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2005 Distinguished Graduate Award

LTG Dave R. Palmer '56

Throughout a lifetime of service to the Nation, Lieutenant General Dave R. Palmer has distinguished himself as a member of the Long Gray Line and brought great credit to the United States Military Academy. He was a commander and staff officer whose Army service spanned more than three decades. He has been an author, lecturer, educator, and community servant, whose tireless efforts have done much to preserve the legacy and enrich the public´s understanding of the United States Army. Most notably, as the 53rd Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, his vision guided far-reaching and enduring advances at West Point. Dave Palmer has repeatedly set the azimuth for change with a wisdom grounded in history and informed by his prescient view of the future. His extraordinary service has done much to promote the welfare of West Point and to further the ideals: "Duty, Honor, Country."

Born in Ada, Oklahoma, Dave Palmer graduated from West Point in the Class of 1956. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of Armor and embarked on a military career that nearly spanned the Cold War era. Following an assignment to Berlin, he commanded a tank company in the 1st Armored Division. From 1969 to 1971, he commanded the 2nd Battalion, 33rd Armor in the 3rd Armored Division, U.S. Army, Europe. He commanded the 1st Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, Fort Hood, Texas, from 1976 to 1977 and the 1st Armored Division in Germany from 1985 to 1986. He also served two tours in Vietnam, one of these at the Vietnamese National Military Academy. Dave Palmer´s assignments in military academia also included a tour as an instructor in the Department of Military Art and Engineering and as the Deputy Commandant of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is remembered by contemporaries as a leader of great wisdom, vision, integrity, and character, invariably uplifting those serving with him.

It was at West Point, however, that Lieutenant General Palmer´s achievements were especially significant and enduring. As Superintendent from 1986 to 1991, Dave Palmer set a course that turned West Point toward its third century of service to the Nation. He directed the articulation of an Academy purpose emphasizing the development of leaders of character. He also established the ground-breaking Cadet Leadership Development System, which replaced the Fourth Class System with a progressive four-year leadership program emphasizing development through ever increasing challenges and responsibilities based on analogous duty positions in Army units. He guided the reorganization of aspects of the academic program and several departments, changes reflecting his analysis of the challenges Army officers would face in increasingly complex, technology-driven 21st-century global operations. His analysis of the Academy´s mission brought balance and focus to the three-program approach to cadet development—military, academic, and physical. In this regard he also recognized the criticality of physical fitness and directed that every cadet would participate in a contact sport. Recognizing the stresses modern society was placing on the Cadet Honor System, he commissioned a study of honor at West Point that led to increased emphasis on its developmental aspects.

Lieutenant General Palmer´s strategic plan for the West Point installation preserved historical elements of the Plain and Cadet Area, enhancing order and reducing congestion. He guided the implementation of a policy for naming government-funded athletic facilities after graduates who had been exceptional athletes and leaders at West Point and who had died relatively young in combat. His vision also initiated a dramatic increase in the use of private funds for new facilities, cadet programs, and academic and leadership opportunities, as well as the construction of the Herbert Alumni Center and the growth of the Association of Graduates´ staff. This remarkable record of Dave Palmer´s achievements places him in the first rank of those who have headed the Military Academy.

Dave Palmer retired from the Army in 1991, joining the Board of Directors of Walden University in 1992. From 1995 to 1999, he served as president of Walden University, where he pioneered providing mid-career professional, working adults with the opportunity to earn advanced degrees through accredited high-quality, distance learning methods. His efforts doubled the enrollment of the university, which now has more than 10,000 students. From 1999 to 2000 he was Chief Executive Officer of Walden e-Learning, Incorporated.

General Palmer has continued to benefit others with his vision, organizational skills and knowledge, often without compensation. He was the catalyst in organizing the West Point Society of the Heart of Texas, and he lectures widely and frequently appears on television as a military analyst and historian. Among his writings are books on Washington´s tactics during the Revolutionary War, the development of our Nation in the years following the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and George Washington´s military career. His first book, The River and the Rock: The History of Fortress West Point, 1775-1783, was published in 1969 and was recognized as the definitive history of the Hudson River and its West Point bastion during the War of Independence.

Lieutenant General Dave R. Palmer has been the recipient of numerous military awards and medals, but it is above all for his character, integrity, vision, selfless service, and contributions to West Point, the United States Army, and the Nation that he is recognized with great pride by the members of the Long Gray Line as a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy.
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