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How I got my appointment to West Point
As an eighth grader in 1946, I read a book by George L. Knapp entitled 'the Boy's Book of West Point. It was then I felt that this is where I wanted to go to begin my career.
I had no idea how to make the process work since I did not know anyone that had ever gone to college and my Chicago Technical High school did not even have college counseling. In those days, after high school, almost everyone just got a job.
In my senior year it was clear I could only go to college with a major scholarship and so I started applying wherever I could. My Congressman was newly elected in November 1950 and so my letters to him were not answered until February 1951. It was then that I was informed I had been designated as a second alternate for an appointment to the USMA.
I took the exams that March up at Fort Sheridan North of Chicago and in April I was informed that I was a 'successful Alternate pending the reexamination of the other candidates'. I was not exactly sure what all that meant and in the meantime I had pursued and successfully received an NROTC scholarship.
In May 1951 I received notification that the Principal Candidate had failed the physical examination and that I now was to receive the appointment to the Academy. Not certain how Beast Barracks was going to turn out, I took no chances and enrolled as an NROTC student in the School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois.
I made it through Beast Barracks so, in September of 1951, I withdrew my NROTC scholarship and canceled my application to the University of Illinois.
AND NOW THE REST OF THE STORY
Flash forward one year to the Fall of 1952. While as a Yearling in C-1 I had a Plebe from another company come up and introduce himself to me. He knew my name for a very special reason. It seems that he was the Principal Candidate in March of 1951 that failed his physical reexamination. He apparently had dental work that needed completion before he could be enrolled into the Academy. He had the dental work completed that fall and received the Principal appointment once again but this time for the class of 1956.
Had he corrected his dental work before March of 1951:
I would not have had Jack Viney as my first roommate;
I would not have gone on a blind date in November 1951 that Jack set up for me with Miss Barbara Lee Burke, roommate of Elizabeth Carol Billingsley at Mary Washington College;
I would not have married this same Bobbie Burke at 7:30 PM on graduation day in the Cadet Chapel;
I would not have my lovely daughter, Elizabeth Carol Margolis and her son Henry;
And finally, I would not have had my very rewarding 26 year career in the Air Force.
Had that plebe in the class of 1956 fixed his teeth the first time, I would have had an entirely different personal story that would have started out as a US Navy electronics officer and lead to something entirely different.
I have always been thankful that everything worked out just the way that it did.
Gerald (Gerry) Samos USMA 1955
31 JUL 2010
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TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS OF GETTING AN EDUCATION
Entering Harrison Technical High School in 1947, I wanted to go to West Point, however I could not take any chances. As a result I took a full load of electric shop classes to include a special junior year just to learn the operation of some new test equipment in the lab. That's where I shot myself in the foot. Those shop classes, two hours per day, five days per week for three years, gave me absolutely no credit towards college eligibility.
The High School Principal had to get permission from the Chicago Board of Education for me to take an extra major in my senior year just to make it possible for me to take the exams for West Point. That extra major turned out to be in English and the real irony began.
I did well in that senior year English class because I was a good reader. The teacher was so enthusiastic that she suggested that I go to the University of Illinois and become an English professor.
Well I got the appointment and then I had so much trouble in English that I almost got turned out our first semester. If it had not been for my English instructor, who offered to give me an hour of EI every day for six weeks, I would not have made it. Then there was French. Without a solid foundation in English grammar, French was almost impossible. Here too the system took care of me. Our company Tac saw that I probably would never complete the first year of French so he moved me in with Dave Maurer. Dave saved me in French as well as math. In January of our Plebe year I dropped from the 11th section in math to the 19th (out of 20). Dave helped me every night with the math homework that I could not understand. As luck would have it, 75% of the homework problems Dave explained, I had as a 'take boards' class test the next day. I eventually worked out of my math hole but I still ended up as next to the last man in French after two years.
Now fast forward six years. As a jet instructor pilot, I knew that with the 1957 Force reductions (RIF) going on in the USAF that there would be few decent flying jobs available for quite awhile. So I applied for Graduate School in Electrical Engineering. The Air Force immediately approved the request and I arranged to go to the University of Illinois where I could continue flying as an instructor pilot out of Chanute AFB.
Now my USMA academic record came back to haunt me. The head of the Electrical Engineering at UofI had a serious talk with me when I reported in. He said he was familiar with the USMA Program and with my previous math grades, he saw no way I could complete a Graduate program in EE. He said that he reluctantly accepted me due to the insistence by the Air Force that I be admitted. Well his compromise was to put me on probation for the first year and start me off in sophomore calculus.
And then a happy ending. I never worked so hard before or since, expecting any day to be flunked out. However, after two years my grades were as good as any other AF officer in the program. Then the nicest thing happened to me. Just before we were about to leave, the head of the EE Department came to me and apologized for misjudging my capabilities. To make up for the slight he asked if I would like him to recommend me for further study towards a PHD. I said thank you but absolutely not since I could not imagine working any harder then I did for those two years.
Both I and the Air Force got a good return on our investment. The education led to a wide range of rewarding assignments up through my retirement, even the second career. I even got talked into volunteering as a temporary Maintenance officer for our F 4 outfit in Korea just because I was the only fighter pilot in the squadron with an advanced engineering degree.
Last but not the least. At my final retirement in May of 1992, Dave Maurer presented me with his copy of 'Visites Nocturnes' our French class reader from 1952. It nostalgically sits in my office between 'The Boy's Book of West Point' and our Eshbach 'Handbook of Engineering Fundamentals'.
8 AUG 2010