Our Finest Sons and Daughters

News this week from West Point, where the superintendent wants to change the lyrics to the alma mater and companion song "The Corps" to reflect that women now attend the academy and serve as Army officers.

'Bout time. Women serve in myriad capacities in today's military. And as Lt. Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck noted in other comments, female graduates now lie in West Point's hallowed cemetery, having sacrificed their lives in combat. West Point's leadership is right to recognize that through this decision. This is also a good teaching point about the need for inclusive leadership in today's military, comprised of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from every race, faith, nationality and background you can imagine.

By Phillip Carter |  May 18, 2008; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Army
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Good. I won't go so far as to say "'bout time" only because a defining event like the War on Terror, where our woman warriors could prove themselves in war, needed to happen in order to amend a highly traditional culture forged in war.

A grueling war demanding of all West Point grads - check. Female West Point grads doing their duty in war with some qualifying for "Well done! Be thou at peace." - check. Conditions met - it's time for the full acceptance of women into the Corps.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 18, 2008 10:23 AM

No, no a thousand times no.

The lyrics should not be changed.

This proposal alongside others made by the Army over the past 7-8 years evinces a desire to throw our history, lineage and traditions overboard with minimal thought or consideration (e.g. branchless ACUs, the proposal to abolish full color unit/combat patches and overseas service bars, abolishing the QM, TC and OD branch for officers above 1LT, the revision of the soldier's creed into a simplistic "war cry."

This is such a non issue. There are so many greater things that USMA needs to worry about - namely living up to its charge to truly reflect all of the 435 Congressional districts and 50 states of this great land. When only 5 NYC residents graduate in the class of 2007, they are NOT doing their job. Statistically, NYC should have about 23-25 USMA grads a year given its share of the national population and more if you factor in the higher educational attainment than the national average.

Eric,

You lost me at "woman warriors." This is a profoundly un-American term IMHO. How about Female officers, officer-leaders or simply soldiers?

Attention: GEN Schoomaker has left the building!

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | May 18, 2008 10:52 AM

IRR: "You lost me at "woman warriors." This is a profoundly un-American term IMHO. How about Female officers, officer-leaders or simply soldiers?"

Those are all true titles, and ones I normally prefer to use. When I was a soldier, I thought of myself as a soldier, not a warrior. But the key point I'm trying to make by using the term "warrior" (with "woman warrior" as alliterative poetic license) is that our traditions are so deep because they are rooted in our nation's wars. More to the point, the Army's and West Point's traditions are etched in the blood and lives of the American heroes who have sacrificed in war, better men and women than most of us will ever be.

So, the question is, for the caretakers of hallowed traditions, like LTG Hagenback at USMA, what has the cultural legitimacy and sufficient compelling force to amend them? Certainly not PC or PR motives, not even 30 years of female cadets at West Point commissioned into the Army. In my opinion, the answer is female West Point grads who have paid for their rightful place in the Army's and West Point's traditions through their proven honor and sacrifice in the culmination of their soldierly duty in war.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 18, 2008 12:00 PM

1LT Laura Walker, USMA 03 (Protectors of the Free), died in Afghanistan on 18AUG05. Read this article about 1LT Walker:
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/246659_wardead01.html

Scroll to the end of the article for an essay LT Walker wrote about leading soldiers, found among her things after her death ... so yeah, I'll say it again: I think it's time.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 18, 2008 12:17 PM

Eric,

Thanks for the note and clarification. You make some compelling points and since I know you personally, I can see where you're coming from.

I guess I can expand my point by asking aloud if we should be giving flavor-of-the-week "caretakers of hallowed traditions" like LTG Hagenbeck the sweeping authority to change our very own traditions, heraldry and lineage on a whim?

