The West Point class of 2015 that graduated a few weeks ago has a lot of tradition to live up to. Besides having attended one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the US, they are the centennial class to the Class the Stars Fell On. Will history repeat itself?
West Point’s Class of 1915 graduated as Europe was in the middle of World War I, and the US would soon enter the war. As new officers of a very small peacetime army, the class of 1915 led the core of army professionals who knew how the military worked when men flooded into the army in 1917 and 1918. The Class of 1915 was a step ahead of the rest of the newly recruited Army in getting to the front lines and knowing what to do when they got there. The timing gave the class just about enough time to figure out what they were doing as junior officers before leading the US in a charge across Europe that brought WWI to its end.
Of course, victory always looks good on a military resume, but senior officers after WWI didn’t do so well, as there was a general feeling that the war had been badly run at the highest levels. 20 years later as WWII approached, there was a push to promote competent new officers over more senior officers if they appeared less competent. The junior officers who had made a name for themselves in the war and were still around 20 years later were promoted in large numbers, none more than the Class of 1915.
A general’s rank insignia is the star, from 1 to 5 stars. The one-star general, a brigadier general, might command 1000 men, but a five-star general is the General of the Army, the highest possible Army rank. Over one third of the Class of 1915 ended up as generals, the most famous being Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower.
Eisenhower, of course, went on to achieve the rank of President. But while the President can tell generals what to do, he is himself answerable to yet another rank – the average American voter – and eventually Eisenhower achieved that rank too.
Here are the names of the class of 2015; let’s see what they end up doing in 2045 or so. Meanwhile, the t-shirts are available through the West Point Museum, the oldest federal museum, with a collection going back to George Washington.