BECAUSE IT’S THERE
The rest of the world will never fully understand what it was like to grow up on a national landmark. That coupled with the insular environment provided by the military made West Point a singularly unique and fantastic setting for one’s youth.
West Point is a campus first and foremost. That fact makes for a lot of buildings, facilities, and other apparatus. Those structures, the academic and athletic, the historic and the commercial, were our playground.
Breaking and entering is a serious crime, and though our activities bore resemblance to criminality, in actuality they weren’t malicious in any way. We simply had an undeniable urge to explore. Of course any clandestine venture taken by teen-agers after dark is logically suspect, a fact we understood, so it was with the greatest of care, indeed sobriety, that we undertook our mission.
Our mission was to find our way to the roof of every bit of brick and stone assembled by man within walking/running/skating distance from our homes.
There were many favorites: the Cadet Chapel, Washington Hall, Egbert.
Finding your way into buildings was key to accessing roofs, and was equally part of the kick. Eventually we ran out off roof tops, so we diversified. It became simply a matter of gaining access to places were not supposed to be.
Again, the term ‘trespassing’ is a bit past the mark. We weren’t vandals. We weren’t there to drink beer or make out. Our motives were much more laudable. We were marking our territory, but in the harmless Zen-like fashion of simply being there.
After a few years, just as we were starting to shift focus to women and beer, we did develop a ritual that although still harmless, it was certainly less than nice. Of course the victims of pride, the intended targets of our mischief, was the Military Police, the sworn enemy.
Fort Putnam had long been a feature in our nocturnal activities. It was, in fact, part of the trifecta of mischief. A night swim at Delafield, a romp through Fort Putnam, and a stroll through Michie Stadium. By this time the route into Fort Putnam had been well established. The giant wooden double door was locked promptly at 4:30, but we rarely used doors. A brief walk around the exterior wall to the left brought you, after about 100 yards and some narrow footing, to a spot in the wall that features an inward right angle as well as the lowest part of the wall. It was like they were asking us to climb up and over.
At some point somebody got wise to our shenanigans, and a security system was installed. This security system consisted of a cable that ran around the outside of the wall at about a foot and a half from the top. The cable incorporated a series of phono jacks, which when pulled upon would disconnect, breaking a circuit, and triggering an alarm somewhere at MP HQ.
The effectiveness of this system was laughable, as were far too nimble and easily climbed over it.
I guess we got bored. One night, on the way out, somebody yanked the cable behind them. We thought we might hear an alarm, but there was nothing. We didn’t stick around though, and we made our way down through a wooded incline, across the road that leads to Delafield, and into the woods where we hid behind a boulder and waited.
We didn’t have to wait long before a MP car showed up. There was a lengthy display of spotlights and fumbling around in the woods on the part of the MPs. We were delighted.
We began to yank the cable regularly. Then they stopped showing up.
It was a hollow victory. We moved on to women and beer.