Ray Kimball can clarify, but I seem to recall that it was this very LTG Hagenbeck who seriously tried to have the Corps of Cadets wear ACUs as their daily duty uniform during the academic year. As I understand it, he and his Commandant, BG Robert "I am the Aroma of Jesus Christ" Caslen, were talked "down from the cliff" on this issue. What's my point? When LTG "Buster" Hagenbeck attempted to put cadets in ACUs, he lost a lot of credibility and revealed profoundly poor judgment. In the wake of this, why should I NOT question his other attempts to rewrite USMA traditions?

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | May 18, 2008 12:19 PM

Instead of window-dressing like just changing the words to a song, how about changing the culture of sexual assault in the military. Something like a third of the women serving in Iraq have been attacked by their fellow soldiers, and yet the military always covers it up and always protects the attackers. How about giving these women who serve America something they can USE?

Posted by: Fnarf | May 18, 2008 2:17 PM

Phil-
I've been reading your blog for awhile now and while I agree with your take on alot of stuff, I gotta disagree on this one. There is no way in heck the Corps, the Alma Matter, or any other piece of West Point's heritage knowledge needs to be changed to reflect the times. It is true that we have women here now, but for crying out loud, they've been here for nearly thirty years with this being a non-issue. Women are fully integrated up and down the Corps, from athletics to leadership positions. Now the Supe is going to try and pull some BS to look good for the public?? Look, somewhere a line needs to be drawn that says "hey, we're West Point, we have traditions and standards and that these are things that needn't be changed at the whims of society."

FWIW, I'm presently a cadet at USMA, class of '09. I did ROTC for a year and I'm prior enlisted, so you'd think I'd probably be the last guy to care about some of the stuff around here. I definitely draw the line at jacking with the things that make West Point what it is. I won't sing the revised Corps and I know a heck of alot of people who won't either.

IRR Soldier: Yeah, they floated the idea of ACUs as the duty uniform, replacing As For Class (a gray version of Class Bs). This was part of the whole slate of "Tiger Team" changes that came in at the beginning of this academic year. Luckily, the Association of Graduates talked them out of it. As for the other stuff that did stick, all I can say is "The Corps Has."

Posted by: uavking | May 18, 2008 2:39 PM

Danggit, I meant "Alma Mater" not "Alma Matter." Arrgh, TEE Week is jacking with my brain already...

Posted by: uavking | May 18, 2008 2:40 PM

uavking - Great input, thanks. Like some here, I am conflicted on this one. But I like your stand on heritage. To this day I still recite the pre-54 Pledge of Allegiance that I learned as a boy. Hopefully God will forgive me even if the chaplain at my local VFW post won't.

Posted by: mike | May 18, 2008 4:58 PM

I'm class of '96, which in the DC area makes me a "young grad" and probably in the minority here. I guess I never learned the appropriate reverence to either the corps, or the Alma mater: forced memorization and recitation didn't do it for me. I can't remember an event other than the end of an Army-Navy game where the Alma mater was played. They always seemed to be "forced history" with a false sense of reverence, and not something I genuinely learned to appreciate or associate through strong ties to important events during my time there.

I don't mind the addition to the corps and Alma mater, and after leading female graduates in combat, I wholeheartedly endorse recognizing their contributions, but it has to be done well: just changing "sons" to "sons and daughters" kind of screws it up. I'd prefer some more gender neutral:

"The men of the corps long dead"
"They of the corps long dead"

"We sons of today, we salute you
You sons of an earlier day"
"We of today, we salute you
You of an earlier day"

"And the last man feels to his marrow"
"And the last one feels to their marrow"


Posted by: Mike | May 18, 2008 5:57 PM

Who cares? If he has the authority, and he believes it to be the right thing, then he should just do it. Why dither about it and delay doing it? Why involve Congress? If this is an overdue "hard right," delay is by definition wrong. Do it and take whatever heat you might get.

As Hagenbeck noted in his letter to grads, leadership isn't about votes. It's about making hard decisions. Hagenbeck hasn't made a decision. He's "thinking about it." What he's really doing here is the classic political move: floating the trial balloon. If someone with more horsepower/stars says "no way," well, he can then exit stage right while meanwhile getting points for being "sensitive."

