Firsty Year: 1968-1969
Three stripes on coat sleeves and black USMA shield on epaulets
The beginning of activities for Firsty or First Class year was the 17-day First Class trip held in June 1968. The mission of the First Class trip was to provide orientation in the roles, tactics, techniques, current equipment, and new developments in the combat arms and an overview of an officer’s on and off-duty environments at major United States Army installations. We visited Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fort Sill Oklahoma, Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Much of the transportation was provided by the USAF.
At each of the stop local commands usually held a welcoming dance for the cadets. Local young woman would sign up to be “dates” for the visiting cadets, and cadets had to sign up for the dance or hop. Unfortunately, this led to pools being established with the proceeds going to the cadet with the ugliest date. The selection as being the ugliest date was usually not lost on the unfortunate young woman. This was a low point for sure.
First classmen were differentiated from all other cadets by wearing chevrons on their upper coat sleeves. Other markers most noticed at parades were wearing swords and not carrying rifles, wearing red sashes, and having parade hats sporting black feathered pompons.
My first of three duties during the Firsty year was as a platoon leader that consisted of three to four squads. As such, I was a cadet lieutenant and authorized to wear a chevron on the upper sleeve of my dress grey coat, full dress grey coat, and great overcoat with three stripes.
The second stint of the First Class year was as the Company Commander for Co. B-1. I was then a cadet captain and had a chevron with four stripes. This command occurred over the winter months and was a struggle from the beginning. The executive officer of the company was my roommate and clearly believed that he should have been the company commander and not me. This created a rift that rippled throughout the company, I think. We performed poorly in formations and marching as compared to Cos. A-1, C-1, and D-1. Of course, it was my responsibility to motivate the company and improve its morale and performance, but I was not successful. The Tactical officer was not helpful, either. Toward the end of my stint as company commander, I thought I might end up as a sergeant or file closer during my third and final assignment.
My last assignment was as a platoon leader again. With spring appearing and graduation on the horizon, discipline loosened a bit.
My academic curriculum for First Class year 1968-1969:
- Structural analysis
- Physical Chemistry I & II
- Human Biology I & II
- History of the Military art
- US Army in Stability operations
- Ordnance Engineering
- Military Leadership
- Social Science
- Structural design and Field Engineering
- Literature and Advanced Exposition
- History of Military Art
- Advanced Sports Leadership and Athletic Skills
- International Relations
I finished the academic year with a cumulative class rank of 38 of 800, meaning that I graduated within the top five percent. It should be noted that this meant that 40 received the academic distinction, so I was pretty close to the end of the top 5 percent. The Class of 1969 had lost 16 more classmates since the end of the Second Class year. Several of those losses were as the result of automobile accidents.
Ring hop was set aside to celebrate the receipt of the class rings by each individual.
It was during Ring Hope weekend that I proposed to Kendra Jones at Trophy Point, a name whose significance only now dawns on me. I did call her father that night to ask his permission to marry his daughter, and he seemed to accept it without reservation. I am sure he was wondering when he could stop paying for his daughter’s long distance romance.
Her engagement ring was purchased for $237 at the Cadet Store previously mentioned. It was an Art Carved ring with a single diamond set in a gold band. I was very naïve about the process of engagement ring selection and pricing. I do not recall the carats or quality of the diamond, but Kendra seemed appreciative nonetheless.
In November 1968, I received tentative admission to the College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. I had taken several newly offered courses in biology at USMA and had taken the MCAT as well. This was a culmination of a philosophical and practical change in what I wanted to do with my life. I did hope that I could join the Medical Service Corps and begin medical school after graduation from West Point. See Appendix 6.
During the winter, we could elect to order new cars that would be delivered to us later during the spring of 1969. The officer instructors offered a lot of practical advice about cars to buy, how to equip them, etc. I do wish that I had listened less to them.
One important milestone of being a West Point cadet was the selection of one of combat arms as a profession. Combat arms selections included: Infantry; Armor, Field Artillery; Air Defense Artillery; Combat Engineers; and Combat Signal Corps. The selection process went by class rank or order of merit. Each combat arms group had a limited number of spaces, but as might be imagined, Infantry had the most while Engineers or Signal probably had the least. If one was near the bottom of the class, one likely would be assigned to Infantry. A few were able to join non-combatarms such as the Medical Service Corps but only if they had some disability that limited their physical abilities. I chose the Field Artillery as my combat branch.
Once we had an assigned branch, we could choose the location of our first assignment. Again, this was based on class rank. All those who chose Field Artillery gathered and the list of possible assignments was made known. I chose the Field Artillery unit stationed in West Berlin, Germany. There was only one slot there to be selected. I wanted something unique and as far away from Viet Nam as I could get. At the time, officers went to Europe for one year and then went to Viet Nam. I was hoping that I could somehow begin medical school training instead.
The significance of 100th night was the same as for 500th night. It was probably held in the latter part of February, 1969. Again, I do not think Kendra was present at that time.
At the end of March 1969, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Class of 1915, died, and the Corps was hoping that the entire Corps would go to Washington, DC, to march in his funeral procession. However, the powers that be decided that the entire Corps could not go, but I suppose that the USMA color guard did go.
Spring 1969 was also the time that Firsties could have a car at West Point. Most, but not all, bought new cars through local dealers that they had ordered several months previously. Many bought Corvettes, which started at just over $3,500 at the time. I had bought a 1969 Dodge Charger, olive bottom with a black vinyl roof. As it turns out, I only kept the car for about 5 months or so.
Tragically, several members of the Class of 1969 were killed in car accidents prior to graduation. One was permanently paralyzed and remained institutionalized for the rest of his life.
The favorite songs of the Firsties included “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “House of the Rising Sun” both by the Animals. Both songs were great to sing as a group.