For nearly 200 years the United States Military Academy at West Point has played a prominent role in shaping our nation's destiny. This fortress of democracy counts among its graduates many of the brightest and bravest leaders of all time.
A discussion of the influence exerted by West Point's progeny is not an academic or theoretical endeavor. The brave souls who passed through the hallowed halls of that great institution have in at least some measure directly shaped the lives of every man, woman, and child alive in the world today.
To illustrate the point one need look no farther than the Academy's Class of 1915-forever known as the "Class the Stars Fell On." Its ranks included Eisenhower, Bradley, Van Fleet, and many of the other World War II generals who led the free world to victory and saved humanity from Nazism and Fascism.
Though it may not boast quite as many luminaries as did its predecessor 50 years before, the Academy's Class of 1965 does have its fair share of standouts as well. When the Class of ''65 gathers at West Point this month for its 35th reunion its members will include Eric K. "Ric" Shinseki, the current Chief of Staff of the Army, and Daniel W. Christman, the Academy's Superintendent, two generals who have earned seven stars between them. It will also include Paul "Buddy" Bucha, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, this nation's highest military award, and Robert Jones, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, In the early '60s, when the members of the Class of '65 began their studies, the Vietnam conflict was still unheard of by most Americans. Four years later it was becoming the focal point of this nation's attention and virtually all of '65 served in the war.
When the classmates gather on the Academy's campus for their 35th reunion they will again walk through the historic buildings named for Pershing, Grant, Lee, and other distinguished graduates. The structure that will have the most meaning for them, however, will likely be the Cadet Gymnasium named for '65's First Captain Bob Arvin who, like 26 of his classmates, was killed in Vietnam not long after graduation.
Many of those who survived the fighting in Southeast Asia continued to serve Uncle Sam with multiple tours in Europe, contributing greatly to "winning" the Cold War. Today, while only a few members of the class continue to serve on active duty, many others are captains (if not generals) of industry or leaders in various professions. Most importantly, like all West Point graduates both before and after, they are among the most prolific and generous contributors to the well being and betterment of our society.
During their reunion the members of the Class of '65 will reminisce about their experiences at the Academy, honor one another for their accomplishments, and of course, remember their fallen comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice for us all.
To help them reminisce about their cadet days they will find in the midst of their 35th reunion a 35-year-old car-one that has been garaged at the heart of West Point for almost four years. The Glen Green Corvette has been housed at General Christman's residence, the famous Quarters 100, whose previous occupants include Robert E. Lee and Douglas MacArthur. After its 30-year odyssey around the United States and Europe described below, the "Class of 1965 Corvette" returned to West Point, where it is a familiar sight throughout the campus and has often been put into service for parades and other spirit activities at the Academy.
For generations it has been an unwavering tradition at the Academy for soon-to-be graduates to purchase a car. Each senior class formed a purchasing committee and assigned representatives to make arrangements with the various car dealers in the area to display their newest offerings on campus.
"Purchase of a new car was a big, big deal," emphasizes Joe Anderson, the Class of '65's Chevrolet representative and current president of the class. "Plebes, yearlings, and cows (West Point terminology for underclassmen) were strictly prohibited from owning an automobile. Not only couldn't you have one on campus, you couldn't own one, period. And if you were caught with one the penalties were quite severe. Firsties (seniors) were given the privilege of owning a car around the time of Spring Break and we all waited breathlessly for those new cars to arrive!"
Those with a keen knowledge of history, as well as devoted movie buffs, may recognize Joe Anderson's name. Like virtually all of his classmates he served in Vietnam, and his heroism, as well as that of the men he led into battle, was immortalized in the movie Anderson's Platoon. In 1967 this film won both an Oscar and an Emmy.
Like approximately two dozen of his classmates, Cadet Ross Wollen was fortunate enough to be in a position to order a brand-new Corvette. He chose a two-top convertible powered by the optional 327/350 horsepower small-block. He also specified a four-speed transmission, an AM/FM radio, whitewall tires, a tinted windshield, and a comfort and convenience package. The latter included a day/night mirror and reverse lights.
Upon graduation Ross and his Corvette headed to Texas (including Route 66) and then Florida. "I drove the car everywhere," he remembers. "On one occasion I stopped in Miami Beach just to watch a hurricane. The wind was unbelievably strong and the car got pretty well sandblasted as a result. Fortunately, I was parked between two enormous Cadillacs that sheltered the Corvette, but it still needed to be repainted."
Ross was next sent to Germany for two years of service. Unlike Vietnam, there was no active conflict in Europe and he was able to take his favorite set of wheels with him. There the car saw constant use, with one adventure after another in Germany and elsewhere.
