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Chapter 13

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
West Point

Elizabeth D. J. Waugh

published by
The Macmillan Company,
New York, 1944

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 15
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p190  Chapter XIV
Becoming and Remaining a Cadet

The information in this chapter was valid when the book was published in 1944; but it is now outdated, and you should not rely on it for the requirements and procedures for admission to West Point: instead, see West Point Admissions on the website of the Academy, with complete, authoritative, official information.

Prior to 1941 it was estimated that about ten thousand young Americans hoped to enter West Point. Though the classes are larger in wartime, the number admitted as cadets each year was for many years somewhat less than six hundred. Only two thousand obtained appointments and of this two thousand only the abler six hundred met the entrance requirements. Of the six hundred not more than about four hundred and seventy-five cadets were graduated from U. S. M. A.

The reasons for this high degree of selectivity begin with the obvious fact that, until the construction of Stewart Field and the changes and enlargements due to the second World War, U. S. M. A. was equipped to handle physically to handle classes not larger than six hundred. The difficulty of obtaining an appointment accounts, as we see, for about eight thousand disappointments, and the various requirements, physical and mental, for the rest.

If you are one of the young men who feel that you would like to enter U. S. M. A., the first step is to write the Adjutant General of the Army and ask for a copy of the booklet Information Relative to the Appointment and Admission of Cadets. This will give you up-to-the‑minute data on scholastic requirements — which change from time to time, as do physical standards. It is well at the very start to obtain an army physical to be sure that you qualify on this score. Even if the army doctor finds minor defects it may be possible for you to correct them. He will give you good advice on this point.

 p191  In obtaining an appointment, or in trying to obtain one, do not take the attitude that you are beaten from the start. West Point is intended to be a purely democratic American institution. Remember this and take heart. Then inform yourself carefully as to how appointments are obtained.

Under an Act of Congress approved June 3, 1942, the Corps of Cadets shall hereafter consist of 2496 cadets, appointed in number and from sources as follows:

8 from each state at large


4 from each Congressional district


4 from each territory (Hawaii and Alaska)


6 from the District of Columbia


4 from natives of Puerto Rico


2 from Panama Canal Zone


172 from the United States at large of whom 3 are appointed upon the recommendation of the Vice-President; 40 are selected from among the honor graduates of those educational institutions designated as "Honor Military Schools," and 40 are chosen from the sons of veterans who were killed in action or died prior to July 2, 1921, of wounds received or disease contracted in line of duty during the first World War


180 from the enlisted men of the Regular Army and from the National Guard, in number as nearly equal as practicable




In addition, four Filipinos were in the past selected by the President of the Commonwealth from honor cadets at the Philippine Military Academy. Upon graduation these cadets were, however, given commission not in the United States Army but in the Philippine Scouts. In 1933 a West Pointer became Commandant of the Philippine Military Academy. Up to the second World War, West Point men were more and more in evidence in high places in the Philippines.

 p192  If the West Point candidate has obtained his appointment, he need worry only about the entrance requirements. Here again the more exact his information the more he will be likely to study wisely rather than to worry in bed at night. We assume that this candidate has passed all his "physicals." The candidate then has three methods of satisfying the entrance requirements of U. S. M. A. They vary according to his type of appointment and his educational past. They are:

1. Obtaining a passing mark in the regular entrance examination.

2. Obtaining a passing mark in a validating examination after submitting a satisfactory secondary-school educational certificate.

3. By submitting a satisfactory educational certificate from a college accredited by the U. S. M. A., or by submitting a certificate from the College Entrance Examination Board indicating proficiency as a secondary-school student who has completed the fifteen units of study required by West Point.

Appointees from the Regular Army and from the National Guard must all take the regular entrance examination. These appointees are then admitted in order of merit, those with the highest grades taking precedence regardless of the location of their homes. These may look with envy on the graduates of "Honor Military Schools" or on college men who enter West Point by certificate or by "dog tickets." But the glances may eventually turn the other way, for statistics show that those candidates who pass the regular entrance examination are most likely to stay at U. S. M. A. Nor is the regular entrance examination usually difficult. It now includes algebra, plane geometry, English grammar, composition, literature, ancient and United States history. But the required subjects change, and the latest information regarding the changes is to be found in the pamphlet from the Adjutant General already referred to.

 p193  Most examinations are held in March or April, but when the successful candidate arrives at West Point it is July — the first weekday to be exact — and usually very hot. Having jumped so many hurdles, he feels pretty good about everything, that all is going his way. He also feels quite distinct from the other candidates. This is because the method of appointment to U. S. M. A. has resulted in boys arriving from the four quarters of the United States. Some are from the South dressed in tropical worsteds, some from the West in plain business clothes; some are poor and dressed rather elaborately, collegiate fashion; others, really rich, arrive in slacks and a sweater. But these differences are ironed out on the double, as the candidates immediately find out.

The romantic structure which from the Hudson appeared to be a stern medieval castle turns out to be the awe-inspiring Administration Building. It is here that the candidate is sent, "to report to the Adjutant." Entering through the sally port, he finds all data concerning himself set out on the sidewalk and in charge of an enlisted man from the post of West Point. In due time the newcomer reports — and states, among other things, that he is not now and never has been married and engages, in writing, to serve in the United States Army for the number of years required, including, in wartime, three years as cadet unless he be sooner discharged. "He's in the Army now," as he soon finds out while being rushed from one place to another.

An orderly hurries him to the treasurer's office. Here he turns over all money, whether in checks or money orders or in copper cents. Probably at this time, too, he turns over the three hundred dollars which is all the Government requires from West Point cadets as an advance on their elaborate equipment. If a youth be unable to deposit this sum it is sometimes possible for him to arrange deferment. Often the three hundred dollars  p194 has already been deposited by parents before the moment of the candidate's arrival. He is now penniless and in this condition he will remain while he lives at West Point. His account is given credit for the sum on his person.

The pay of each cadet is seven hundred and eighty dollars a year plus seventy-five cents a day for food; that is, a total of one thousand and fifty-three dollars and seventy-five cents a year. But the cadet sees none of this money in cash unless he be leaving on a furlough or football trip. His pro rata share of the general expenses is charged to him monthly by the treasurer. The Treasurer's Department also operates the cadet mess, the cadet store, the tailoring and dry-cleaning and laundry services. An extra number of rainy parade days will cost the cadet dearly in laundry, but this the new arrival does not, as a rule, even suspect. Each month the sum of fourteen dollars is deducted from the cadet's pay so that at the end of his term as cadet, when, having been graduated and become a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army, he leaves West Point, he will have a sum sufficient to purchase uniforms.

In time he will bone the section in the back of the cadet bluebook which deals with "Budget and Administration of a Cadet's Pay." But all this is hazy in his head as he is rushed to the medical office for a last official checkup. Now it is a matter of his height in inches, to determine the company he is to keep. He soon finds out whether he is a "flanker" or a "runt" or just one of those things between, for he goes in a company on the basis of height and height alone. The Corps is organized as a brigade with two regiments of two battalions each. Each regiment consists of eight companies lettered from A to H. When the brigade is drawn up in line, the two flank companies — A1 and H2 — contain the tall cadets, while the center companies — H1 and A2 — contain the "runts," and there are many  p195 fine fighters among them. Are not small men notoriously aggressive?

The newcomer is now catapulted to the quartermaster's representative, where all personal items are temporarily taken away from him, and stored for safekeeping, including his jewelry and wrist watch if he is wearing any. He may have thought this one article would be becoming to a soldier and a gentleman, but he soon learns that only upper classmen may wear wrist watches. After this visit he is left with almost nothing in the world but the clothes that cover him, and these, too, will very soon be removed. He now finds himself in the barracks to which he has been assigned. Hitherto he has felt slightly uncomfortable under the taciturn regard of the orderly who has had him in charge, but now the candidate becomes the object of usually uncomplimentary attention from a group of upper classmen in immaculate uniforms who shout, "You there in the spotted tie! Suck up your guts! More!"

After the newcomer has sucked up the guts as requested, he is more likely than not to stick out in the back; this is duly commented upon in forceful language by the member of the "beast detail" who has him particularly in mind. So Mr. Newcomer draws in his rear and forces in his chin until he has as many double ones as a dowager drawn by Helen Hokinson.

Now the "beast detail" — by this time the new arrival has forgotten the thrill of the letter which announced his passing average in the stiff entrance exams, and accepted himself as a "beast" — tries, not without a somewhat surprising success, to form the newcomers into military formation. Each year a certain number of upper classmen are detailed to break in the plebes. They play this game to win.

"You in the clown trousers, step up! You have two feet!  p196 Don't use them both at once!" barks the cadet in his basest voice, which may possibly crack. But woe to the near‑by plebe who notices this. Some unfortunates try to "break the ice"; no plan could be worse.

"My name is Bob," they say in what they try to make a confident voice.

A terrible frown appears on the face of the young god-of‑war whom they have thus dared to address. "From now on, your name is Mister Dumwilly, or Dumbjohn, or whatever your name may be! And from now on say 'Sir'! And don't forget it!"

The entrants are marched on a run to the barbershop. In the view of the upper classmen they cannot enter one minute too soon. From now on, for three years, a weekly haircut will be regulation. Once again on the double to the cadet store, where the candidate gets his first articles of clothing: gray flannel trousers and a belt to go with them.

Because of various uncomplimentary remarks which have been leveled against their attire, most "beasts" are only too glad to get these inconspicuous garments. Then to the basement he goes for his bedding, which he carries to his quarters in the barracks. Back again to the cadet store for more supplies and clothing. Before he has eaten his first dinner at West Point, the candidate has learned that "an order from a superior has the force of a cannon shot"; by five in the afternoon he marches, or almost marches, out onto the parade ground, where he solemnly takes the oath of allegiance. He is now officially a plebe or new cadet; already he has learned to pronounce it "kaydet"!

Mr. Ducrot — which is the new cadet's traditional name at West Point even though his rightful one is emblazoned on his belt in black block letters — has to learn everything at once:  p197 how to go through close-order drill; how to address his superiors, and everyone except his own class is his superior; how to fold socks and, harder, how to fold shirts; how to eat and how to scrub himself under the shower.

Of course there are always a few youths who just can't take it. They slip silently away down the Hudson and hardly a ripple is caused by their departure. Most learn to do, or to try to do — which surprisingly turns out to be enough — what is expected of them. When they are asked if they like it at West Point these wise ones have learned to say "No, sir." If they have, before, said "Yes, sir," they have been made to change their views. They have learned to recite absurd little pieces of traditional jargon at the word of command.

When asked, for example, to define leather the plebes learn to respond, "If the fresh skin of an animal, cleaned and divested of all hair, fat, and other extraneous matter, be immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues; the gelatinous tissue of the skin is converted into a non-putrescible substance, impervious to and insoluble in water; this, sir, is leather."

When asked "Whom do plebes rank?" the reply comes easily: "Sir, the Superintendent's dog, the Commandant's cat, the waiters in the mess hall, the hellcats, and all the admirals in the whole . . . navy."

They must know and respond in fitting manner when asked how many days to (for example) the Army-Navy Game, to Furlough, to Christmas. They must learn a new language.

Several books on West Point publish a whole glossary of West Pointisms. It will be well for the new cadet if he has seen these words and perhaps memorized some of them. But here a word of caution. He should never use such terms until he has heard them authoritatively employed, for he may well  p198 use some archaic language which will reveal him to all as a student of a glossary. Living language changes — nowhere faster, sometimes, than at West Point. On the other hand, he will be surprised and perhaps pleased to find himself at times talking in the language which was probably in use among the Continentals who used to garrison the post he now inhabits. West Point is the oldest military post in the United States.

Mr. Ducrot learns fast. He makes a good many mistakes; it seems to him that he can never be in the place he is supposed to be at the time set for his appearance there. The business of putting on his uniform correctly is not easy.

When he is asked why such an article of his equipment is not better brushed or cleaned, if he replies "Sir, I did not have time to do it" he is told in the stern voice of command, "Mister, you have time for everything!"

Strangely enough, that, in the end, turns out to be the case — believe it or not.

Of course there is all this and study too. The cadet's day is long and full. Nor is his schedule an excuse for not having his quarters and equipment in the shape required by the Tactical Department — perfect shape. It is, however, officially admitted that Mr. Dumbjohn cannot possibly do everything the right way from the start — from his total list of demerits one-third are deducted!

When he has returned from summer Corps maneuvers, where he has been taught the rudiments of modern soldiering, the cadet's day settles down to the winter regime — at once. The awful din of hellcats blowing bugles and beating drums awakes the sleeper. For ten minutes this noise continues: from 5:50 to 6:00 A.M. At the last note of the bugle all companies are in ranks and reporting. This time is, by custom, shortened to two minutes for plebes. But upper classmen skilled in rapid dressing will appear in ranks at the last possible moment.

 p199  After this reveille formation twenty minutes are given to housekeeping. Beds are made by doubling back the mattress at the head of the bed; folding the sheets, the gray and olive-drab blanket, and the red comforter — this item so traditional at West Point — in exact eighths and laying them on top of the mattress. Piles of clothing within the steel lockers are adjusted. Then to breakfast, with a good appetite. After breakfast there's a study period until first class at seven-fifty-five — the sun is still barely visible in winter.

The entire Corps, except half the plebe class, assembles in the Area for the seven-fifty-five formation. There are usually two classes and a session at the gymnasium during the morning. The classes are divided to make more room, three companies usually being instructed at a session. Upper classmen are usually in barracks from nine-thirty to ten-thirty.

Dinner is at 12:10 P.M. — and dinner it is. Here plebes sit on the front half of their chairs, eat in steps if required to do so, pass the coffee and the milk, and act smart about all of it. The first afternoon class is scheduled for twelve-fifty-five. At 3:15 P.M. cadets report for military instruction or intramural athletics. An hour later most cadets are free until six-fifteen. After the evening meal, which is less formal than dinner, there soon follows the "call to quarters" for the evening study period, which ends at nine-thirty, as cadets rush for showers. The morning haste makes it necessary to go to bed extra-clean. At ten o'clock taps are sounded and lights go out, except for those few with special privilege to study half an hour longer.

The plebe learns almost overnight, not all the things he must do, but the things he must not do. He must keep off the grass. He must not forget to salute motorcars which carry U. S. M. A. plates. He must almost never stop "bracing" himself. If he is stiff, that is just too bad. He must never sit back in his chair at meals. He must not speak unless spoken to by an upper classman.  p200 He must never use the front door of his barracks. He must never go near Flirtation Walk and Trophy Point or even step upon the plain unless in regular formation. He marches almost everywhere but if, walking by himself, he is seen to cut a corner without "squaring it," he can expect trouble. With all this he must find time to prepare his Sunday-night joke and other witticisms which, if called upon, he must render at table with due humility. He must fit himself to take a man's part in the annual plebe athletic meet held in the bathrooms, or "sinks." He will probably be sent spinning over the wet and slippery floor clad in his virtue and white maribou and lace in the form of lather. After all, cadets are soldiers and even plebes are cadets.

The first year at U. S. M. A. is much the hardest. It is then that a possible third of the new cadets are "found" or fail in some subject and leave West Point. And the first two months of that year are the hardest period of all. After the first year a cadet may look forward with confidence to graduation. As one cadet remarked, "It was not until I had become a yearling myself that I realized that 'beast detail' referred to the plebes and not to the upper classmen." But this severe training of the very young soldier by others scarcely older is part of the West Point honor system. In other words, it is the self-governing function within the Academy at work. This system, in the first place, rests on the cornerstone of absolute truth. It is recognized that in war complete, not partial, accuracy of statement is essential. Therefore the soldier must be truthful and exact beyond the standard of ordinary individuals. Also the system of grading at West Point, which places every cadet in competition with every other cadet (and cadets are graded every day), makes complete honor essential.

The honor system is operated by cadet themselves. It must  p201 be impartial, from the time a cadet enters the Military Academy he has become subject to the seniority rule which regulates promotions in the army. When, after three years, he graduates in June week he will be handed his diploma in the order of his academic proficiency as compared with the other members of his class. His future promotion will be regulated by his standing. At that moment he must know that every one of his classmates has played fairly with him and that he has no blemish on his own honor.

There is no more highly prized compliment at West Point than to be chosen one of the twelve members of the Honor Committee. Twelve First Classmen are chosen for this service, one from each company, and these twelve elect their own chairman. The Honor Committee sponsors talks on the working of the system, its whys and wherefores, which are given to plebes about three times a week for approximately a month. In this case the plebes are urged to ask questions, to make sure they understand the honor system as expounded to them; failure to do so, it is explained, may lead to court-martial or dismissal from the Corps.

The Honor Committee never interferes with the Tactical Department. Thus if a cadet falsifies his absence card — on leaving his barracks each cadet keeps this record himself, stating just where he may be found — it falls within the jurisdiction of the Honor Committee, but if he is late in returning it is the Tactical Department who reports him. The honor system upholds the Corps' morale, which is based on truth and fair play. Even to glance at another man's blackboard while solving a problem is a most serious offense.

The story is told of a cadet who, intent on solving a mathematical problem, had worked out a solution on his blackboard. It then occurred to him that he might have used a wrong  p202 formula. Without thinking further he turned and looked at his textbook, lying on a desk behind him. No one saw his act. Suddenly after he had replaced the book — his formula, by the way, had been right after all — he realized what he had done. He kept his own counsel, but that night he took his decision.

Next day he reported to the Superintendent and asked for his discharge from U. S. M. A., explaining the circumstances.

"Did anyone see you look at the textbook, Mister Blank?" asked the Superintendent.

"Not to my knowledge, sir," replied the cadet, who was an officer in the Corps.

In the end it was ruled that the cadet be not discharged, but he was "broken" to private and as a private he was graduated.

In another case a cadet was reported for copying from his neighbor's paper during a language "writ." Few charges could be more serious. He was called to the Batt Board and asked if he had anything to say. It was pointed out that he need not answer at once, as anything he said would now enter the record. Would he like a week to ponder his reply?

"No, sir," replied the cadet to the officer who was addressing him. "I do not need more time, because my answer cannot change if it is to be the truth. I did not copy from anyone's paper."

The cadet, white of face, sought out his honor representative. He told his story. It sounded like too short, too simple, a story. But the upper classman was thoughtful.

"How," he mused aloud, "did this report start?" . . . Then he looked at the cadet and asked, "how do you habitually sit when you are doing a writ? Just sit down and imagine you have that paper before you now."

The cadet sat down and put his hand over his eyes. Slowly he moved his hand from side to side.

 p203  "Hold it!" called the upper classman. The cadet, wondering what was up, remained frozen in his pose. The other walked to the end of the room.

"From where I stand now, even though there is no one in this room but yourself, I could almost swear that you were looking at a paper beside you. It is the way you hold your hands over your eyes and rub it from side to side."

The cadet was exonerated.

One might suppose that the working out of the honor system would be extremely intricate. In practice, however, the members of the committee learn to apply the principles behind it almost unerringly. One chairman expressed its essence when he said that if a cadet was in doubt as to whether or not he had violated the code of honor he had only to ask himself, "Does this action give me an advantage over the rest of my classmates?"

More formally, the guiding principles of the system are these:

1. No intentional dishonesty is excusable, and under no circumstances will it be condoned.

2. Everyone is bound to report any breach of honor which comes to his attention.

3. Offenders against the code of honor are never granted immunity.

4. Quibbling, evasive statements, or technicalities in order to shield guilt or defeat the ends of justice will not be tolerated. The code of the soldier demands courageous and fearless honesty in setting forth the truth, regardless of consequences.

Possibly because of their destiny as soldiers or possibly because recent chaplains have been men of exceptional spiritual perception — men who could make a workable code of Christianity and who truly inspired the Corps to a manly religious feeling — or for some other, more intangible, reason, cadets are  p204 more than ordinarily reverent. When their voices fill the beautiful chapel their deep sincerity rings out. To many civilians it is a novel sound in this day and age. But men are singing in just that way on our far-flung battle lines. It is the feeling and hope, voiced by the living, "that these dead shall not have died in vain."

During those first unhappy days at West Point when Mr. Dumbjohn is smarting under the unprecedented martinetism of upper classmen, he learns that he has as yet seen nothing. Back of these stern mentors is a more real authority, more to be feared. This is the Tactical Department; the individual officers composing it he soon learns to call Tacs. It is the Tac who inspects the plebe's room once a day, the First Classman's room once a week. It is the Tac who "awards" — not, you will note, "inflicts" — demerits and prepares "skin sheets," or reports, in which these are set forth. The cadet can reply, or explain, his dereliction. This is called his B‑ache. Here, chosen at random, are some offenses and the demerits accorded to them:

Seven Demerits: absence from any duty or ceremony, unintentional

Five Demerits: concealing articles from tactical officer

Four Demerits: rifle or equipment rusty

Three Demerits: losing articles

Three Demerits: buttoning clothes in ranks

One Demerit: yawning in ranks, or spots on mirror

For more serious offenses, such as going off the Reservation without leave or being absent between tattoo and reveille, it is the Batt Board for the offender. The Battalion Board metes out punishments, or "slugs." The mildest of these is walking the Area five hours a week — hours which would otherwise be given to sweet leisure. The most severe results in discharge. A cadet may always submit his case to a court-martial. Few do.

 p205  But all this is not really as bad as it sounds. There is pride and pleasure in being a soldier. There is a thrill in belonging to the Corps of Cadets, the most elite of its kind in the United States — in the opinion of the late King Albert of the Belgians — in the world. Even severe regimentation has its compensations. And then, due in the first instance to the initiative of modern Superintendents, unnecessary discipline has been scrapped; the honor system has been strengthened.

Now First Classmen can walk out of the north or the south gate at will during the spring term; they may take a ride in an automobile around the surround country. First Classmen are allowed an unlimited number of week-end leaves during their last months at West Point. Excepting plebes, all cadets are allowed radios. Through sports events, and West Point's participation in them and in other competitions ranging from fencing to debating, cadets see more of the world than they did before the first World War. Their relations with their officers are somewhat less formal than they were. Except for the necessary restrictions in wartime, the cadets are allowed more visitors than formerly.

Here a brief word to the "femmes." A girl who has been invited to West Point is not expected to behave in a manner which might be condoned at the average civilian college. West Point is a formal place. Her clothes should be right for the occasions to which they are to be worn. It is far better to ask one's escort in advance exactly what is correct than to arrive with the wrong things. She must at all times be directed and guided by the cadet hostess — if the hostess is in evidence at all. She must not smoke unless in a place where she has been assured that smoking is permitted, such as the balcony of Cullum Hall or the "boodler's." She must pay for everything out of her own pocket.

Since alcohol is forbidden to cadets, a girl who indulges  p206 will not again be asked to view the Hudson from this peculiar vantage. Her language must be circumspect and her laughter, though merry, should be low. Cadets rate their "drags" as they themselves are rated. Three is perfect — but there are many grades below perfection.

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