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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 19

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
MacArthur Close‑Up
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
Vantage Press
New York, 1962

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 21
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p149  The Unholy Hegira

"Chief," he said one spring day, "the Com and I are going to make a few trips to Camp Dix. It is my purpose to seek an arrangement whereby the Corps, except the entering plebes, will be brigaded with a Regular Army division during the summer and will take part in field exercises and maneuvers as if they were a member of the unit. I have already received oral permission from the Secretary and General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pershing for such a project."

I was left with the impression that the Corps would be taken for several weeks to New Jersey instead of having the usual practice marches and field exercises in the vicinity of the Academy. I was totally unprepared for what actually happened.

He sailed in not long afterward with a peculiar bright mischievousness on his face. "Chief, send for Timberlake, you stay and listen in."

When the Quartermaster came, the General asked smartly, "How long will it take you to raze the Cadet Camp site?"

"You mean, General, level it?"

"Completely. Leave not a vestige of it on the ground."

"Well, well," the Colonel hesitated as if someone had just told him the President had been assassinated. He blinked and mentally gasped, but he made no murmur.

I knew that if Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur had told him to go out and move Battle Monument to the south end of the Post, he'd have immediately found a way.

He said, "A day or maybe a day and a half."

"Bon! Do it as soon as possible, and keep in mind I want to have a running track on that area for our mass athletics."

After the Quartermaster had left, he said, "This is no hasty matter. I've considered the move now for nearly a year. I can see no justification for the camp's existence. On the other hand,  p150 I can see in it nothing but an actual menace. Up to now the graduated cadet gains the impression he's had camp training. What he's really had was a life of Riley in a rich man's summer resort with all its luxuries. He will be unduly and unjustly shocked when he encounters a real Army camp to find the rawest recruit knows more about taking care of himself under rude conditions and field practice.

"Besides, the mountainous, rugged country here is ill‑suited for maneuvers. A large camp like Dix, with its rolling environs, affords training for all branches of the Service. I can see no other way, in justice to the cadet, the Army and the country." He droned out the last word as a clergyman would say "Amen."

By this time I should have been used to his startling, unpredictable actions, but the sweeping destruction of an integral feature of cadet life, a place which had always been considered as much a part of the Academy's training as the Academic Building, was beyond me. Even though I had prided myself on being a progressive, I couldn't conceive of a whole summer on West Point soil without the Corps.

But it wasn't the surprise which disturbed me. I had been a convert to the general idea. It was a big fear. If the DOGs and the Old Guard had risen in their might over the injection of new treatments and privileges, how would they react to the complete ejection of the Corps of Cadets for two months and the absolute demolition of its summer home? To be sure, the cadets had departed to football games, World's Fairs and Inaugural Parades for stretches of a few days, but never for even a month. It had always come back after a quickly snatched visit.

My anxiety made me ask, "Do you intend talking it over with the Academic Board?"

He turned vigorously on me.

"Chief, there are times when summary action is the only recourse, where the surgeon must operate at once for the sake of the patient. There are times when discussion means only delay and possible defeat, with its consequent injury to many. In an extremity, the only way to do away with a harmful appendage  p151 is to do away with it. Furthermore, I have the right. Ordinarily, I would not exercise it in such extreme fashion. But I can't see my way here to palliate or compromise. The only ones who are officially responsible for the cadet's military training are the Commandant and myself. I can by no system of logic perceive any rightful part the Board can have in this move. It must be a fait accompli."

Colonel Timberlake lived up to his word. In a few days there was no more summer camp, except in memory. There wasn't a mangy spot where tents had been. The elite metal pipes to hold the tent cords, the lordly outbuildings, the graveled streets of a country manor and the Buckingham Palace sentry boxes, which had always been pleasant reminders of a past camp and promising harbingers of another, had disappeared like the magic rug, and work was beginning on a running track.

At first, passers‑by looked upon the crews and trucks as part of the spring cleaning. But later, they were dumbfounded to realize the parts and parcels were not being replaced. Few believed it could be a destruction but only a removal to another spot on the Reservation, probably to Popolopen, where the Corps had gone for a few weeks the year before.

It was at the next Academic Board session MacArthur dropped the bomb. He neither minced words nor flung them out. He spoke slowly in modulated tones of conviction. He expanded on what he had told me, and detailed his reasons so fully and judicially that the need for his drastic actions seemed inescapable.