Uavking has it right: it's all about looking good for the public. We're not seeing a display of moral fiber; we're seeing a clumsy politician at work.

Just do it, General. And then move on to your other pressing concerns. Looks like that superintendent job continues to be another one of those high-stress three-star positions. But somebody's got to do it.

Posted by: Publius | May 18, 2008 7:52 PM

Publius: Right on. So far as I can tell, LTG Hagenbeck has been playing this sort of political game since the beginning of the academic year.

FWIW, neither of these two songs originated with the administration here at West Point. The Alma Mater was written by a cadet, Paul S. Reinecke, in 1908 and first sung at the Class of 1909's (my 100 year class) graduation hop. The Corps was written by Bishop H.S. Shipman, the USMA Chaplain in 1902 and first performed in 1910. (I just grabbed all of this out of my Bugle Notes)

So, if anything, the Supe should be asking what the Corps thinks, since these are our songs and originated with us. Worth noting that no one has come out and gotten our take on things. Anyways, back to not studying for TEE's...

Posted by: uavking | May 18, 2008 8:29 PM

Mike,

It looks like you and LTG Hagenback are of a mind - pasted from Phil's link to LTG Hagenback's "other comments":

The Proposed Changes

The Alma Mater
FROM: Guide us, thy sons aright"
TO: "Guide us thine own aright"

The Corps
FROM: "The men of the Corps long dead"
TO: "The ranks of the Corps long dead"
FROM: "We sons of today, we salute you"
TO: "The Corps of today, we salute you"
FROM: "You sons of an earlier day"
TO: The Corps of an earlier day"
FROM: "And the last man feels to his marrow"
TO: "And the last one feels to the marrow"

uavking: "... reflect the times"

The "times" that are motivating the Supe are distinguished by female grads serving well in war, with some making the ultimate sacrifice and earning places of honor in the Long Grey Line. As a Firstie, you'll be asking plebes to recite The Corps, which means they will be paying homage to the "ghostly assemblage" of their betters. Isn't it disrespectful for anyone - let alone a mere plebe - to address as "sons" and "men" the woman heroes who are in formation with the Long Grey Line?

West Point isn't a religion. The value of West Point is the history of its graduates. In time of war, it's a living history.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 18, 2008 8:36 PM

UAVking:

Actually, this partially originated with some discussions the Supe had with both male and female cadets. If you feel insulted that he didn't consult with you personally, get over it and get used to it. That's going to happen a lot in your career.

Oh and one other thing...you get to use the phrase "the Corps has" once you actually graduate. Not before.

Posted by: Ray Kimball | May 18, 2008 9:36 PM

"This is also a good teaching point about the need for inclusive leadership in today's military, comprised of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from every race, faith, nationality and background you can imagine."

Really? What about Teh Ghey?

Posted by: Corner Stone | May 19, 2008 12:29 AM

And what about Vito Fossela's main squeeze? Promoted to COL and retired to cover up a republican congressional sex scandal. More power to her - but meanwhile guys like General Byrnes and Admiral Stufflebeam got burned. I guess in their cases there were no GOP politicians that needed covering up for.


Posted by: jim | May 19, 2008 2:31 AM

FWIW, I'm a '94 grad in DC (which also makes me still a 'young grad'). While I usually have an immediate visceral and negative reaction to attempts to change our traditions, after some reflection I agree with Mike that the proposed changes to The Corps and the Alma Mater are appropriate and I do not think they diminish the value and importance of the songs.

I understand LTG Hagenbeck's need to explain his thinking in the published letter. While he may have the authority to unilaterlly change the lyrics, it would be incredibly dumb to do so. Before making such a change he has to consider not only the thoughts of the current corps but also the reaction of the alumni. It seems clear even from the small sample on this comment page that this change is far more important to older grads than to current cadets (or even more recent grads). Like it or not West Point's alumni are influential and can be very outspoken about changes to what they consider their "hallowed traditions."

