It’s November, and with it come two important dates that celebrate American leadership and service to our nation: Election Day, held this year on November 8, and Veterans Day, on November 11. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that this month’s Day Trip takes a visit to West Point, home of the United States Military Academy, where so many of our country’s great leaders have been forged. In fact, a favorite expression at West Point is that “much of the history we teach was made by people we taught.” Notable figures in history who graduated from the academy include Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Westmoreland and Schwarzkopf, and countless others from every era of American history.
Located approximately 50 miles north of New York City on the picturesque Hudson River, the West Point campus and central post area comprise just a small portion of the nearly 16,000-acre reservation. Upon graduation, cadets are awarded Bachelor of Science degrees and commissions in the U.S. Army, and serve on active duty for a minimum of five years. While many certainly continue their military careers, others go on to succeed in business, medicine, engineering, government, and other ventures.
According to its website, the mission of the academy – which was established over 200 years ago, with legislation signed in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson – is to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character, committed to the values of “Duty, Honor, Country” and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army. Over the course of the demanding four-year “West Point Experience,” male and female cadets, who must be nominated for consideration by a member of Congress or by the Department of the Army, are developed in four critical, challenging, and competitive areas: intellectual, physical, military, and moral-ethical.
West Point is not open for self-touring, but visitors may take a nominally-priced guided tour of the academy grounds, departing from the West Point Visitors Center, which is the central starting point (and, at press time, undergoing renovations, so allow extra time beforehand). The Visitors Center and the West Point Museum are open to the general public on a daily basis. Entrance is also allowed for public events such as concerts, sporting events, cadet reviews, and graduation. In order to gain entry, a valid photo ID is required for all adults age 16 and over, and children must be accompanied by an adult. Tours are not given on certain days, such as during graduation week or on football home game days, and may be cancelled at any time, so it’s strongly recommended that you call ahead to the Visitors Center at (845) 938-2638 to check on the status of tours for the date you’re planning to go. For the current schedule and prices, call West Point Tours, Inc. at (845) 446-4724 or go to www.westpointtours.com.
The Visitors Center serves to attract, educate, and inform the public about the academy and the surrounding grounds. Videos on cadet life and West Point history are shown continuously throughout the day, and exhibits include a full-scale cadet barracks room, a cadet uniform room, cadet daily life, academic fields of endeavor, and the admission process. There is also a gift shop for those who want to remember their visit with military memorabilia. The Visitors Center is open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
While at the Visitors Center’s information area, guests may obtain maps to assist in locating graves at the West Point Cemetery. The cemetery’s mission is to deliver the Final Salute to those members of the U.S. Corps of Cadets, its faculty, staff, and those West Point graduates who have dedicated their lives in the service of this nation. Their final resting places are cared for in perpetuity.
All visitors are encouraged to tour the West Point Museum, where they may view what is considered to be the oldest and largest diversified public collection of militaria in the western hemisphere. The museum is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. There, you will find collections on nearly all aspects of military history, including the history of West Point and the United States Military Academy, the evolution of warfare, and the development of the American Armed Forces. The museum collections actually predate the founding of the academy, with many Revolutionary War trophies that were captured and brought to West Point after the British defeat at Saratoga in 1777.
Entertainment is not overlooked amidst the military atmosphere here. Each year, the Eisenhower Hall Theatre at West Point presents a fine season of performances that includes popular Broadway shows, comedy, classic musical icons, and more, all staged in a newly renovated, state-of-the-art venue in a most unique location. Ticketholders may come and enjoy individual shows or subscribe to a multi-show package, parking is free, and terrific dining is available at Mamie’s Buffet, overlooking the magnificent Hudson. Proceeds help support the extracurricular activities program for the Corps of Cadets.
For more information, go to the West Point website at www.usma.edu.
Whether or not you opt to take a day trip to West Point, now or in the future, remember as this month unfolds to perform your own duty to America – by going to the polls to vote on Election Day, and by remembering our nation’s veterans on Veterans Day. And later in the month, on November 24, let us all celebrate Thanksgiving Day together and give thanks for those who have chosen to lead and to serve for the benefit and protection of American citizens everywhere.