Skip to comments.FOUR DECADE5 OF SERVICE TO COUNTRY (USMA Class of 1950)
Posted on 05/25/2006 10:42:30 AM PDT by robowombat
FOUR DECADE5 OF SERVICE TO COUNTRY By Philip L. Bolte 50
The smoke from a thirteen gun solute drifted over the parade ground at Fort Myer in August of 1991, the Army Band (Pershings Own) played traditional Cavalry songs --- "Gary Owen" and "Around Her Neck She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" --- and the Third United States Infantry (The Old Guard) passed in review. The ceremony marked the retirement of Major General William F. Ward, Jr., Chief of Army Reserve, and last member of the West Point Class of 1950 to serve on active duty.
From the start, the class had been unique. Entering West Point the summer of 1946, less than a year after the end of World War 11 and the dropping of atomic bombs, many considered that the need for armies had ended. Ours was the first fully post war class. But among the over 900 young men who that day swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States fully a third were veterans. While most were still in their teens there was Dick Slay, "Pappy" to his new classmates, who turned 23 a few weeks after entering the academy, and many others were already in their young twenties.
A few of the new cadets proudly wore their Combat Infantrymen Badges earned on the battlefields of Europe: Bill DeGraf, graduating first in the class four years later; Mel Johnsrud, Jack Saalberg who had also been awarded two Bronze Star Medals and the Purple Heart, Bob Werner, Bob Ferguson, and Pete Pettigrew. Several had already earned officer rank: Major Roy Clark and Captains Al Packer and Dick Slay, Army Air Corps pilots who had flown bombers from England over GermanyAl Packer had been a POWand a number of first and second lieutenants, including Jack Murphy, destined to become First Captain in our senior year.
Surrounded by instructors and West Point staff who had done much to bring WWII to a successful conclusion, for four years we saw ourselves headed toward service in a Regular Army more akin to that of the 1930s than the 1940s. Little did we foresee what awaited us in the coming years. The military leadership of the country was so confident of many years of peace that a new policy was set for Army officers to be commissioned in 1950. Instead of these eager new graduates from West Point and ROTC colleges being required to attend more schooling to learn the basic skills of their particular branches of the Army, we would first become platoon leaders in the peacetime force, participating in military "on the job training". On June 6, 1950, with Secretary of the Army Frank Pace as the graduation Speaker, in time-honored tradition, the now 670 members of the Class of 1950 threw our hats in the air and left West Point to enjoy a sixty-day graduation leave before reporting to our initial assignments. 25% of those commissioned in the Army were assigned to units in the Far East. Since the Air Force Academy had not yet been established approximately 25% of the entire class was commissioned in the Air Force, many with initial assignments to aircraft crew training.
On June 25, 1950, less than three weeks after graduation, North Korea struck south and a chain of events unfolded that led within days to the commitment of American forces to South Korea. The post war years of austerity had left their mark on the ground forces of the United States. The Army had been spread thin to meet its occupation mission. Equipment was outmoded, mostly left over from World War II. General MacArthur's call for units and individual replacements placed demands on the Army that strained its ability to respond. Virtually all men and officers available for overseas shipment were being sent to the Far East by the end of July. In an effort to bring units throughout the Army to authorized strength, particularly in the Far East, leaves were cancelled and many of the new lieutenants of the Class of 1950 were called in wherever they were found. Joining their units in the United States, many soon found themselves on the way to Korea. Others not yet assigned to units were sent to Korea as individual replacements.
On September 3, 1950, less than three months after graduation, Ted Lilly, fighting in the Pusan Perimeter with the 9th Infantry Regiment of the Second Infantry Division, became the first member of the class killed in action. By the end of September six more were killed in actionWilliam Otis, Warren Littlefield, Robert Robinson, Howard Brown, Frank Loyd, and Courtenay Barrett. By the end of the year these were followed by George Hannan, John Trent, Willard Coates, Carter Hagler, Kenneth Tackus, and George Foster. By the end of the war in July 1953 forty-one members of the Class of 1950 had paid he ultimate price on the battlefields of Korea. Many more were wounded in action, thirteen were twice wounded. Mike Dowe and Paul Roach spent most of their first three Army years as Prisoners of War and Mike DeArmond, Joe Green, and John Streit were captured after being shot down and spent many months in prisoner of war camps.
