By James Mack Adams

This month, the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York is celebrating the 217th year of its founding.  Founded in March 1802, it is the oldest of America’s service academies. It is credited as being the oldest continuously-occupied military post in America.

Also, this year, the academy’s Association of Graduates (AOG) is observing its 150th anniversary. Both events are important to me in that I am a designated Friend of West Point and as such I am listed on the AOG rolls. 

When I was a youngster, I invested quite a bit of my very vivid imagination time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. My earliest career choices were cowboy, private eye, or secret agent. I went to a lot of movies in those days. 

In my teen years, my interest turned to the military. I thought it would be very cool to attend a military school for my high school education. I requested catalogs from schools and devoured them. I knew very well, though, that my parents could not afford the tuition. But it didn’t cost anything to look and to daydream.

Though I have always had respect and admiration for West Point and the outstanding military leaders it has produced, I didn’t pursue an appointment. I take pride in the fact I received my U.S. Army commission through the excellent ROTC program at ETSU and served my active duty and reserve time as a field artillery officer. 

My personal association with West Point came much later in my life. 

It was a day in the year 2000 that the phone in my home office in Georgia rang. The caller identified himself as Col. (Ret.) Fletcher Ware, president of the West Point Society of Savannah.  He said he enjoyed reading my weekly local history column in the Savannah Morning News and wanted to see if I was open to a proposition.

Col. Ware, whom I had never met, told me that West Point’s bicentennial celebration was scheduled for March 2002. He asked if I would be interested in researching and writing a book about the impact of West Point and its graduates on the Georgia coast over the academy’s first 200 years. The book was to be published by the Savannah society and serve as the centerpiece for the society’s observation of the bicentennial. I accepted Ware’s invitation to meet with the association’s board of directors to discuss the project.

Two years later, “Entwined Destinies…West Point and the Coastal Empire 1802-2002” came off the presses. It was a limited-edition hardback book and is no longer in print. I have seen where new and used copies are available through Amazon.com. 

Two former West Point superintendents and other Academy senior staff members have autographed copies. At a past Founders Day Dinner, I autographed and presented a copy to Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey (USMA 1964). Gen. McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division in Operation Desert Storm. He is presently a paid military analyst for NBC and MSNBC.   

Publication of the book opened doors I had no idea I would ever be allowed to enter. I was made an associate member of the West Point Society of Savannah. In January 2003, I was surprised and honored by being designated a Friend of West Point by the academy’s Association of Graduates. This made me an honorary member of “The Long Gray Line,” and gave to me some perks available to graduates.

In May 2003, my good friends, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Roger Waddell and his wife, Laurelei, invited me to accompany them on a visit to West Point. It was an experience I will never forget. During the visit, I got to sit in on a class, lecture to a group of cadets in Eisenhower Hall, eat in the cadet dining hall, and watch a Saturday morning dress review.

On March 3, Jo and I attended the 2019 Founders Day Dinner in Savannah. It was good to see old friends. The guest speaker was Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gillian, the current West Point Commandant of Cadets. Gen. Gillian now has an autographed copy of “Entwined Destinies.”