beast Barracks, got over, and with all the upper classes having returned from leave, the time came to get ready for the Academic Year.

First during a little break. We plebes could, briefly, entertain visitors, including family! Even be able to meet them at the on-post Thayer Hotel and eat a normal meal with them before hurrying back to barracks.


Me with Uncle Howard Sayre



This is, I think, the first photo taken of me as a Cadet near the end of Beast Barracks. I am with my Uncle, from Denver, Howard Sayre, my mother's brother, who was able to visit with me one Sunday on a business trip to the East at that time before any other family members visited.

Howie was more than passingly interested in my 'military career' since he and my mother Helen (Sayre) Hughes were related to the famous Denver's Hal Sayre who was a battalion commander at Sand Creek in 1864, and his great Uncle Fry Sayre fought for the Union in the Civil War, even while his Ohio farm was invaded by Morgan's Raiders during that conflict. I own a spur dropped by one of Morgan's men during that raid, given to me by Uncle Howie Sayre, who, because of a club foot could never serve in the Army, even during the World War just finished. Perhaps I would continue that family military tradition.

But I would have to graduate first and I had barely made it past the first hurdle at West Point.

The one picture, below, of my Aunt Arleen visiting me Plebe winter during one of her business trips to New York City. On terrace at the Thayer Hotel.


Me, during first Winter with my Aunt Arleen Hughes





The demands of the 'Military' part of the 4 year program at West Point seemed pretty obvious to me against the background of my prior years at a small 'military school.' I had made it through Beast Barracks, while I saw that lots of other plebes did not make it. I was holding up physically - I was in pretty good shape, and nothing that I had been faced with yet were beyond my capabilities.

I had weathered the early, tough, and very ultra-military period called Beast Barracks.




The West Point Academic Way


But what the Academic demands might be was pretty much a mystery to me. They would be University level courses with an emphasis on the hard sciences - after all I was heading for a Bachelor of Science degree. I had no idea whether my high school preparation was adequate - even though I had always been at the top or second from the top academically at Colorado Military School. But it was a small Colorado school. I especially realized how much more many, if not all of the other of my classmates had similar courses by their attendance at colleges before entering West Point. Reading the list of courses in the West Point Information circulars wasn't enough. Would it be hard, really hard? Would it be simply competitive, with the lower achieving cadets being dropped out of school?

I first got enlightened when I saw the courses I was to take during plebe year. Math, English. Something called 'Military Topography and Graphics - MT&G,' a Foreign Language, Physical Training - PT - and Tactics.

I am not sure how I ended up with German as the foreign language, and as events would prove, I was a poor student - in both German and any other language except English - at which I excelled from the git go. I apparently never had much natural aptitude for foreign languages. I did badly back in high school at Spanish. Now it would be German - a requirement.

I got a glimpse of what I was in for when I learned the West Point Methods of Instruction. Over 200 years ago, when West Point was first founded in 1802, the Superintendant Sylvanus Thayer decreed that every cadet should have to recite - in effect be examined - every day in every subject. A stern requirement to do so within a prescribed curriculum. No 'electives' as modern students enjoy.

Sylvanus Thayer - the "Father of the United States Military Academy"





The requirements were clear. One would have to study every day - or night - then go to class, in which my mastery of the subject would be tested every class day, for four years. Classes were small - as few as 10 cadets to a classroom, with one instructor - almost always a uniformed military Army officer who had an advanced degree in the subject at hand. (Right up until the 1960's that officer usually was himself a West Point graduate)

Traditionally there was one blackboard available for every cadet present in the classroom. Which meant that in the hour of a class, after cadets listened to any information imparted by the instructor, perhaps ask questions about the previous night's homework, the dreaded command "Take Boards" was uttered - and every cadet sprang out of his seat to the black board, picked up a white chalk, and then listened to what the instructor - called in shorthand 'The P' - or professor, wanted the cadets in class to elaborate on the blackboard. Either a math formula and solution, a phrase or sentences in the foreign language, or information that the cadet student was assumed to know from the reading assignment.Or that would be alternated with requirements that individual students 'recite' orally what was wanted by the instructor.

No cutting of classes, no cramming for periodic tests, very few 'mass lectures' routine at universities where studentsjust take notes, or try to remember. Every cadet being graded every day in every subject. THE West Point academic way for over 100 years.

It was nothing if not effective.

Every cadet could be graded, even every day, based on one's 'recitation' on a grade scale unique to West Point. One could get a number grade from 0 to 3.0 being the top grade. Scored to the nearest tenth. With 2.0 (66%) being a passing grade. Then with those number grades were added up and accumulated over a term, or semester, or year, in every subject the determinant whether a cadet 'passed' a course or not was determined. Every cadet had to pass in every subject.

In the highly competitive 'math whiz' competition between the smartest cadets they could wear 'Stars' denoting a very high grade point average across the board for all subjects, or not. That gold colored 'star' was affixed to the dress gray uniform collar. So every cadet was reminded who excelled at West Point's fixed curriculum and who did not.

And one would have to 'pass' - get at least a 2.0 average - in every course of instruction - to pass onto the next period (equivalent of a semester). If one failed, then he was given an opportunity to take a 'turn-out' exam in the subject, given a few days to prepare for that. If he passed that exam - he could go on. Fail and he was dismissed from West Point. Academic failure.

So I plunged into my first classes. Where one 'marched' to class as plebes. Only upperclassmen could arrive individually at the right room, in the right academic building, at the right time.


The Old Academic Building

Old Academic Building off Central Square


The Old Academic Building off Central Square where I attended my first classes in English, Math, and German.

Next West Point 5

You have no rights to post comments