"While in Germany I lived in Dortmund and served as an air defense commander," Ross recalls. "I was in charge of four distant missile sites so I had a lot of driving to do. I drove it everywhere, including to Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Amsterdam."
What was it like driving a Corvette convertible overseas in those days? "Oh it was absolutely wonderful," says Ross. "They didn't see too many Corvettes in Dortmund or anywhere else around there. I liked to drive fast and would think nothing of getting in the Corvette and driving three or four hundred miles to Hamburg or someplace else. There was a traffic light at the edge of town before getting on the Autobahn, which did not have a speed limit. I'd try to time it so I would get caught at the light so I could have a drag race when it turned green. I took special delight in watching Mercedes' and other fast European machinery of the day get smaller and smaller in my rear view mirror!
"Once on the Autobahn, I would go as fast as I safely could the whole way. On long trips I'd try to average over 100 mph, including stops. That meant cruising in the 130-mph range on the open road!"
Absent a speed limit, there was nothing but the occasional traffic snarl or foul weather to slow Ross down on his jaunts throughout Europe. Then one day he came upon a horrific sight that did temper his quest for speed.
"I was on the Nurburgring," he relates, "going quite fast when I reached the scene of an accident. There were injured people lying on the road, and that discouraged me from constantly driving at unlimited speeds."
For those not familiar with it, the Nurburgring is a legendary road racing circuit in Germany used by the public when a race is not being held. For decades it has hosted Grand Prix, sports car, motorcycle, and many other types of racing activity, and there are very few Corvette owners who have had the privilege of zooming around it in Americas only bona fide production sports car.
While his high-speed jaunts on the Nurburgring were certainly a thrill, it was not the only legendary racing circuit Ross visited while stationed in Germany. He and his beloved Corvette also made pilgrimages to Spa in Belgium and LeMans in France to watch the races.
"I put a lot of miles on that car in Europe," he remembers with a chuckle. "It performed beautifully and was an extremely rare sight wherever I went. There were so few Corvettes outside the states in those days. Even in larger towns and cities most people had never actually seen one in person and it attracted attention everywhere. Kids would point and wave. And of course whenever I went someplace I would always get the prime valet parking spot. It was really a lot of fun, especially for a young bachelor!"
After two years on the continent Ross was called upon to serve in Vietnam. Obviously the Corvette could not go with him and he thought long and hard about whether to ship it back to America or simply sell it in Europe.
My father urged me to sell it in Germany," remembers Ross. "Because there were so few Corvettes there it was worth more than it was here. I really didn't want to sell it but I did come very close to trading it. My landlord in Dortmund had a 300 SL Gullwing Mercedes and I almost made a deal to trade the Corvette for it. Ironically, the Gullwing is one of the few cars whose current value rivals that of the mid-year Corvette."
In the end Ross decided to keep the Corvette, a decision he has never regretted. It was shipped back to the U.S. and put into storage at his parent's house during his 1968-69 tour of duty in Vietnam.
When his service in Vietnam concluded Ross was stationed in El Paso, Texas. The Corvette was taken out of storage and again brought to the Lone Star State, where it fell comfortably into its role as provider of both reliable transportation and limitless fun.
In 1970 Ross resigned his commission and he and his old friend headed to Acapulco for a much-deserved vacation. They spent two glorious months exploring Mexico in the fast lane. As in Europe, a Corvette was a very rare sight south of the border and the roadster, which by then had been painted silver, caused quite a stir wherever it went.
Following a minor scrape with a palm tree in Acapulco the car was again painted, this time in yellow, which led to even greater attention.
When his extended vacation wound down Ross and his newly-painted Corvette returned to the States for a slightly more sedate lifestyle. Settling in New York, he began his law practice while his Corvette went into semi-retirement.
Instead of 130-mph jaunts to LeMans or along the Autobahn it was stored for several years and then served as a weekend toy, ferrying Ross from his New York City area home up to West Point for football games and other occasions.
When not cruising up to West Point or on an occasional outing, the Corvette was stored in an indoor, guarded parking garage on New York's Roosevelt Island. In spite of being parked right next to the guard station the car was twice broken into while in the garage.
Though the garage thieves did not succeed in stealing the Corvette another band of miscreants almost did. Ross drove the car to LaGuardia airport to pick up his arriving son and parked it in a one-hour lot. When he and his son emerged from the airport they discovered the roadster firmly attached to an idling tow truck. When Ross protested two of the four men present ran away while the other two said the first two claimed the car was theirs.
Motivated in part by the security problem and accompanying difficulties with insurance, but mostly by the fact that he only really used and enjoyed the car when he drove it around at West Point, Ross decided to relocate his old friend.