Chapter 2: ‘Stand Up, Hook Up’

A Rockbound Highland Home

Ninety miles north of New York City, strategically positioned on a high bluff overlooking the Hudson River, is a piece of terrain known as West Point. Since 1802, West Point has been the home of the United States Military Academy. When cadets arrive at West Point, they receive ‘Bugle Notes,’ a book that contains every fact imaginable about the institution. Every cadet is responsible for committing this book to memory. One section of the book contains famous songs such as ‘The Alma Mater’ and ‘The Corps.’ Immediately after ‘The Corps,’ is a well-known tavern song named ‘Benny Havens, Oh.’ It is in this Irish drinking song that cadets learn to call their alma mater a “rockbound highland home.” It became the ethical bedrock for all graduates, acting as an invisible authority, old and relentless, never to be worn away by time.

Johnson West Point
As a cadet at West Point circa 1957.

On their first day reporting to West Point, every cadet takes an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This oath serves as the institutional foundation of the officer throughout his career. At times of challenge, many officers will physically and mentally return to their rockbound highland home to find strength and answers.

The United States Military Academy’s graduation day on June 6, 1960, was a glorious day for the West Point Class of 1960. Little more than fifteen years earlier, our fathers sacrificed, fought, and won the Second World War. For the next fifteen years after our graduation, my classmates and I would make similar sacrifices in Southwest Asia, at the time, our Nation’s longest war. Today, many of my classmates have sent their sons and daughters to make similar sacrifices in a series of multi-generational wars. I note these facts because it is important to understand the events that influence each generation’s effort to ‘Getting It Right.’

Due to the possibility of adverse weather, the graduation ceremony for the Class of 1960 was held indoors in the Gillis Field House. This made no difference to graduating cadets. It was, indeed, a glorious day. It was the culmination of four years of being immersed in a culture characterized by the bedrock values of ‘Duty, Honor, and Country.’ The goal there was to develop young men into leaders of character. In short, to develop outstanding troop leaders. It was also a day of commitment to serve the Nation as professional officers who were ready to lead, fight and win in the crucible of combat.

In my case, I viewed West Point as an institution of leadership where lessons were to be learned from the good and the bad. I knew as a leader, I needed to be humble and show respect to the military profession and to all other members of the profession of arms. Standing on this bedrock of values, I choose to be commissioned in the U.S. Army Infantry and to be assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Home of the Airborne!


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