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March Back for the Class of 2023

March Back is a special day on the USMA calendar. Not only does it mark the end of summer training and the beginning of Reorganization Week, but it is one of few occasions during the year when the Long Gray Line becomes visibly manifest.

More than 250 Old Grads, representing 46 classes and spanning 62 years (from 1958 through 2019), joined 1,187 new cadets from the Class of 2023 for the final two-mile leg of March Back from the ski slope to the Superintendent’s house. As they moved down Washington Road—platoons of cadets in combat uniforms were followed by a large contingent of grads in khaki shorts, black polos, and ballcaps adorned with the USMA crest—it was easy to appreciate the symbolic metaphor that defines all who have endured the trials and celebrated the joys West Point has to offer. “It was the Long Gray Line,” Lieutenant General Darryl Williams ’83, the 60th Superintendent of West Point, told grads at a luncheon following the March Back. “And all of us are linked to it.”

Before marching the final leg down Washington Road, lined with scores of Class of 2023 family members and West Point residents cheering on the new cadets, 206 graduates had joined the members of the soon-to-be plebe class for the 12-mile trek from Camp Buckner to the ski slope through the trails of the West Point Reservation, and had given the new cadets personal words of inspiration from their own experiences at the Academy. “I told them to get involved in club activities,” said Jim Davis ’83. Second Lieutenant Eva Gould ’19, the youngest grad in this year’s March Back, who said the March Back felt more like a “stroll” without the 30-pound rucksack she carried on her back just five summers ago, named “attitude” and “time management” as her essential lessons for the new cadets. “They make all the difference here,” Gould said.

Speaking of lessons, one lesson new cadets learned during the March Back concerned the strength and power of the Long Gray Line, as evidenced by the West Point Association of Graduates’ 50-Year Affiliation Program. Eighty members of the Class of 1973, the Class of 2023’s 50-Year Affiliation class, participated in the March Back to show their support of the new cadets and to demonstrate that being a West Pointer does not end with graduation. “Some of the Prep School students, who we met last year, greeted us along the route, showing that an association has already started forming between our classes,” said Al Sciarretta ’73, the lead 50-Year Affiliation Program point of contact for the Class of 1973. “I’ve spoken with friends who have kids at other colleges, and they think that this program—graduates showing interest in current students—is powerful and amazing.”

WPAOG Photos on Flickr | USMA Photos on Flickr

“I never met an Old Grad as a cadet,” said Darrell Scales ’84. “If you ever saw one wearing those reunion arm bands, you’d head the other way out of fear, but it is great that they are now approachable.”

“Having old grads around is everything,” said Daine Van De Wall ’20, the recently announced First Captain of the Corps of Cadets. “We welcome them at all of our milestone events as they reinforce the importance of what we are doing as cadets to sustain the continuity of the Long Gray Line.”

Even the Superintendent draws strength from Old Grads, citing Wally Ward ’58, the oldest grad marching this year, as the one who pumped him up to complete the March Back. Ward has participated in all 20 March Backs since grads were first welcomed to do so in 1999. His motivation for coming back year after year? “I just love West Point,” Ward said. “And it feels fantastic hearing all those who line Washington Road for the event applaud the members of the Long Gray Line as we march by.”