West Point Class of 1964 Stays Connected Through Hiking Club

Category: Grad News
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Grads Hike Up the Trail of the Fallen Before 60th Reunion

By Leigh Major, WPAOG Staff

While anticipating their 60th class reunion, Mont Hubbard ‘64 asked his classmate Steve Weisel ’64, “Why don’t we head to West Point a couple days early and do some hiking?” Hubbard and Weisel, founding members of the Class of 1964 hiking club, began planning the logistics and the group made history as the oldest group of West Point graduates to make it up the Torne monument. Carrying their memorial rock painted with the names of their fallen classmates, they reached the summit of the Trail of the Fallen without incident.

The 1964 hiking group started in 2007 when Ken Kvam ’64 invited some classmates for a hike in the Pecos Wilderness in the Santa Fe National Forest. The group since has hiked storied locations such as the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah Valley, the South of France, the Amalfi Coast, Yosemite, the Pyrenees, Gettysburg, the Highlands in North Carolina, the Great Smokies, and the White Mountains of Maine. “We were all in our mid-60s and retired, but still liked backpacking, camping and sleeping on the ground,” Hubbard said.

There were six members of the original hiking group; others later joined. Some members were fellow Beast Barracks squad leaders, plebe roommates, fellow instructors at Ranger school and Army Rugby teammates, while others forged new friendships as they joined the group.  Hubbard recalled their first hike in New Mexico. “It was hard climbing 2,600 feet with full packs up to 11,000 feet,” he said. “The whole thing evolved into where we can find a comfortable hotel and a bar once you get to be 65.”  

Dan Evans, the Chairman for the ’64 Reunion, caught wind of the hiking group’s plans and made a concerted effort to weave several hikes into the reunion schedule. Weisel, Hiking Committee Chairman, put the plans into action with the help of Hubbard and George Domas ’64. The first hike of the reunion was an easy flat hike in nearby Harriman State Park, where the group got “bugged out” due to the low ground.  

Hubbard was looking forward to the second hike up the Torne. He had actually made this same hike back in 1987 before the memorial existed when his firstie roommate, Frank Giordano ’64, was teaching at West Point and Hubbard was invited to give a talk to the cadets in the Math Department. Hubbard, Giordano and his wife, Judy hiked up that day, and Hubbard felt it fitting to hike the Torne for “old times sake.”

Although Hubbard thought he might be the only hiker on that morning of May 2, 2024, his classmates Steve Weisel ’64, Fred Taylor ’64, Ron Smith ’64, Bill Hoover ’64 and Domas showed up for the epic adventure, along with Hubbard’s wife Lyn. All 1964 grads with the exception of Smith were original members of the group (Ken Kvam passed away in December 2023). “If Mont, with one hip replacement is going to climb, then I can,” said Domas.

Domas recounted the special bonds the group has shared over the years.

“With a West Pointer, you know what to expect,” he said “We’ll look out for each other, slow down if someone is having a hard time—you can count on them. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I notified my classmates and different people told me I could stop along the way. They would feed me, pick me up, let me shower then bring me back to the trail. Later, Steve Weisel, my Beast Barracks roommate, hiked a quarter of the trail with me, and Fred Taylor joined me in Maine, and we hiked the summit at the end.” 

George Domas ’64

Domas knows from experience he can count on his classmates. In 2008, while hiking in Yosemite, it was a hot day and everyone was tired. They decided to make one last climb to avoid having to do it in the morning. The group was spread out with some at the top, including his son John and others at various levels. Domas began experiencing medical issues and was given aid by his classmates. The group returned to the valley floor with George’s son John carrying his pack. A camp was set up and Weisel and John set out for a nearby Ranger station. Two Park Rangers showed up with portable medical gear and proceeded to exam Domas. He was monitored the remainder of the night and not cleared to continue hiking. A CHP helicopter was called, the LZ cleared, smoke thrown and Domas became a peacetime “dustoff.” Fortunately, his condition was resolved and he was able to rejoin the group. Domas continues to hike extensively in Europe.

When the group took on the Torne, Hubbard was not worried about the difficulty. “I knew that if we went slow enough, the guys could make it up.  And I knew that they would send a helicopter up for us vets to get us down if we needed.” The Torne was steep and required some rope assistance near the summit, but the challenge was met by all. Their “one foot in front of the other” approach proved successful, and the group reached the peak of the Torne. They placed their memorial rock atop the mountain, a flat stone tablet that was sourced from Popolopen Creek painted with the names of 24 classmates killed in action, 23 in Vietnam and one in the Dominican Republic. 

When asked later, Hoover said he felt honored and blessed to have been the one to read the names on the ’64 memorial rock. “Even though I did not have their first names they just came to me as I spoke. Some things you never forget. I recall being puzzled when I saw a C in front of ‘Kirby’ Wilcox’s name, until I remembered I was using his nickname.” Hoover continued, “For me it was moving. The realization of the loss to the class and what they could have contributed had they lived. The were top academics and at least nine of the 24 were Starmen.”

Domas was also close with many of the fallen, including Bob Serio who was a fellow Beast detail squad leader. “He was one of my best friends,” he said.” Domas devoted his hike to Mont St. Michel in France as a pilgrimage to Serio. “Bob went to high school at Mount Saint Michael in the Bronx,” Domas said. “I made a credential for Bob and West Point, had it stamped and sent it to his father.” 

“The lost classmates – we knew all of them, all of us knew exactly who they were, we had personal interactions with most of them,” Hubbard said. “We also talked about the roses we placed at the cemetery. The guy I wanted to spend time with at his grave was Dave Ramsay. He was one of only two black cadets in the class. He went into the Air Force and was killed in action when the F-4 he was flying was shot down. He was a fighter pilot. It was hard in the mid 60’s. Twenty-four is a lot.”

More than the accomplishment of reaching the summit, it was about remembering their fallen classmates. “It was the most meaningful thing we did at the reunion for me,” Taylor said. “I’m glad Mont convinced us to go.” 

“The cemetery visit, the memorial, that is the important stuff,” Hubbard said.

According to the local trail master, the small group that took on the Torne that day made history as the oldest group of West Point graduates to climb the mountain. In true USMA tradition, Evans and fellow reunion attendees were curious who was the oldest among them,  a title that holds a place of honor and distinction in West Point lore. They discovered that  Hoover, a prior service grad, was indeed the oldest graduate. At nearly 83, Hoover prefers to think of himself as older rather than old. His advice to young cadets: “Keep moving. You can do whatever you set your mind to do. Toughness is a mental attitude.”

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