Thursday, 17 May 2007
The Inaugural Pershing Writing Award
This Saturday, 12 May 2007, marks the 45th Anniversary of the presentation of the Thayer Award to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur ’03 and his legendary Duty, Honor, Country acceptance speech, and several graduates have shared their memories of that day. Perhaps the most significant recollection is of the absolute silence of the Corps and other attendees during the speech. Larry Waters ’62 added that he had never seen the Corps standing so tall on The Plain as when the general trooped the line during the review that preceded the speech. Dennis Bennett ’62 noted that “you could hear a pin drop” until a man began taking photographs using a camera with a noisy shutter. A general officer sitting nearby reached over to the man, gently touched his hand, and put a finger up to his lips to indicate silence was requested. All this was done without taking his eyes off GEN MacArthur for more than a few seconds. Bob Mecada ’62 also recalled the silence during the speech but added that the mess hall was silent for at least 15-20 seconds afterwards as well, the effect of the speech was that dramatic. Then the attendees began to applaud. Pat Canary notes that when Jim Ellis ’62 dismissed the Corps, the silence resumed as the cadets left the mess hall and returned to the barracks. Many seemed to appreciate the fact that the speech was GEN MacArthur’s farewell to West Point.
In earlier versions of Bugle Notes, there appeared these words from GEN “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force of World War I:
“What the Academy stands for has always been my guide throughout my military career, and to have approached the high ideals of duty, honor, and service to the country that are the real spirit of West Point, has to me a meaning that nothing else has. The longer I live, the further I have gone on in the Service, the more I reverence the things that inspire the heart and soul of young men at West Point.
I can only add that West Point has again, in this war, demonstrated its usefulness and justified itself a hundred times over, in furnishing to this great American Army in Europe the splendid men who have served here in the old West Point spirit.”
Several years ago, LTG (Ret.) John H. Cushman ’44 questioned why these words no longer appear in Bugle Notes and decided to do something to bring Pershing’s opinion back into the cadet experience. He formulated a plan for a writing contest based upon the quotation and secured adequate private donations to launch it. The plan was submitted to the Commandant and adopted by the SimonCenter for the Professional Military Ethic as an in-class writing assignment. On 4 May 2007, the first award recipients were announced for the John J. Pershing Writing Award at a luncheon in the Black, Gold, and Gray Room of Washington Hall.
In all, 32 cadets from the Class of 2007, one from each cadet company, received a bronze Pershing medallion for writing the best essay on “the real spirit of West Point.” Then, from among these medalists, a silver Pershing medallion was awarded to the cadet writing the best essay in each of the four regiments. Finally, from the four silver medalists, a gold Pershing medallion was presented to CDT Joshua Swartsel, Company E-1, for having the best essay in Corps of Cadets. Other regimental winners were: Chaz Allen, Company D-2; CDT Heather Cobb, Company A-3; and CDT Brandon Cox, Company C-4.
LTG Cushman and the Commandant, BG Robert L. Caslen, made appropriate remarks, and COL Douglas A. Boone, director of the SimonCenter, made the presentations. Mrs. Jelks H. Cabaniss, Jr., widow of COL Cabaniss ’44 and a contributor to the endowment for the writing competiton, also attended. Her late husband was on the brigade staff with LTG Cushman as a cadet and was an enthusiastic supporter of the writing competition. Another contributor has family ties to GEN Pershing. She is Mrs. John W. Pershing, the widow of COL (Ret.) John W. Pershing. Her husband was one of two sons of Warren Pershing, the only child of GEN Pershing to survive the fire at the Presidio of San Francisco that took the lives of Mrs. John J. Pershing and their three daughters while her husband commanded the 1916 Punitive Expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Her brother-in-law, LT Richard W. Pershing, a Yale and OCS graduate, was killed in Viet Nam while serving as a platoon leader in A Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. LTG Cushman was his brigade commander at the time and instrumental in awarding a belated and posthumous Bronze Star for valor to LT Pershing. Mrs. John W. Pershing accepted the award.
Here is the winning entry for the inaugural Pershing Writing Award of 2007:
The Real Spirit of West Point
By CDT Joshua Swartsel ‘07
While the word “transformation” often gets a sideways glance as one of those terms that is applied to everything in the Defense community these days, around West Point, the word transformation is an individual experience; unique to each cadet [who] completes the 47-month experience. While each candidate is selected on the basis of their potential to embody the ideals of Duty, Honor, Country, our experiences with these concepts remains limited at best. West Point represents the environment of transformation by which these abstract notions are made real to us in a manner that will resonate throughout [our] lives.
To me, West Point is about stepping outside a zone of comfort and ease. In an address to the Corps in 1848, General Smith told the cadets assembled that because they had undergone this process of transformation, “You no longer have the privilege of common citizens to live and die obscurely.” I believe at the heart of his remarks is the idea that, as cadets and future officers, it is our obligation to make a difference in the lives of those we interact with on a daily basis.
The Academy has taught me that service to the nation is not a discrete event, but a way of life. This is but a small part of the transformational process that is a West Point education. A combat zone deployment, a humanitarian relief mission, a domestic disaster response are just a few of the tasks that we will face outside of our traditional level of comfort. Our time within these rockbound Highland walls is not a course in pre-defined solutions. West Point does not teach what to think, but rather how to think. This creative freedom in problem solving is embedded within the core ideals of duty, honor, and country. Guided by these principles, empowered by our individual flexibility within the leadership roles we are asked to undertake, and driven by a desire to seek a lifetime of service to the nation, the young officers that West Point produces can become agents of positive change in whatever environment they find themselves.
In a world of non-traditional threats and asymmetric enemies, the bugle has sounded. We have heard its call before, during our younger high school days as it called us to put our personal yearnings behind the greater good of the nation. As Graduation quickly approaches, we hear the bugle’s call again. The Class of 2007 is now called to take the sum of our experiences here out into the Army, and infuse the soldiers we lead with the same spirit of transforming for positive change.
My West Point experience has been a process of daily transformation, and I have gradually come to understand that this process does not end on 26 May 2007. Real leadership is about how you comport yourself when faced with the day to day challenges of a life of service. As these challenges are not static, satisfaction in our personal status quo simply evidences a commitment to failure. West Point is about meeting these challenges, guided by a more complete understanding of those three hallowed words, duty, honor, country.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire
Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to mailto:JPhoenix@wpaog.org