Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian Truscott IV

Fellowship Title:

West Point Careers: Pages From a Spineless Journal

Lucian Truscott IV
January 11, 1977

Fellowship Year

January 11, 1977


On The Road — We’re picking up momentum now, moving north. It’s coming up on midnight, I see by the digital clock overhead. We scooted through downtown Atlanta on 1-75 without being noticed. Chattanooga is up ahead, then Knoxville — “malfunction junction” they call it — then Cincinnati, the “Queen City.” I guess we’ll stop somewhere north of Knoxville, up in the mountains. It’ll be three or four a.m. by then, time to stop and sleep till check-out. It’s been that way for two weeks now. Behind us a dozen cities are strung out like Christmas tree lights around the edges of this trip. Yeah. That’s the image that comes to mind. We always seem to move in and out of the cities at night, and in the hot summer air, they twinkle through the windshield, each one indistinguishable from the last. I remember ending up on the wrong side of Dallas at six a.m. after 14 hours on the road, coming into Houston in a fog-scattered downpour. I remember this stuff because I’m talking into this little tape recorder, and I’m keeping a journal. I take notes. I collect things. All of it I paste in a huge album in a kind of desperate attempt to string things together, to force the whole thing to make sense. It doesn’t. Even the spine of the album is broken now, stuffed full of motel postcards and snapshots and maps and placemats and napkins, it squats on the carpet, fat, wholly American, a thing with a life of its own.

I have a chauffeur. His name is Bob, and he is a New York City cab driver by trade, and he knows how to drive. Say something into this thing, Bob. Silence. Bob Doesn’t Want To Talk. I know that he knows how to drive because, first, I tested him on the New Jersey Turnpike during rush hour, a test of wits and skill which by rights should be classified as a felony. And I know it because he has piloted me over 5,000 miles so far, from Los Angeles to San Diego to Phoenix to Albuquerque to Amarillo to Wichita Falls to Dallas to Houston to New Orleans to Mobile to Tallahassee to Tampa to Jacksonville and now we’ve passed Macon and Atlanta and I just jumped up in the passenger seat from behind the curtain which separates the driver’s compartment from the rest of the van…I should explain.

We’re in a 1976 Dodge Street Van, short wheelbase, customized expressly for the purposes of this trip. The van has $13,000 worth of paint and custom gear on it: fender flares, spoilers front and rear, sunroof, bubble windows, fog lights, Goodrich belted T/A 60 radials on mag wheels all around. In here, an ice-box, lighted and mirrored bar, mirrored ceiling, a sofa that converts into a bed (just like a home), reclining swivel seats, rust-brown carpeting and brown Naugahyde tuck and pleat upholstery, an AM/FM stereo tape-deck, a CB radio, police radar detector, tools, everything, in fact, you could ask for if you were going to drive for 10,000 miles for 40 days through 21 major metropolitan areas without taking enough time in any single city to even use the motel swimming pool.

I just noticed that we’re going 95 miles per hour. Bob likes to drive around 90-95, and it’s often hard to tell how fast we’re going. Like I’ll be in the back watching the news on TV and then Mary Tyler Moore, and maybe the first half of Baretta, and suddenly we’re stopping because we’re almost out of gas. Pushing it like this, the van is getting only 10 miles per gallon, maybe less. We tend to hang-out on the highway by ourselves. Like right now, we’re not in a convoy, the CB slang term for the little teams of cars and trucks which travel the interstate system together these days. Bob the driver is too fast for convoys, and right now, we’re in the middle of one, but we’re not in it, we’re not a part of it, understand? Bob the driver will be passing the lead vehicle, the “front door” in a mile or so. He gets around these convoys almost as fast as we pick them up on the CB. He puts the hammer down and puts it down hard and there have been times over the past few days when I have wondered about the wisdom of all this, but I have come to trust the kid. He’s a heady little bastard, and quiet, but man can he drive.

Bob the driver and I are out on 1-75 tonight in order to get me to Cincinnati on time to make a 10 a.m. appointment with a television station, one day hence, on which I will promote the book I wrote last winter about — you guessed it — custom vans. Then we will head immediately for the next town, the next TV station, the next radio show, the next bookstore appearance, the next motel, the next Stuckeys. The only thing we know for sure is happening around us is the election. We hear about it on the radio all the time, and sometimes we catch snatches of it on TV monitors in television stations during the news, just before the “van segment” is aired. We know that Carter is ahead, that Ford is trailing, but catching up. We even know there are minor party candidates in the race. We’ve seen Gus Hall, the Communist Party candidate, in city after city, on news program after news program, giving interviews. They use him for comic relief. He seems to be on the same tour we’re on.

We’re on another tour, too. As we roar in and out of this city or that, I somehow manage to find time to interview a classmate or two here and there. We have lunch together, spanning the years across formica table tops. We have a beer just before I’m supposed to make the bookstore appearance, just after the TV guys are finished with me and the van. So we sit there in a restaurant or a bar or the back seat of the van and we marvel at how far we’ve come from that day in June, not so long ago, when all of us left Michie Stadium with our hats off.

