Beyond the Bio

James Walsh Celebrates 50th Graduation Reunion at West Point

James Walsh Celebrates 50th Graduation Reunion at West Point

In May, 353 of 706 graduates of the United States Military Academy (USMA) Class of 1968, along with 430 other family members , gathered at a hotel near West Point for their 50th Graduation Reunion. RK’s Jimmy Walsh was among those graduates. He, along with 15 of the 21 living members of Company C-1, his company for 4 years, gathered to share sad and happy memories, tell tall tales (grown taller over 54 years) and enjoy a few more moments together.

Jimmy remembers the day his journey to graduation began where he and 991 incoming cadet candidates endured their first challenge during Reception Day (R-Day) in July 1964. R-Day is the incoming cadet candidates’ first taste of discipline, uniformity and what it means to uphold the USMA motto of, “Duty, Honor, Country.”

“Pride and trepidation quickly morphed into a major effort on my part to keep up, marching in formation to take our oath. R-Day is a remarkable combination of blurred memory. Even today, a checklist tag hangs from the waist of every candidate. Every mandatory task must be signed off on that tag by an upperclassman to ensure completion,” said Jimmy.

A Memorial Service was held at the Cadet Chapel to remember fallen classmates. “Twenty of our classmates fell in combat in Vietnam, including one from C-1, and several other close friends of mine, and sixty-eight more have died since,” said Jimmy. “Three of my classmates are priests, and they presided over this very somber service,” he added.

During the visit, Jimmy took his family members, two of whom could follow Jimmy’s footsteps in a few years, on a tour of Arvin Gym. “The gym is a huge facility utilized constantly for all manner of physical education, workouts, and fun. Both of my “hopefuls” wanted to run the indoor obstacle course. I had never before seen anyone volunteer for that effort because it is the most difficult two plus minutes of physical effort I have ever experienced,” said Jimmy. “Nevertheless, they had to settle for watching cadets run the “OC.” Afterwards, we took a photo to send a message to several Naval Academy friends.”

The “Old Grads” gathered on The Plain (the parade field) at the statue of Col. Sylvanus Thayer, the “Father of the Military Academy for the ‘Old Grad’ Memorial.”

“During the ceremony, the ‘Old Grads’ joined the Cadet Glee Club and the cadet units volunteered for the ceremony in singing The Alma Mater and The Corps, the two most important songs at West Point,” said Jimmy. “Often, these songs draw tears, even from cadets, especially “Firsties,” and this day proved no different as the words crossed our lips.”

Despite threatening rain, the Corp marched onto The Plain, and Passed in Review for the alumni reunion classes. “The ‘Old Grads’ offered congratulations to each company as they marched past, and called out many efforts seeking to elicit reactions from cadets as they marched by, eyes straight ahead,” said Jimmy. 

“After the parade, the reunion party gathered in The Mess Hall for lunch while several Distinguished Graduates were inducted, including a classmate and a beloved professor of mine,” said Jimmy. “Several of my friends had a number of classes with that professor because he was so good. When all of us returned to our barracks rooms following graduation 50 years ago on June 5, 1968, each of us found a handwritten note from the professor on our bunks,” remembered Jimmy. “After the lunch, I finally got the opportunity to thank him for that thoughtful effort long ago, and to let him know his classroom efforts had been important to my career efforts.” 

Another professor of Jimmy’s, and for whom he later served under in Vietnam, was General Norman Schwarzkopf. “I served under Schwarzkopf as part of his Recon Platoon, then went to work for him after the war for a while. He was my teacher, my boss and then a lifelong friend.”

Above: First Lt. Jimmy and Lt. Col. Norman Schwarzkopf 

Still looking to avoid regulations, Jimmy had “secretly” arranged a tour of the C-1 Barracks, despite graduates not being allowed in the barracks. He also proudly showed his family the windows to each room he had lived in during his four years in East Barracks (now known as Pershing Barracks). He took them to the “new, new library”, as opposed to the “new library” that was completed in the early 1960s. “I showed them the entrance hall and statue of President Jefferson, which were paid for by our class. Despite paying for that hall, our class was advised we could not display the Class of ’68 Crest because Jefferson Hall is an academy facility. In spite of, or perhaps because of that prohibition, the Class of ’68 Crest is hidden, but quite visible in the hall, and is protected by President Jefferson himself,” explained Jimmy.

Below: First Lt. Jimmy Walsh during Vietnam

The best part of each day was meeting up with great friends each night in the banquet hall noted Jimmy. “C-1 had 5 tables of grads and guests, so the tall tales reigned,” he chuckled. “Stories of sheer horror at the time of the events, but incredibly funny in retrospect prevailed, such as: Pete’s sudden horrifying discovery that we had helped him put on the wrong uniform to walk punishment tours; my sneak peek into my squad leader’s mirror which revealed I had forgotten to put on my tie before breakfast; or Don’s ‘closing’ of an upperclassmen’s window before reveille, which actually opened the bottom window, allowing snow to pile up in the room,” remembered Jimmy.

He continued, “These examples only scratch the surface of so many oft repeated tales. Such tales help explain the bonds which were grown over our four years together, bonds which have allowed us to marry each other off, to bury some, and to only grow closer over the last 50 years.”