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West Point ’41

The Class That Went to War and Shaped America

Anne Kazel-Wilcox

Publication Year: 2014

Bataan. North Africa. Sicily. Omaha Beach. The Ardennes. West Point 41: The Class That Went to War and Shaped America is an uplifting story of ordinary young men in extraordinary times, in extraordinary places, who graduated directly into the teeth of battle and displayed unwavering leadership, honor, duty, and determination. From Sandy Nininger, awarded the first Medal of Honor of World War II for his actions leading Philippine Scouts in the early days of the war, to Charlie Fletcher, Ed Rowny, Paul Skowronek, Herb Stern, and dozens of others who quickly found themselves leading companies, battalions, and regiments, these young officers struggled with the fog and terror of war and early command. In a postwar era of unprecedented military latitude, they helped shape defense strategy, led development of America’s rocket programs, and created the theory and practice of helicopter airmobile combat that came to dominate in Vietnam. In Europe, Asia, and with the Soviets, 41ers practiced diplomacy and tradecraft as architects of American Cold War policy. All the while, they clung tightly to tenets of duty and moral courage inculcated at West Point: often tested, but holding firm to the bonds that make up the “Long Gray Line.”

Published by: University Press of New England

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Michael J. Meese, Brigadier General (ret.), U.S. Army

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pp. ix-x

...fate of the world to this day. In the United States alone over 11 million served from a nation of 132 million. The entire economy was redirected to support the war effort, and virtually everyone personally knew someone who was affected by the war. By contrast, today instant...

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pp. xi-xii

...their careers from West Point, into war, and beyond. Their stories are based on many hundreds of hours of interviews, after which most officers fastidiously reviewed and corrected the content of their recollections, down to the artillery size, the exact date of a particular battle in the Bulge, the specific canal crossed...

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pp. xiii-xvi

...Former ambassador, adviser to five presidents, and chief negotiator for nuclear disarmament with the Soviets under President Reagan. Rowny was considered one of the architects of the U.S. policy of “peace through strength.” Rowny planned the Inchon Invasion in the Korean War...

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1 | Hell on the Hudson

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pp. 1-9

...formation dressed in full military gear, lugging forty-plus pounds on his back, plunging, lunging, dropping and dipping to calisthenics, and running until he was ready to drop. And that was just the beginning of the day. As the sweat poured down his earnest eighteen-year-old face that Independence Day of 1937, Stern swore...

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2 | Upon the Fields of Friendly Strife

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pp. 10-15

...Cadet Clarence J. Lokker penned the hazy morning scene: “Like some medieval, walled fortress, the sullen buildings stand out grotesquely in the early morning gloom. . . . There is a flash, a long echoing rumble of sound, the shrill brass of bugles, the reverberating cascade of drum beats in the area. Like the sudden parting of...

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3 | At the Post

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pp. 16-21

...route to New York, Forsyth’s train pulled into Elgin, Illinois, west of Chicago. As he sat reading, the train whistle blew, indicating his onward journey. Passengers shuffled through the car with suitcases, searching for spare seats on the crowded train. A young lady sat down beside Forsyth, and the pretty sight broke...

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4 | Pass the Ammunition

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pp. 22-33

...Top graduates like Ed Rowny and Spec Powell grabbed coveted engineering slots. Paul Skowronek opted for spurs, while Henry Bodson, Joe Reed, Herb Stern, and Charlie Fletcher all chose artillery. Jerry La Rocca aimed for the Air Corps but needed a base branch...

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5 | Humble Honor

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pp. 34-48

...Alexander “Sandy” Nininger, were labeled “the quiet ones.” The two shared a love of classical music, romance languages, and tales of exotic places. Rowny often heard the two sharing their opinions on Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms or speaking together...

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6 | Baptism into War

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pp. 49-65

...Bailey was notified that he had but a short time before his unit was to sail. To prepare for battle, the training was to be a grueling sunup-till-sundown regime under the watchful eyes of a post commander who was convinced the men were subpar soldiers. A few weeks into their ordeal, Bailey felt the commander’s wrath...

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7 | Jump Time in Sicily

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pp. 66-78

...the first large-scale airborne invasion in history. General “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin’s protégé, paratrooper Jack Norton, was front and center in that effort, serving as a battalion executive with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. The goal was for airborne forces to drop behind the beaches...

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8 | Dawn and Dusk

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pp. 79-91

...tracers and illuminating devices. It was the work of the Pathfinders, who had infiltrated the ground thirty minutes earlier. After the debacle in Sicily, Norton had spearheaded developing the doctrine, which involved sending in an elite force prior to the main assault to set up signaling devices to guide aircraft to...

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9 | Gothic Fronts

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pp. 92-111

...their time in North Africa till the tide of power changed. Toward early April that occurred, allowing ships to press onward, which for Bodson meant squeezing aboard a crowded British transport ship. The final destination was undisclosed, but Bodson was tired of the...

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10 | The Nose of the Bulge

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pp. 112-122

...along the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France until the line reached Switzerland in the south. Operation Market Garden was an Allied plan to circumvent the northern end of that line. “Market” was code name for the airborne side of the equation, which would be the largest airborne operation in history, while “Garden”...