In our memories, the years are snapshots, single images which seem to sum up each mini-era we’ve been through. Marriage. Ranger school. Jump school. The first kid. Platoon leader. Vietnam. Company commander. Staff. Grad school. Resignation. The images are blurred somehow by the lingering doubt in so many minds that in a different place and time…couldn’t it all have been different? What would life have been like without the war? Might so-and-so have decided to stay in the Army if he hadn’t gotten screwed by that battalion commander in Germany? In so many pairs of eyes there is a kind of weariness, as if those eyes are sagging and tired because they’ve seen too much they didn’t want to see. And in their words there is the forlorn realization that we’re not just the victims of situations over which we had no control. In so many instances, we were the controllers, the shapers of events. And so in their faces I see time and again the bottomless pit which is at the heart of the experience of leadership: the final truth that what we were taught at West Point was right. You are responsible for everything your unit does or fails to do. You are responsible for everything you do or fail to do. Across one formica table top after another I see that everyone has changed — there is a free-floating ten to 15 extra pounds out there — and yet we’re all fundamentally the same.

So here I am out on 1-75 with this vague sense of desperation, like I’m rushing to get somewhere, to find something, and I don’t really know what it is. It’s true of the book tour. We’re always looking for TV stations at the edge of town which seemingly Aren’t there, and it’s 15 minutes until air-time, and we still have to wipe down the van, and I’ve got to change into my TV uniform and comb my hair and shave. All the TV studios are the same. All the talk-show hosts and interviewers are the same. They all look and sound like a cross between Tom Snyder and Dan Rather, with shaped hair and a double-knit suit and shaped voice and cheeks sculpted with pancake and rouge. All the goddam motel rooms are the same — they’re that terrible shade of burnt-orange, with shag rugs that are done in bright orange speckled with mauvish-brown tones, and they’ve got Maurice Utrillo Paris street scenes on the walls and color TV’s. We eat a lot of hot roast beef sandwiches out here on the road. Long experience has taught that the hot roast beef sandwich is the one foodstuff which almost (I emphasize almost) can’t be totally botched in the roadside restaurant kitchen. All the roast beef sandwiches taste the same.

I have come to suspect, over these many high-speed miles, that this trip is putting me in touch with some kind of fundamental truth about American life. We’re out here on the highway, and we’re surrounded by all this shit. It’s all around us, everywhere you turn. So far I’ve made bookstore appearances in ten huge suburban shopping malls, these massive structures which contain maybe 60 shops, two department stores, fountains, jungles of palm trees, hell, yesterday in the middle of the one in Tampa, some jerk was wrestling a bear as a promotion for a store that was opening. And the Holiday Inns and Days Inns we’ve been staying in. They remind me of the World War II barracks my platoon was in at Fort Carson. They are temporary structures, cinderblock monuments to systems analysis and the corporate wisdom which gave them birth. And we’re surrounded by television, magazines, books, and all these newscasters and local stars, people who are approaching the $100,000 mark, rewarded, it would seem, for the simple skill of staring into a teleprompter and reading. You should see the subdivisions which grow up around these shopping malls. That’s the way it works in America now, you know. First they plant a shopping mall way out there, three miles beyond the beltway around Dallas or Atlanta or wherever, and for a year it sits all by itself until finally people start moving out there to be close to it. They move into “townhouse” developments which crowd the exits of the freeways in dense clusters. They move into singles-type apartment developments which have swimming pools and centrally located Party Rooms where mixers are held every Friday so you can get a date for Saturday. A week goes by and there’s another Friday to prepare you for another Saturday. And the apartment developments and townhouse developments are immediately serviced by fast-food joints and gas stations and 7-11’s, and now the latest wrinkle, the suburban “good” restaurant which invariably features Prime Rib or steak, and has a peculiar drawing device known as the Salad Bar, which has four kinds of dressing and croutons and bacon chips and alfalfa sprouts to put on your salad, none of which, presumably, you are expected to have at home, which today is the definition of “good” when it comes to eating out. These places have names like Victoria Station, a chain of prime rib joints made from old railroad cars, and Denim Broker, another chain with the unique gimmick of mixing elegance with informality. You can wear Levis while you eat expensive Surf and Turf.

After 5 000 miles, you’re left with the disturbing notion that none of it is meant to last. Nothing endures. Tomorrow, the talk show guy in the last town will be shuttled off to Indianapolis, and six months from now, they’ll bulldoze the Days Inn we stayed at in Houston because their market research picked the wrong freeway exit, and in the space left by the bulldozed Days Inn, they’ll erect yet another monument to the skittish American imagination, a gas station which offers a free car wash with a fill-up, or a liquor store with a drive-in window. Christ, it’s amazing. Everything happens so fast, and as fast as it happens, it’s over. The couple nuzzling on the cover of next week’s People will divorce within six months. The TV star with the hot series will get busted for coke, lose the series, and commit suicide, all within two weeks. It’s almost as if we have lost control of the maturation process, the rites of passage which previously have symbolized American life. In its place, we are confronted by an onslaught of Instant Phenomena. This speeding-up of American life is bound to have its side effects, and I think I’ve put my finger on at least one of them.

Increasingly, Americans are experiencing a rebirth of the urge to belong, to be a part of something larger than the self. This has been reflected in the interviews I have done with classmates. Many of them have talked, hesitantly, of “becoming more religious.” Some are maintaining active reserve status, not for the money, to remain in touch with that big green thing called the Army. And everywhere, guys leave the Army and go to grad school and thence into the arms of American corporations almost as big as the Army. In the magazines, we read of the fringe groups like the Moonies and the Jesus freaks, and in a more middle-American vein, the “personal awareness movements” like Arica and est. An article in Harper’s called these groups the “new narcissism,” and Tom Wolfe, with his flair for the flashy catch-word, has dubbed us the “me-Generation.” In both cases, their snappy analysis of the fascination with the self which permeates all the new movements has missed the strong current of anxiety which lies just beneath the surface. The $250 you pay to go through est “training” buys not just insight and knowledge, but membership in a very tightly knit (some might say totalitarian) society.

