Copyright by John T. Reed

My West Point roommate/ranger buddy/best man/etc. told me they have released DVDs of the West Point TV series that aired on prime time TV in 1956 and 1957. There were only three TV channels back then—ABC, CBS, and NBC.

I was 10 and 11 those years. I do not recall watching the series then but I may have. However, I fell in love with the idea of going to West Point after a trip there when I was 15 and the shows were still on TV in syndication. Each week when the Sunday newspaper arrived, I would search the weeks’s program listings and when I found an episode airing, mark it on my calendar to watch. There were no DVRs or even tape recordings back then.

I was a starry-eyed teenager who thought going to West Point was the ultimate great thing that could happen to a boy. There were no female cadets at West Point back then.

I probably have not seen an episode of the West Point series since around 1964, the year I entered West Point on July 1st.

I recently ordered it. It comes in the form of four DVDs.

It was almost a unique-to-West-Point experience. Just off the top of my head, I believe there have only been two TV series based on the lives of students at a particular college: West Point and Men of Annapolis which aired—you guessed it—in 1957-8.

There was also a TV series based on the first year at Harvard Law School: Paper Chase. I did not go there, but I did graduate from Harvard Business School which was modeled after Harvard Law School. Going to West Point and HBS were both extremely intense, prolonged experiences (4 years and 2 years respectively). So I was very interested to return to those old programs, that I only remember as a teenager, now as a 67-year old West Point graduate. I also found the fact that I am a professional writer gave me an additional perspective because TV shows start out as written scripts and as a professional writer, I can see the writing and the writers’ thinking as I watch the episodes.

I once asked the former director of publications for the West Point Association of Graduates how many more books I would have to write to be the most prolific author in the Long Gray Line. I have written 38 if you count titles, about 100 if you count editions. He said, “I think you are already there.” Who was the previous champ? Col. Red Reeder, a guy who wrote books that I read during my teenage years, and who was the main consultant listed in the credits on each and every episode of West Point. On a Camp Buckner reveille cannon episode, Julian Ewell was also listed as a consultant. He was the general in charge of my unit in Vietnam.

Future stars

One enjoyable thing about the West Point DVDs was the many very young actors who played cadets or officers on the series and later became famous. They include Clint Eastwood, Leonard Nimoy (who also appeared in Francis [the talking mule] goes to West Point), Robert Vaughn (left off his filmography but he is on the credits of the WP episode), Barbara Eden (her first TV appearance), Steve McQueen, Larry Hagman (also not listed in his filmography; who later teamed up with the aforementioned Barbara Eden as her husband in I Dream of Jeannie), Chuck Connors (multiple appearances as a tac officer but not listed in his filmography), Donald May (the cadet who introduced each episode after saluting, introducing himself, and saying “Happy to have you at West Point”). One of the writers of a number of episodes was Gene Roddenberry who later famously worked again with Leonard Nimoy in the Star Trek series. I have often wondered if the Star Trek uniforms were not modeled after the West Point dress gray uniforms.

‘The Corps has…’

We old grads of West Point are famous for saying“ The Corps has…” which is short for “the Corps of Cadets has gone to hell.” The Corps of Cadets is the student body of West Point. Gone to hell means the standards have been dropped much lower since we were there, no matter what class “we” refers to.

Well, those of you who graduated in 1970 or later are welcome to watch the series and see. I think you’ll have to admit that the place was a “tighter ship” back then. Remember you are looking at the real cadets in the background, not the actor “cadets.” A reader who graduated in the early 1990s told me they saw many of these episodes on the closed circuit West Point TV channel when they were cadets. He said the scripts were cheesy but they got a kick out of seeing the old buildings that no longer exist and the ones that do and the old uniforms.

I arrived at West Point seven years after the series ended. Does the show depict my era? Yes, except for a number of uniform and equipment changes. They have M-1 rifles in the series. We had M-14s. They had a khaki uniform with a khaki dress cap, a tie, and long-sleeved shirt. Our khakis were short-sleeved shirt, open collar, and worn with a gray garrison cap (shaped like a number 10 business envelope.) We also had a short-sleeved, white shirt, open-collared over gray tropical worsted trousers summer uniform they did not have in the 1950s. They wore a World War II multi ammo pouch web belt; ours just was a web belt and you could attach various things to it. They had some route-step name badge that appeared to be made of metal with a card stuck in it with your name that hung from your left breast pocket button. Our name tag was black plastic with white engraved letters and pinned over the left breast pocket. We wore shorts in PE. These guy wear long gray pants with a belt and a black stripe down the side, like our dress gray uniform pants?? They drove older tanks than we had.

Squads drill

You see a lot of close order drill called squads drill in the series. The people performing it are almost certainly actual cadets, not actors. My class of ’68 was the last to learn and do that. Can I explain it to you?

Uh, with great difficulty. It is an 18th and 19th century fighting formation. It has two configurations: two ranks and some even number of ranks of four per rank. Giving the command “Squads left march” or Squads right march” converts the formation from one configuration to the other. Which, simply depends on which you were in to start. I presume the old battle units would march onto the battlefield across in front of the enemy in the column of fours then execute the squads right or squads left command to attack the enemy in two wide ranks so the first rank could fire then fall back behind the second rank and reload while the second rank fired.

How we got from one configuration to the other is too complex to explain here. If you watch the West Point TV series you will frequently see it in the background. It looks like momentary chaos with cadets marching in three different directions, but they suddenly end up where they belong. There may be a video of it somewhere in the Internet. I could not find one. We did it three times a day for meals, plus in parades. Classes behind mine never did it. Corps has.

Slide rules

Hollywood loved to show scenes of cadets using slide rules in this series. Sort of code for “Boy are these cadets really smart or what?” And we sure used them. I still have mine, but I don’t think any of us used one for more than about five minutes after electronic calculators were invented. I remember vaguely the basic idea of aligning two numbers then looking elsewhere for the third, which was the answer, but I forgot how to use that thing, which means learning how to use the slide rule per se, was a waste for my class. Doing the calculations was educational.

Real cadets versus actors

There are a handful of actors in each episode. But there are a lot more cadets. I surmise that the other cadets who are in the background and sometimes have brief speaking lines are actual cadets from the mid fifties. Same is true for officers, coaches, and instructors in the series. The few officers who talk a lot are actors, the ones who are stiffs are actual West Point coaches or professors of the day. Professor Heiberg is in one episode. PE hand-to-hand combat instructor Herbie Kroeten is in another. Some coaches who were at West Point at the time are allowed to speak at length—very stiffly.

How can you tell the real cadets from the actors? The actors are older. For example, Nimoy was 25 when he played a cadet. Cadets have to be 17 to 22 when they enter, so a 25-year old cadet is possible, but rare. Also, I do not believe Nimoy was playing a senior in the series. Eastwood was 26 when he appeared. Donald May was 29.

The actors have longer hair on top. Real cadets could not have more than 3 inches on top and none of us wore it sort of straight up with mousse like so many of the actors do in this series. In one episode, there was an honor committee hearing. Three cadets talked, the others said little or nothing. Guess which ones in the room had longer hair and appeared to be about five years older? Apparently they had real honor committee cadets there, all the others, which you can easily tell by their crew cuts and stiffness in front of the cameras.

