The West Point Class of 1936

The West Point Class of 1936

In the long history of the United States Military Academy, few classes have had such an impact on the history of the United States as the Class of 1936.  The cadets of the 1820s through the 1850s shaped the future of our country during the horrific War Between the States.  The Class of ‘36, with its forty- eight future generals, made unprecedented contributions to their country and the cause of freedom in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and during the decades of the Cold War which bridged the three conflicts.  One young man, a son of a general but unique to his class, helped to bring the black soldier to the forefront of the United States Military.  This is the story of the West Point Class of 1936, who for a few hours eighty years ago this week were treated to the finest hospitality the men and women of Dublin could muster.

It was the beginning of their senior year at West Point.  After achieving the rank of first class cadets, these 277 young men were bound for ten days  of intense infantry training in the sweltering sun of Fort Benning.  They traveled from New York to Savannah on the U.S.S. Chateau Thierry.   After a hardy breakfast, the cadet corps traveled by truck convoy along U.S. Highway 80 from Savannah. The first item on the days itinerary was midday lunch in Dublin at Stubbs Park on July 31, 1935.

Mess Officer Capt. William R. McKennon arrived a day early to begin preparations to feed more than 500 cadets, officers, escort crew and guests.   Capt. McKennon set up the mess hall in the Hargrove Gym, the high school’s wooden gymnasium which was located on the present site of Stubbs Park Gym.   Mayor Marshall Chapman requested that everyone in the city display their American flags as sign of support for their troops.  Milo Smith, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, made all of the arrangements with a host of volunteers at his direction. Wilbur S. Jones, the local Sinclair dealer, had adequate gas standing by to supply the convoy for the remainder of its trip.   MS William Moon and his twelve assistants provided a delicious meal of baked ham, mashed potatoes, stewed corn, cold sliced tomatoes, ice cream, cake and lemonade placed on tables just outside the gym.

Of the young men in the park that day, three cadets would become listed among the leading Army generals of the 20th Century.   They were Creighton Abrams, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and William C. Westmoreland.  Creighton Abrams commanded armor battalions during World War II.   During the Korean War, Gen. Abrams (left0 served as Chief of Staff of the I, IX and X corps.   Just as the war in Vietnam was escalating, Abrams was promoted to Major General in 1965 as deputy commander and later commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command. Gen. Abrams served as chief of staff of the United States Army from 1972 to 1974 and supervised the withdrawals from Vietnam until his death.  Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the son of the country’s first and only black general, was shunned by his classmates and forced to eat in silence and to speak only when spoken too.  The abuse only aroused his desire to succeed in his academic and military studies.  When Davis graduated 35 out of 276 in his class, he joined his father as the country’s only two black line officers.  Five years later, Davis found himself assigned to a flight training program at Tuskegee, Alabama.    Davis led his “Tuskegee Airmen” to unrivaled success over the skies of Europe, where one of every sixteen military personnel killed in action during the war lost their lives.  During his group’s 200 escort missions, not a single bomber was shot down by the German Luftwaffe.

Davis (left) returned to action in 1953 in Korea. The country’s first black Air Force general, Lt. General Davis retired in 1970 to accept an appointment by President Nixon as Assistant Secretary for Transportation for Environment, Safety and Consumer Affairs.  William C. Westmoreland, a former artillery officer and Superintendent of U.S. Military Academy, was Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1965.    Gen. Westmoreland command the United States Troops in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968  and served as Chief of Staff of the Army from 1968-1972.

 LTG John H. Michaelis was a senior aide to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower during World War II.  After the war, he served as Chief of Staff of the Allied Powers in Europe.  After serving as commander of the Army in Alaska and a stint as Commandant of the U.S. Military Academy, Gen. Michaelis served as commander of the 5th Army from 1966 to 1969.  Michaelis left that position to serve as Commander of U.N. and U.S. forces in Korea.  Gen. Michaelis was aided by his deputy commander and former classmate Gen. John H. Chiles.  Bruce Palmer, Jr., a son of a brigadier general and grandson of a medal of honor winner in the Civil War, retired as a four star general.  Gen. Palmer was passed over for the command of the troops in Vietnam after his classmate Gen. Westmoreland’s promotion in favor of another classmate, Gen. Abrams. Palmer, deputy commander under Gen. Abrams,  made his mark on the Vietnam war by writing a scathing report on the failure of the Army and the White House to design a plan to win the war.

Gen. William Westmoreland 

Ten Cadets never made it through World War II.    William Fickes was killed by lightning just four months after graduation.  Maj. Peter McGoldrick was killed in N. Africa in Nov. 1942.  Maj. Frederick Kellam, a member of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was killed in action in the first few hours of D-Day.  Maj. Leonard Godfrey, of the 16th Division, was killed in the first few moments of the Normandy invasion at Omaha Beach. LTC Francis Oliver and LTC Duncan Dowling, Jr., of Augusta, Ga., were killed in the summer of 1944 in France.  Majors Carl Boehr, John Goldtrap, Karol Bauer, and Lawrence Prichard endured the Bataan Death March only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese.  These four officers and thousands more soldiers were herded as POWs into unmarked transport ships bound for Japan. Many of these ships were bombed and sunk by American fighter pilots, who were oblivious to the human cargo in the holds of their targets.

General Howell M. Estes was elevated to a four star general by President Lyndon Johnson and placed in command of the Military Air Transport Command in 1965.     Gen. John A. Heintges, the commander of the 7th Infantry Regiment that captured Hitler’s villa at Berchtesgaden in May 1945, was second in command of the Army in Vietnam from 1965 until he was replaced by classmate Creighton Abrams.

Gen. Howard M. Snyder served as a physician to General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1946 to 1948 and from 1951 to 1960.  It was with Dr. Snyder’s approval that President Eisenhower sought a second term after a near fatal heart attack in 1955.   Gen. James Landrum, then Lt. Col. Landrum, was talking to celebrated war reporter Ernie Pyle when he was killed by a Japanese machine gunner on Okinawa in April 1945.  Lt. Gen. Albert Clark was appointed to head the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970.  Maj. Gen. Chester Clifton, Jr. served as the senior military aide to President John F. Kennedy.  Gen. Clifton gave President Kennedy daily morning briefings on military intelligence reports.  Clifton was riding in the motorcade with the President when he was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

The general continued to advise President Lyndon Johnson in that capacity until his retirement in 1965. Gen. Charles Billingslea, a former World War II paratrooper, was given command of army units assigned to enforce desegregation at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and to protect a group led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who sought to end racial discrimination in Birmingham in 1963.  Perhaps most notable among the cadets who weren’t presented their diplomas in June 1936 by World War I Supreme Commander, Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing was cadet I. Chang.  Chang, who was sent by the Chinese government to study American military tactics,  transferred to VMI, where he graduated in 1936.  Capt. Chang and his entire company were killed in the defense of Nanking in Dec. 1937.

As these young men paused to enjoy southern cooking at its finest in the cool breezes of the ancient pines of Stubbs Park, it is inconceivable that they had any conception of the impact that they would have on their country in the next four decades and for many decades to come.

To view the Class of 1936 graduation ceremonies, click  above.


Rhonda Cumpsty said…
Fabulous research! Makes my "front yard" even more meaningful!
Rhonda Cumpsty said…
Fabulous research! Makes my "front yard" even more meaningful!
Johnsaib said…
Thanks admin for sharing this information.
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