Thursday, 12 August 2010
March Back for the Class of 2014
While the Class of 2014 was at Camp Buckner as Beast Barracks drew to a close, a cohort of 189 graduates from the Classes of 1945 through 2008, including 29 members of the 50-Year Affiliate Class of 1964, arrived at Herbert Hall on Sunday, 8 March 2010, to register for the now-traditional graduate march back. Cadets of varying classes have completed summer training with a march back to West Point of varying types over the years (including some on horseback), but graduates were not invited to accompany them until 2000. Now this “march back” is so popular that participation has to be limited to prevent interference with new cadet training.
This year, 160 signed up for the full 11.8 mile trek from Camp Buckner while 29 opted for the two-mile final march down Washington Road. The oldest graduate was COL Dick Williams ’45, who completed his eighth full march back; the younger COL Roger Conover ’48 completed his ninth full march back. The youngest graduate, LT Andrew McKinley ’08, recently returned from Iraq, marched with his mother Teesa ’81, sister Kathryn ’11, and brother Chris ’14.
After registration was completed, the graduates and some family members boarded buses for an awards presentation and new cadet talent show at Camp Buckner. The Class of 2014 had spent several days at Camp Buckner competing in the very first “Hyde Challenge,” a test of military skills named in memory of LT Daniel Brian Hyde ’07, who was killed in action at Samarra, Iraq, on 7 March 2009. CDT CPT Brittany Fraser, commander of the second detail, described the competition as the culminating exercise of Beast Barracks and a memorial to LT Hyde and others who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. At this time, 1,311 new cadets remained of the 1,375 who had reported to West Point on 28 May 2010, with 51 losses plus 13 on medical leave.
LT Hyde’s parents and sister attended the presentation, and Mrs. Hyde spoke to the Class of 2014 about her son, who turned down offers from Navy and Air Force to be a Soldier and a leader of Soldiers. Her son had been an academic honor graduate and a cadet regimental commander. He had successfully completed airborne and Ranger schools and was leading a platoon of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, at the time of his death.
Others presentations were made for drill, marksmanship, physical fitness, best overall new cadet company and best squad. Then the talent show began with two emcees shepherding the effort. The following is just a sampling of the offerings. One original song included the lyrics, “I want to be a Firstie, on the cover of Forbes magazine.” A young fiddler played “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and three pipers added “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace.” A female flautist roused all by adding the “Army Song” to the end of her performance, and there were several dancers, including a clogger. Attempts at humor included being “Gunner” in the mess hall and ordered to cut a pie into seven and 3/8 slices and coining the slang term, “noming,” for spreading false rumors. A female singer caught the mood of many with her original lyric, “CBT won’t get the best of me, because my company is by my side,” while another struck a related chord with “Lean on Me.” One platoon did a group rendition of “Buttercup,” while the song for the finale was “The Time of Your Life,” with the refrain, “It’s something unpredictable but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.”
While buses then took family members and some marchers back to West Point, a number of intrepid marchers opted to spend the night—at least until 2:30 a.m.—in Barth Hall, named in memory of Army widow and long-time Cadet Hostess, Doris Barth. All enthusiastically assembled Army cots and enjoyed coffee and ice cream before “lights out” at 10 p.m. A quick breakfast buffet was brought into Barth Hall shortly after 2:30 on 9 August, and the buses bringing COL Williams and other marchers arrived before dawn. At 4:30 Bravo Company began the march back, and a few drops of rain fell, followed by a cool breeze. New Cadet Companies then departed every 20 minutes, about half during daylight. By the time most of the marchers reached the halfway point at Round Pond, they were soaked in sweat and care of feet and hydration became prime concerns. The temperature was climbing into the high eighties, and humidity was high. First order of business at rest stops for cadets became the refilling of CamelBaks.
By nine, the leading companies had reached the Victor Constant Ski Slope just outside Washington Gate. The new cadets were marched a short distance up the ski slope and grounded their equipment under a glaring sun. Cadet cadre exhorted their charges to check their feet, change socks and clean their weapons prior to the final two miles of the march back. Then sports drinks and power bars were distributed. Every 20 minutes another company arrived and was greeted by the Commandant, Dean, Tactical Officers, NCOs and other leaders. Grad marchers assembled at the Class of ’48 Ski Lodge for refreshments and war stories, joined there by those marching only the last two miles. After all of the new cadet companies had arrived, the grads formed up for a group photo and then marched to a position just inside Washington Gate. The new cadets then formed, the Cadet Spirit Band played, green smoke was set off, and the Class of 2014 marched through Washington Gate, past the cheering graduate marchers. Even two Army mules joined, and the road soon was lined with families from post as well as families and friends of the new cadets, wishing them well and cheering them on. Most held homemade signs of congratulations.
Finally, the new cadets reached the end of their march back, passed in review for the Superintendent, Commandant and Dean in front of Quarters 100, and began the frenzied activity known as Reorganization Week. The graduate marchers freshened up a bit at the gym and then joined family members at Eisenhower Hall for a buffet luncheon. The Superintendent congratulated them all, noted the presence of the Hyde family, and congratulated the oldest and youngest graduate marchers. The 50-Year Affiliation Class of 1964, in turn, presented him with a walking stick commemorating the march back. For the Class of 2014, however, their 47-month West Point experience was just over two months along. As Churchill said in November 1942, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to JPhoenix@wpaog.org
To sign up for Gray Matter and other electronic publications from the West Point Association of Graduates, visit www.westpointaog.org, log in as a graduate, associate member, parent, or Friend, and click on Update Your Profile. Then click on My e-Newsletters, select those you want to receive, and then click on Update. You will begin receiving any that you wish; you may delete newsletters in the same manner.