Update Your Profile

Stay up to date with all West Point news and stay connected with fellow grads

Update your Register Entry

Cullum Files

historical records

Class Notes

login required, available to graduates & widows

GEN Gordon Sullivan Article

West Point, N.Y., Thursday, 2 Oct 2003

Yesterday evening, 1 October 2003, West Point Sylvanus Thayer Award was presented to General (Retired) Gordon R. Sullivan, former Chief of Staff of the Army and current president of the Association of the United States Army.

A chill wind from the northwest blew across The Plain at 5:15 pm as honors were sounded, briefly holding GEN Sullivan's red, four-star flag horizontal. Low, dark clouds moved to the south, behind the clock tower of the West Academic Building, now Pershing Barracks, the Eisenhower wing, and the Cadet Chapel. Over towards Quarters 100, similar clouds offered occasional respite from the glaring, late afternoon sun that cast long shadows and rendered the grass of The Plain near chartreuse in color. Then the First Captain, BG Brooks (acting for the Superintendent, who was attending the funeral of his father), and GEN Sullivan mounted the jeep styled "USMA 6" to participate in the ceremonial charade of "trooping the line." After retreat, the Corps passed in review. As the 4th Regiment approached the reviewing party, the sun was almost masked by Storm King Mountain, and a definite chill was in the air. At other Thayer Award ceremonies, the air was hot and humid, and programs were pressed into service as makeshift fans to create some semblance of a breeze, but that was not the case on this October evening-a crackling fire would have been welcomed.

After pausing before the reviewing stand to play "The Army Song"-adapted from the Field Artillery's Caisson Song-the USMA Band, led by the Sergeant Major in his white plumed shako, marched off, leaving the field to the Hellcats, the brigade staff, and the reviewing party. The guests quietly filed onto the sidewalk, past Quarters 100 and Thayer's statue, and on to Washington Hall. The "million dollar view" from Trophy Point was beautiful in the near twilight, with the Hudson River as still as a mirror.

The steak dinner was quite good, and the cadets assigned to each table were personable and young. GEN Sullivan rose to speak and immediately won over the cadets by announcing he had negotiated, with the Commandant, a week of "PMI status" for the Corps; that is, no morning inspections or open lockers but permission to nap. He noted that both he and his wife were graduates of the Thayer Academy in Braintree, MA, and that he was a graduate of Norwich University, founded by Alden Partridge, the USMA Superintendent who preceded Thayer and is deemed the father of the ROTC. He spoke of the influence of Thayer on his life and the life of our country: individual responsibility, values, and strength of character. Then he mentioned a question that a local journalist asked after the review: "What are you most proud of?" His answer: "I am proud to be an American soldier."

The remainder of his remarks were addressed primarily to the Corps of Cadets. He noted that, during his most trying times as Chief of Staff, his periodic visits to West Point helped refresh his spirits because of the sheer energy of the Corps and the serene majesty of the place. He next spoke of Ike's selfless service training troops at Camp Colt during WWI, knowing that he would be denied combat service. Then his struggles during WWII, creating and maintaining a sometimes-contentious coalition of allies. Finally, he spoke of the special relationship between Ike, the West Point graduate, and GEN Marshall, a product of ROTC at VMI.

Turning his thoughts back to West Point itself, he noted that one could feel the strife between our soldiers and their adversaries when you walk amidst the captured cannon on Trophy Point. Then he referred to a letter from Sherman to Grant in March 1864 to illustrate the concept of mutual trust. "I knew that wherever I was, you were thinking of me. And if I were in trouble, you would come to me, if alive." Since it is impossible to predict the world situation, he emphasized that graduates must be ready the moment they moment they take the oath of a commissioned officer-just as those who had gone before. They must be technically proficient and physically fit and are expected to understand that self-sacrifice is implicit in their calling. He mentioned a letter he had received from a member of the Class of 2002 assigned to a Ranger unit. Dated Baghdad, 15 August 2003, it said, "My platoon and company were in combat when I joined them only ten months after graduation."

Referring to a Thayer academic axiom, he noted that graduates should expect that performance to standards would be measured daily, and that West Point is about starting you (the Corps) on a road of selfless service to the nation. Because, without you, West Point merely would be a monument to past glory. Echoing the motto Duty, Honor, Country, he said the Army and the nation needs West Point exactly as it is-setting the standards for the United States Army. I cannot tell you how proud I am of this award-on behalf of my family and the soldiers who served with me.

The First Captain then presented GEN Sullivan with a mounted cadet saber, and the Cadet Glee Club-resplendent on the stained-glass-window-backed balcony above the main entrance to Washington Hall-rendered the Alma Mater prior to the final benediction. By 8:15 pm it was over, and the guests spilled out into the cool, evening air. I think Thayer would have been proud.

Your humble servant,
J. Phoenix, Esquire

Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to JPhoenix@aogusma.org.

You may sign up to receive all future Gray Matter artcles at: http://www.aogusma.org/CONTACT/signup.htm.