Actors wear their hats way too far back on their heads. Cadets have two fingers width between their nose an bill of their cap. Actors do not salute properly or stand at attention correctly. In one episode, an actor cadet actually chewed a real cadet plebe out for not having the correct two-finger spacing. The way it was scripted was not realistic. For one thing, it would not have happened to begin with. Cadets only fouled that up their first week at West Point. This was during the academic year. For another, the plebe could have instantly and smoothly fixed it. They had him walking away still screwing it up.

Actors have way more personality than real cadets or actors. And they are more theatrical. Real cadets are not as stiff as they come across in the series when they let a real cadet speak. They are frozen by the camera.

Actors do not wear the uniforms properly although pretty close. One had his gig line off when making a presentation to an instructor in class. No way. They usually screwed up the scarf when wearing the short overcoat. They seemed not to understand that it must be smooth and folded just so. They half-assed it as if just having it around their necks was enough. The real cadets in the background on the DVD case cover photo have it right. As do all the cadets in the background of the West Point TV scenes

Plebe actors talk outdoors on campus in the series. Not allowed and not done except extremely surreptitiously like a ventriloquist.

Real cadets seen in the background in many shots—sometimes hundreds of them—all wear the same uniform. That’s because they looked out their window before they left their rooms and wore what the uniform flag said to wear. The actors, however, wear what the script says. Often the actors are wearing a different uniform from the cadets in the background. Often they are wearing different uniforms from each other as if they were civilian college kids who chose whatever they felt like out of their closet. No freaking way! At West Point, we all wore the same uniform at any given moment. The only exceptions would be persons assigned to guard duty during class time or weekday afternoons when your uniform would reflect your activity—intramural sports, intercollegiate sports, parade. But by supper, we would all be wearing the same thing again. We would wear different uniforms and bathrobes and such—all military—in the barracks at night, which is accurately depicted in the series.

The actors wear uniforms that cadets were not allowed to wear in some situations. In one episode, a cadet is home in NYC wearing a class uniform and gray jacket. We were not even allowed to wear those at West Point when “escorting,” that is, accompanied by a friend or relative. And generally, the first thing you did when you left West Point was to change into civilian clothes—in the car or bus station rest room. Our uniforms were as thick as horse blankets and not casual wear.

One actor cadet took his date to Flirtation Walk at night. NO WAY! That would have been an honor code violation not to mention off limits. Day time only.

Actors in the series really like the long overcoat, which looks Dickensian. We only wore it to chapel, formal dances, and cold weather, away football games. The thing weighs 20 pounds or some such. In the series the actors were wearing it much more frequently including when the real cadets in the background were all wearing short overcoats. The real cadets in the background in DVD cover photo are wearing the short overcoat. It no longer exists.

They did not know protocol. Once, an officer walked into a cadet room without knocking. They would knock once then open the door without being asked. Ditto when a cadet enters a room. They did it right sometimes.

‘The Point’ and ‘The Academy’

Both the actor cadets and the actor officers and coaches frequently use the phrase “The Point” referring to West Point in the series. That makes real West Pointers wince. The only one who used that phrase when I was there was Howard Cosell and many of the cadet parents and relatives who assumed it was the way we talked.


I have now lived in the San Francisco area most of my life. “Don’t call it Frisco” is a standard admonition here. “The Point” is to West Point what “Frisco” is to San Francisco—evidence that you are a poseur, not a real member of the family.

“The Academy” is a similar thing. And I most note that that phrase was also often used in the Star Trek series—referring to “Star Fleet Academy” where all the Stark Trek officers seem to have gotten their commissions. Apparently “Star fleet” has no ROTC or OCS. And I remind you that sometime West Point writer Gene Roddenberry was later the creator of Star Trek so Leonard Nimoy referred variously to both West Point and “Star Fleet Academy” during his acting career when he said “the Academy.”

When we cadets spoke to each other of West Point, we referred to it as “this place” (as in “We gotta get out of this place” or ‘This place sucks”) or “here” or “Hudson High” or the “trade school.” When we were away from West Point talking to friends or relatives, we referred to West Point as “school” as in “I gotta go back to school on the 8th.”

We did not like the phrase “The Academy” because it sounded like you were putting on airs or being snobby. If you said it at West Point, another cadet would be likely to repeat the phrase—“Oh, I have to go back to THE ACADEMY, dahling” in an exaggerated, snobby voice like “Thurston Howell III” of Gilligan’s Island or “Winchester” of M*A*S*H fame.

Formula writing

I had not noticed 50 years ago, but the plots are formulaic. Except perhaps for the one where cadets got trapped on the east side of the Hudson by an icebreaker, they all had this plot. One or two cadets have great potential to be great leaders, but they are not living up to their potential. Perhaps lacking in confidence, or indecisive, or too much by the book, etc. The wise, mature tac officers or instructors see the problem and are trying to get the cadet to become all he can be. In the final scene, the cadet(s) in question finally figure it out and stop doing whatever sub-optimal behavior they had been doing.

Is that they way it really was?

Nope. I had five tac officers when I was there. I do not remember the one for Beast (my first two months). My two company tacs in my first company were a guy who all we knew was his face looked like that of a matronly woman. We called him “Ma.” The second was not very bright. We confirmed that by looking up his class rank in the Register of Graduates. The next was a super grouch and hated jerk. “I’m sick to fed-up death with all of you” was his signature line. And my final one was a Naval Academy exchange officer who was a total jerk and a bit of a weasel.

I never heard a cadet from any other company express admiration for their tac. Tacs were the guys who gave you demerits for dust on your shoes under your bed and such. They are the West Point equivalent of high school hall monitors, not wise mentors. Their mind set was probably, “How can I avoid a Catch-22-esque ‘black eye’ during my tour here.”

The main thing was they were nowhere near the wise, old men of the series. Maybe other cadets had such tacs. Not my companies. Also, the tac never knew as much about us as individuals as these TV guys. Hell, they had about 120 of us in four classes. And you would go a week without laying eyes on the guy. How the hell would they know so many details about each of us? And the tacs we had in the summer were different from the ones we had in the school year. Plus they were only there for two- or three-year tours during Vietnam.

We wish we had tacs like that. We wished tacs like that existed. The only tac we had who became famous was Al Haig, later the Secretary of State who said, “I’m in charge here in the White House” when Reagan was shot. Haig was not my tac. He was the first regimental tac. I was in second regiment. And a regimental tac is a boss of company tacs not cadets.

The scripts are generally rather wooden and cheesy by today’s standards, but I think you could make a compilation of the comments of the officers to each other and to the cadets about leadership and have a very good set of brief leadership lessons. There was no problem with the quality of the advice the tacs and instructors gave in the series. It was good stuff. I suspect that is the influence of the top consultant Col. Red Reeder. The problem is Col. Reeder wished the tacs and istructors were like that. In reality, they were not that sharp or that knowledgeable about individual cadets or that motivated about the nuances of how the cadet was going to be leading years after graduation. On their best day, they were a bit less helpful your high school guidance counselor.

