In the interest of full disclosure, I am an Army veteran with 24 years of service, most of that as a reserve officer, and, as a result, have a deep and abiding interest in ALL things military.
In planning a trip to the northeastern portion of the U.S. we agreed that a trip through the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis was a must-see since Helen’s father graduated there in 1947 and went on to serve as an officer in the Marine Corps.
As for me, I had to see the United States Military Academy at West Point. As a young Army officer stationed in Berlin, I served as the junior aide-de-camp to General Sam S. Walker, United States Commander of Berlin, who was born at West Point and later was the Commandant of Cadets there as a Brigadier General. I had great respect for General Walker and wanted to see the place that had a significant and overwhelmingly positive role in forming the character and principles that guided an outstanding military leader.
An added bonus for us on our trip was the opportunity to visit the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. Although our visit there was during a period of little activity on campus, the campus itself is lovely and our time in New London was equally as pleasant.
USNA, Annapolis, MD
On our arrival in Annapolis we were once again greeted by beautiful weather. Annapolis is a lovely waterfront town, and we had much exploring to do, but we had been told not to miss the formation of Midshipmen which was held every day at noon when the students are campus. It was nearing 11:30 when we arrived and presented ID’s at the gate. The gate guard told us that parking would be tight and he was right. We drove around for several minutes and finally located a parking meter where parking was only allowed for 30 minutes. We knew we needed more time than that, but we pulled in and hoped for the best.
Not having a clue as to where to go, and knowing we were pressed for time, we spotted groups of people walking with a degree of purpose toward the center of campus. We soon caught up with a small group giving a tour to some prospective Midshipmen who told us to follow them to the formation in front of Bancroft Hall.
We passed by a row of charming and stately homes which served as quarters for staff leaders and department heads. Being early in the school year, there was a lot of activity around the homes as people were getting prepared for fall activities and Flags and “Go Navy” signs were being hung on poles and porch rails. We snapped a few pictures and headed on to Bancroft Hall.
The Campus of the Naval Academy is both quiet and beautiful. The grounds on which we walked were covered by the canopy of a large number monstrous oak trees providing shade for the students who walked under them. The grass and shrubs were neatly trimmed and there were flowers out in abundance. All in all, the campus took on the feel of orderly calmness.
We joined the small crowd in front of Bancroft Hall at around 11:55am. There were gentlemen in jackets and ties there, presumably escorting dignitaries and VIPs visiting the campus. There were one or two groups of parents and high school age men and women being led on a tour by very attentive tour guides answering questions non-stop.
There were approximately 4400 Midshipmen standing in formation on the right and left side of the brick terrace in front of Bancroft Hall. At approximately 12:05 a detail composed of 10 Midshipmen carrying the US Flag and three other flags marched through the front portico of Bancroft Hall and walked in step down to the first landing and stood 12 steps above their fellow Midshipmen. Their leader was a female Midshipman bearing a sabre at her side. She lifted the sabre with precision and with authority in her voice, called for reports from the student commanders down the chain. Each commander reported with equally impressive authority. With all Midshipmen being accounted for, the Commander again lifted her sabre and passed the command for all to be marched into the dining hall for a 20 minute lunch. (See video on Easin’ Along YouTube page – click here then scroll for USNA video)
USMA, West Point, NY
We arrived at the campus of the United States Military Academy late in the afternoon of a lovely late summer day. We checked into the Five Star Inn which is an Army hotel located just outside the back gate at West Point and is actually in the city of Highland Falls, NY. The Five Star Inn is a converted dormitory formerly belonging to Ladycliff College, a Catholic institution that closed in 1980. During my time as an active duty officer, I served with several graduates of the USMA who had married alumnae of Ladycliff, so I was familiar with the college, but I was not aware that it had closed. I was glad that the dormitory had been put to such good use, but I found myself wishing “If only these walls could talk”!