Jesus! I just inserted my second tape cartridge, and I can see I’m in the middle of a 95 mile-per-hour diatribe, but give me just a minute and I’ll finish. Stick with me, because this bears on what I’m doing out here running around talking to all these guys.

There is a logic at work here, with these personal awareness groups and the reborn Christians. The creeping anxiety which I believe moves people to join, to feel the undeniable urge to belong, is rooted in the will to survive. People may not be sitting in their cars on the freeways actively contemplating the “townhouse development effect,” but they’re feeling it. The extent to which our lives become the extension of temporary phenomena, and the extent to which we become disaffected by one system (the current disaffection is with politics and politicians, according to the pundits) means that we need to put our faith in something else — another system, a belief, an organization, an individual who symbolizes a way of being. And so those aspects of our national life which simply survive our high-speed existence take on special meaning. I am thinking here, for example, of the gun. Gun-control is so adamantly opposed all across the country, not because we have a national love-affair with fire-arms, but because people have the feeling that one more thing is going to be taken away from them. The line has to be drawn symbolically somewhere, and why not at the gun, the most basic symbol of self-preservation, the last line of defense against the undefinable threats “out there,” away from the self, outside the walls of one’s house. So you could say that the gun has become for Americans a Great Thing, just as there are Great Books, and Great Institutions, and Great Persons. Those spaces in our national life which retain their identities against all odds become unassailable in the national consciousness.

West Point is of course such a space, thus the national fascination with the Academy, the fascination with its honor scandal now in mid-stride in the newspapers, West Point retains an aura which is unfathomable. It is the perfect American place. It is mysterious without seeming threatening, glamorous without seeming overbearing, special without seeming elitist. In a word, West Point to most Americans is sexy.

Yet over the last 5,000 miles I have come to grips with a notion which so far I’ve only hinted at in my reports to the Alicia Patterson Foundation. I hinted at it when I wrote in my first report that as Plebes we didn’t really know who the Long Gray Line was, though it hung over our heads like a flag. I hinted at it when I singled-out Thensted and Taylor as being extraordinary. What I’ve come to grips with is the idea that the great majority of West Pointers will remain in that nameless, faceless middle of the Long Gray Line, yet indeed, they are precisely the men (and soon, the women) who give it bulk, who flesh out the legend merely symbolized by the famous. Who are these West Pointers? Nobody knows. I mean nobody outside us knows. When I finally get around to transcribing this tape and writing a foundation newsletter, I’ll have to introduce you to a couple of guys who form the bulk of the Line. But for now, I love to tell stories, so I’ll tell you this one, then I’m going to shut this damn recorder off and take over driving from Bob for awhile a give him a rest.

Dallas. Nick Stafford walking across the lobby of a big bank building downtown, coming through the glass doors of his office at Merrill Lynch; he could have been walking out of the orderly room ten years ago. Stocky, handsome, he’s married to Linda, the same girl (now woman) he was going with all through school, she having just given birth to their fourth child. Christ, Nick, you remember Schilling? You remember back when you guys who lived across the area from the rest of the company had to poop-up Schilling every night in the sinks, you and Vaught and Wright and Shea and everybody? Of course you do. You remember it all just like I do, just like we all do in our quiet moments. Forget that you’ve gained ten civilian pounds, bulging your vest just slightly. Forget that my hands are shaking as I reach for my chicken salad sandwich because I’ve run myself ragged for the past ten days. Forget that seven years have passed and just be Nick Stafford for me again, be the Nick Stafford I remember, just for a moment. He’s sitting across from me, and Stafford is thinking about the 14 phone calls he’s got to make when we’re finished with lunch, and I’m sitting there thinking that we’ve got to make Houston by 8 p.m. for a radio show, and it’s raining sheets between here and there, the road is flooded, the rest of the day is going to be hellish. But ssshhh. Just for a minute. Be Nick again.

And so he is, as if by magic. Stafford was one of those guys who was popular, who sort of glowed; but you could count on him because he never got heady, it seemed like power didn’t turn him on. He was a nice guy — there were dozens of nice guys, of course — but he was gentle, too, he had a real compassionate side to him that many guys didn’t. So Stafford is sitting there, telling me of a classmate who was in our company who got “riffed,” eliminated from the service as part of a reduction in force. This guy showed up in Dallas with a wife and kids and nothing going for him, and his first act was to look up Nick Stafford. When we were cadets, none of us liked the guy. He was a loser. When roommate changes came around, nobody signed up for him, and someone had to be assigned. He was the kind of guy who spent his mid-periods in the hostess’ office, sipping coffee and playing bridge instead of getting some rack. Playing cards instead of sleeping!

