Oldest Graduate remarks
West Point Founders Day Dinner
Ft Leavenworth, KS
1 April 2016.
Col Hersch Chapman, Infantry (ret). Class of 1950.
I bring greetings from the Class of 1950
70 Years ago, we walked up the hill from the train station to the Plain to take on Beast Barracks. We graduated 6 June 1950. 500 of us were commissioned in the Army and we went on a 60 day leave.
When the war broke out in Korea 19 days after graduation, several of my classmates had their leaves cancelled to get to units going to war in Korea. One of my classmates went into combat wearing Florsheim wing tip civilian shoes.
I got to Korea early on to the 23d Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division. I got to the 23d in the middle of the night. I could hear machine gun fire in the distance. I was greeted by the CO of the 23d, Col Paul Freeman, Class of 1929. in his tent, at midnight. He gave me a briefing which was actually a pep talk and told me that I was going to Baker Company, which only had 2 officers. I got to Baker Company at 2:00 in the morning. The Company Commander of Baker Company was Captain Sherman Pratt, one of the legendary Rifle Company Commanders from WW II and Korea.
Captain Pratt asked me what my nickname was and he called me HAWK.
When the sun came up. I took over a Rifle Platoon from SFC Foster, an old, grizzled Platoon Sgt from WW II whose face was scarred from grenade wounds.
SFC Foster said: Lt, I am glad that you are here--I want you to know Lt that I have already had two Lts KIA. but don't you worry Lt, for if you get in trouble, I will be right behind you.
And that old Sgt kept his word, more than once. I am the EVIDENCE.
The war in Korea was a battle for the hills and the hills were the front lines. Rifle Companies took those hills and Rifle Platoon Leaders led up front.
Our class had a lot of casualties in the Korean War. now commonly called "The Forgotten War", but not forgotten by the Class of 1950.
We had widows in our class among the sweethearts that had gone to the Graduation Hop a short time before, and we now had children in our class that would never know their dad. We had a combined total of 142 KIA and WIA, and 6 classmates were captured and became Prisoners of War.
Among the many casualties were our 1st Captain, President and Vice President, Class Historian, and athletes on the football, basketball, baseball, and boxing teams that beat Navy 1st class year.
Both ends on the football team lost their lives, including John Trent, the team captain. A halfback was WIA, and a defensive back who ran the 2d half kickoff back for a touchdown against Navy survived the Korean War but was KIA in the Vietnam War, where the Class of 1950 were Bn and Bde Commanders.
From my teammates on the basketball team, Tom Boydston was KIA, Ray Barry severely WIA, and Gus Dielens shot through the knee.
My teammate and catcher on the baseball team, Joe Griffin was wounded by an enemy grenade and lost his left eye.
Both boxing Co-Captains lost their lives. Bill Kellu was captured by the enemy and died in prison camp. Pete Monfore was KIA leading his company on Heartbreak Ridge. Pete and I were both in the 23d and Pete was my best friend.
When our tour was up, most of us in the Infantry were assigned to the Infantry School at Ft Benning. The Pentagon thought that we should now go to the Infantry Basic Course. We rebelled and won out.
Those of us that survived at the Platoon level had become Co Comdrs, Bn or Regt Staff officers. Arnold Galiffa, a basketball and baseball teammate, left the line to become General Ridgway's Junior Aide. Bill DeGraf, the number one man in our class, who had received a battlefield commission in WW II in Europe, before coming to West Point, ended up on the IX Corps Staff.
I ended up as the Operations Officer. 23d Infantry Regimental Combat Team-----—---—---ALL OF US LESS THAN A YEAR AFTER LEAVING WEST POINT.
And then there was that 1st Founders Day at Ft Benning, on a night just like tonight. There were about 20 of us back from Korea at the 1950 table way back in the rear of the Benning Club. It was a night to celebrate and there was plenty of ice tea poured back there.
The guest speaker was a big shot from West Point. During his presentation, he paused, left the podium, and walked back to our table and said "you guys from 1950 back from the war stand up and be recognized".
There are many of you here tonight who could stand up and be recognized, those of you veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Terror.
Times have changed and there are no longer hills to be assaulted and front lines to be defended. The enemy are the terrorists and the War on Terror has no borders.
We old grads salute those of you involved in this great challenge to the Free World and wish you good luck and God Speed.