Evidently the explanation escaped the minds and hearts of the Old Guard. Some faces went dead, masking steely silence. Tightly pressed lips showed they were beyond the state of disagreement, evidently realizing it was too late to argue. I could feel their inward fires of stubborn hostility. It was plain to me that more even than the ruthless riddance of the time-honored camp, was the crowning insult of being thoroughly ignored before action was taken on such a grave measure.

But ominous silence soon changed into resentful, far‑flung  p152 growls. When the news spread, clamor rose on all sides. It gathered force from mutterings to uproar. The DOGs bayed to high heaven and snarled to the bottomless pit. My muttering mail piled higher, and the visits of the mutterers became fiercer.

The blasts did not reach full force till summer came and the reality of the deed was visible and audible. The Corps had vanished, leaving the imposing buildings and close-cropped greensward as solitary as a cemetery. A few plebes who had just entered would eke out of Beasts Barracks, walk about stiff and bewildered and disappear swiftly like ghosts of the long gray line. Gone were the gay and glossy hops, the romantic promenades of the cadet and his lady along Flirtation, the white-trousered Corps marching to meals three times a day to the stirring antiquity of fife and drum, the spectacles of evening parades and Saturday reviews with the tinsel of gold buttons and waving plumes, headed by a professional concert band.

People coming up over the brow of the hill near the Riding Hall rubbed their eyes. Where were the rows of tents, the cross-belted sentinels walking their posts, the smartly uniformed men sauntering along the walks and over the Plain, and the crowds on and about the visitors' seats waiting to see the show? The place was a ghost town.

Said the women with marriageable female friends or relatives, "It was so nice for her. She had such a lovely time and the cadets were so happy. It's a calamity not to have any West Point all summer. It's a shame the way this young Superintendent is doing away with all that was so good for the Corps and sending it off to those awful, shabby camps. I don't see how you can make officers and gentlemen that way."

And the DOGs bounced in with every sort of invective. They complained: MacArthur was a high-handed autocrat. He knew more than every Supe before him. Why hadn't they thought the camp was so bad it had to be destroyed? He had taken it upon himself single-handed to uproot tradition after tradition which had involved so much pains and care to build  p153 through the years and hadn't done badly for the defenders of the country. Cadet camp was one of my choicest memories. It was a morale builder. It was there a cadet could relax under supervision after a hard academic year. It was there I sealed friendships that have lasted through life. Even if we had time to play in the wholesome outdoors, we were right under the nose of the Com, with all his facilities for discipline, which could be had at no other place. How could a makeshift like Camp Dix compare with the elaborate institution here? Besides, it was waste. Much of the overhead would still have to go on just the same. It was damned diabolical for the cadets to be away so long. Here's where Congress meant them to be, else why did it build this huge establishment at so much expense? So that the Supe could send the Corps away for months at a time to a camp that wasn't meant for them? It was making the cadet go into a far country for crusts and hardships like the Prodigal Son. Here's where he belonged and nowhere else. It must have cost the government plenty to build the Cadet Summer Camp to what it was over the years. And this man MacArthur comes along and smashes it to pieces. He doesn't care how he squanders the taxpayers' money.

There was a chorus of the old chants: It was good enough for the Lees, Grants and Pershings, but it's not good enough for MacArthur. He struts around here all by himself and thinks himself too good to mix with the other officers. I wouldn't mind his high-mightiness if he weren't doing away with all the very best in the Academy. He mollycoddles the plebe, softens the upper classmen, and turns to civilians in preference to the kind of he‑men who made the Academy. Where else could they attain the spooniness and smartness which only the practices of West Point can give? Where else is there a place so spic and span, where the very atmosphere breathes cleanliness and trimness? Certainly not in a rude, rough camp with its shacks and mud, where the cadet runs around with common soldiers, lounges in canteens at all hours, spends money on anything and everything and, in general, is contaminated by low company. It is the beginning of looseness and depravity, like granting  p154 permission to cadets to run loose in New York whenever they choose. Discipline has gone to hell.

Members of the Old Guard would surge into the Supe's office without looking in my direction, regarding me as much as a minion of the Vandal. I would hear their voices raised in protest and MacArthur's low replies. They would come out with anything but conviction in their eyes, which stared with frowning frustration.

But all the wisdom and rebuilding of MacArthur weren't stemming the current bearing down on him. He had done away with an institution and raised up an insurrection.

Things were boiling high in the spring of '21. My desk was increasingly burdened with the written groans of the DOGs. I was a little perplexed as I entered the Supe's office with some correspondence.

"Chief . . ." he said with that note of finality which told me he had reached one of those carefully studied decisions from which there was no shadow of turning. He went on, "I'm going to relieve you."

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