West Point
The Army's Military History

West Point, NY

August 17th, 2005


For those of you who have had the good fortune to wander the beautiful state of New York,  I would hope that you had an opportunity to sit on a high hill and look down on the meandering Hudson River. The serenity and beauty is unsurpassed in emotional calming.  This was not probably the most important thought for those Revolutionary Military Generals who decided that such a beautiful place would also be a great place to control traffic on one of the busiest waterways in colonial America.  So, with this nation in its infancy being only 2 years old, George Washington selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko to design a fort that could control the traffic on the river and could not be taken by river assault  So well was the fort constructed that in 1778 Washington transferred his  headquarters there.  By 1779 Washington had reinforced the fort with river  batteries and then dragged a heavy 150  ton chain across the river stopping all traffic.  Benedict Arnold would gain infamy by  trying to sell the floor plan of West Point to the British but would fail.  This failure would eventually place West Point into the record books as the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.  Our tour was broken into two parts:  the museum, and the Academy itself.  A placard near the front door summed it up quite clearly:  "Man has engaged in organized warfare since at least the fourth millennium B.C. Since that time there has been a war of some sort in progress almost all of the time through the present day.  Even the presence of nuclear weapons has not ended man's willingness to go to war. Unquestionably, war-making is an aspect of human nature which will continue as nations attempt forcibly to impose their will upon others."  It takes two powers to make war and often one is the aggressor and the other the defender.  After hostilities begin, these roles may switch back and forth until the more powerful of the two causes a surrender.  The study and understanding of war, what works and what does not, has been the goal of the Academy since its inception.  The lessons learned have been taught to each class thereafter. The museum is broken down into time periods that represent major changes in  the conduct of war.  It addresses many facets including weapons, tactics, military systems, and great leaders. The main part of the museum was dedicated to weapons of all sorts. One of the early examples was a model of a trebuchet.  This medieval siege engine was used to smash down masonry walls by throwing huge stones hundreds of yards, utilizing a counterweight which flung the arm up.  A sling attached by rope or chain extended the length of the throwing arm.  Fascinatingly, it became one of the earliest weapons of mass destruction when the bodies of those who had died  from the black plague were hurled over the walls of castles in hopes of infecting the inhabitants.  Another notable weapon that I found, I actually had an occasion to fire on full automatic. The Israeli UZI submachine gun was named for its principal designer Uziel Gal.  It has a barrel of only 10 inches but it seems even shorter because the bolt telescopes over the rear end of the barrel. It can fire 600, 9mm round per minute.  I had expected poor accuracy giving its wide V sights and was amazed at how close a pattern I could hold at 25 yards.  It really is a superb weapon. After completing the museum, we boarded buses for a guided tour of the campus.  We were driven to Battle Monument at Trophy Point. Here stands what is believed to be the tallest solid piece of polished granite in the Northern Hemisphere.  It stands to honor the Army's Northern Civil War dead, for which there are some 2200 names inscribed.  Trophy Point contains a section of the original chain floated across the river by Washington to prevent British advancement.  From there we traveled  to the Cadet Chapel.  This landmark, built in 1910 has served the Protestant students and faculty since conception.  A strong  religious bearing has always been a mainstay in cadet life.  The fort-like Gothic design dominates the surrounding landscape.  It houses the largest church organ in the world. Concerts are given on a regular basis throughout the year. The sanctuary Stain Glass Window behind the altar is inscribed with the motto of the Academy "Duty, Honor, Country". The grounds have many statues of those who achieved great feats during their service in the Army.  Our guide pointed out the statue of George Patton who graduated in 1909 and commanded the 7th Army during WWII.  So the story goes, that Patton who had less than a stellar academic record, often defended his position by declaring that he couldn't find the library. This became a common joke during his time at the Academy.  Because of this, his statue was placed standing with its back to the library.  And so we rounded out our tour of this most fascinating center of higher learning.  Even for those who are not into the military scene, the serenity and beauty of the grounds is worth the trip.

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