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How I got my appointment to West Point
Some stories are worth telling and retelling etc. My arrival on the Plain in early July 1951 was a result of an intertwining of many seemingly unrelated factors. In 1940 my family moved from Huntington, West Virginia, a very non-military environment to Charleston, SC, a very rich military environment dating back to the Colonial era. The approaching signs of WWII were already showing. The reason for our move was my father's employment by the Charleston Naval Shipyard. As a result of the Lend-Lease Program, the US Navy had placed WWI era destroyers in the hands of the British Royal Navy. An accelerated ship construction program was initiated to replace the old ships and Charleston was designated to construct several of the new series destroyers. Charleston began to grow in population and new military facilities. All of this was very impressive on the mind of an adolescent male, me.
As a result of the influx of families, the existing school system of the Charleston area was severely overloaded. My father decided to send me to a private military school in Charleston that had a mature, stable teaching staff and small classes. A 14 year old boy needs close guidance and that was just what I received. The PMS&T was a US Army captain cutting a fine figure of authority and neatness in his " pinks and greens." I suppose I must have decided that was the goal for me. I may have heard of West Point but that was not a goal. The Citadel was right there only a few blocks away. It was sort of assumed that the natural progression was from the military school to the Citadel. Sometime during the next three years I found out that there was West Point and there were several ways to become a member of the Corps of Cadets. During a holiday visit to my old hometown in West Virginia I had a date with a young lady that had been my classmate from the 1st through the 5th grades. As it turned out her brother was in the US Corps of Cadets at the time. The parents told me that he had been able to get an active duty appointment. (Incidentally, the time of this visit coincided with the Battle of the Bulge. WWII was in full coverage in all the papers and on the radio news broadcasts.) I mentally filed the information on the several ways to become a USMA Cadet.
In 1947 I was awarded an NROTC scholarship and attended Tulane University for one year. I did not want to be in the Navy, so one year was enough. I got out of that and enlisted in the Regular US Army in October 1948. Basic training at Fort Jackson and then on to Camp Gordon, GA for radio operator training. In May or June of 1949 an announcement of Regular Army competitive appointment exams for West Point was posted on the company bulletin board. I applied. My understanding was about 100 men took the exam at Camp Gordon. Only two passed and were subjected to a preliminary physical. The other man failed. I departed Camp Gordon in late August 1949 headed for USMAPS at Stewart AFB, NY.
(This is a long story)
In 1949 the Prep School military staff consisted of COL Taylor, MAJ Moore, CPT Matthews, 1st Sgt Whitfield, and 1st Sgt Green. The school faculty was headed by Mr. Coolidge. After about two or three weeks, there was an orientation trip to the USMA to observe cadet life and see an Army home football game. What I saw gave me a very negative reaction. Between Saturday's visit and Monday morning , I decided that was not for me. So I presented myself in the orderly room and told Sgt Whitfield I wanted to resign. As you who knew him may remember, he was a formidable person. His first words were something like "WHAT?" Next step was a talk with CPT Matthews. That wasn't easy either. Anyway, after visits with COL Taylor and Mr. Coolidge. they reported me to DA for reassignment. After several weeks, I was assigned to the 12th Armored Infantry BN, 2d Armored Division, Camp Hood, TX. There I encountered CPT Ace L. Waters, Infantry, as my company commander. As a unit commander, he made it his business to review records and interview all newly assigned members. Well, he had met and married a woman from Charleston, SC and knew of the military school I attended and of course he saw my brief history at the USMAPS. Almost as an order, he instructed me to apply for OCS and to reapply for the next USMA Regular Army competitive exam to be held in May or June. He also made sure I was sent to the 2d Armored Division Leadership School. Time to terminate this saga. Needless to say I took the RA exam, attended the Prep School, and made it in the Class of 1955. However, there was one other situation that occurred when I came back to the Prep school. That was the gauntlet of COL Taylor, MAJ Matthews, Mr. Coolidge and SGT Whitfield all asking the same thing: "Are you going to stay this time?"
28 July 2010