So he shows up in Dallas, and he’s flapping around and he can’t get a job, and he’s leaning on Stafford for grad connections, of which Stafford has few because he’s new to town himself. But Stafford helps him out all he can, and eventually the guy falls into a decent job with a construction firm, and Nick hasn’t seen much of him since. Nothing big here, except for the fact that Stafford would even bother to dredge up the name and the memories so many years later. Guilt? A bit. None of us treated the guy right. We were mean to him. Some guys used to go out of their way to make his life miserable in fact. But we weren’t responsible for the fact that the guy was a loser ten years ago, just as Nick Stafford wasn’t responsible for helping him get his life together ten years later. But he did what he could to help the guy, made phone calls and asked around, and eventually everything worked out.

End of story. Now I’m going to turn this damn machine off and do some driving. We’re headed north, and I feel the urge to take the wheel.

The preceding is transcribed pretty much verbatim (with changes for grammatical continuity and ease of reading) from tapes I made on the road one night last Fall. The pics are pages from the spineless journal. Listening to those tapes now, I see they reflect one of my obsessions: The Military Academy, in its savage drive for excellence, leaves in its wake a kind of victim. I qualify “victim” because in my research I have heard of only two classmates whose stories could accurately, without exaggeration, be described as tragic. The men I’m thinking of have a certain self-doubt which stems from their cadet experience and sticks with them in spite of later experiences, even successes in life. This is a side-effect of the system I have described previously as forming an elite corps within the corps. The entire cadet experience is involved here, but basically the aptitude system is the device by which cadets who play the game well are rewarded by their peers, superiors, and the officers who administer the tactical department.

I suspect that the phenomenon I describe as a side-effect of this system is not really a side-effect at all. It is rather an integral part of the way the Academy is set up and administered. After all, not all of those who graduate from West Point can become generals. It is a numerical and public relations impossibility. Thus the Academy, at the same time it produces its MacArthurs and Pattons and Pershings, must also produce the hamburger of the officer corps, those men who can be counted on to be good commanders up to brigade level, good staff officers, in essence, more comfortable transmitting orders than generating them.

The men I’m describing here are not uniformly middle-of-the-roaders. Some of them, in fact, are enjoying excellent Army careers, or good jobs in civilian life. But conversations with them reveal a lack of identity, a formless self-image that is rooted in a latent conviction, sometimes not expressed in so many words, that as cadets, they were nobodies. This is difficult for me to explain, for on the surface, it simply doesn’t make sense that a grown man would still suffer from the seemingly tiny wounds which might have been inflicted on his personality so many years ago. But you must understand, once again, that we’re not talking here about a college, or a fraternity, but rather about a way of life. We’re not talking about an administrative system as much as we’re talking about a system of belief. We’re not talking about a way of thinking, but a way of being.

All of this presupposes the outrageous assumption that West Point, as an institution, has a power over the lives of men that may not exist anywhere else. In truth, there are two schools of thought on this matter. The first holds that four years at West Point can change a person’s life. The second holds that graduates are essentially the same men on graduation day as they were when they entered. Interestingly, proponents of both schools of thought point to the Academy selection system to support their arguments. In essence, both groups hold that the selection process results in a narrowly defined corps of cadets academically, physically, and one supposes, mentally, which is to say in personality traits.

For many years, I was a believer of the second school. As I reflected back over my experience as a cadet, and over the experiences of those with whom I was most close, I concluded that four years of West Point hadn’t really changed us much. I was a heady little bastard the day I entered, and I was a heady little bastard the day I left. West Point didn’t do much to change that. The same sort of thing was true in one way or another of my best friends. But as I have traveled around interviewing classmates, I have discovered that I was too quick to draw a conclusion from too little evidence. My notion today is that West Point significantly altered the lives of some of its graduates. There is a flip-side to the American Dream as represented by the United States Military Academy. For every nobody who became a somebody, for every cadet who discovered himself, there was another cadet who lost a piece of himself at West Point. Even today we have classmates who are walking around out there looking for that little piece they lost when they were cadets.

Enough of my rambling now. We’re going to hear from two West Pointers who are still in the Army. Both of them are captains. Both have had standard career patterns, on-time promotions, platoon commands, company commands, staff time, duty in Vietnam. Both are married, both have kids. They graduated within 32 slots of each other in the pecking order of the class, both of them right near the bottom of the top third. Both are from Michigan. But you’ve heard enough from me. Now listen to them:

You Probably Don’t Remember Me, But…


This is what the “Howitzer,” the class yearbook, has to say about Leonard Roy Hawley, company D-1, from Traverse City, Michigan:

“Although ‘Hawls’ never set any pool records on the slippery slopes of ski team strife, he holds the casualty record for roommates, seven missing in action. Known colloquially as ‘the counselor,’ Len has amazing maturity. His dosages of ‘horse-sense’ solved many a headache, with the exception of his own. If ‘Hawls’ had talked the Treasurer into TDY, 6 cents a mile, for all his weekends at the University of Michigan, he could have done anything in the world (he’d have enough money for it too).”

“Ski Team 4, 3, 2, 1”

This is what Len Hawley, currently a Masters student in the Department of Industrial and operations Engineering at the University of Michigan, has to say about himself:

“I guess if West Point did one thing for me, it made me more religious. I was never very religious in an institutional sense, but I remember when I was a Plebe, one morning at Chapel. Chaplain Ford said that a Plebe had told him that everything had been taken from him by West Point, but they couldn’t take his religion. I went back to my room, and I opened up the Bible and read Hebrews eleven. I just didn’t think I was going to make it, but somehow, reading that passage in the Bible, I was strengthened, and I made up my mind I was going to make it through.