While paying the price, the new lieutenants learned quickly and provided the leadership that combat troups demanded and deserved. During the period June 50 July 53 over 50% of the class served in combat in Korea. They were awarded six Distinguished Service Crosses, second only to the Medal of Honor for heroism, sixty seven Silver Stars for gallantry in action, one hundred thirty eight Purple Hearts, and many Bronze Star Medals and Distinguished Flying Crosses and other combat decorations.
Not all of the class went to Korea. There was concern at the national level that the Korean invasion might be a feint and that the Soviet Union might be planning a major assault in Europe. Consequently, the force there was increased and some of the new lieutenants found themselves on the other side of the world from the war. A few remained in stateside assignments, but most of those eventually went to Korea during the 1950-53 period.
Later in the decade of the 1950s the class began to diversify in activities. Ten years after graduation 111 or 17% were out of the service while a number of those remaining had reached the rank of Major. They had served not only in Korea, Germany, and Japan, but in such diverse locations as Egypt, Guam, Greenland, Iceland, Panama, and the Philippines to name a few. Perhaps portending the next decade, members of the class had served in Viet Nam and Cambodia as well. They had helped train the new Japanese Air Force, conducted research at the Armys Detroit Arsenal, taught ROTC Cadets, flown every type of plane in the Air Force, constructed NATO bases in France, trained scout dogs, became Infantry Rangers, Nuclear Weapons Specialists, instructors at West Point, and had performed a myriad other duties. About 150 members of the class continued graduate studies and were awarded advanced degrees.
In the decade of the 1960s the Class of 1950 was once more called to war, this time in Southeast Asia. Its members saw service there as majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels serving as advisors, staff officers, and commanders of battalions, brigades, squadrons, and wings. Bill DeGraf became one of only 295 American soldiers to have earned three Combat Infantrymans Badges. Again there were many combat decorationsone Distinguished Service Cross, and over 30 Silver Stars. Five more members were killed in VietnamGail Wilson, Bobby Vinson, Ken Hall, Jack Crittenberger, and Chuck Butler and many more were woundedPhil Bolte, Tom Fife, Sandy Sanderson all wounded in Korea and again in Vietnam and Walt Adams wounded three times.
The decades of the fifties and sixties for most of the class were years of preparation for service leadership positions with little public visibility. Best known to the public, however, was Frank Borman, the astronaut who commanded the first spacecraft in circumlunar orbit in December 1968.
The Class of 1950 continued in the 1970s and into the 1980s to serve in almost every country throughout the world. While retirements took an increasing number from the active duty ranks, others rose in seniority. Sixty four achieved general officer rank with seven becoming four star generalsBennie Davis and Charlie Gabriel of the Air Force and Paul Gorman, Wally Nutting, Volney Warner, and John Wickham of the Army. The class had the distinction of having two Chiefs of Service serving simultaneouslyJohn Wickham, Army Chief of Staff and Charlie Gabriel, Air Force Chief of Staff. Another unique distinction, of course, is our seventh four star general, Fidel "Eddie" Ramos, Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army and later President of the Philippines.
By that summer day of 1991, of the 670 who graduated, 131 were deceased. So as the Army marked the retirement of Bill Ward, the West Point Class of 1950 could look back with pride on four decades of uniformed service to our country. As Cadets we had seen the beginning of the Cold War and our service spanned the years until its end. None foresaw the role we would play on the battlefields of Asia and in service throughout the world that July day of 1946 when we first swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, nor on the day in June 1950 when we so enthusiastically threw our hats in the air at graduation.
LONG GREY LINE Ping!!
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