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Unusual Way Home for Leave
My first trip home to Colorado on leave took advantage of the idea of clever cadets who knew a lot more than I did about post-WWII air travel. Denver is a really long way from New York, and I hardly had enough money in my paltry cadet account (where I recall, we were less paid than Private soldiers) to buy a commercial round trip United Airlines fare. So a group of cadets, most of us plebes, but including upperclassmen whose fathers were in, and knew the Army Air Corps, chartered - or rather 'rented' an el-cheapo flight from one of those small startup outfits run by a bunch of ex-WWII pilots who bought decommissioned C-47s to fly around the country carrying whatever needed, in sparse accommodations. Including bucket seats.
I can't fully remember all the details, other than the cost was ridiculously low, (gas must have been cheap) the flight stopped in Kansas City for Kansas cadets, and in Denver for Colorado Cadets. It was an uncomfortable flight, but hey, it was transportation. And the deal was that we would gather at the airport for the return flight as a group. And of course we flew in uniform, khaki for everyday and dress gray coats for dressup.
In the chatter during the flight I begin to learn from an upperclassman from Denver how cadets - as active duty military - also are able to 'hitch rides' on Army Air Corps planes so long as they are going anyway. Space available.
Two years later I cashed in on that possibility - and hitched a ride to and from Europe - on leave.
A Changed Man?
It felt really good being home in Colorado, if only for essentially about 20 days.
By this time my mother lived in the Shirley Savoy Hotel - a downtown Denver working-folks resident hotel from which she was able to walk down 16th Street to one of the several Department Stores she found reasonable employment in, selling dresses and clothes. She had no car.
My memory is hazy, but my older sisters had families then, thus cars, so transported me around. Much of my leave time was spent with them. And I spent some time down in Colorado Springs at Aunt Arleen's house and among her friends and business associates. And I had a sort-of girl friend.
From the git go, I was looked at differently, both by my family members and the public whom I encountered. Of course there is nothing like a soldier in uniform, even if it was an unfamiliar one - cadet gray - which got immediate attention, and looks of admiration, when someone whispered 'He is from West Point.'
I must have looked pretty sharp, stood up straighter, uniform immaculate, shoes spit shined hair perfectly trimmed, and according to my mother and sisters, I really looked and acted more self-assured. As West Point would like me to look and act.
A first year at West Point had changed me. Had I changed all that much?
I became fully aware that I was now an actual West Point Cadet now, a living representative of the most famous US Military institution which had produced the most outstanding senior military leaders who had won the just concluded war. I think WWII stamped on the public's mind West Point's reputation more than it had been in living memory. Others would have, great expectations of me, joining the 'Long Gray Line' for the future. No one was more aware of that than my Mother, who was beginning to see that I was going to fulfill her dreams for me, ever since my father died.
From that first leave, she did more than anyone else, including me, to be sure I was formally photographed as a West Point Cadet and later as a Uniformed Army Officer, even though as I much later learned, at considerable expense that she could ill afford.
I only seem to have one picture of me on that first leave. I'll have to find it.
Back to West Point
The flight back to 'Stewart Field' New York - the small airfield associated with West Point, was uneventful.
West Point maintains a field training facility called Camp Buckner. Where 3d Classmen - Yearlings - live in wooden field barracks and tents during training, qualify on rifle ranges, learn how to assemble and dissasemble a variety of weapons, learn field sanitation, battlefield first aid, terrain navigation, practical field problem-solving, small unit field tactics, field rations. A host of military-skill subjects 'in the field' that will be needed, one day, 'in war.'
Enlisted men - NCOs - from active Army combat units did a lot of the training, while a cadre of upper class cadets exercised their field 'leadership' abilities over the Yearlings. Everything, always, at West Point contained a component of 'leadership training' of cadets.
|Field Training at Buckner|
Some of the field training work figuring out how to create a tactical bridge.
The whole time spent at 'Buckner' in sharp contrast to the Beast Barracks of the summer before, was a pleasant experience. Military all the way - but the bracing of Plebe Year was over.
It had Delafield Pond, for recreational swimming. Something happened there that revealed a very mild physical problem I have had all the rest of my life. Having done perfectly well while at the Academy and in its 'Gymnasium' required swimming tests and exercises (while some of my classmates sunk like rocks) on one summer day at Buckner I decided to swim across Delafield. I never was a particularly good swimmer - expended too much energy for the distances I swam. But I gave it a try - and it exhausted me. My heart seemed to start fluttering. But I was only 19 at the time and in great general shape!?
The next physical I got revealed I had a slight arithmya, that stress would amplify. 70 years later my doctor prescribed, and I still have, a defibrillator.
During Buckner I got to know lots more of my classmates beyond just those in my F-2 company.
As the 'field break' came to an end, I braced myself for the Academic Year to come. I knew it would be harder than the year just completed, as the more advanced engineering courses would be unveiled. ...a grade, every day, in every subject...
Yes, my 'sophomore' academic subjects would be heavy. Besides the 2d Year of German, and another year of Military Topography and Graphics, I would have courses in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry. I would have to maintain the grades in English. Do well in 'Military Physical Efficiency,' Tactics, and keep my demerit count low, lest I would have to "Walk the Area" and lose even more study time.