I believe that the Supe was publically floating the change to see what the reaction would be. I think he hoped that most grads would recognize that changing four or five words in these songs would not irreparably damage our traditions and would result in ALL grads feeling pride and inclusiveness.

Those who disagree should attend the funeral of a female graduate and consider how appropriate it feels when they sing the Alma Mater to recognize HER service and sacrifice for our country.

Posted by: Eric M. | May 19, 2008 7:24 AM

The 101st song was changed years ago, it is about time West Point caught up.

I am writing this from memory:

We have a rendezvous with destiny
Our strength and spirit strike the spark
That will always make men free
Jump right out into skies of blue
Keep your eye on the job to be done
We are [the men of] the 101st
We'll fight 'till the battle's won.

The words "the men of" were changed in the 1980s I think.

Posted by: JD | May 19, 2008 3:40 PM

The continuing degradation of the Army in the pursuit of political correctness boggles the mind.

Posted by: ParatrooperJJ | May 23, 2008 8:46 AM

A misguided effort bourne of arrogance and political correctness. Arrogance because the Supe is presuming to understand the feelings of many women graduates; and he claims the command authority to make the change. No woman graduate that I've spoken to agrees with this - generally the older are more entrenched with the tradition. Pronouns in century-old songs don't "recognize their contributions". Words, reverently written to convey deep meaning at a time don't exclude - and changing wouldn't automatically include anyone either.

But if gender-oriented words in songs are so important, why just The Corps and The Alma Mater. Many other changes are needed:
Benny Haven's Oh - "Come fill your glasses fellows...";
Sons of Slum and Gravy;
Anchors Away - "Anchors away my boys";
The Air Force Song - "At 'em boys, give 'er the gun", "Minds of men...", "Hands of men...";
The Battle Hymn of the Republic - "His truth is marching on";
America the Beautiful - "God shed his grace on thee"

Finally, the presumption that as Superintendent, he has "command authority" over these songs makes me question LTG Hagenbeck's current cognitive and reasoning capacity. He appears to have done a respectable job as Supe but this seems to be grasping for a larger legacy. And the effort reveals his perverse misundertanding of the songs and their meaning.

And political correctness? Denial of that as an underlying motivation is absurd and simply dishonest.

As a glee club member, former cadet and current alumni, don't dare sing any new version at my funeral.

Posted by: FTrooper | May 28, 2008 1:44 PM

FWIW, the Supe went ahead and pulled the trigger on this one. Here's a link to his letter to AOG:

https://www.westpointaog.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=2735&srcid=10022&srctid=1&erid=546773

Posted by: uavking | June 3, 2008 11:25 PM

Oh yeah, a hat tip to Mr. Kimball:

The Corps Has...

Posted by: uavking | June 3, 2008 11:27 PM

I have to agree with Ftrooper when he stated that the majority of female graduates, like most other alum's, don't agree with the decision to change the lyrics to these two cadet songs. What I found particularly disappointing is that LTG Hagenbeck would use the memory of two graduates who gave their lives for this country as grounds for making the change. I don't see how changing the lyrics to two songs somehow recognizes their sacrifice more aptly. I can't help but think that they would want the same songs that they knew and sang during their time at the academy to be the ones sung at their funerals and taught to those cadets following the example they set. I know I would.

This looks to me like simple pandering to an extreme minority who, more then likely, has nothing to do with USMA or the military as a whole. That a man entrusted with the responsibility of safe-guarding the traditions of corps would is beyond comprehension.

Some things just aren't meant to be changed.

By the way JD, when i was taught the 101st song only a few years ago, the lyrics were still "We are the men of the 101st"...

Posted by: L. P. | June 4, 2008 7:26 PM

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