Cooperate and graduate

One thing they did a really good job of depicting was the “cooperate and graduate” and “protect your roommates and classmates” ethos of the cadets. We really did support each other the way they depict in the series. I remember on about the second day getting to formation on time when one of my two roommates did not. The first question they asked the guys in the late ranks was “Who are your roommates?” The first time my roommate was late and I was not, the upperclassman yelled, “Reed! Get over here in the late ranks! You don’t leave your roommate behind and save yourself. If any of the guys in your room are late, you all are!” We never made that mistake twice.

One inaccuracy about how we helped each other reflexively was the actors in the series were constantly making pronouncements about how we helped each other. We did not. It was an ambient condition of being a cadet. The writers who did this in the scripts violated a writing rule of visual media like the theater or screen. Don’t tell, show. It would have been better if they simply showed cadets taking care of each other the way we did via actions.

We talked about it on occasion, mostly at the beginning of Beast when it was a new concept to us and later only when someone violated the cooperate-and-graduate ethic. Getting “classmated” meant being screwed by one of your classmates contrary to the cooperate-and-graduate ethos. It was unusal and therefore noteworthy behavior.

They also depicted well how well we could read each other’s moods. We were together 24-7, got off only one month in the summer. My class was the first to go home for Christmas plebe year. We did everything together, meals, study, classes, roomed together, traveled to other cities together (for away football games and to march in the Armed Forces Day Parade in NYC), and so on. We were required to. Including suffering, being scared, sweating, straining, being hurt, double dating, helping each other get dressed. Joined at the freaking hip.

Decades later one of my West Point roommates called me up. Within about four syllables, I asked, “What’s wrong?” He was calling to tell me he had to get a quadruple-bypass operation. He was going to tell me at the end of the conversation. Fat chance. I could hear it in his voice from 2,500 miles away instantly.

Six-foot tall, blue-eyed blonds

Hollywood mogul David Geffen recently said in an interview that what he wanted to be when he was a short, Jewish kid in Brooklyn was a “six-foot tall, blue-eyed blond.”

When I was at West Point, I was a six-foot tall, blue-eyed blond. In retrospect, going there violated one of the rules in my book Succeeding. That rule, which is a chapter in the book, is “Make yourself scarce.”

Six-foot tall, blue-eyed blonds were not scarce at West Point in the 1950s and 1960s. The actor playing “Cadet Lieutenant Charles C. Thompson, Company M-2 Assigned as your host” is 6' 1", blue-eyed, blond Donald May. M-2 was a flanker company, that is a company of tall guys called “flankers” because they were on the outside of the parade formation to impress parade spectators. A-2 and M-2 would be the tallest; companies in the middle—G-2 and H-2, were short guys called “runt” companies. By the time I got there, they had ended flanker and runt companies and evenly distributed cadets by height to all companies so intramural sports competition would be more fair.

In the fall of 1967, I was Cadet Lieutenant John T. Reed, Company D-2. Many of the real cadets you can see in the scenes in the various West Point episodes are blond, as are many of the actors chosen to play the main characters in the episodes. The painting of a cadet on the cover of the view book they sent me back then shows one cadet, a blue-eyed blond senior. Now, to the point of comedy, all public relations photographs of cadets would show a white guy, a black girl, an Asian, a Latino, a Hindu, and a lesbian.

I remember a TV comedy show parody of American World War II films that were constantly trying to show off American multi-ethnicity in contrast to the Master Race theories of the Germans and the Japanese. The parody had a US squad leader barking orders to his men like this,

O’Malley, you take Kowalski, Petrocelli, and Weinstein and lay down a base of fire. Rodriguez, take Himmelbacher, McTavish, Nikopopulous, and Svenson and maneuver around the back of that hill.

Today’s West Point PR department showing a squad of cadets in summer combat training might go like this,

Bruce, you take K’neesha, Dances With Hamsters, Osama Muhammed, Rakesh, and Horatia and lay down a base of fire. Wo Fat, take J’Juan, Miranda Veracruz de la Jolla Cardenal, Takahashi, Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, and the Cadet Formerly Known as Vince and maneuver around the back of that hill.

The 1950s and 1960s cadets’ names sounded more like the parody World War II squad. Today’s West Point and the US military have become a self-parody of priorities gone diversity-or-death nuts.

Zero blacks in the series

More noteworthy is what you do not see in terms of eye, hair, and skin color in the WP DVDs. There are no blacks—at all. Remember the cadets in the background and in the parade and other marching scenes are the real cadets who were at West Point at the time the series was filmed. I watched all the episodes and saw zero, I repeat zero, black cadets. When I was a freshman, the photo of the football team in the yearbook had zero, I repeat zero, black players. And we were ranked 20th in the nation one week I think the following year.

We did have black cadets when I was there, although not many. My New Cadet company, 7th Company, won best company in the New Cadet battalion in July 1964. One of our company mates, who was from Georgia, asked in a bull session then if we knew how we won best company. “No,” we said. “How? “Because we were the only company with no Negroes.” He may not have said “Negroes,” per se. Calling them “blacks” did not exist until after we graduated.

Stunned silence. I think he was the only Southerner in the bull session. I’m from Jersey. Then one guy said dryly, “Except for the company commander.” That was the greatest put-down I ever heard. The Georgian hastily added, “I meant all the plebes were white.”

The company commander was Art Hester, one of 29 blacks in the class of 1965 which had 596 graduates. That’s 5%. As far as I know, there was no affirmative action at West Point then. Although the West Point TV series was filmed just seven years before, they did not have to tell the blacks to hide so they would not be in the background of scenes filmed at West Point. They simply had no blacks or darned few such that none got picked by the camera in parade and other outdoor scenes where hundreds of cadets were visible.

I just checked my yearbook. My class had 9 blacks out of 706 or 1%. As far as I know, they got in and graduated on merit like the rest of us. I am glad they went before affirmative action. Had they done that same thing now, it would also be on the merit with regard to those nine guys, but the shadow of affirmative action would create suspicion over their accomplishment because today the number of blacks admitted to West Point probably has to meet a quota of about 12% to match the population percentage as a whole. The number of graduates probably also has to fill the quota.

Also, I saw no Asians in any episode. There was one Latino in one episode, but that episode was about a visiting Brazilian general with a beautiful daughter and the Latino tried to get a date with her. He was an actor, not a background real cadet. And I got the impression he was not a regular West Point cadet in the script. He was a foreign cadet. We had two in my class: one Filipino and one Chilean. They attended West Point while an American attended their counterpart academy. There were rumors that foreign cadets could never flunk out for diplomatic reasons—a sort of affirmative action on steroids. I do not know how they did academically, but both of ours seemed to have difficulty with PE.

We had both Asians and Latinos in my class, but not any sort of affirmative action. They just applied and got in.

Anyway, if you watch the West Point DVDs, see if you can spot a black or Asian cadet ever. I could not.

