West Point (9)
- Category: West Point
Summer Training Included CAMID
So as part of the Continuing and progressing 'familiarization' of we cadets to Interservice military operations, we participated in Cadet-Midshipmen exercises landing on a Virginia Beach
|Cadets Playing Soldier the way other Services Do|
The Long Academic Grind and the 'Cow' Year
There is not a lot that I can remember that would be interesting to the reader of this personal history about the actual course work in Fluid Mechanics. Dull pedagogy. My study, however, of the Second Law of Thermodynamics turned up a really original - for me - scientific maxim - which also struck me philosophically. That was the idea of 'entropy'. The idea that 'order' in the universe tends toward disorder, and that eventually all the 'heat' (energy) will go out of all things, after which every solid thing will be reduced to an undifferentiated and inert mass, intrigued me.
i.e. even more than 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' everything is doomed to nothingness through the action of the laws of entropy. The eventual death of all life. Wow! What a prediction of our eventual global future!
Similar to my reaction to the implications of nuclear energy particles pervading all things, I was motivated to express my human reaction to a future of 'nothing' in metaphorical terms. I wrote several poems - doodling on my notebook in class - on the topic.
Somehow those poems got read by some instructors in the Department of English. May have been on the back side of papers I wrote for class. They flagged them - and me - as a potential future instructor of English at West Point. Not many cadets were interested in poetry, much less writing it.
Where Did West Point's 'P's (Professors) Come From?
This is as good a place as any to explain just how West Point recruits and accepts its Academic instructors. That way - up until the 1970s when it was made radically different in ways I do not like, even now in my dotage, and having observed the results of change - involved several steps.
First of all the overwhelming majority of ALL the Academic Instructors, Assistant and Associate Professors right up to THE top two Professors who were heads of departments, were graduates themselves of West Point.
It went without saying that any Instructor or Professor at West Point had to be very high in his academic field - whether it was engineering or the humanities. From the earliest days of Sylvanus Thayer who helped make West Point the very first Engineering college in the nation, that high standard held. That goal could easily be accomplished by recruiting 'just' civilian instructors who already had masters degrees and doctorates, with no military experiences.
But West Point is not, primarily 'just' a General or Research University - with 'teaching' undergraduates a de-facto sideline. It is an institution whose mission mandated by Congress, expected by the public and supported by their taxes is to produce well educated graduates who are ALSO highly militarily trained and inculcated with the still enduring code of 'Duty, Honor, Country.' And be commissioned in order to dedicate themselves to pursuing a military professional career leading to a lifetime of public service. And in time of war, successfully command and lead American soldiers and sailors to accomplish whatever mission the Congress and the President as Commander-in-Chief orders. That takes more, than 'just' military officers - who know nothing else.
West Point aims to turn out 'Soldier-Scholars' not just Soldiers OR Scholars.
It has done that, admirably, for over 200 years so far. So the best modern (1900s) way was seen to select graduates who demonstrated during their cadet years aptitude and abilities in the knowledge fields being taught, could get advanced study and degrees in the field where they were strong, and which they liked, and come back to teach cadets, for at least 3 years.
And it also goes without saying that a commissioned West Point graduate, who not only went through the four years as a cadet learning, absorbing, and being evaluated on his adherence and acceptance of its duty, honor, country ideals, but also has served - at least one or more tours in the active US Military, leading men in the 'real Army' brings to the classroom more than just the academic topic. For one thing they can 'relate' the academic topic to the functioning of the Army, from its technical needs to its battlefield 'human values.'
i.e. the 'soldier' is part of the educational equation. The more 'well rounded' an officer is, the theory goes, the better he will be as a leader.
And so each department 'screens' the academic record of all cadets going through their courses, looking to spot graduates who show promise of being excellent instructors in whatever subject - Math, English, Languages, Sciences, Political Science the academy teaches.
After a graduate is identified as one who, besides cadet performance, also shows the potential for getting a solid Masters Degree, or Doctorate from any of a variety of Universities - from a Princeton to Cal Tech - in the field, they are asked whether they would like to do a tour teaching cadets at West Point. Many jump at the chance, some decline for 'career' reasons.
If they say yes, then West Point asks the Army if they can be reassigned to West Point - first starting by being funded and admitted to a University in their field, where they spend a year or so there on that campus, and get their Master's Degree - either of the Arts or in Sciences. And then they are assigned to West Point, and a Department, and commence teaching cadets for at least one 3 year tour, sometimes longer. The more promising from those 'instructors' sometimes become 'assistant' or 'associate' professors and their military branch permits them to serve more than one tour.
So there was a constant stream of new instructor blood in the classrooms of West Point.
However, the very top of each Department - the full Professors who are "Department Heads" are handled differently. The top two Professors, while full Colonels, are in fact members of a unique branch of Army service - "Professor USMA'. Not infantry, artillery etc, but by law, once selected are in that positions, never to be reassigned to other jobs in the Army, until their retirement. They also live in quarters on Post, with their families.
They may or may not be West Point graduates, but they must be tops in their field, earned their Doctorates much earlier, may have published and taught elsewhere. Both Professors of English when I was a cadet, and later an instructor, were NOT USMA graduates. In fact once recruited to head their department they were awarded Colonel Ranks with very little, if any military experience. (One of them, Colonel Alspach in the Department of English, never could wear his military cap correctly.)
