West Point 1915 – Book Review
Each year, the United States Military Academy at West Point produces an outstanding graduation class. These classes have made and will continue to make superb contributions to the Army and to society. One class that unquestionably left its mark in both of these areas was the Class of 1915. Incredibly, of its 164 graduates 59 of them attained the rank of brigadier general or higher during their careers (clearly the most of any class). Military historian Michael Haskew details many of the officers that made up this class in his exceptional volume, West Point 1915: Eisenhower, Bradley, and the Class the Stars Fell On.
In crafting a book on the Class of 1915, any author must wrestle with two difficult questions. First, how to keep a balanced approach in the content—how do you ensure the book doesn’t focus almost solely on the class’s two most celebrated graduates, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley? Second, and related to the first, how does an author find fresh material on Eisenhower and Bradley that will engage readers who are already extremely knowledgeable about those two men? I believe Haskew has clearly met the challenge in both instances.
In regards to balance, Haskew has striven to provide readers a comprehensive look at the Class of 1915. This is not to say that Eisenhower and Bradley are seldom mentioned in the book; the author features them in his pages. However, with a class that achieved so much, Haskew has much to work with, including officers such as Joseph McNarney (who commanded US Forces in Europe 1945–1947), James Van Fleet (the commander of US 8th Army during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953) and George Stratemeyer (who commanded numerous large Army Air Force units from 1943 to 1952). Additionally, Haskew offers significant detail on many of the officers who made up this extraordinary class. In total, he substantiates that the Class of 1915 was undeniably impressive from top to bottom.
Every bit as challenging as obtaining balance is providing the seasoned reader with a discussion on Eisenhower and Bradley that will keep such readers’ attention. With so much previous scholarship on these men, that is difficult. However, I believe Haskew has selected vignettes and anecdotes that will benefit the preponderance of readers, and he seamlessly blends the information on Eisenhower and Bradley into the context of the book.
In a book of this type, organization is critical for understanding and readability. Haskew chose to organize his volume chronologically instead of dedicating chapters solely to a particular 1915 graduate. These chapters are essentially broken into five distinct sections: lives prior to West Point, the West Point years, World War I, World War II, and careers and lives following World War II. I found the author’s decision to organize this way highly effective and of tremendous value to my overall understanding of the Class of 1915.
West Point 1915 is a volume that has much to recommend it. Apart from the aforementioned organization, there is the fluidity and conciseness of Haskew’s writing, and the exhaustive research displayed within its pages, all of which make this a highly readable volume. However, the one strength that stands out for me is the author’s ability to articulate the human aspects of the Class of 1915.
Throughout West Point 1915, Haskew strives to provide readers with the human dimension of those who made up the class. He highlights the emotional roller coaster many of them went through during their attempt(s) to receive a West Point appointment. He highlights their considerable strengths, but just as importantly addresses their flaws and weaknesses. He offers numerous examples of the incredible amount of hard work and perseverance members of the class displayed during their lives and careers. In a limited amount of text, Haskew enables readers to gain a more comprehensive understanding of many of the members of the Class of 1915.
In the book’s last paragraph he states, “One conclusion is inescapable. The soldiers of the Class the Stars Fell On are worthy of remembering, with a legacy true to the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country – not only in theory, but also in the magnificence of their deeds.” This is a volume that humanizes the class and praises a group who, as a whole, contributed so much to their country.
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is also co-author of the popular Armchair General web series “Tactics 101.”