Since graduation on June 4, 1969, I have been back to West Point only a few times. It may be that homecoming in 1979 was the last time I was there. Certainly none of my children have ever been there or expressed any interest in seeing it. Perhaps when we lived in Washington, DC, we could have made the trip, but we did not.
It was during my last trip to West Point in 1979 that I had two interactions with former classmates that made an impression on me. One went on about his new career after leaving the army, but then told he that he had gotten tired of telling people what he really did so he just made up what he had told me. He was not apologetic or interested in hearing my own story. Another classmate in front of myself and several others admitted that he had broken the Honor Code on more than one occasion during college, and it seemed to be a point of ‘honor’ for him. It made me think of all the cadets who were kicked out for breaking the Honor Code for the trivial of infractions, and he should have been one of them, too. Anyway, these two experiences have remained with me all of these years.
Currently, I have contact with only one West Point classmate, Richard C. Anshus. He was a POW during a portion of the Viet Nam war and was not released until its conclusion. Kendra and I attended his wedding to his wife Sylvia after his return. We have had several visits over the years as his family was from Minneapolis, and we continue to exchange Christmas greetings. As a coincidence, Kendra and I attended a Drum and Bugle Corps competition about 15 years ago. We were surprised when the leader of one of the corps was announced as Tina Anshus. It was Dick and Sylvia’s only child Christina Anshus.
I would occasionally see people from the Class of 1969, but only in passing. Several became physicians, including at least two from Co. B-1. Strange to have spent 4 years secluded at West Point and not have built any other lasting friendships to have endured the passing years. Perhaps that is one reason that I do not feel any abiding attachment to West Point.
I do not have any fondness for the way cadets were treated during my years at West Point or the way cadets treated each other. There was a sense of paranoia during the time I was a cadet, particularly as recent graduates were eulogized for having been killed in Viet Nam illuminating cadets about their potential futures. Tactical officers were more like father figures rather than mentors. During my last several years at the academy, I was searching for an alternate career path and not to march to the sound of the guns as espoused by General Douglas MacArthur. I had no role models or mentors to help me with my search.
I believe a limited number of cadets can go to medical school after graduation now. A pulmonary colleague at Hennepin County Medical Center had a son attend West Point where he was recruited to play soccer. Not only did he marry a fellow West Pointer, but both he and she went directly to the Mayo Medical School after graduation. Times change.
I do not wear my class ring and only wore it for a few years after graduation.
One of life’s ironies is that daughter Laurel’s father-in-law James Stephenson is a 1965 graduate of West Point. Of course, our paths never crossed at West Point as he was leaving following graduation as I was arriving to begin Beast Barracks. He faithfully wears his class ring, though he left the service to pursue a law degree after completing his Army commitment of five years.
I continue to have ambivalent feelings about my West Point experience and frequently wonder how my life would have been different if I had elected to attend the University of Iowa initially. Perhaps it would have been a more likely scenario if my mother had not removed the letter of declination from my bedroom mirror.
However, a lot of wonderful things were made possible by my Army experience, including having medical school training without incurring any debt, being stationed at desirable places, and completing the last six years of my Army career at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with the rank of colonel. I view those last six years as the highlight of my professional career.
One thing I know is that the West Point of today is not the West Point that I experienced. For that I am glad.
I wrote the following narrative about what West Point meant to me for a collection of reminiscences from other graduates of the Class of 1969 for publication about the upcoming 50th year graduation festivities. It was written before my retirement as a physician in April 2016. Perhaps it is the best summation I can give about my time at the United States Military Academy and a good way to end this story of my West Point years.
As I think of about how the West Point experience contributed to life afterwards, I am confronted with the fact that the 4 years at the academy constitute only 6% of my years of life. While I have always been proud that I successfully completed my four years there, it was also there that I eventually knew what I wanted to do as my life’s work.
Well before graduation, I knew that I wanted something different than a career in one of the combat arms. Although I chose the Field Artillery as my initial assignment, I entered medical school two years later and then was fortunate to serve as an officer in the Medical Corps until retirement in August 1989. My years as a medical officer in the Army were the most satisfying of my career.
During my time as a medical officer in the Army, I was in contact with former company tactical officers West Point, retired generals from World War II, retired West Point graduates and their families, and a former commander at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, MG Lewis A. Mologne, Class of 1954. General Mologne pinned on my colonel’s ensignia at my promotion ceremony in May 1986 at Walter Reed.
I have remained in the active practice of medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota since my retirement from the Army in 1989. It is my career as a physician that has defined me in my years after graduation from West Point.
Would that designation have been possible without West Point? I do not know. I believed in ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ before reporting to New Cadet training. I also believed not to ‘lie, cheat, or steal’ before entering the academy.
Do I still get goose bumps when I hear “The Corps?” Yes.
The original words to The Corps, as written in 1902 are:
THE CORPS! THE CORPS! THE CORPS!
The Corps, bareheaded, salute it, with eyes up, thanking our God.
That we of the Corps are treading, where they of the Corps have trod.
They are here in ghostly assemblage. The men of the Corps long dead.
And our hearts are standing attention, while we wait for their passing tread.
The Sons of today, we salute you. You Sons of an earlier day;
We follow, close order, behind you, where you have pointed the way;
The long gray line of us stretches, thro' the years of a century told
And the last man feels to his marrow, the grip of your far off hold.
Grip hands with us now though we see not, grip hands with us strengthen our hearts.
As the long line stiffens and straightens with the thrill that your presence imparts.
Grip hands tho' it be from the shadows. While we swear, as you did of yore.
Or living, or dying, to honor, the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.
In 2008, the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, LTG Franklin L. Hagenbeck ordered a change to the lyrics of The Corps and the Alma Mater to remove gender specific terminology. This occurred 32 years after women began being admitted to West Point.