Arriving late meant that there wasn’t much activity on campus, but we decided to take a short drive around then find someplace for dinner. Driving around, it soon was apparent that the USMA is much larger than I envisioned. Although I’m not certain about this, it seemed larger than the Naval Academy both in land mass and in the size and number of buildings. I will try to verify this and post an update if I do. Nevertheless, we decided to book a bus tour of the campus to get a better idea of what we were driving by as dark approached.
We returned to the South Gate and Highland Falls where we parked in front of a small pub advertised as South Gate Tavern. We entered, sat at the bar joining about five or six patrons watching a sports event on TV. We were greeted by Emen, the Tavernkeeper and owner. Emen told us that the tavern had been in existence since the 1920’s and served great Italian food prepared by an Italian lady in the kitchen only after receiving our order.
He was right…it was delicious. Upon the recommendation of a gentleman seated next to us, we each ordered Stromboli. Helen (adorable wife) chose a spinach and artichoke and I went for the meat–pepperoni and ham. Once the orders were in we got into a lively conversation with several gentlemen at the bar who seemed to take an interest in us once they learned that we had traveled all the way from Tennessee. There was nothing specific in the conversation, but I think they just wanted to hear Helen’s southern accent. We had a grand time, and when we left, everyone in the bar shook our hands and invited us to come back. Oh, the Stromboli…it took a while to prepare since it was freshly made, but it was wonderful. Helen said it was the best meal of the trip. The Marinara sauce was heavenly. We waddled back to our car with our doggie bag of leftovers.
The next day we were up early and drove to Hyde Park, NY to the FDR Presidential Library. Please see and earlier post on Easin’ Along about that very educational experience.
We planned to take a campus bus tour on the third day of our visit and I was at the Visitor Center early that morning to purchase tickets. Prior to opening the ticket window, a lady announced that tickets could not be purchased for anyone not present at the time of purchase. This was a problem. Helen was still in the Five Star Inn. Luckily, I was able to get her on the phone, and, to her credit, she hustled over to the Visitor Center just as ticket sales began.
The one hour bus tour was well done and our tour guide did a splendid job of pointing out the history and the highlights of the campus. Our first stop was the cadet chapel, a stunningly beautiful structure that featured the largest pipe organ in America. She pointed out the candle in the center of one section of pews that burned constantly in honor of all soldiers missing from all conflicts in the country’s history. The crowd grew quiet upon hearing this.
We continued through campus passing the homes for the USMA staff, the library, the athletic fields, and finally arriving at the parade field and then Trophy Point. There was a class on the parade field in PT uniforms taking a PT test which required them to carry some weights from a starting point to a finish line about 100 yards away. I envied both their strength and their youth.
Trophy Point is a scenic point overlooking the Hudson River and features Battle Monument, the largest granite structure in the Western Hemisphere, standing 46 feet tall and five feet in diameter. Battle monument was constructed in 1897. Around Battle Monument are several cannons bearing the names of over 2,000 union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Trophy Point is an impressive site and on this exquisite day, the view of the Hudson River and the river valley was breathtakingly beautiful.
As we were returning to our bus for the trip back to the Visitor Center, I noticed a group of cadets seated on the ground several hundred yards away. Evidently their instructor didn’t want to confine his students to the classroom on this bluebird day and allowed them outside to hear his lecture. My kind of instructor indeed.
We departed West Point feeling good about our country.
USCGA, New London, CT
Having planned to visit the USNA and the USMA, and scheduling a stop in New London, CT, a visit to the United States Coast Guard Academy was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, we had several activities planned for the day, so we only had time to drive through the campus and get a feel for it. In the end, we regretted our planning, because the campus is impressive and we should have allowed ourselves more time to explore.
I have posted a few pictures taken of both the campus and of New London to illustrate the beauty of the area and say that we both would love to return for another visit.
While in New London, we took a ferry to Orient Point on Long Island, NY for a drive to the Hamptons. This is a trip I would recommend to anyone. The ferry ride is a great way to view the coastline, and the homes, the farms, and the small towns on Long Island made for a very pleasant journey to a part of the country that neither of us had visited previously. Please see the picture gallery of these three memorable visits that follows this posting.