‘The System’

Readers of this article who have also read my book Succeeding may remember the chapter about “The System.” That was a method of meeting girls devised by my above-mentioned roommate, ranger buddy, etc. and me when we were cadets and bachelor Army officers. It worked great. He was the best man at my wedding where the bride was a girl I met using The System. Most people hearing about our creation of The System wonder what the heck caused us to be so powerfully motivated to work so hard to meet girls.

Well, the episode of West Point TV series where two cadets tried extremely hard to get a date with the daughter of a Brazilian general visiting West Point gives you a sense of how powerfully motivated we were. West Point was all male then. And although it is “only” 50 miles north of New York City, on the vast majority of days, it might as well be 400 miles from civilization. There were virtually no girls on campus. There was a non-selective Catholic girls college just outside the gate. But I and most other cadets would have nothing to do with them because they were corrupted by the four-boys-for-every-girl or some such ratio. After that college, you had to go 30 or 40 miles to find another college with girls. We were isolated in the mountains with just a two-lane highway and a bus connecting us to civilization. Until spring of senior year, we were not allowed to own a car—anywhere—or even drive anyone else’s car.

The System was one of the great things that West Point did for me, but it was a backlash against West Point, not a benefit they intended to convey—like my dad giving me the gift of teetotaling by being a mean drunk. The vast majority of West Pointers never did anything remotely resembling The System. Truth to tell, a great many of them struggled to have a dating life at all at West Point and while being assigned to places like isolated, rural, Southern Army bases and Vietnam, and they ended up settling for a lesser spouse than they would have married had they gone to a civilian co-ed college and worked in a major metro area civilia job after college. I got married at almost 29 years old to a woman who was a college grad and who graduated from the Harvard MBA program in the class behind me. We were married before either of us went to Harvard. We have been married for 38 years.

Combat mistakes

The series shows scenes of the Korean War in some episodes to illustrate the importance of what was taught at West Point. Those are even less interested in showing correct technique. In one a six-man patrol has the leader—a sergeant—walking point and his radio man in the back with a corporal who was thrown out of West Point. The Hollywood reason is to film conversations between the radio man, who wants to go to West Point, and the former cadet. In fact, the radio man should be joined at the hip with the patrol leader and the patrol leader should be in the middle of the patrol, not walking point. And I wasn’t even an infantryman. Not to mention their strolling along in a tight bunch in broad daylight on roads and such when they know they are near the enemy lines. Good for filming, not for surviving or accomplishing the reconnaissance mission.

When fired on, they hit the dirt—out in the road—and just stay there. No, you figure the enemy knows where you are and can see you so you immediately haul ass out of there to another location where there is a better chance they can no longer see you. Then the genius former cadet sees a stone wall and suggests they go jump behind it—to the other side of it. Hadn’t we better make sure the enemy did not already get the same idea and there are about 40 of them over on that side? In the 101st Airborne, as a cadet on a 30-day internship, I once selected an alternate site for an artillery battery without first going there to make sure it was okay for that purpose.

Honor Code

One episode is about the cadet honor code. That is definitely an area where the Corps has. When we were there and in 1956, violate the honor code and you’re gone—within hours. Now, the starting quarterback on the 2012 Army football team violated the code and he’s still there. They have some half-assed, extremely lenient policy now. The Honor Code has… The Honor Committee cadets who took part in the filming of that episode would have been horrified and disbelieving if the Ghost of Christmas Future had visited to tell them about the slovenly, lenient, West Point Cadet Honor Code enforcement in 2013.

In another epsiode, cadets at Camp Buckner wanted to throw the reveille cannon into Lake Popolopen. The tacs posted a cadet guard on it. The perps got the idea to relieve the guard early. I immediately thought, “That would probably violate the honor code.” In the episode, an actor cadet asked, “Won’t that violate the honor code?” The cadet leading the prank said no. But then they relieved the guard who protested that they were early. The prank leader angrily told the guard that he’d better check his timepiece.

That was an honor code violation. The prank leader was saying or implying that they were not early when he knew they were. If you think I am being overly picky, you must not be a West Point grad. That is a violation called “quibbling.” The screen writers—Gene Roddenberry and Jack Neuman in this case—should have had the guard not ask about the relief arriving early.

By the way, my class threw the Main West Point reveille cannon into the Hudson River I am very proud to report. I was not involved. They had to borrow, without asking, at about 3AM, an acetylene torch set aside overnight by construction crews at West Point because after years of cadets removing the cannon, it was welded to its base. No task too great for ’68.

In the Buckner episode, the officers react as if it were a great joke and they did it themselves when they were cadets. When my class did it, causing perhaps $5,000 worth of damage, they were so scared of the trouble they would get in that they did not reveal who had done it until our 40th reunion! I was one of the main guys who help create and publish the 40th reunion hard cover book about the class and that confession was in there.

The current state of the Cadet Honor Code makes a mockery of all the solemn discussion about how important the Code is during this episode—“foundation of the academy” and all that. All washed away now by 21st-century, situational morality and non-judgmentalism.

The Honor Code episode is very inspiring, and an accurate depiction of the way it was at West Point in 1956 and in the mid 1960s when I was there, but no more. My impression is the Vietnam War decimated the number of young men wanting to go there. I believe 1972 was the nadir. They had trouble filling the beds.

When that class were seniors, in 1975 and 1976, they had a big honor scandal. Outsiders like elected officials and the Republican convention started to insert themselves into the administration of the cadet honor code, which was previously a cadets-only operation. Superintendent Douglas MacArthur set it up that way. Lawyers started demanding their usual. And what remains of the cadet honor code since 1976 would be unrecognizable to graduates of the 1950s and 1960s. It is probably good that they are not well informed on its current state—considering that West Point continually hits us up for donations and for help recruiting new cadets and athletes.

Lack of indifference

At West Point, indifference is a serious “crime.” It refers to not taking everything they do there extremely seriously. The TV series would have you believe that no cadets are indifferent, all take everything the brass does extremely seriously and all are committed career Army officers who place the Army career above almost all else. In some episodes, the featured cadet shows some signs of indifference, but he is quickly “saved” from that by the tac or his roommate and lives happily ever after.

At the real West Point, indifference is widespread, especially among intercollegiate athletes. The TV series would have you believe the athletes are the same as the other cadets—totally focused on becoming the absolute best career officers they can be. 73% of my class got out of the Army before the minimum 20 years for a pension. Many intercollegiate athletes at West Point fit that mind-set, but in general, the athletes do not care for West Point or the military. And the same is true of a great many other cadets. The percentage varies according to what’s going on in the world—like the Vietnam war during my cadet days—but a substantial percentage of cadets think much of what happens at West Point is a bunch of chickenshit. And they are right. You see next to none of that in the series. These guys are all model cadets and model future officers—at least by the end of each episode. (Okay, one guy was thrown out for driving a tank through a wall when he was not supposed to even get inside the tank. He ends up as an enlisted summer instructor at West Point later.)

