Thursday, 18 March 2010
Plebe Parent Weekend, Class of 2013
This past weekend, the ghosts of Plebe Christmases Past congregated at West Point as parents, grandparents, miscellaneous relatives, friends and others joined the Plebe Class of 2013 for a weekend of social events and academy orientations while the remainder of the Corps of Cadets took Spring Leave. To this point it paralleled Plebe Christmases Past, when the Plebes remained at the Academy while the upper classes took leave. Except that, at the conclusion of this weekend, the Class of 2013 also took a shortened Spring Leave. Perhaps an update is in order.
In the earliest days of the Academy, candidates arrived in the summer (usually) and remained until graduation, which could be in as little as six to twelve months. Once Sylvanus Thayer organized a four-year curriculum, however, early graduation was not permitted except in time of war. Christmas then was not a major secular holiday—it was more of a religious day of observance that eventually became a children-oriented family holiday with a religious overtone before morphing into the commercial bonanza of today. The cadets enjoyed a holiday, religious services and a better meal but stayed at West Point. Later, in the summer between their second and third years, the rising second classmen were granted almost three months of leave.
Eventually, the summer leave was truncated to about a month for all, and Christmas and Spring Leaves were added—but not for the Plebes. They spent Christmas at West Point (until the Class of 1968 became the first Plebe class to be granted Christmas Leave). In the normal course, the Plebes assumed command functions and enjoyed a riotous time of dinners, dances, and other social events, like sledding and sleigh riding, with families and young ladies who came to visit, by personal invitation or through the good offices of the Cadet Hostess. When Plebe Christmas was no more, a diminished version was provided during Spring Leave until the Class of 2002 became the first Plebe class to be granted Spring Leave, and Plebe Parent Weekend came into being—although initially in the fall.
Plebe Parent Weekend for the Class of 2013 began on Friday, 12 March 2010, under gray, chilly skies with occasional sprinkles of rain that only got worse as the weekend progressed. The reception center at Ike Hall opened promptly at 8 am, and parents lined up to purchase Cadet Parkas and have “USMA 2013” patches sewn on or visit a number of tables offering souvenirs and information. Tours of the uniform factory followed, with transportation departing from the tunnel under Ike Hall. From mid-morning through noon, Quarters 100, the Superintendent’s house, was open for small group tours. By noon, morning classes were over and the upper classes departed on leave shortly thereafter, leaving Washington Hall open to the Plebes and their guests for lunch. In the early afternoon the Commandant gave his official welcome, followed by open house at the old 1st Division of Barracks, the Arvin Cadet Physical Activity Center, and the various academic departments. Dinner in the mess hall was cadets only, but many were eating elsewhere with their guests and enjoying privileges until 11:30 pm. Some attended the evening gymnastics meet against Air Force, only to see the Falcons eke out a slim victory, 330.2-340.4.
The weather Saturday was worse, with heavy winds adding to the discomfort, but these clouds had a silver lining—at least from the cadet point of view. The Plebe parade scheduled for 10:30 am on Saturday was cancelled. The parents and other guests had to be content with a tour of the impressive, new Jefferson Hall library, the Kimsey Center at Michie Stadium, and the Mess Hall. Early in the day, the Women’s Tennis team made short work of Rhode Island at the Lichtenberg Tennis Center, 6-1, in the first-ever meeting of the two teams. Once again, Washington Hall was open for lunch for Plebes and their guests. In the afternoon, the Department of Tactics held briefings and a barracks open house, while an organ recital at the Cadet Chapel and additional tours of Quarters 100 filled the remainder of the afternoon.
The major event for Saturday evening was the banquet at Washington Hall, followed by a receiving line and hop at the Eisenhower Hall Ballroom. At 9:30 pm, the Plebes were afforded privileges until 12:30 am. On Sunday, in another early morning event, Women’s Tennis easily disposed of Niagra with a 7-0 sweep. The Plebes slept in or enjoyed a Cadets-only brunch and met their parents or otherwise departed for Spring Leave at 9:30 am. Many delayed their departure long enough to attend a full slate of religious services. Thus the very short Plebe Parent Weekend came to an end, providing parents, friends and other relatives with just a hint of what West Point has to offer on a generally gray and inclement weekend brightened only by the thoughts of a week at home or on some warm, sunny beach.
And the collective ghosts of Plebe Christmases Past must have shed a ghostly tear or two as they reminisced about the good old days with multiple hops, both formal and informal, the gala meals at Washington Hall on Christmas and New Year’s Days, numerous Christmas concerts, and the grand Christmas trees at various sites. And then there were the evergreen cuttings and Christmas cards pressed into service to decorate cadet rooms that formerly had been austere, the songs and carols spilling forth from previously forbidden radios and phonograph players, and the abundance of seasonal goodies that filled the rooms where once hunger had reigned supreme. And let us not forget the Yankee winter torment visited upon the Sons of the South at Plebe Christmas time, the Southern Sweepstakes for those who never had ice skated before.
But most of all it was a time to meet classmates as well as young ladies and also enjoy the wonders of being a cadet without upperclassmen critically assessing your every move. Or catch a few hours of extra sleep, a commodity previously almost insanely rationed in a milieu in which all time was precious. Most of all, it was sitting in a relaxed manner in the Mess Hall and eating abundantly without being required to respond to the questions and taunts of upper classmen. Somehow one cannot imagine Tiny Tim emoting after this Plebe Parent Weekend, “God bless us, everyone,” but in the days of Plebe Christmases past, it was quite an appropriate comment.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire
Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to JPhoenix@wpaog.org
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Photos of West Point Visit