All other instructors - with the few exceptions of certain positions - like Foreign Language (civilian Fritz Tiller was my German Professor) - came out of the active Army, with a very few from the Navy or Marine Corps.
Now later I will critique what was changed in the 1970s, and why. With reference to the plusses and minuses of the change.
On to my Classes
So all my classes during my 'junior' or Cow, year, were taught by West Point graduates - Fluid and Solid Mechanics, Electricity, Social Sciences. From a variety of branches - Infantry, Artillery, Armor, Engineer, Signal Corps. With military rank of Captain, Major, or Lieutenant Colonel quite visible, for they also wore their uniforms at class always. All had at least Master's degrees, some working on their doctorates. And their sole duties during the academic year was to teach cadets their subject, and to evaluate their progress. And always being available to 'coach' cadets who were having problems mastering the subject. After class, on weekends, or other breaks. Doing all they can short of giving them unearned grade 'breaks' to get their charges through with passing grades.
More naturally the graded subjects of Tactics, Military Instructor Training, Physical Education were taught largely by graduates, most of whom were Officers, at least Major and Lt Colonels, in the Department of Tactics - or 'Tacs' also - who also supervised and over watched the Cadet Companies.
Physical Education had a mixture of officers and civilian specialists - who also coached Gymnasium subjects - rope, tumbling, rings, low and high bars, boxing, wrestling. All of which all cadets had to take, routinely as part of their progressive physical training.
They were under the 'Master of the Sword' who supervised those activities.
I ground out all these engineering subjects, passing all both in the Fall and Spring semesters. With no joy. And while I discovered I have a certain inborn 'technical aptitude' that served me well during my military career, I was generally bored by the technical courses, doing enough to get by.
Other Activities Cow Year
I spent much of my spare time in the Spring of 1949 taking pictures of Cadet Life, writing pieces and composing photo-collages for the Pointer magazine whose editorial offices happened to be very close, right around the corner, from my 'Lost 50s' barracks. So it was easy to drop by there, chat with other cadets on our staff, dream up crazy ideas that college kids are used to, and get into several serious conversations with classmate Paul Gorman.
Now Gorman took a large interest in all the educational activities that centered on the Department of Social Sciences. Not only did he have an affinity for that line of study, but two other factors influenced him, and he drew me into one of his and my schemes. I think that he saw in me, not just my 'communications' skills via camera and poem, a man with a pretty powerful imagination - a dreamer in many ways - but a kind of futurist. We hit it off.
One factor was that the Head of the Department of Social Sciences, Colonel Lincoln, had actually served as a Staff Officer in the Pentagon Army Staff during the end of World War II. In fact in the Army Office of Policy and Plans. The Army, under Gen George Marshal as its Chief of Staff, was always more into 'Politico-Military' planning than either the Navy or fledgling Air Corps were. Col Lincoln was reputed to have drawn the 38th Parallel on maps that became the basis for the settlement between the US and the Soviet Union as to how the Korean Peninsula would be partitioned.
At some time Lincoln pursued a Doctorate, and was appointed Professor - Head of West Point's Social Science Department. He saw the perpetual need for Army officers to not only learn international relations, but by post-graduate education and appointment be able to serve in the highest policy posts in Washington bringing their professional military knowledge AND politico-military and understanding to bear on the nation's long range national security posture - which is more than just military capabilities. With the end of WWII, and the certain retirement of the Eisenhowers who had learned by experience, not by academic education, the interplay of the highest military-civil-interface and how the world of nation-states worked, 'Abe' Lincoln knew that more junior officers needed to be educated and selected for future assignments in Washington.
He turned the Department of Social Sciences into a training ground for future political-military-capable West Point graduates. Gorman was one cadet who showed promise. Another contemporary was Brent Scocroft, later the Nation's National Security advisor, John Wickham, the Chief of Staff of the Army.
With Europe, especially Germany, in 1949 still struggling to recover from the ravages of war, Lincoln planned an Academy sponsored 3 week tour of Europe for promising future-instructor Cadets during one summer month, to see the results of the war and listen to US military and state department officials. They would be able to be flown on US Military aircraft
So SCUSA was hatched for those selected cadets, including Cadet Paul Gorman. And Gorman confided in me that, if he became the Pointer Magazine Editor next year, he could 'educate' cadets about post-war Europe from a unique officially-sponsored perspective.
And Gorman wondered aloud how he could get revealing photographs to support the articles he could write, as a series. He wanted my photographs.
So I came up with a wild idea. I could do the pictures. And by NOT going home to Colorado for 30 days summer leave, I might be able to hitch rides on Army Air aircraft, space available, meet Paul somewhere in Europe, and he, also not going home to Massachusetts for vacation, and I would do our own tour, where I would take the pictures.
To carry that off I would have to try and arrange a flight in advance somehow, so I took the advice of other military-air-savy classmates (many of whom had active duty Army Air Corps pilot fathers flying all over the world). They suggested I try Westover Air Force base in Massachusetts, which was one of the bases through which many military aircraft passed to and from Europe - for the Berlin Airlift was already in progress.
So I decided to try and get there on our short 3 day Spring Break, and show up in my cadet uniform face to face with Air Operations.
So started my Great European Cadet Expedition, paid for entirely out of my pocket, venture.