If you want to know what cadets were really like back when this was filmed and in the 1960s, read the novel Dress Gray by Lucian Truscott, IV. He was in the class behind me. I do not recall ever meeting him. The plot is a bit much, but the way the cadets talk in the barracks in right on. There is a made-for-TV movie of it starring Alec Baldwin, but the movie gives you virtually none of the realistic cadet life parts. It focuses mainly on the plot. Read the book if you want to know the real West Point cadets of our era. For all I know, a recent graduate reading that book might say it is still like that. I think the book causes you to abandon your thoughts that West Point had 4,000 sainted, Tim Tebowesque, Eagle Scouts, but that it will reassure you that cadets are real college men, not the too-good-to-be-true, paragons depicted by the TV series.

Central Area

Many of the outdoor scenes show Central Area, which is where I lived. The inside-the-barracks scenes are also supposed to be Central Barracks—which were built in 1850 and torn down shortly after I graduated. But the inside-the cadet hallways and rooms scenes are obviously—to a grad of that era—newly-constructed, Hollywood sound stage replicas. And they failed to put 106 years of well-maintained age on them. They look brand new, albeit in the old architectural style of 1850.

Some other indoor scenes, like those with a half dozen or more real cadets appear to have been shot at West Point in Cullum Hall (dance hall), Washington Hall (mess hall) and a conference room at West Point. It appears that they used actual indoor settings at West Point when they wanted lots of cadets and when the room was big enough for all the lights, cameras, and sound equipment.

They also made extensive use of the West Point cadet areas and reservation for outdoor scenes including those of Korean War fighting. If you look on a map of that area of New York State, you will see that the West Point reservation is far larger than the small area where the cadet barracks, gyms, chapel, athletic fields, and classrooms are. West of West Point proper there are dozens of firing ranges, Camp Buckner, Lake Popolopen, and just plain wooded mountains.

Indeed, the series taken as a whole is a sort of travelogue of West Point buildings, reservation training areas, and environs like the Hudson River. They seem to fit in all seasons, a great many sports, and all classes. It is also a recruiting film that tries to show glimpses of most of the cool stuff cadets do. It is a bit like the West Point yearbooks which, like all college yearbooks try to capture all aspects of student life. At West Point, those aspects are far more numerous than at a civilian college. And as a recruiting film, it also tries to show all the ways that West Point tries to develop cadets: academics, athletics, military training, leadership training, honor training, discipline, and some of the applications of that development to subsequent combat involving West Point graduates.

One thing that disappointed me when I was in high school and still does a bit is that a number of episodes sort of depict West Point as a place where screw-ups can go to get straightened out. One episode has a sort of street punk end up as a cadet. Maybe now by affirmative action or athletic recruiting, but sure as hell not back then. I needn’t have worried that such people would be my classmates before I entered. They were not. I did not like all my fellow cadets or respect all of them, but those that graduated all had the smarts, clean records, and modicum of athletic ability that the public image of the place expects. We all had secret clearances as cadets, except the foreign cadets, and that clearance came from Military Intelligence people going around and interviewing friends, family and neighbors before we entered. No street punks would have survived that—or had the grades and school citizenship records needed to get in back then. If there is a place where screw-up can go to get straightened out in the higher education realm, it is junior colleges where some great athletes go to get citizenship and academic rehab so they can get athletic scholarships at four-year colleges. But the West Point of the 1950s and 1960s was no 12-step rehab clinic and it took no chances that I am aware of that some established bad guy would turn into a good guy after he got there. They were turning away thousands of good guys a year.

Another episode had a geeky Army-field-manual-reading Army private say he wanted to go to West Point, and he ended up there. That was probably a real possibility, but it begs the question of why the kid wasn’t in some safety-school college studying calculus and EE in preparation for his next attempt at applying to West Point. Field manuals are not going to get you much at West Point. Not getting calculus or juice has gotten many cadets flunked out.

The uniforms

I think maybe one of the main attractions of going to West Point that you see in the series is the uniforms and the good looks of the cadets. Each episode opens with a full-dress parade company marching out of the barracks area toward the Plain (parade field). They are in a uniform called “full dress gray over white under arms.” It is a pretty spectacular uniform with 48 brass buttons, two big brass plates on white belts, white gloves, a plumed hat, a chrome-plated bayonet on the rifle, starched white trousers. Sort of rhinestone soldier—pretty close to what US soldiers actually wore in the Battle of Chippewa on July 5 (my birthday), 1814.

Further with regard to that uniform, it was the one that fit the tightest. We cadets had to be in great shape athletically. We always had PE and it was no kidding PE. Two of my companymates in my class flunked out just on PE. We also had mandatory intramurals continuously during the school year. Mandatory morning reveillie runs and calisthenics six mornings a week and other strenuous stuff in the summer, and mandatory physical tests during the school year. If you flunked those, you lost your privileges and had to attend remedial fitness classes during your tiny amount of free time until you passed. And you could not take forever to pass. If you did not pass on the retake, you were out of West Point.

At that age, we also generally were trim. I think I had a 30-inch waist while I was a cadet—no bigger than 32 because I remember not being able to find size 32 underpants in the PX when I was an officer. I now have a 33 or 34 inch waist. But when you see those cadets in the opening parade scene passing close by the camera, they look great with their flat stomachs, broad shoulders, and narrrow waists in that form-fitting uniform.

Our alumni magazine now has similar close-up photos of cadet parades and I have complained about them. For one thing, they now have females so instead of the seemingly identical cadets of the 1950s when they were all white males and grouped in companies by height, you now have a mixture of males and females and the females are often quite short. And they are wearing a uniform that was basically designed to highlight the attractive features of a male 20-year-old body. The female uniforms are, in some cases, designed somewhat different so you get a non-uniform look to the parade.

They also now have cadets from other military academies around the nation and the world who wear their own uniforms in the parades, which looks like crap. Our foreign cadets wore the same uniforms as us. Now they apparently wear uniforms from their own country. And the physical fitness standards have fallen. In one recent alumni magazine cover photo, the company commander was an amazon woman with thighs about 60% as wide as the hips of the men behind her. The contrast between that cover photo of a parade and the opening credits parade in West Point the 1956-7 TV series is quite jarring. Maybe they should change the name of the place to Diversity Point.

Misaligned file closers

I had to chuckle at the closing credits. They show a half dozen platoons marching into lunch in winter time. They are in short overcoats. But the platoon closest to the camera has four file closers who failed to space themselves evenly in the back of the formation before they were called to attention. They were probably chatting when the command came. So after they start marching, the two guys on the left finally march diagonally to get into the proper, evenly-spaced configuration. So the ending of every single episode of the West Point TV series shows two cadets misaligning and correcting it while marching which would get your ass chewed if observed by an officer or high-ranking cadet. But the TV people were so ignorant of marching that they thought this was a great piece of film for showing how wonderful the cadets are! Apparently they did not think they needed their consutants to check the film being shown as the credits were being run. And when the consultants pointed out what I just said after the first episode aired, as I’m sure they did, the TV people did not want to spend the money to change the closing scenes.

