Plebe Academic Year, 1965-1966
No stripes on sleeves of uniforms and undecorated epaulets
My new roommates would be Tom Watson and Rick Duffy. See Appendix 5 for a list of cadets assigned with me to Co. B-1 in 1965 and their outcomes by the end of 1969.
Among the first assigned tasks was to collect laundry for upperclassmen in Co. B-1 and to deliver it to their rooms. We did not know the names of the upperclassmen in B-1 or their rooms, but we quickly learned, though not without some yelling at our incompetence. Picking up laundry for the upperclassmen became a routine duty for the rest of the academic year.
The first squad leader and most memorable was Kenneth Carter, a Second Year classman or Cow. He was former military. We had to report to his room before meal formations and at any other time demanded. He was not a pleasant individual and was very demanding. Fortunately for me, Rick Duffy took most of the heat from Carter. Carter left the Corps later during his Cow year as his duty requirements were up, and he could leave without penalty. Good riddance!
Some additional duties for Plebes during the Fourth Class Year:
- Announcing the time in minutes from 5 minutes before any formation involving the company in one minute intervals.
- Closing windows of upperclassmen before reveille.
- Getting usual drink orders for the mess hall table to which we were assigned.
- Announcing the arrival of additional food to the table.
- Distributing drinks to the upperclassmen at the table.
- Cutting the cake or pie appropriate to the number desiring dessert.
- Distributing mail and newspapers to members of the squad.
- Other duties as assigned, usually by the squad leader.
- Use of assigned stairs in the barracks that usually were more inconvenient to Plebes.
Most academic classes took place in Thayer Hall. Plebes were required to march in formation to the first classes of the day at Thayer Hall and to Physical Education Classes. Upperclassmen were not required to march similarly to any classes.
There were no electives to the academic curriculum during the Plebe year, except for the selection of a language. I chose Portuguese for my language because I had good fundamentals in high school Spanish, and I thought it would be unique.
The curriculum for the Fourth Class year 1965-1966:
- Engineering Fundamentals
- Evolution of American Ideals Reflected in American Literature (1607-1860)
- Evolution of American Ideals Reflected in American Literature from 1860
- Calculus and Analysis
- Foundations in Physical Education: Boxing; Swimming; Wrestling; Gymnastics
- Introduction to Military Science
- Fundamentals of Military Operations
Some time during the first part of Plebe Year or during New Cadet training (Beast Barracks), we were auditioned for the Cadet Glee Club. I am not sure if everyone was auditioned or just those who wished to be part of the Glee Club. Let me say that belonging to the Glee Club would have been something very special, and I thought I had a chance to become a member. I was not accepted into the Glee Club, though I recall being placed in a second level group, but that did not work out. I admit that my ego was severely bruised as a result of this rejection, and I rarely sang again. That was one of the bigger errors of my life not to have pursued singing.
The Corps of Cadets was taken by a special train to Chicago, Illinois for the game with the United States Air Force Academy on November 6, 1965. This was significant for several reasons, including meeting Kendra L. Jones there and that my brother, Kenneth L. Garrett, married Kathleen Rose Buysse on that date.
The Corps was also taken en masse to Philadelphia for the annual Army-Navy game.
The Class of 1969 was the second class to be able to leave West Point for the Christmas holiday. Classes 1967 and 1966 were still sore that they had not been able to take that as a vacation. Instead, they had been required to have their own command structure during Christmas, but could not leave the grounds. I spent part of the time with my parents in Mason City, Iowa, and with Kendra in Colfax, Iowa. It took some adjustment to re-assume the role of a Plebe following my return to West Point. The upperclassmen were less than sympathetic.
I had several contacts with the medical profession during my Plebe year. During wrestling, I suffered a broken nose. The doctor attempted to push it back in place and I wore a guard over my nose for several weeks. I also developed tingling in my neck and was diagnosed with “brace palsy”, though I did not have a palsy per se. The treatment was to avoid bracing for a short period of time. Needless to say, the upperclassmen were not appreciative of my condition, sometimes making me to move my chin way out in an exaggerated manner. But mostly it was a hassle to explain to upperclassmen why I was not bracing. Another time I went on emergency sick call to escape physical education. I was sent back to my room with a bottle of liquid antacid.
My Plebe year marked the beginning of an annual Christmas candy box sent by Mary Hunter. She had made the candies herself and faithfully continued this tradition for over 30 years. Mary was my 2d grade church teacher and had worked at Easter’s Super Valu where my father was a manager. She also directed the Methodist Church choir for many years, and I sang in the choir while I was in high school. I still do not know why she was so supportive of me for all these years.
Plebes rated themselves as well as being rated by upperclassmen. We rated only Plebes within the company, but would have to specifically rate two other Plebes as ranking highest and two other Plebes as ranking lowest. One did not want to be ranked lowest; such an individual was said to be ‘poop sheeted’. One had to explain why the individual deserved to be ranked at the bottom and such ranking might cause the individual to be interviewed by the companies’ Tactical Officer and could ultimately be a justification for dismissal from the Corps.
As far as I know, I never received the infamous poop sheet, though my roommate Rick Duffy collected them by the fists full. It should be noted that Rick did graduate with the class.
Kendra was a most faithful letter writer, usually writing daily on blue stationery I had purchased for her from the Colfax Tribune office, but I was a less consistent letter writer. None of our letters to each other survive. We also talked almost weekly. Of course, there were no cellphones at the time, so we had to line up for one of the several phone booths in the company area.
I only had several dates with other women during my four years at West Point. Sometimes women were bussed to West Point from nearby women’s colleges for informal hops, but I never attended these hops. I did have a reputation for being faithful to Kendy.
I believe it was during Plebe year that our class motto was chosen: Best of the Line ’69.
Spring break allowed the upperclassmen to leave, but the Fourth Year classmen were not allowed to leave at this time. Instead, we supervised ourselves with our own chain of command. We did not have to brace. Spring break was associated with Plebe-Parent weekend, and at this time Kendra and my mother came out to visit me.
In the following picture, I am in the grey dress overcoat with cape. It was very heavy to wear and not particularly warm. During parades during which we wore cross belts and carried rifles, the front flaps of the cape were thrown back.
Recognition Day marked the end of the Plebe Year, but certainly not the end of rigorous training. I remember that the Firsties could also bring their car into the Central Area to load up their belongings prior to their departure from West Point.
A month-long leave followed Plebe year.