“The second effect West Point had on me came about in sophomore and junior years. I gained a compassion for people which I didn’t have before, and I think it was because I lost seven roommates in four years. It got around the company that if you’ve got Hawley for a roommate, you’re as good as out. Anyway if could happen it did. They got kicked out on aptitude, academics, physical education, honor, and for going over in demerits. Finally, senior year I ended up with Steve Brown, and he resigned a week before graduation. It was like fate. Losing roommates made me have an attitude that I would help them improve, and I tried every way I could. Then Steve Brown just up and resigned, and I could hardly believe it.”

“In the final analysis, West Point did nothing to build my confidence in myself. The Academy taught me I should be a good officer, but it never gave me encouragement that I could actually do it. There I was, the day we entered West Point: I was governor of my high school, and vice president of the senior class and quarterback on the football team, an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts. I was everything anybody could be, a hometown hero. Then West Point simply undercut my own estimation of myself. I never held any significant positions in the chain of command as a cadet. I guess I figured I was a jinx, losing roommates, never really doing anything at West Point that amounted to anything.”

“But when I graduated, I felt I had a concept of excellence, simply because I was a grad. That’s the only source of confidence I had — the fact that I had graduated from West Point. Other than that, I had no reason to believe I could actually do anything. Nine months after graduation day, I was a battalion S-3 (operations officer) in an Armor battalion in Germany, running the whole battalion through an ORT, the Operational Readiness Training Test, probably the toughest test a unit must go through. And we made it. I couldn’t believe it. Still, it took a year and a half after graduation, until I was a company commander in that Armor unit, for me to realize the simple fact that I was a competent guy.”

“I guess one of the best things that ever happened to me happened at Fort Riley, five years after we had graduated. I was a battalion S-4, and the battalion executive officer was a classmate of my tactical officer at West Point. So one day the tac showed up at Riley to visit his old friend, and he asked, ‘How’s Hawley doing?’ like he couldn’t actually believe I’d be worth a damn. And the XO says, ‘He’s top drawer.’ It was probably the most satisfying moment in my career, the knowledge that I had shown up the tac’s attitude about me.”

“Right now, everybody here at Michigan is asking me about the honor scandal. There’s really a lot of interest in it, and it’s made me think about the honor system. The honor system made me more honest, if only with myself. But if I could have changed one thing in my experience as a cadet, it would have been the honor system. We should have been required to sit on honor boards as jury members. The system the way it was constituted was elitist. They should have democratized the system, and if they had, it would have given us experience we could have used the first time we were required as officers to sit on courts martial.”

“So next year I’ll be an instructor at West Point. It’s really kind of amazing, thinking about going back there. I haven’t given much thought to resignation. I guess every time I run into a guy who makes me want to resign, I think to myself: That guy isn’t good enough to push me out of the Army. I figure as long as I can do my job and do it well, as long as I can make that place I am better because I’m there — the best I can possibly make it — I’m satisfied.”

Len Hawley wrote me a letter when he read in the class notes in the Assembly (the West Point alumni magazine) that I was doing this class study. He volunteered any assistance he could give, and when I showed up in Ann Arbor to talk with him and Bill Taylor (fourth regiment), almost the first words out of his mouth were, “You probably don’t remember me, but…” It’s an introductory clause I have heard from classmate after classmate as I have conducted interviews, and those words have come to symbolize for me the experience of guys like Hawley, and their own attitudes about themselves. They also were the first words spoken to me by…

Jerry Ford’s Cadet


This is what the “Howitzer” has to say about Daniel Hugh Sharphorn, company D-2, from Grand Rapids, Michigan:

“Exuberance just begins to describe the gangling young man from Western Michigan. Dan refuses to let the strictness of West Point change his happy-go-lucky manner. He has an innate ability to wear the happiest smile you will ever see, even when the going is tough. Throughout his four years as a cadet, Dan has acquired a strong liking from everyone who has known him. His unforgettable personality will help capture his many desires.

KDET 4; Track 3; Cross Country 2; Rocket Society 2, 1; Math Forum 2, 1.”

This is what Dan Sharphorn, currently a lawyer (graduate of University of Michigan Law School) and instructor in the Department of Law at West Point, has to say about himself:

“I was appointed to West Point by Jerry Ford. It was a competitive appointment, and I won it by scoring high on the Civil Service exam, which is what Congressmen use to choose their appointments. My first choice was the Naval Academy. My dad had been in the Navy during World War II. He never went to college. He was a time-study engineer for National Lead Inc., an outfit in Grand Rapids that made car parts. Every place made car parts in Grand Rapids.”

“I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood. I was third in my high school class, behind two girls. You remember: girls were supposed to be smarter. I was vice president of the student body and a member of the National Honor Society. I was the first kid from that school to go to West Point. It was more than a big deal. It was history. Out of my class of 130, only 13 ended up going to college.”

“I never fit in at my high school. When I really think about it, I’ve never really fit in with any peer group. Anyway, my neighborhood was a factory community. Macho and physical ability made you what you were. I was really uncoordinated, too tall and skinny, but I was smart, so my way of coping was to study hard, and my way of achieving recognition was by going to West Point. But in high school, I really wanted to make the basketball team and the football team, but I never did. I’ve always striven for acceptance in whatever group I’ve been in, but I’ve never made it the conventional way.

