BY BOB & SANDY NESOFF
Highland Falls, N.Y. is a quaint little town sitting atop the cliffs overlooking the Hudson River. But from this serene vantage point, some of the greatest military minds in U.S. history have come to defend the country in wars from the Revolution to Afghanistan.
Home to the world-famed military academy at West Point, the area attracts visitors, literally by the busload, as they come to see first-hand the greatness that has emanated from the granite walls of West Point.
Getting to West Point is part of the experience. As travelers look down on the rapidly flowing Hudson River, it is easy to picture British warships fighting the current to head northward.
During the Revolution, both sides realized the strategic importance of the location. The view from the commanding plateau on the river’s west bank gave the newborn academy its name.
It was designed by Polish-both Thaddeus Kosciuszko at Washington’s direction in 1778 and the following year he moved his headquarters to the post. To prevent the attacking British from moving ships up river, a 150-ton link chain was stretched across the river and lowered only to permit friendly vessels to pass.
Benedict Arnold attempted to help the British by providing them with the plans for West Point’s defenses. When British spy Major John Andre was captured by partisans and the documents uncovered, the plot fell through. Arnold escaped to England and Andre was hanged as a spy.
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation creating the United States Military Academy. Since that time, the school has turned out some of the most famous soldiers in history including Eisenhower, MacArthur (himself a former superintendent of the Academy), Bradley, Stilwell and Wainwright.
George Armstrong Custer was a member of the school’s alumni and is buried on the grounds. On display in the Academy’s museum is the last dispatch Custer wrote the day before he was killed at Little Big Horn.
During the Civil War, classmates and graduates of the Academy faced off against each other. Grant and Lee were both students at West Point, as well as Sherman and Jackson.
On the post is an impressive museum with artifacts ranging back to ancient Romans and Greeks. Swords of famous American officers are on display as well as items from World War II.
There are five floors of displays with heavy weapons — tanks and artillery — located in the sub-basement. No admission is charged but a container at the exit is there for those who would like to leave a donation.
A bus tour of West Point is available for $10 per person and covers most of the grounds otherwise restricted to visitors.
On any given day, busloads of visitors and school groups descend on the Academy with no one leaving disappointed.
Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists.