Clyde W. Cocke’s “Pass In Review, An Illustrated History of West Point Cadets, 1794-Present”.

Pass In Review, An Illustrated History of West Point Cadets, 1794-Present. Clyde W. Cocke. Oxford: Osprey, 2012. Illus., App., Index. Hardcover. 172 Pages. $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-84908-558-8.

The United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York is not well known to most Americans despite its reputation as an educational institution and its 218 year history. Equally unknown are the struggles of the school for academic excellence, revelance and the number and contributions of its graduates on the United States. The author tells the story of West Point through the medium of cadet uniforms, through symbols of academy life and through vignettes of the history of the school. Major Cocke’s even-handed treatment of the academy’s history from a defensive post on the Hudson River to one of the world’s most esteemed intitutions of higher learning is superb and is vividly illustrated by the excellent photography of Ms. Eilene Harless Moore.

Originally cadets were assigned as supernumeraries in the US Army units stationed at the post. They were to be trained in the technicalities of engineering and artillery before receiving commissions as officers. The school had several false starts and a series of administrative and personnel problems  before the arrival of the determined Captain Sylvanus Thayer, Dartmouth (1807) and USMA (1808) in 1817. His tenure began the rise of the academy as an institution and its 50 year reign as the premier engineering school in the world. From Thayer’s reforms would come the institution that produced so many soldiers who have brilliantly served the United States and produce the school’s world wide reputation for excellence. The school’s reputation was also enhanced, after a period in the doldrums, by then Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur (USMA 1901) after World War I.

To explain the espirit of the academy the author uses prints and lithographs of the academy’s early days, many uniform depictions (many by members of the Company of Military Historians) and photographs of past and present academy life to color his narrative. Fixtures of the academy, the West Point Band, the soldiers that form garrison, class rings and ceremonies explain the school’s traditions and cadet life through the decades. And, many glimpses of 21st century school life are included. Most evocative is the gallery of photographs depicting the headstones of generals, astronauts and platoon leaders in the West Point Cemetery, illustrating the devotion to duty of the academy’s some 67,000 graduates (p.136).

Major Clyde W. Cocke, USA, Ret., is a 1977 graduate of USMA and a member of the Company of Military Historians. Ms. Eilene Harkless Moore is professional photographer whose work has appeared in many national periodicals.

This Osprey number is lavishly illustrated. Pass In Review is highly recommended for general readers  interested in West Point or for parents and counselors who want to provide information on the academy to students interested in attending the academy.

James B. Ronan II

This book review appeared in the August 2012 edition of Company Dispatch, the book review digest of the Company of Military Historians.

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