“I had the flu when we were supposed to take the physical exam to qualify for West Point, so in May of 1965, I went to West Point for the make-up exam, and there were all the Firsties in their Corvettes with girls in the passenger seat, driving around, and everything was green and bright, just incredible. I had this vision on the train going back to Grand Rapids that if I could get to be a Firstie with a Corvette, that was it. I could die, not live another day, and it wouldn’t matter.”

“I was in company A-2 Plebe year. The Firsties ran the company, and you hardly ever saw the tac, but he was a presence nevertheless.”

“Tacs really had a strong effect on me. I kept expecting, for four years, to find a tac I could really look up to and believe in completely, but I never found one. It’s really amazing that every year there were 32 of them there, and I never saw a good one. Anyway, Plebe year I just coasted on academics. Three of us lived across from the orderly room, and we were the guys everyone went to when they needed a pencil or anything. I did my share of time on the area, but we never really got in any trouble.”

“Camp Buckner (summer training after Plebe year) I really enjoyed. I liked mucking it over the hills, all the gung-ho stuff. Back then, I didn’t associate it with killing.”

“Yearling year, everything fell apart. My roommates and I just raised hell. Our idea of a good time was throwing wet toilet paper out the window on passers-by. I was practically flunking in every subject, and eventually, my roommate did flunk out. Second semester, after that happened, I decided I’d show, them. I got on the Dean’s List, and I went the whole semester without one demerit. Everything seemed to go better.”

“Then Cow year I was transferred to company D-2, and as I went down the new company roster, it seemed like every guy who went to D-2 was somebody the A-2 tac didn’t like, and I was one of them. I stayed on the Dean’s List. I guess I was trying to prove something to myself and to everybody else. I was trying to vindicate the roommate they kicked out, show them he could have made it. By then, my body had caught up with me. When I started West Point I was six feet, one inch and 131 pounds, technically, I was under the standard. But that year I broke the brigade record for the intramural half-mile, and the track coach came to me and asked me to go out for track. I made the team, but little injuries kept me from making first string.”

“But things just seemed to fall into place that year. I was a squad leader for two details and then I went on Army Orientation Training to Fort Ord in California. I wanted to see the state, so I bought a 1961 Rambler. It burned about a quart of oil every 100 miles, but it ran. We had a lot of good times. I had 220 guys in an Advanced Individual Training unit going straight to Vietnam. We used to go down to the beach at Carmel with the NCO’s and get drunk on cheap wine. I believed in the West Point ethic that you did everything you required your troops to do, so when we went on forced marches, I was the only officer to wear full field gear. When they ran up the hills, so did I. AOT was really a good experience.”

“When I was at home on leave, I got a telegram ordering me back to West Point early to be assistant brigade S-4. That was a real surprise. I liked every guy on that brigade staff, with one exception. We used to all pile into my illegal Rambler and roar off to Snuffy’s to drink on Saturdays. Then at the end of the detail came the return to the old company and a new tac, whom I had never even met. I asked to be Athletic Sergeant, and right away I got in trouble. I got a note from the tac telling me to assign certain guys to this and that team, so I sent him a note back, quoting General Rogers’ ‘the cadets run the corps’ line, and I proceeded to put the people I wanted where I wanted them. I was among the last four guys to get invited up to his house for the obligatory ‘supper at the tac’s,’ and when I finally went up there, he never said a word to me.”

“On the Monday before June Week began, they had that haircut inspection, and everybody was uptight that we were going to be made to get white sidewalls just before our girlfriends and families arrived. Well, the tac just walked through the company and didn’t say a thing. Then he handed a slip of paper to the company commander, and there were four names on it, the four who had been the last to visit his house. So we got haircuts and went to his office to be inspected, and he sent another guy and me back to get another haircut. We went up to his office again to be inspected, and he sent me back to get yet another haircut. It was incredible. I mean, he really had it out for me, all because of that Athletic Sergeant business. But we got our revenge on him. There were several guys with fathers who were in the Army, and we all got together and arranged it so on graduation day, he didn’t swear-in one Firstie in the company. You know something? I sort of felt sorry for him standing there alone while all around him these officers he didn’t even know gave the oath to his company.”

“When it came time for branch choice, I was high enough in the class, so I went Air Defense Artillery, but I volunteered for Airborne and Ranger schools, which were not mandatory for us. (They were mandatory for the other branches). Then I spent my two months leave driving around the country, being cool in my Corvette. After one week eating sawdust in Airborne school, I figured this is bullshit, so I finished jump school, and de-volunteered for Ranger. Four of us did it, and it caused a big flap. Jack Gafford (Regimental commander, Third Regiment) was one of us. I roomed with him at the ADA basic course.”

“Apparently, they weren’t getting enough guys from ADA volunteering for duty in Vietnam, so one day, this major from the Department of the Army arrived at the Basic course begging us to volunteer for Vietnam. At that time, we were guaranteed a year of stateside duty if we wanted it, and I was scheduled to go to Detroit and sit on an ADA site in a desk job. The first night the major was down at the school, I went out and got drunk and smashed up my Corvette something awful. It was the second time I had been in an accident, and both times, I was drunk. I was really depressed. I couldn’t make up my mind about anything. Nothing seemed to make sense. When I look back on it, I realize now that when I picked ADA, I was already telling the Army to get fucked. But the night before branch drawing, I put my fist through the window in my room. I was torn between hating it and loving it, and the pisser was: I never even considered resigning from West Point.”