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11 | Contact at Houffalize

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pp. 123-132

...Artillery Group, a heavy artillery unit within the VIII Corps of the U.S. First Army. Fletcher was gathering intelligence on the enemy, including where they were and what they were doing, as well as his unit’s own area...

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12 | The Empire is Unseated

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pp. 133-147

...team near the Rhine’s west bank. The observers were holed up in an abandoned flak tower, about ten-stories high, formerly used by the Germans to defend against air attacks. Now it was an ideal lookout from which the 84th artillery observers could call in targets. Every five to ten minutes, the fire missions were radioed in to Stern’s headquarters...

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13 | Bittersweet Freedom

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pp. 148-157

...As Jim Forsyth passed the time at Oflag 64, he was permitted to write home one postcard and one letter weekly. He previously used up his quota writing to his wife, so in the dim light, on the thin burlap mattress in his barracks’ cell, he sat to pen a card to his parents...

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14 | Victory Europe

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pp. 158-168

...In the first week of May, Allied units raced toward the Bavarian city of Berchtesgaden, not far from the German border with Austria. The alpine city was a coveted prize since it was a key outpost for senior members of the Third Reich (including...

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15 | Bombs Away

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pp. 169-174

...V-E Day was behind the officers, but not necessarily combat. Many ’41 officers, such as Joe Reed, were put on notice to be ready for yet another deployment—to Okinawa—as the war still raged with Japan. Before shipping out, and thinking...

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16 | Bataan a Yard at a Time

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pp. 175-188

...With the war winding down, the race was on to stave off further POW deaths. While the Germans were abandoning both their POW and concentration camps, there was grave concern among the Allies that in the Philippines, the Japanese might begin mass...

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17 | Shifting Gears

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pp. 189-199

...After the war, West Point ’41 classmates began preparing for peace, a promise that had seemed fleeting back when they graduated but now took on new meaning. While World War II had fulfilled their service requirements, almost all graduates who survived...

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18 | Going Up, Under, and Over There

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pp. 200-217

...In these postwar years, a number of 1941 class members disappeared off the radar screen. Peer de Silva, who had been head of security at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, began fading into the Moscow scenery under the shadows of the CIA. While the intelligence organization was in its early stages and had no infrastructure...

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19 | The Chill of the Cold War

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pp. 218-228

...The dust had barely settled from the Inchon Invasion when another region of Communist insurgency revved up, and Herb Stern was ordered there. “Where the hell is Saigon?” he asked. It was the fall of 1950, and Stern was assigned to the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) dispatched to French Indochina to help curb the growing threat of Communism in the region. More specifically, the group’s role was to advise French forces on...

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20 | Gazing into the Future

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pp. 229-251

...As the icy standoff with the Soviets continued, none had a chillier task than Henry Bodson. Having progressed from one missile program to the next, he headed to Alaska to create battle stations of western defense in the arctic tundra. Already, about a hundred missile...

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21 | Little Gold Corvette

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pp. 252-262

...The amber wheat fields surrounding the town of Fulda, in the northern German state of Hessen, gave little indication of the potent power of the land, but in 1962 those lowlands were an enormous canvas upon which armies to the east and west were...

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22 | Anticipating New Fronts

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pp. 263-274

...While the Fulda Gap was the anticipated route for a Soviet invasion of West Germany, the United States feared Communism was on the move everywhere. The Soviets had aggressively taken over Poland and Hungary. They were on the move in Mongolia. And in the year prior, America had felt Communism breathing down...

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23 | Trials and Trauma of the Vietnam Era

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pp. 275-286

...Walter Woolwine had by now become the treasurer of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was, in essence, the academy bank account, receiving a monthly disbursement from the Army that, in turn, was used to fund books, meals, and other operating details of the academy and its nearly three...

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24 | Permission to Withdraw

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pp. 287-303

...As the ’60s drew to a close, Charlie Fletcher, having returned stateside, was at the Department of Defense, tasked with industrial preparedness. His goal was to determine how the United States could take a war footing— its stockpile of weapons and mobilization...

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pp. 304-306

...War II. Few could have foreseen that twenty-fiveyear- old officers would end up commanding battalions in war, positions that otherwise would have required some twenty-plus years of peacetime service. Only in one other period of history did anything remotely similar happen, and that was with West Point graduating classes during...

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pp. 307-308

...It was graduation week at West Point in 2011, and at the invite of our good friend General Edward Rowny we attended seventieth reunion festivities for the West Point class of ’41. We were quickly awestruck by class members we met—by their close camaraderie, their remarkable stories of service, their vivacity and humor. This was a unique group of men, we knew, and together...

Appendix: United States Military Academy Class of 1941

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pp. 309-318


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pp. 319-322


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pp. 323-330

Index of Formations and Units

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pp. 331-332

Index of Names and Subjects

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pp. 333-351


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pp. 352-368

E-ISBN-13: 9781611685725
E-ISBN-10: 1611685729
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611684698

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2014