General Van Fleet is Remembered

General James Van Fleet Class of 1915

4 Post House Road

Morristown, NJ 07960

November 9, 1988

General James Van Fleet

5210 Van Fleet Road

Polk City, FL 33868

Subject: Army-Navy 1953

Dear General Van Fleet,

The Army-Navy 1988 game is coming up. Let me go back 35 years to Army-Navy 1953 and recall an evening we shared.

It was the night before the big game, at the West Point Mess Hall. A young plebe sat, stood, and shouted with 2400 other cadets as a great general stood in the poop deck to exhort and rally us to victory. I was the plebe; you were the general. It was one of those nights you never forget.

Here was a lowly plebe, — coming off the rigors of Summer’s Beast Barracks and Autumn’s academics and sports, — all of a sudden, in one night, joining into one with the whole Corps and a general.

Let’s look at the special circumstances fueling the night. Army had lost three years straight, and were in a re-building phase. A fantastic crop of sophomores shored up some fine juniors and seniors to produce a successful season, and cause the Corps to feel we could take the big one, — Navy. Our sophomores included future All-Americans like Bob Farris, Pat Uebel and Ralph Chesnauskas, who joined All-Americans like Don Holleder and Tommy Bell. A solid Army team had again come together under Coach Red Blaik.

Circumstance #2 was the week-before activities. These included a special, creative display by each of the 24 companies. My Company L-2 proudly extolled the gridiron prowess of a company member, with a large, well-engineered device depicting our Big 55, Bob Farris, scrubbing the Navy goat. The device, about 8′ tall, was powered by L-2 plebes lying on their backs driving a bicycle-like mechanism. For seven days before, for an hour before supper, L-2 plebes taking turns had #55 going up and down, dunking an scrubbing Billy. This was a distinct privilege, where a plebe could do his part.

Circumstance #3 was the possession of Billy, the Navy goat. The capture was engineered by Firstie Ben Schemmer, my Co. L-2 platoon leader. Ben earlier that night had called his plebes into his room to tell the story. When asked how he found the goat, Ben said, “I followed my nose.” On the return to West Point the goat had poked its horns through the convertible car’s roof to stare at a startled gas station attendant in Maryland pumping gas. Ben paraded Billy through the Mess Hall to the delight and wild cheers of the Corps.

The fourth, and crowning Circumstance was the appearance Friday night right after supper of WW II and Korean War General James Van Fleet. A real live hero general in the same room. Wow. And never could I have anticipated how in the next hour one person, namely you, could fire up the team and the Corps into such a frenzy. I anticipated a solid, driving speech, — somewhat “proper.” To my surprise we instead got a cheerleader just perfect for that special occasion. In just one hour, you took a team and Corps that dared to think they had a chance against favored Navy and molded them into a tightly knit unit that KNEW they would beat Navy.

I remember vividly how you started out at T=0 in full uniform. Then you dared take your jacket off. Out of uniform, I thought. This daring, bold move triggered off a receptive Corps. “He means business.” Next came rolled up sleeves. The Corps decibel level further increased and more cadet stored energy was converted to heat energy. The poop deck got hotter. You loosened your tie. More cheers. Off came the tie, and with each such action you yelled out fighting words. The noise and activity level from T=0 to T=1 hour followed mathematically a straight line having a steep, positive slope. Graphics 101. You provided the ultimate at T=59 minutes when right before our eyes you took off your shirt and uncovered a white tee shirt with a big Army A! You thereby caused the Corps to reach its’ absolute, upper physical limits. The noise, jumpings, arm flailings, jaw openings, stompings, and adrenaline flows were at max max.

A great general had once again done his job. He took a corps of men, who had potential but were somewhat tentative, and molded them into a winning, fighting team.

I don’t have to remind you of the big 20-7 Army victory the next day in Philadelphia, a major upset, against a tough, great Navy team.

My immediate reward was falling out in the Mess Hall for a full week. Big stuff to a plebe. My long-term reward, as you can see here, is a wonderful remembrance. A remembrance of a great general coming together with an impressionable plebe. I thank you for that remembrance.

As you live your Florida retirement, know that we are thinking of you. Know that the many positive experiences you produced throughout your career are re-lived. Know that each year, on the Friday evening before the big game, 2400 cadets will be seeing the big “A” on the big man.

Go Army !!!

James H. Morgan

Co. L-2, Class ’57x

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