“My parents were always proud to say they never forced me to go to West Point, but when I came home they’d say things like: ‘Wear your uniform to the restaurant tonight so your aunt will be proud of you.’ You know something? I’ve still got my West Point lock-box at home full of 25 college catalogs. But they were pipe dreams. I never did anything. I never acted. I was completely screwed up and didn’t even know it. I still had this image of myself as the valiant warrior, but another part of me already wanted to go to law school and say fuck-it to the image. I just couldn’t figure anything out. All I was doing was drinking too much and roaring around in my Corvette. It was like going in circles.”

“I was lying in bed the night I smashed up the Corvette the second time, and the next day I went to the major from the DA and said that I’d volunteer for Vietnam. I had nothing else to do. I just wanted to break the pattern I’d gotten myself into. I figured Vietnam couldn’t be much worse than roaring around in my Corvette and hating myself for it. I asked to go to the Psychological Operations school first, and become the first company grade officer to attend the school. So I was still in this pattern that was outside the class pattern. When I got out of Ranger school, I ended up in the basic course with ROTC guys and then ended up in the Psyops school by myself. I had this incredible need to be accepted by the other guys, but it seemed like everything I did took me away from the conventional class experience.”

“That was the way I started drinking. I never drank a drop before Yearling year, and then I started, because all the other guys were doing it. I got into it heavily Firstie year. I guess drinking was my first real self-image. It was the one thing I could do well.”

“Anyway, after that night during the basic course when I wrecked my Corvette I just asked myself: What am I doing with my life? I had gone over 100-miles-per-hour that night and didn’t see the caution signs that the freeway was ending, then suddenly there they were, and I went up a 25 mile-per-hour exit ramp sideways at 100 miles-per-hour, bouncing off the guard rail. You should have seen that Corvette. It looked like a toy some angry kid had beaten against the sidewalk until it shattered. My life was in pretty much the same shape, and I was the one who was beating it on the sidewalk. One thing I learned in the Army. They talk all the time about how much responsibility you have, but really, you don’t have any at all. There’s a rule for everything, and all you have to do is follow them. The guy down at Joe’s Pizza has more responsibility. I guess the only thing you’re really responsible for is your own life.”

“So I went to Vietnam. For the first two months, I was deputy chief of propaganda at Nha Trang, working with the Vietnamese, then I was made battalion adjutant of the 8th Psyops battalion, which was an American unit connected to the Vietnamese. We did the poster printing for the Phoenix program, which became known as the Phuong Huong program. Essentially, it was a “wanted dead or alive” assault on the VC. One poster we printed stands out in my mind. It was a poster for a 16 year old girl. There was a photograph of her, and all the data: last seen; name; known to hang around such and such a hamlet. We didn’t provide the intelligence, I didn’t even know where it came from. All we did was the printing of the posters and leaflets.”

“The battalion commander I had at first was so corrupt. He worked out a deal so that he went on all the mail runs to 12 little villages, and then he’d put himself in for 12 combat missions. I confronted him one day, and he chewed me out, telling me he wanted a combat command and didn’t get it, and he was going to get a Legion of Merit and all the Air Medals he could get, one way or another. He used to stop the presses to print the invitations to parties he gave for colonels and generals from Saigon, anybody senior to him. Finally he threw his own going away party, and used illegal funds to buy lobsters and booze for this huge party, and then he didn’t even invite his own company commanders.”

“I did a lot of crazy, drunk stuff over there. I lived off the base camp for six months, which was totally illegal. I didn’t know what I was doing over there, or why. I’d go out with our Psyops teams and see such incredible stuff. There was a huge garbage dump outside Pleiku, and the Vietnamese just built huts right on top of the garbage the Army threw away. The garbage was sitting there rotting, and they lived on it and picked their way through it to eat.”

“When I came back I was made deputy chief of officer management at Fort Bliss. The best thing I ever did there was to retire a warrant officer. He was within a week of retiring, and they had lost his records. He couldn’t get VA benefits, couldn’t get a VA loan on the house he was going to buy or anything. So one day before he was supposed to close the deal on his house, his battalion commander called me up and asked me to see what I could do for the guy. So I called the Department of the Army and they had his orders and said they’d mail them that day, but it was too late. So I called DA back and told them to give me all the data over the phone. Then I went down to the records division and told this civil servant to write him a set of orders. She went into this whole thing about how that could only be done at DA. So I waited until she went for lunch, then I went back there and picked up a set of retirement orders she had sitting on her desk, white-taped everything out and typed in all the warrant officer’s data, had them printed up, and he was on his way. It was little things like that, just the little things that really counted, that I could be proud of.

“At West Point I could never really get ‘inside.’ I was always scrambling, but I never really made it with the guys I wanted recognition from. Every once in a while I’d get invited to a ‘cool’ party, and I’d think I had it made, and then next week, I wouldn’t get invited, and all the scrambling would have been for nothing. The same thing happened at law school. I started running around with these guys who had been jocks in college, drinking and raising hell. But I still didn’t quite fit in. I couldn’t identify with their economic aims. They were having nervous breakdowns over who was highest in the class, who would make the most money to start. I simply didn’t buy the whole money objective. I had learned my lesson at West Point with my gold Corvette, being a Firstie and driving around like I owned the world. It just didn’t make it, and neither was going off to Wall Street and hoping that in a few years you’d be earning $50,000 and living on the East Side.”