They show a lot of film of cadets marching around the streets of West Point in between speaking-part scenes. Most of it is cadets going to lunch, although I am guessing the TV audience figures they are doing something far more important. They also show plebes marching in formation to class under the command of another plebe. We no longer did that when I was there. And they show cadets marching to mandatory chapel—overturned by the US Supreme Court after I graduated. They show a lot of winter bandbox reviews—parades in central area wearing long overcoats under arms. (That photo is full dress gray under arms, not long overcoats.) We only did one of those during my four years there—during spring break plebe year. We were the first class to have such a thing because we were the first class to go home for Christmas plebe year. The prior classes did their counterpart all-plebe parade during Christmas.

Time capsule

Watching these shows was great fun for me, like opening a time capsule. I expect that would be true of even non-grads of West Point but they might be better able to enjoy another more popular TV series of the day like Gunsmoke, The Honeymooners, Sergeant Bilko, and Father Knows Best.

But what about the perspective I acquired by actually entering West Point, graduating, becoming an officer, then living life as an entrepreneur, husband, and father of three boys?

As I have written elsewhere—most notably “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?”—I and a great many other West Pointers feel we were defrauded into going there. Was the West Point TV series part of that? For our era, it was perhaps the main part. It certainly constituted more hours of representations of West Point than any other audio-visual source.

Did the TV series mislead?

Yes, by omission mainly.

Much tougher than TV shows

One part is the real West Point was far harder than they depicted in the series. If I had secretly visually recorded everything that happened to me and those around me while I was a cadet, and turned it over to the media, heads would have rolled, some cadets would thave been thrown out, the whole chain of command would have been called on the carpet, perhaps to Congressional hearings, people would have called for closing the place, which already happens periodically.

I’ll give you one example which probably almost all USMA grads could supplement with their own similar story. If you want more detail on West Point read my “Should you go to…‚ article.

‘Run him out of West Point’

One of my classmates was in our sister squad. A squad is ten guys. It was our sister squad because the two squad leaders were roommates at the time. They were also teammates on the football team. Our squad leader was a good guy. The other was not. He apparently decided one of my classmates was not good enough to be there and that he was personally going to “run him out” of West Point.

I did not invent that phrase “run him out.” It is, sadly, well known over many decades at West Point. It means to harrass the cadet in question so much that his life becomes a living hell and he is broken and forced to quit because he can’t take it any more. The classmate of mine that he did this to was a guy I will call Henderson. That is not his real name.

In the eyes of the squad leader, Henderson could do no right. Was there anything wrong with Henderson? Not really. He screwed up more that the other cadets in his squad initially. I think we who went to West Point all say, “There but for the grace of God go I” about such things. Some people are a little better at focusing on minutiae when they are being yelled at than others.

But he graduated, chose the infantry branch for two years then military intelligence, was a twice-wounded officer in Vietnam who won medals for valour. He got out of the Army seven years after graduation then served in the Army reserves and retired from that as a lieutenant colonel.

That squad leader put a bar chart of the demerits each of his squad members received—from him mainly—and made a big show of adding a special strip that went all the way to the floor to accommodate the very long bar counting his demerits. I would guess he had about ten or twenty times as many as anyone else in his squad. We got some privileges—like the right to walk to the Hotel Thayer and buy a milk shake—as if out of an eye dropper that month of July 1964. I expect that Henderson got none because of all his demerits. He was repeatedly required to recite a statement in which he said he was “the 12th man in a squad of 11 belonging to Mister [insert asshole’s name here].”

Fundamentally, West Point was very difficult for everyone and about one third of those who entered with us on July 1, 1964 flunked out, were expelled for discipline or honor reasons, or quit. I have no problem with a guy flunking out because he could not or would not do what was reasonably required of each of us. But what we’re talking about here is a junior deciding he is God and deciding to expell a cadet who was good enough just so he could feel powerful and brag about what he did. I don’t know how Henderson got into West Point. I was nominated as a principal nominee by a Congressman. Had they decided to run me out, it would have been a 20-year-old college student deciding that he outranked a Congressman as far as deciding whether I should go to West Point. I think that might have made the New York Times had someone told them about it.

In August, we got new squad leaders. The July squad leaders went on 30-day leave. If I recall correctly, the new sister squad leader told Henderson he had a clean slate with him and that was the end of it.

Three years later, one of my sister squad mates and I were platoon leader and platoon sergeant of a New Cadet platoon in July 1967. He is also my aforementioned ranger buddy, best man, etc. We did not try to run anyone out nor did we hear of any such within our platoon. And, it later turned out, that one of our New Cadets that summer grew up to be U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). Imagine what would have happened to the Army career of our sister squad leader if one of the New Cadets he was doing this to or in front of was a future U.S. senator. A few years ago, my best man had occasion to talk to Senator Reed again. Senator Reed wrote him a thank you note for some snapshots he took of the meeting and commented that he remembered him and me as “decent and fair.”

We were both nice-guy upperclassmen, one manifestation of which was we had no beverage preferences. We were assigned to new mess hall tables about monthly. Plebes were required to go to each upperclassman on their new table before the first meal there and get and memorize their beverage preferences. Some upperclasmen had elaborate preferences that required a flow chart of “if this” and “if that.” I and the other nice guys just said, “Ask me at the table at each meal.” I expect the upperclassmen who had beverage preferences would claim it was our duty to have preferences to help build the character of the plebes. Bullshit! Leave the kids alone. West Point has quite enough chickenshit flowing from the tacs. There is no need for the upperclass cadets to add to it.

That sort of “run him out” vendetta could happen to you at any part of the plebe year, not just in the two summer months. Also, your tac officer could decide to do the same thing to you. They repeatedly did that to any cadet who challenged the obvioulsly unconstitutional mandatory chapel requirement—he would immediately get a zillion demerits, get thrown out for bad conduct, then the Army lawyers would say he had no standing to sue because he was no longer a cadet and because he did not leave because of his chapel opposition. Yes, he did. The officers were lying—from the tac to the Superintedent.

Remain anonymous

The key to surviving Beast Barracks (first two summer months) and plebe year is to remain anonymous. I was dead on that score before I arrived. Apparently, West Point made a 1950s recruiting film that all the uppersclassmen had seen. It was hokey and starred a character named “Cadet John Reed.” He was some sort of super cadet who said hokey things like “Gee, it’ll be great to have the whole Corps together after Labor Day”—when he was a New Cadet!

During the summer, most cadets are scattered around the US and, back then, in Germany, and at Camp Buckner, and on 30-day leave. At West Point proper was just us New Cadets and part of the junior and senior classes who were our cadet squad leaders and cadet officers. As bad as it was, at least we New Cadets outnumbered the upperclassmen. Come Labor Day weekend, the entire Corps of Cadets returned from their far flung summer assignments and leave and then. We were the ones then outnumbered by about 3 to 1. On the plus side, during the summer the upper classmen whom we outnumbered had nothing else to do but train us. Although we were outnumbered in the fall, there were a whole lot of other things to occupy the attention of the upperclassmen like academics, intamurals, football, clubs, dances, and so on. So no plebe in his right mind would celebrate the entire Corps of cadets returning to West Point at the end of Beast Barracks.

