We Proudly Own No Cookie Cutter
Grand Rapids - (616) 633-3770 Indianapolis - (317) 769-0583

The Midweek Motivator – Choices…and The Class of 66

Fair warning; there’s not much motivation found in War. There’s a book in my library that had gone unread. I finally pulled it down and began reading Rick Atkinson’s remarkable story of West Point’s Class of 1966. It’s tough to read but impossible to forget. Released a decade ago Atkinson’s book takes us into the archives of West Point’s Class of Sixty-Six; a class decimated by the Vietnam War. History some prefer to forget (though survivors hope not be forgotten).

By ’66 the war had been rolling for nearly four years; most military experts hold the belief that Vietnam went against every traditional rule military theorists have held: “Never get involved in an Asian Civil War!” Yet Vietnam was exactly that; slowly ramping up in 1963 they say, ending over a decade later.

The Cemetery at West Point is hallowed ground; a silent, sobering place of honor. Too many members of Army’s Class of ’66 are interred there. Atkinson’s book follows numerous members of the Class; the honor students, the pranksters, the soon-to-be career Army officers and still others, who before active duty, committed to post-graduate studies on campuses from Berkeley to Boston College.

The common bond of the Cadet Corps? “Duty, Honor, Country”. And too many of those who became active duty officers shipped to Vietnam suffered unthinkable hardships; the worst of which was losing one’s life to a Vietcong saboteur, or being maimed from a grenade tossed into a ramshackle bar. America lost 58,200 casualties. Maybe your father, brother or friend’s most painful experience came at war’s end, having failed to prevail over the decade-long stalemate that ended when the U.S. pulled out our GI’s, Marines, Aircrews, the Navy its crewmen and “Riverines.”   

We might respond, “Very old news…” yet the lessons linger; ever present in Rick Atkinson’s account of America’s triumphs and tragedies. It’s never a stretch to study strategic thinking; and no better way than to take into account why battles are won and lost: from athletic competition, fighting for career positions, selection to a Service Academy and yes; even your Ratings wins and disappointments are skirmishes we endure.
Almost all things seem of secondary importance when compared to the strife of war. Yet today throughout our business someone will lose while another takes the prize. They say the American Army’s culture reached its lowest ebb during the Vietnam years; discipline faltered, some combatants turned bitter toward dysfunctional leadership, still others, returned to their civilian lives forever changed. So, worth asking: “WHY is this relevant all these years hence?”

Today, someone you know will be disappointed; someone else will fail; still others will find a way to overcome adversity in their personal or professional lives and resolve to grind ahead.

While past wars may seem too far away for those among us too young to have been there, there’s little doubt the 60’s war era changed almost everything: literature, film, declining national-chauvinism and for far too many, the loss of innocence. Yet in a more objective sense, it IS possible to redirect the future despite an imperfect past.