“So I was looking again for something to break me out of the pattern. By that time I was married, and second semester of my second year, all during the summer, and first semester of my third year my wife and I lived in a state home in Ann Arbor, and we had three disturbed teenagers living with us — two 13 year olds, and one 15 year old. I really got into those kids, but I also learned my own limitations. Like I couldn’t get involved on the case-worker level, because you have to be able to separate yourself emotionally from the case, and I’m just not capable of that. I would much rather have been involved in formulating policy for the entire program. I have a psychological need to feel that I’m helping people in an active way. But I still didn’t have a grasp of who I was. When I left law school, I went to work in patent law in the Pentagon. While I was there, I began corresponding with a professor of social work at Michigan, and he encouraged me to come back and get a degree in social welfare policy. He understood me and had a better feel for my life than I did.”

“I was faced with three more years in the Army, so I put in to come up to West Point and teach. I started teaching the class of 1977 in the fall of 1975, and I was the principal action officer on the admission of women, which is a whole other story. Anyway, right after spring break this year, we were in class one day, and a cadet raised his hand and asked, ‘Sir, do you really think they’ll kick out 117 guys?’ (which was the number they were investigating at the time). I said, damn straight. If it could happen at Orange County Community College, it ought to happen at West Point. I gave them a whole lecture. I was really a believer. It was about two days later that they made me a defense counsel.”

“Originally, the department of Electrical Engineering pumped out 117 names of cadets they thought might be implicated, and they went through the cadet honor subcommittees and full honor boards, and it boiled down to 48 guys who requested officer boards. So ten lawyers were assigned about five cadets each. As things began to develop, we made certain crucial decisions. At first we were making group decisions. But as the heat began to rise, certain defense counsels dropped by the wayside, and I found myself making decisions by myself, and relying on my own judgment. It was getting on towards late April, and we had been talking to our cadets day after day, and they kept telling us that all these other cadets were involved. We told them if that was so, get us some proof, and they sent in other cadets, some of whom openly admitted their guilt as honor violators, and others who simply corroborated other witnesses’ stories. We started to see the outlines of what was going on. It was big. Then we asked them to make sworn statements, which they did. Then all ten attorneys go together, and we passed around a class of 1977 drill roll (class roster) and each attorney put a check mark next to the name of anybody who had been implicated in his affidavits. We came up with about 300 names, and this was only six defense counsels with 30 cadet clients participating. The heat was too hot for the other four.”

“In addition, we were getting information on the class of 1976, and we realized that they were to blame for much of what we had before us. For example, the class of 1976 went zero for 20 in finding their own classmates guilty of honor violations during that year, and their findings for the other three classes were just the reverse. The defense counsels involved the heaviest were Arthur Lincoln, class of 1966, Burk Bishop, class of 1967, and me. We decided we had to do something, so one day we sat down and drafted the May 3 letter to Secretary of the Army Hoffman. In essence, we told him that we had reason to believe there were between 300 and 600 violators, and that prosecuting the original 48 would serve no purpose and that they should shut things down and call in an impartial investigation to determine the scope of the problem. If 40% of a class was cheating, then there was something wrong with the institution as well as the cadets.”

“We were sure six or seven of the attorneys would sign it. The amazing thing that happened was that three young captains balked. One of them was genuinely conservative, and we argued with him and convinced him to sign it on the evidence. But the other two…they were the kind of guys who sit around and bitch about the Army, and when the heat turned on, suddenly they weren’t bitching anymore. They were thinking about their careers. One of them signed the letter. Then we went to the major who was a defense counsel. He was a pretty conservative career guy, but he read the letter, consulted with his clients, and he signed right away. That left the one captain, only one out of the ten of us, who hadn’t signed. Four of us went into his office and put pressure on him, and he signed. It was done. The May 3 letter to Hoffman. We lit the match that touched-off the whole thing.”

“What a feeling! I had been sitting around there doing nothing, and against my wishes, they had made me a defense counsel. I had been doing what I’ve done all my life: avoiding the central issue. Finally, it was all right there before me on my desk. There was a huge scandal, and nothing was being done. It was now or never. The day we got the last signature on that letter was the first time in my life I felt like I had stood up and done something.”

“The honor scandal has taught me that there are intelligent people floating around out there with the same feelings I have. For the longest time, I’ve thought it was just me who couldn’t get along, who never felt comfortable with my life. Now I realize there are plenty of people just like me. And now I feel more secure in my own opinions, but still things nag at me. Like right now I’m reading this book called Unequal Justice: Lawyers and Social Change in America by Jerold S. Auerbach. Right in the preface, he says something I really identify with. Let me read it to you: He says, ‘It was a relief…that I was learning how to think. The experience was paradoxical: the more I learned how to think like a lawyer, the less I wanted to become one.’”

Jerry Ford’s cadet closed the book and stood up to pry one of his children loose from a stereo speaker. It was cold and gray outside, and it had just begun to snow. All the cadets were home on leave, and Dan Sharphorn was about to spend Christmas at West Point.

Received in New York on January 11, 1977

©1976 Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a freelance writer and author, is an Alicia Patterson Foundation award winner. His fellowship subject is West Point Men: Attitudes and Experiences of the Class of 1969. This article may be published with credit to Mr. Truscott as a Fellow of the Alicia Patterson Foundation. The views expressed by the author in this newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Foundation.