Already at the start of the 2d - or '3d Class' - year, our class of 1950 had dropped from the 922 we started Beast Barracks with in 1946, to 682 starting this 2d year. A drop of 240 cadets who had gotten their West Point appointments, passed the required exams, including physical, and were admitted under competitive conditions. Only 922 cadets were admitted the year before out of perhaps 10,000 who had applied. But between the disciplinarily hard Beast Barracks, some drops for physical disabilities too much to ignore in a junior military officer, relentless 1st year academics, (all cadets had to take all the prescribed courses - no electives) and resignations for a variety of reasons, including honor violations, and give-up-ittus, 26% of our class was already kaput. (See? I already had learned a few words of German!)
So classes started. I floundered around in German again, did very well again in MT&G, struggled hard in Mathematics, and did not do as well as I should have in English. Maybe too smug.
I did ok in Chemistry, but I really was fascinated by Physics - partly because with Japan having been defeated by the first 'Atomic Bomb' - The Manhattan Project having done its work. Our Instructor - also a graduate had worked on the bomb. His explanations about neutrons and protons and all the new science, new Einstein Relativity Physics that the nuclear age presented really got my attention. My grades were not that good in that course, but my attention did not lack for anything, and I certainly learned a lot. And philosophically - (I was at the age young men speculate on everything) the bits of plasma, charged particles that disappeared, went through everything, worked at the speed of light, made me start to doubt the old reliable Newton Universe and its firm laws, like gravity. I started to think of a very different universe in metaphorical, not just mathematical, terms.
In Physical Efficiency I stood in the upper third of the class, even though I knew all my 600+ classmates all were fit as a fiddle, and many were star athletes. But West Point wanted, and measured, all around - balanced - physical abilities, not just extremes. No good if a new Infantry Lieutenant could throw a grenade 50 yards, if he could not endure a 10 mile run. For battle would tax all one's physical abilities and endurance. My all around physical fitness, when measured, was beginning to inch up when compared with my classmates.
At Christmas break, when we were allowed to leave the Academy, I was invited to spend the holidays with a family in nearby New Jersey my Aunt Arleen knew from her business dealings. They made it a nice Christmas with their fairly young family, even though I missed being at home in far off Colorado.
Again, I was treated as something special by the civilians I encountered - a West Point Cadet from a very admired institution.
In the spring of my Yearling year, I started to founder in Mathmatics. I started getting grades below 2.0. Even when I grasped new concepts, either from my textbooks, or from Class discussions, I had a hard time, when I went to the Blackboard (which were modern green desigby this time) I had trouble deriving and writing out proofs, with accurate calculations at the end.
By this time we had been issued 'Keufel-and Esser' Logarithmic Slide Rules. No hand held calculators existed in 1947! (computers were just being developed - and were big as rooms) That didn't help me much. My roommates were not much help. I tried to muck it out by myself.
Then, after the week of 'WGR' - the end of each semester tests that showed what every cadet knew in every subject - my posted grades showed I ended up below 2.0 - probably 1.8 in Mathematics! Combined with my daily grades the final list showed I had failed in Math that semester! That meant I was 'turned out' and would be given just one more chance by taking, after a week or so after all my classmates were off to their second summer leave, a Math 'turn-out' exam. If I passed it, I would go on. Fail it and I was out!
I had to let my mother and Aunt Arleen know, because that disrupted my summer leave plans. My continuation at West Point was in jeapordy.
So I started buckling down in studies for that last-chance exam even before my classmates who passed everything left on vacation. Probably another 50 to 75 fellow cadets were in the same fix. And yet others were turned out in different subject, like my roommate Grady Banister had been in French. When I didn't show up at the Chess Club a classmate named Brandon, who was the one cadet who could beat both Fidel Ramos and me at chess, offered to coach me for a few days.
He did. And the long and the short of it, was that I passed the 3d class Turn Out exam in Mathematics! And others did also. But there were bound to have been some who flunked, and were either dismissed entirely (especially if they were turned out in more than one subject) or given a chance, like Grady had been, to take a later-summer exam, and if passed, be 'turned back' a year joining a later class. 5 year men.
So I Western Union telegraphed that I passed, so would be home for the remainder of my - well deserved I thought - vacation.
There were sighs of relief all around in Colorado.
Thus ended my 2d Year at West Point. All my surviving classmates ( we probably lost another 50-70) were now 'Cows' - or 2d Classmen. Half way through.
I can't even remember what I did for that 1947 truncated summer leave, except that I remember going with classmate Paul Gorman from Swampscott, Massachusetts, to his home, and spending time on the beach.
On return, our class was divided into sections, and each section traveled to visit several Army and Army Air Corps military posts to learn, up close and personal how the actual branches of the services operated and trained, and what junior officers did on a day to day basis in the 'real' Army. We flew first around in C-47s and C-82s to Langley Air Force Base to learn about a variety of combat aircraft, life for pilots (which a quarter of our class could become on graduation). And we watched an Air Show with combat P-51s and P-38s that helped win the war in Europe and the Pacific. (Already the post-WWII cut backs under the Truman Administration insured that very little money went into advances in weaponry or aircraft. No new wars were on the horizon - in 1947)
Then we visited Fort Bragg and the Airborne. Jumping from 40 foot training towers, and watching a Battalion sized jump. Then Fort Knox and its Armored units that Patton made famous. Then to the Home of the Infantry, Fort Benning.
Then back to West Point to face our 3d Year of Academics.
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