Anyway, I was singled out by the upperclassmen on the first day of Beast as being the notorious “Cadet John Reed.” Within my company, it quickly became a non-issue. But when I had to go to other companies, especially when I was wearing a uniform that had a name tag, some upperclassman would spot the name “Reed” and ask, “Your first name is not ‘John’ by any chance is it?” “Yes, sir!” Then he would call out to all the upperclassmen within earshot and they would all come to to see the notorious “New Cadet John Reed.” Lovely.

One guy saw me coming out of the mess hall at lunch and made me walk across the Central area screaming over and over, “Sir, My name is new Cadet Johnny Reed and I love it here!” over and over.

Basically, some people become frazzled by the New Cadet/plebe situation. Most cadets do not at least after the first week or so. I was okay with it even on the first day. The company first sergeant complimented me when I first reported to him for not screwing that up. Among non-poop schoolers, I was probably a little bit better than average at dealing with it. Poop schoolers are guys who are already in the Army when they come to West Point. They have already been doing all the shoe shining and brass polisthing and getting yelled at and all that before they arrive.

But this is essentially a useless skill in virtualy all other contexts. It’s like being able to brace and make the skin below your neck show wrinkles. My best man could, with little effort, create multiple wrinkles in his neck skin. I could make the single wrinkle adequately, but some guys, because of the construction of their bodies, could not “grab a wrinkle” to save their lives. And they continually got their asses chewed all through plebe year for not bracing hard enough. (Bracing was outlawed after we gradutaed. You can see plebes bracing in the West Point TV series.) In the grand scheme of things, screwing up putting on your name tag and collar brass and such—the kinds of things some plebes had trouble with—is meaningless. But it looms large in your life for that first year and can get you run out of West Point.

One of the West Point TV series episodes was about a cadet who chronically screwed up, but he was an upperclassman. Big difference. And in typical Hollywood/West Point show fashion, he overcame it by the end of the episode.

There are so many ways to screw up at West Point that it is relatively easy to fall into a slump where you make multiple mistakes and there is a sort of compound-interest effect because when you start to accumulate demerits or bad grades, you start to incur increasing punishments that adversely affect your morale and time available and thereby can cause you to screw up more perhaps resulting in your falling into a death spiral.

Difficult beyond description

How much harder was West Point than what the TV series depicted? It is impossible to convey in words. You probably never experienced anything remotely like it so there are no words I could use to conjure up the memory in your head. We learned soon after arriving not to relate everything that happened there to outsiders because people would call us liars—thinking what we said was either physically impossible or would be stopped by the authorities at West Point. Nope.

The Army is the issue, not West Point itself

The bigger issue is not West Point itself but the Army you must serve in as an officer after you graduated. I already commented on the tacs above. But it’s far worse than that in the Army.

For example, after all my exertions to become an excellent leader, I spent a combined total of 11 months in TO&E positions—that is, positions which are listed in the organization charts of the Army. And those 11 months of “command” were spent 4 months as a commo platoon leader in an infantry battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, about 2 months as a commo platoon leader in a mixed-heavy artillery battalion in Vietnam, about 3 months as a training company XO at Fort Monmouth, NJ and about 2 months as the company commander of that same company. For most of my time in the 82nd, I was standing around all day at a mortar squad who were not in my platoon and maybe not even in my company. They were some other lieutenant’s platoon and he was not there to lead them either!? I needed five years of strenuous great training for that?

What was I doing the rest of the time? Going to Army schools, all of which I graduated from including one—ranger school—where they recommended I be brought back as an instructor—and being the assistant to a guy who was not authorized to have an assistant. Many of my West Point classmates flunked out of each of the schools I graduated from except for Radio Officer school where none of us flunked out. Also, because I was relatively high in the class at West Point, I was able to choose the most sought-after Signal Corps school: radio officer at Fort Monmouth, NJ. That’s probably another reason why none of my West Point classmates flunked out of that school. We were all relatively good students at West Point.

The least sought-after school was communications platoon leader school at Fort Sill, OK. That was about three schools below radio officer school in terms of desirability. So was I ever a radio platoon leader? Nope. The only signal jobs I ever had were the two commo platoon leaders jobs for which I was not trained. The XO and CO jobs were generic. As a training company commander, all I did was feed, house, and discipline my 400 troops. During business hours, they attended various classroom schools that were not under my command.

So after all that great West Point training to be a leader of men in combat, I spent about 25% of my officer career in additional Army schools, 25% in four scattered jobs at three units on two continents, and 50% as an assistant in a broom-closet office to officers who were not allowed to have assistants.

No hint of the actual U.S. Army officer corps

If you watched all the West Point TV series episodes would you have thought that my post-West Point Army officer experience was even possible? West Point the series depicts an extremely professional, competent, honorable, purely motivated officer corps. The more accurate depiction of the US military officer corps is in books and movies like Catch-22 and The Caine Mutiny. You have heard the U.S. military described as SNAFU, FUBAR, and FUBB, all true, but you neither heard nor say the slightest indication of that in the West Point TV series.

WP grad officers are generally just staying out of trouble until they shock their superiors by resigning after five years—or they are planning on staying for a career. Some of the latter are careerists, meaning people who place their career above all else, which is immoral. Other WP career guys start out hopeful of being successful, then find when the promotions for major are handed out that they are not among the chosen few and they thereafter just mark time until their retirement benefits vest.

Anybody see any of that in the West Point TV series? Not the slightest hint.

Actually commanding troop after graduation is a rare, 10%-of-the-time thing

Also, do the math. There are lots of platoon leader jobs, although not so many during Vietnam that they needed me to fill any for more than 2 months. There about one quarter as many company commander jobs—and not very many of those in our shrinking Army.

The next command is battalion commander and there are about one quarter as many of those as there are company commander jobs. Even in a Vietnam class like mine probably the majority—maybe the vast majority—of my classmates, never had the opportunity to command a battalion. And it is worse for the current classes because the army is far smaller now, and will be even smaller soon. Maybe only 10% of future West Point classes will ever command a battalion.

The typical West Pointer who stay is the Army for 20 years commands a platoon for some months or maybe a year and a company for about the same amount of time. And that’s it. The rest of the 20 years is spent not leading men but going to Army schools, maybe a little teaching in an Army school, maybe being a staff officer, maybe being a liaison officer to a foreign military or another branch of the US military, getting coffee for the low-ranking generals in DC who get coffee for the higher ranking generals there, maybe some recruiting duty—mostly sitting at a desk—even if you are an airborne ranger infantry officer. I’d guess the typical WP grad spends about 2 years of his career as a platoon leader or company commander and the other 18 years at a desk pushing paper. Was that depicted accurately in the West Point TV series? Ha!

So what is all this bullshit in the TV series about trying to make sure every single cadet reaches his optimal leadership potential? Those officers stationed at West Point are mainly focused on making sure they are among the few chosen for battalion commander. They might deign to help a cadet or two that they like, if it would not risk their career in the slightest, but that’s about it. I think I had two tell me to work harder in four years, and that was all the “mentoring” I got. They told everybody to work harder.

