Typically, the road to West Point or any other U.S. Service Academy goes through a U.S. Congressman or Senator. If you have a parent who was wounded or killed in action, you can also apply for a Presidential Nomination. I was applying through the Honorable William L. Hungate from Missouri’s 1st U.S. Congressional District for a nomination. Each U.S. Congressman and Senator has approximately 5 “slots” available to award. The availability of the slots is determined by the number of “open slots,” i.e., if there are 3 people who are already enrolled in one of the service academies, that leaves 2 slots that can be awarded for that yearly cycle. This was the case when I applied my senior year in High School.
I made it through the preliminary steps, with academic and physical fitness testing, essays, transcripts, etc. and was invited to an interview with the Congressman and his Academy Selection Committee. I drove to the state capital, Jefferson City, Missouri with my parents and Debbie for the interview. I remember more fully understanding the competitive nature of this process by the number of young men like me from across the district who were also invited to an interview that day.
I remember Congressman Hungate, his Academy Review Committee Chair, his executive assistant, and an “at large” member in the room for the interview. I thought the interview was going fairly well as I answered questions from everyone in the room. The Committee Chair asked me why I took the SAT more than once. I told him that the first time I took it was a Friday in a gymnasium located on the campus of our rival High School. That particular evening, we were scheduled to play them in Football for their Homecoming Weekend and they thought it would be a great idea to have a pep rally parade that morning right outside the gymnasium. I admitted that I was a little distracted and thought I could improve my scores by retaking the test.
The Committee Chair continued, “it says here you were undefeated that year in Football, yet the record was actually 6-4. Can you explain that?” I told them that I came down with mononucleosis and I was out for the 4 games we lost, so technically, I went undefeated.
Finally, the Committee Chair looked at me and said, “I see all of the activities you have listed on your application (Key Club Treasurer, Class President, Student Council President, band, 4-year letterman in Track, 2-year letterman in Football and Basketball, and the lead male in the musical ‘South Pacific’). I’m having a hard time understanding how you could have possibly done all of these things. I see here you were the male lead in the musical ‘South Pacific’. Can you tell me the name of the male lead in ‘South Pacific’?” Without hesitating I said, “His name is Emile de Becque. Would you like me to sing a couple of verses from one of his songs?” I thought the Congressman and his executive secretary were going to fall off their chairs. I got a smile from all of them and the Committee Chair said he didn’t have any more questions.
So, finally the “God Thing” …
Of the 3 prominent service academies, I had only applied for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I didn’t have 20-20 vision for the Air Force Academy. I had motion sickness on large bodies of water so I didn’t consider the U.S. Naval Academy. I ended up #2 in our congressional district. The #1 candidate had his choice between the Air Force Academy and West Point. He chose the Air Force Academy which left West Point open for me. I landed the Congressional nomination and an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point!
I found out later that the #1 candidate reported to the Air Force Academy and decided to leave after 2 weeks. That means if the #1 candidate had chosen West Point first, reported to West Point and subsequently quit after 2 weeks, I would not have had that West Point opportunity or experience.
I guess it was all part of God’s plan for me!