Major General Frank P. Lahm, class of 1901, was the first air passenger, and Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge, class of 1903, was the first person killed in an airplane flight. Now General Henry H. Arnold commands the largest air force ever assembled. West Point's "wings," her Stewart Field, has always been the particular concern of General Arnold. Even when, not so very long ago, West Point lost a third of her air force when one of three planes assigned to U. S. M. A. overturned in Newburgh Bay, General Arnold and a group of like-minded officers, including General Robert L. Eichelberger, then the Superintendent of the Military Academy, envisaged full aviation training, both basic and advanced, as a part of the cadet's education at West Point.
To make this vision a reality, a mighty engineering feat was necessary. Today, where scarcely two years ago cattle grazed in the pastoral landscape made famous by Innes and other members of the Hudson River School, there exists one of the country's large airfields. To eyes used to the limitless plains which stretch beyond Kelly and Randolph fields in Texas, it is something of a shock to see a great plain buzzing like a beehive with airplanes of various types and to see, beyond, all the mountains of the Highlands of the Hudson.
Someone has said that as much earth was excavated to construct Stewart Field as was moved to open the Panama Canal. This is probably apocryphal. Also it would probably be impossible to calculate the exact amount of earth moved on either p221 project, but the fact remains that near‑by hills have been leveled, valleys filled up, forests cut down, and a small city erected. Colonel John M. Weikert of the army air forces was placed in charge of this great building project.
The War Department accepted the title to Stewart Field, which included the original •two hundred and twenty-two acres which Samuel L. Stewart had given to the City of Newburgh to be used as an airport. This was but the first step. In 1941 the additional land acquired by the Government from private owners amounted to •about seven hundred and ninety acres and, with land buying still proceeding, the cadets' first instruction in flying began at the Field on September 19, 1941. In October the Academy recorded the deed to the two hundred and twenty-two acres from the City of Newburgh, paying with a United States Treasury check made to the amount of one dollar. Now, three years later, the face of nature has been so altered that the ancient lady could certainly not recognize herself in the •sixteen hundred and seventy-four acres which comprise the area of Stewart Field proper.
During the years 1942 and 1943 approximately one hundred and sixty buildings were erected and the whole vast project brought to approximately ninety per cent of completion. Airdrome night lighting, paved runways, and traffic-control equipment have been installed. Among the buildings completed are the chapel, the hospital, enlisted men's barracks, mess halls, bachelor officers' quarters, hangars, engineering buildings, bomb- and gunnery-training buildings, library, post theater, service club for enlisted personnel, WAC quarters, school buildings, and many others. These buildings are for the most part constructed of brick veneer and present — even at this writing, when the scars of excavation are still unhealed — a pleasing appearance. Areas are being seeded in grass, while the great flying field and runways are being completed.
p222 Besides Stewart Field proper there are three auxiliary flying fields, also for the exclusive use of U. S. M. A.: one of •four hundred and ninety-five acres located in New Hackensack in Dutchess County across the river, another of •six hundred and thirty-six acres at Walkill, and the third of •three hundred and forty-nine acres at Montgomery. These auxiliary fields are used for landing and take-off practice.
In order that the vast flying program of U. S. M. A. might start at the earliest possible moment, Stewart Field was officially dedicated and opened on August 25, 1942, and on that day two hundred and forty-five cadets started basic flying training. Major General Francis B. Wilby, Superintendent, in his dedicatory address referred to the introduction of flying training to West Point which had been made only one year before, saying, "This decision, in my opinion, was one of the most momentous decisions in the history of the Military Academy, if not in the life of our nation." General Wilby went on to the recognition that air power had revolutionized warfare, and to point to the beneficial results which the intimate knowledge of airplanes would give even those cadets who did not elect the flying course. No branch in modern war can afford ignorance of the air arm.
Two hundred and forty-five cadets, the class of June, 1943, began training on the day Stewart Field was dedicated. Each completed about one hundred and fifty hours in the air and approximately ninety-three hours of ground-school instruction. In addition to their regular academic and military training at West Point, these cadets studied the special subjects required by airmen. These included Code, Navigation, Meteorology, Aircraft and Naval Identification, Communications, Gunnery (for single-engine students), Bombing (for twin-engine students), and Pilot's Information File. Each cadet was given about twenty hours Link Trainer instruction. At this time p223 the bomb-trainer and the gunnery-trainer buildings were not completed at Stewart Field, so that these pioneer cadets took elsewhere a part of the training which the next class received at Stewart Field.
Of the two hundred and forty-five cadets who began the basic training given at Stewart Field that August day all but thirty-nine were graduated. Of these thirty-nine, fifteen were eliminated because of flying deficiency, sixteen withdrew at their own request, two were transferred for further flying training elsewhere, two were eliminated for physical deficiencies, and four became fatalities.
The preceding class, which had been redesignated due to the shortening of the four-year course to three years as a wartime measure, was graduated on January 19, 1943, at West Point. Those who graduated with wings had returned to West Point from various flying schools in December and had been rated pilots as of that day.
The original class of 1944, which was redesignated the class of June, 1943, was the class which in reality initiated the full-scale flying course at Stewart Field. Those members of the class who were destined for the air force had gone to army primary schools during the summer of 1942 and returned to West Point by September; this was the first class to complete both basic and advanced flying training at Stewart Field. The winter of 1942‑43 will be remembered by residents of the Northeast as old-fashioned in the bitterest sense of the term. High winds and ice storms were frequent. These conditions made the cadets' training arduous. The great Field was still not perfectly smooth; grading and construction work was being rushed to completion. There were many obstacles and hazards which do not exist today. The cadets alternated flying with their regular academic courses at West Point and were carried between the two locations in olive-drab motorbusses. p224 Temperatures in the vicinity registered as low as •twenty-seven degrees below zero. But, in the end, spring came as it always does and the dogwood blossoms could be seen among the budding foliage in the forests.
The North Sea taught Sir Francis Drake how to sail so that no waves in the world seemed steep to him afterward; so these cadets learned to fly in winter in the Highlands of the Hudson. But, looking back, it did not seem too hard when they read the following notice in the program for June Week, 1943:
Review of the Corps of Cadets, including Aerial Review by air cadets of the First Class; review and inspection of the Corps (less air cadets of the First Class) with full equipment.
Silver planes sparkled in the sunlight as formation succeeded formation. The parade in the air was no less precise than the parade on the plain below. West Point had earned her wings!
On Monday, May 31, 1943, at 3:00 P.M. at Battle Monument a new June Week custom was inaugurated. General H. H. Arnold, Chief, Army Air Forces, awarded pilot diplomas and wings to 206 Air Cadets, out of a graduating class of 514. This was the first time that cadets at West Point became full fledged pilots (the January Class received their wings at flying schools). Forty percent of this class went into the Air Corps, matching the forty percent figure set by the January, 1943, Class.1
At present, cadets take up their quarters at the Field and are given a full summer of uninterrupted basic flying training. Last summer the weather was exceptionally settled, and instructors averaged one hundred and twelve hours in the air during July and about one hundred hours in August. Each cadet had eighty hours flying instruction, which is ten more than required for this phase of training.
p225 Liberators, Flying Fortresses, and transports have set their wheels down on Stewart Field. Soon the Field will be equipped to accommodate the largest craft built. The flight line is solid and clean, while work still continues on the Field itself, which is larger than La Guardia Field. Enlisted men now live in barracks and, to make the picture complete, a cadre of WACs arrived on September 2, 1943, and were also housed in their own barracks. Enlisted personnel now total about sixteen hundred and forty, including one hundred and twenty WACs, so that Stewart Field, like West Point itself, is a military post of importance.
A West Pointer who has graduated with his wings is a valuable asset to his country. He knows the place of air power in the picture of total war. Just as his course has taught the cadet how the infantry can best be supported by the artillery, so it has been demonstrated to him in just what manner a canopy of planes can protect the points beneath or how air power, acting as an advance softener, can blaze the way for shock troops. As a soldier who has been under the strictest discipline himself, the graduate should know something of the handling of other soldiers — even the specialized personnel of an air force. He has been privileged to hear lectures by the foremost aviators and aviation specialists. Just as at the time of U. S. Grant the great Riding Hall at West Point turned out the smartest cavalrymen in the world, so now Stewart Field will turn out airmen second to none.
Naturally the country has sent its foremost flyers to act as instructors in the "Army Air Force Basic-Advanced Flying School." Many have come from Randolph Field in Texas; some are graduates of West Point; most have brilliant flying records behind them.
At the same time the work was going forward on Stewart Field, the land-purchase program of U. S. M. A., under the late Colonel Freeman W. Bowley, had been carried through to the extent of purchasing the great tract around Lake Popolopen. This was developed into tactical-training area and firing center under the direction of Brigadier General Philip E. Gallagher, then Commandant of Cadets. Even a realistic town was constructed so that cadets might experience, in advance, something as near to the conditions of modern war as possible. Work in this demolishable village is called "Combat in Cities Course."
Besides this, Popolopena is equipped with a fortified position, including concrete pillboxes, a mock freight train, two moving-target ranges, a field-firing range for rifle and machine gun, and a known-distance range. There are tommy-gun ranges, landscape and stationary antiaircraft ranges, and a pistol range. There is a pontoon- and amphibious-training area and an infiltration course, while the natural formation of the whole rough area makes battle practice very tough and very real.
It will be remembered that the lowly plebe has an active and difficult summer in normal times. To prepare the assault course many types of natural and artificial barriers have been concentrated, just as an enemy might leave the fringes of an area he was evacuating. It is supposed that the enemy is still carrying out rear-guard action. The course is two hundred yards long. Par is four minutes, but time is not so much stressed as an accurate piece of work.
On his back the cadet carries his combat pack, which includes his raincoat, mess kit, and toilet articles. These things weigh •about nine pounds. He carries his nine-pound rifle and p227 two hand grenades — total weight •about twenty-two pounds. Time is called and he starts from a prone position. From a •three-foot hurdle he jumps at his first bayonet dummy. Then he must crawl through a tunnel only wide enough for his body. His rifle must be in a constant state of readiness.
Emerging from the tunnel, he finds himself in an enemy trench. He throws one of his grenades; bayonets three enemies and shoots another, who has appeared at the far end of the trench. Here he learns about hand-to‑hand fighting. Now he throws his second grenade into a dugout, waits five seconds for the explosion, and looks inside. As he is bayoneting another of the enemy, a second appears and he fires at this new menace from the hip.
He now reaches an area of deep gaps, tangled barbed wire, demolished bridges, and shell holes in which enemies are waiting for him. He must watch for and remove booby traps. He goes forward prepared for any unexpected challenge.
This course develops coordination, prepares the inexperienced soldier for actual battle, and builds endurance. Mr. Dumbjohn emerges tired, perhaps — now that it is all over — a little scared, but he feels that he is becoming a soldier.
The development of Stewart Field into a basic-advanced army flying school has enabled the West Point cadet to get his wings at his Alma Mater, as we have seen. Camp Popolopen has provided him with an area in which most battle conditions are reproduced, but the cadet's training would not be complete without training given at the great forts which have long offered special advantages to the future soldier.
In addition to the intensive training given as described above, each year, during the latter part of August, cadets go on a two-week field maneuver where simulated combat conditions are carried out. Visits to Fort Benning, Fort Knox, Fort p228 Monmouth, and other large army training centers are also included in order that the cadets may have an opportunity of observing the actual building of a great wartime army.
Cadet leaves and furloughs have been greatly curtailed. It would almost seem that never before have so many studies been squeezed into so little space. It would appear that nothing from the four-year course has been omitted. And yet cadets emerge clear-eyed and ruddy at the end of summer training, actually harder and fitter because of its strenuousness. Some of these cadets will be graduated into war and, as has been pointed out, their country can give them no greater security than a realistic and thorough training. During the present war West Point may proudly claim that no opportunity has been denied, and that no equipment is lacking which will give her sons a thorough knowledge of the technique of modern warfare.
1 The United States Military Academy and Its Foreign Contemporaries.
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