We did figure out stuff somewhat, like how to lead, as cadets as a result of our own maturing and experience there and in the zillion bull sessions we had with our peers. But the officers were essentially non-factors in our lives or development. One reason was they were constantly changing. You rarely had the same instructor for more than a month or so because of resectioning. In the barracks area, they were almost never around. You might glimpse your tac once a week watching the company march into supper or doing a Saturday room inspection or something like that. About 97% of the time in the barracks, there was no one but cadets there. We trained each other. Lord of the Flies.

I am an excellent writer. But NO teacher at West Point or anywhere else in my life—from first grade through grad school, ever said I was a good writer. My friends said it. We used to write actual letters back then and that’s what they were commenting on. Casual correspondents who did not know me also said it. If you bought the West Point TV series version of what goes on there, you would expect that my tacs and instructors were sitting around discussing what a great writer I was but trying to figure out how to make me “play better with others.” Ha! Zilch.

I have never heard a cadet or grad credit any officer stationed at West Point with giving him any sort of useful mentoring. My best man credits one of our tacs with protecting him from a colonel in the acdemic department who tried to hurt him without cause. But that evidenced none of the sort of encyclopedic knowledge of each cadet depicted in the TV series. The tac in question had simply been a goat (low ranking academically) himself when he was a cadet and empathized.

So forget the idea that West Point officers are intimately familiar with all your accomplishments and failures and are totally dedicated to “mentoring” every cadet to greatness. I would be mildly surprised if most of my tacs could have picked me out of a lineup.

The thing that bugs me so much about West Point is it is, or was, I can’t vouch for the current operation, an institutiton with such extremely high standards from appearance to room appearance to high academic standards to high physical fitness standards to heavy work load—I calculated 10,560 hours total in four years which is something like 60 hours a week—to the extremely high honor code standards we had to live by. And for what?

The U.S. Army!? Where lying is a routine daily occurrence? Where the parking lots are full on Monday morning but increasingly emptier each afternoon until there’s hardly anyone there on Friday afternoons? Where taking a camera out on the NCO or officers golf courses during business hours would send active duty personnel running for places to hide and to call the MPs to have the camera confiscated? Where the many courses officers attend are referred to as “gentlemen’s courses” meaning they have lots of leisure hours? Where young wives get rank pulled on them by the colonel’s wife and forced to work on charity events whose pupose is to make the colonel look good? Where officers are incessantly required to attend “command performance” parties? Where we were trained to lead men in combat then forced to lose our war in Vietnam by politicans at home and incompetent or unwilling to risk their careers West Point-graduate generals?

What was the point of all the high standards if the Army is just a sinecure full of careerists and guys waiting to get their retirement benefits, people who sneer at the cadet honor code as “boy scout” behavior, people who kiss ass daily because you have to “play the game.” All they did at West Point was pretend there is some noble U.S. Army somewhere that needs what they told us we had to be. But there is no such Army. What West Point prepared us for turned out to be the U.S. Army depicted in the book Catch-22, a bureaucracy capable of the most insane, dysfunctional, inept, corrupt, suicidal, cynical behavior. That’s the main word: cynical. West Point in the 1950s and 1960s was the absolute opposite of cyncial, yet all it did in return for our 10,560 hours of dedication and hard work was to send us on a moral Charge of the Light Brigade into an army that ought to have its picture next to the definition of “cynical” in the dictionary:




1. believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.

"her cynical attitude"

2. concerned only with one's own interests and typically disregarding accepted or appropriate standards in order to achieve them.

"a cynical manipulation of public opinion"

In the end, the West Point TV series and the young men it attracted to West Point—myself including—were extremely idealistic—and naive. The hypercynical parent organization of West Point—the U.S. Army—does not deserve West Point or its cadets. The whole thing was a colossal, cruel joke on the cadets—perpetrated on us of that era in large part by this TV series. I don’t think the people who created the series were trying to defraud us. They believed the hype about West Point, too.

Had we been allowed to skip the Army and just go on with our lives on graduation day, both we graduates and the nation would have been far better off.

The best way I can say how I feel about West Point after falling in love with it 51 years ago is that my three sons are graduates of Columbia University, The University of California at Santa Barbara, and The University of Arizona.

Here is a well-articulated email from a former military reader:

Mr. Reed,

Thanks for writing your recent article on the 1956-7 TV Series West Point. I never went to WP. I was an ROTC guy who commissioned into the USAR. However, it did bring up a lot of things that I felt being an enlisted man and later as a commissioned officer.

Being in the Reserves was an interesting experience in that it only made me glad not to be in the Active Duty Army. Working here in Silicon Valley, I was constantly making comparisons between the high-tech private sector and the military. I was left with the conclusion that if the military were a business, it would be in the red and filing for bankruptcy.

I ran into an OBC colleague of mine in South Korea during a summer exercise some time ago. He asked me if I was going to stay in for 20 years. I vehemently said no. My reasons were this: "I like what the Army tries to be. Just not what it actually is." [Emphasis added by John T. Reed.] I was an MI 2LT when I said that and had already made a decision that the problems of the military are so macro-level that I would constantly find myself disagreeing with both the work culture and the insular mindset.

Later on as a Captain, I would be in Iraq in the headquarters J2, attending meetings with Colonels and Generals. Some of these "Strategy Sessions" seemed to be anything but. People would have these most elaborate PowerPoint slides on anything from Iraqi infrastructure, insurgent threat groups, etc. But one of the damning characteristics was that with all this impressive data they had, meetings usually ended with little getting resolved. Furthermore, you couldn't help but feel a sense of fear floating in the room. Not one Colonel nor 1-star General ever wanted to sound stupid in not knowing certain acronyms nor suggesting any bold steps in combating the insurgency (other than status quo). That seemed even more the case when LTG Cone or GEN Odierno was in attendance. I usually left those meetings dejected.

Looking back in time at summer of 2001, I had thought about putting in an application to San Jose PD. Then a month later, 9/11 happened and I decided to join the Army, thinking that this was where I needed to be in order to save lives. Had I known what the Army would be like, I would have either done the former or have joined the US Coast Guard.

Thanks again for your writings and insights. I'm glad there are people who are willing to call things as they are.

PS: Recently I got my paperwork saying that I am Honorably Discharged after resigning my commission. It feels good.

I would say that if the military were a business, its managers would be in jail and it would have gone bankrupt in the late 1700s. And if you want to defend freedom, don’t join the military, join the CATO Institute or American Heritage Foundation or the Institute for Justice or another organization truly dedicated to liberty and/or free enterprise. The Taliban are not a threat to our liberty. Obama and the Democrat party are. Your freedom is measured by the percentage of your income that you get to spend and the number of laws and regulations in existence in this country. Every law enacted moves yet another activity out of the you-decide column and into the “you must comply with what the government decided” column. By those measures, it is no exaggeration or stretch to say that you are less free than you were in January of 2009 when Obama took office. And this did not start with him. It started with FDR or Wilson and has been lessening our freedom under both Democrat and Republican administrations.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed