Back to Home Page 

Impact of West Point Prep School (USMAPS) on Class of 1961

December 2022 Jim Oaks would like our ZOOM sessions to be built around the members of our class who reported to the Man in the Red Sash on July 2, 1957 who had been at Stewart Air Field in Newburgh, NY at the USMA Prep School..

Ed Brown, who was one of the 90 new cadets who reported from the Prep School that day, tells me that 38 of them graduated in 1961, two more in 1962 and one actually graduated from the Naval Academy in 1964.

Ed and Art Downey will lead the session and they will try to contact as many of that group as possible to join in.

I’m looking forward to our Zoom about the Prep School next week. Ed Brown has sent me a couple of items that I will attach and you will enjoy if you have time to read them. Please at least look at the “USMAPS Class of 1957 Statistics”.

If you read the two part article from the 1975 Assembly (USMAPS History 1 & USMAPS History 2) you may be surprised to learn that the Prep School had its beginning during WW I, and that between WW I and WW II there were separate schools within the different Corps Areas in the US.

Starting in 1946 the school consolidated at Stewart Air Field in Newburgh, NY and that was where our classmates attended. In 1957 the school moved to Fort Belvoir, VA, then to Fort Monmouth, NJ in 1975 and then to the nice facility at West Point in 2011.

Ed Brown suggested I read John Purdy’s entry in the 50th Reunion “Howitzer.” If you don’t know John’s story of resigning his commission as an Army officer in order to attend the Prep School and then come to West Point, you should read it too.

Here is the audio of John Purdy’s comments. He covers the time he stayed in the Army, but did not cover his time after he got out which would have been equally interesting. I will break it into two parts to be sure you all get it.

Since John had been a Lieutenant before coming to the Prep School, he was made the Company Commander of the class at Prep School. He was assigned to F-1 at West Point after Beast. John is currently the second oldest of their group, second only to Kermit McGinnis. (Bill Reno is the oldest among those who graduated from West Point.)

John Purdy

I spent some time with Ed Brown and Art Downey today planning the format for the session and after we finished Art contacted COL Rich Johnson who is the present Commandant at USMAPS and he agreed to join the zoom for an update on the present day school.

When we were cadets, and even until recently, I did not realize how many in our plebe year class had been at USMAPS. We only had two, Ron Hannon and Durb Wagner in our company (I-2). I will attach two files that Ed sent that show where all were assigned. It looks like F-2 had the most with eight. USMAPS '57 Data - Alphabetical or USMAPS '57 Data - USMA Company. Among other things, I was impressed by the percentage that made the Army a career.

Here is a link to a bio of Col Rick Johnson who is the current USMAPS Com.

Today’s zoom was one of the best. I will provide more thoughts and info later, but I wanted to get out Col Rick Johnson’s talk. He is the commander of the Prep School (USMAPS) at West Point.

Here is a shot of Col Johnson.

Here are just a few things you will learn from the talk. The present class started with 223. The school has a capacity for 245. Of the 223, 38 came from the Army with prior enlisted service. They are recruiting more, but there is stiff competition. The instructors and coaches are GS employees, not military. Col. Johnson’s direct boss is the West Point Superintendent. About half the entrants are recruited athletics with most coming directly from high school. Also about half the entrants (not all athletes) are from unrepresented minority groups.

Yesterday’s zoom attendance was one of the largest. The screen shot from the start of Col. Johnson’s briefing included the following, going from top row down:

Art Downey, Jim Oaks, J B Taylor, Corkie Rittgers, John Grisoni, Ed Jones; Warren Miller, Bill Reno (no picture), Gene Witherspoon, Ken Meissner, Mike Harpold (from Alaska), Steve Denney; Ed Barry, John Purdy, John Cornelson, Frenchy Hebert, Brian Schultz, Jim Mathison; Mike Underwood, Mike Hale, Pete Gleichenhaus, Rick Johnson (USMAPS), Bob Bernard, Joe Stringham; Deac Lancaster, David Delwiche, Ed Brown, Larry Noble, (another devise of Bob Bernard’s, Andrew (not sure who this was); Al (I think Vanderbush) on the bottom line. Later Moose Harmon logged in and I think that was everyone.

Of this group, Downey, Taylor, Rittgers, Grisoni, Reno, Meissner, Harpold, Purdy, Cornelson, Hebert, Underwood and Brown were former members of the last class of USMAPS that trained at Stewart AFB in Newburgh and entered West Point on 2 July, 1957.

Downey selected the following guys to talk about their experiences both at the prep school and their years after: Purdy (who had been their CO at Stewart), Taylor & Reno, Grisoni, Hebert and Harpold & Brown. I will send the Q and A after Col. Johnson finished his briefing.

John Grisoni

The files I sent last night of JB Taylor and Bill Reno represented the outstanding achievement made by two of the Prep Schoolers who graduated from West Point. The others that Art chose to talk left the Academy for one reason or another. Their stories are quite compelling as well. We will start with a guy who, as Art said in his introduction, had given back to West Point on a level greater than many of us grads.

This one is shorter, but the “after West Point” career of Frenchy Hebert (below) was certainly neither short nor dull. It will probably leave you wanting to ask him questions.

Frenchy Hebert

I did not have time to insert JB Taylor’s picture yesterday, so I will send it now along with a story about him that Gene Witherspoon sent me today. (I think Gene may be one of our class’s top story tellers.)

JB Taylor

Here is a JB Taylor story that would have taken too long for verbal inclusion in our session on Thursday:

My only contact with JB during our military careers was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia circa 1991 shortly after the end of the 100 hour Gulf War called Desert Storm.  JB was the top dog or Project Manager for OPM SANG which stood for Office of Project Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard.  His outfit advised the Saudi National Guard which was entirely separate from the Ministry of Defense & Aviation with different princes in charge – Abdullah (later King) for SANG and Sultan for the other.  I commanded the Transatlantic Engineer Division charged with mission to clean up the mess (emergency restoration) in Kuwait after the war.  Transatlantic Division had evolved from the Middle East Division of the Corps of Engineers which was in country for about 30 years and built most of the Saudi military infrastructure on a fully cost reimbursable basis.

JB and Sally had me for dinner in their Riyadh villa which was rigged with a safe room in case of chemical attack as I recall.  Having last been in Saudi when stationed there with the Middle East Division in 82-84, I had forgotten the traditional Saudi greeting between men of a kiss on each cheek.  Thought JB was getting fresh when he tried the local greeting.  The Saudi guys also hold hands which for some was off-putting.  Anyway, JB & Sally’s son was in a Desert Storm combat unit and Sally was vocal in worrying about his safety.  When I opined that she probably wasn’t that upset about JB being in Vietnam, her reply was something along the lines that “it’s different when it’s a son!”  I guess that means you were dispensable, JB?

This is Mike Harpold, who lives in Alaska, and Ed Brown who summarizes some numbers about the Prep School Class of ‘56-’57.

Mike Harpold

Ed Brown

Since I’m adding mug shots, I need to show the man who pulled this zoom together and set up the interviews, Art Downey. Thanks, Art, for a great job! Many of these Prep School guys plan to attend the Orlando reunion in January, so if you also attend you can probably get some more stories that were not told last week.

Art Downey