This post is part of the “Tours of Duty” series, which honours America’s military birthdays with in-depth tours of military bases and schools. “Tours Of Duty” is sponsored by USAA. Read more posts in the series »
The United States Military Academy at West Point sits on a ledge overlooking one of the Hudson River’s deepest and narrowest points. During the Revolutionary War, before the USMA’s founding 1802, it was the place where Washington’s army choked off British naval advances using a 65-ton iron chain strung between the riverbanks.
In the centuries that followed, some of the most important figures in American history have spent formative years in the academy or garrison at West Point. Grant, Eisenhower, Patton, and MacArthur were graduates — as were a number of the top Confederate leaders during the Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Jefferson Davis. The school’s alumni include the generals who helped win World War II, the first American to walk in space, and three Heisman Trophy winners. Even its list of dropouts includes its share of major figures, like Edgar Allan Poe and the artist James Whistler.
West Point isn’t just a historical site. It’s a college campus first and foremost, and one that is unlike any in the world.
Main Street in Highland Falls, New York. That granite tower is the entrance to West Point -- where a tiny village in the hills above the Hudson River abruptly gives way to one of the most legendary places in America.
And they have got an archrival, like any big school -- this 'Beat Navy' sign is on the veranda of the home of West Point superintendent Robert Caslen, a three-star general.
But unlike most colleges, West Point has its own campus-wide wake-up call. This cannon is fired at 6:30 every morning for reveille, the ceremonial bugle call, and coincides with the raising of the American flag. All people on campus have to stop what they're doing and salute, even if they're in a vehicle.
And the center of campus is a parade ground used for military drills and as a landing zone for parachute training. As history professor David Frey told Business Insider, one of the telling differences between West Point and a typical university is that students can't hang out on the campus's central green space. Life at the Academy is highly regimented.
Everywhere around campus, monuments to the greatest battles in the U.S. Army's history remind the students of their purpose. Says Frey, 'The cadets quickly understand why they're here and get a very clear sense of what they're getting themselves into.'
During the academic year, this space between barracks serves as a lineup area and drilling ground. West Point is on break at the moment, but that doesn't mean the cadets are on vacation -- they get a total of one month off every year, and students are currently engaged in leadership and combat training off-campus. The new class of cadets arrives in early July.
West Point has a collection of war trophies, including dozens of enemy artillery pieces seized in conflicts from the Revolutionary War to World War II. This gun was taken off of an enemy battleship during the Spanish-American War.
Other big differences with West Point: Students aren't allowed to take the elevator without written permission ...
There's no better place to get a sense of West Point's unique history than its cemetery where centuries of alumni are buried. It's the final resting place of graduates killed in pre-Civil War conflicts ...
One of the most famous people in the cemetery has one of its simplest gravestones -- one that doesn't even include his actual first name. General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf was the commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command and the head of all U.S. forces during the first Gulf War.
Douglas MacArthur was a West Point superintendent, the commander of U.S. troops in Asia during World War II, and the U.S. commander during the Korean War. He has a statue next to the main group of barracks.
On May 12th, 1962, he delivered his farewell address to West Point cadets, which is commemorated in a monument next to his statue.
Over 4,000 cadets eat at the same time in tables of 10, under this epic mural. Painted by Army major and West Point professor T.L. Johnson in the late 1930s, the mural is meant to depict the greatest figures and events in the history of warfare ...
The West Point Museum has some history of its own on display. This is the Davy Crockett, a short-lived artillery piece built for shells carrying a low-yield nuclear warhead.
But West Point's most amazing historical artifact are these links from The Great Chain, which spanned the Hudson during the Revolutionary War and deterred British ships from attempting to make their way up one of the Colonies' crucial waterways.
The campus boasts commanding views of the Hudson Valley, itself a reminder of West Point's history. It's the oldest continuously-used Army garrison in America, partly because of its strategic value during the American Revolution. Over two centuries later, West Point is still vital to the Army and to the nation at large.
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