A West Point Plebe, Circa 1930 – Part 2


July 6, 1930

Dearest Dorothy,

Well we have had our first bit of freedom to-day. We were allowed to walk along the Thayer road for about a quarter of a mile. It sure was some freedom. Bauer, a friend of his and myself went to-gether. We were gone for about 1 hour and thought it was wonderful to be free for a few minutes.

I am still in doubt as to whether I want to stay or not. It is not as nice as I expected. Think there is 534 days until I get home for my first vacation if I stay and 708 days till my long furlough. That is a terrible long time and I doubt if I will be able to stick it out. I wish you were in Goshen now so you could come over to see me each week-end. Kreuger hasn’t been over to see me yet but I suppose he will be soon. We have been kept pretty busy of late and we will no doubt be busy all the time from now on.

I am going to send you a little book called Bugle Notes but know to us as the Plebe Bible. We have already had to learn everything on pages 134 & 135, abo [sic] the Alma Mater, The Corps, and the Plebe Prayer. Not counting many other things not entered. You will I hope enjoy this book more than I do as it means only work to me. Well maybe I will be home with you soon. If this was not such a bad time to get work I would quite [sic] and go to work somewhere away from home so I could make something of myself before I get home.

I feel terrible to think I am not getting along as I expected to. I hate myself for thinking of leaving but I am afraid that is what I will do before long. Things aren’t as I hoped and I doubt if I can stand up under it all. Yes others have and I could but now that I am here I don’t see any future when I finish and without a future work I can’t have you so there is no need of staying. If my first year was up it wouldn’t be so bad but this way well I can’t.

Please write soon sweetheart. I miss you so and how. I long for a letter from you. I am going for a walk alone now to just walk and dream that you are at my side. I wish you were. You must come down soon. Imagine Doris Wittig will be down soon again. Well since [?] Write soon. Maybe I will be home before long.

Your sweetheart

John L.

Bugle Notes is a compendium of information that any new cadet at West Point would need, so I’m not sure why John is sending Dorothy his copy—or perhaps he’s found himself a spare copy. Here is a listing on the antique website Worthpoint for a 1930 copy of Bugle Notes.

In his letters, John is always pleading for visitors. From Buffalo, West Point is about a 350 mile drive on modern interstate highways. It’s not clear how long the trip would have been before the interstate, but it would have been a tedious journey on various country roads and U.S. highways through the Allegheny Plateau, over the Finger Lakes, and through the Catskills and down into the Hudson River Valley. The development of the nation’s interstate highways is the work of another West Point alumnus from the class of 1915, Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his administration as the 34th president of the United States, President Eisenhower implemented the Interstate Highway System, with construction authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. 

Instead of driving, it is far more likely that that visitors from Buffalo would have traveled to West Point via train. Buffalo is positioned on Lake Erie, right next to the Canadian border. It had long been a center of industry and shipping, both by water and rail. By 1930, the New York Central Railroad—a cooperative of several different regional railroads—enabled trips from Chicago to Florida. Several trains left Buffalo and arrived in New York City each day on a “water level route” trips, along the water of the Great Lakes and the Hudson River, instead of the interior land routes offered by other rail companies. The trip to West Point would require a transfer in Albany and a trip on the West Shore Rail Road. Timetables can be viewed on this PDF on pages 23 and 24 for the New York Central Railroad from Buffalo to Albany, and page 56 for the West Shore Railroad for the trip from Albany south to West Point. It would have been a long, but scenic, day of travel. Today, Amtrak operates the Empire Service route, which stretches from Buffalo to New York City, right along the same stations that John and Dorothy would have seen in their travels to and fro. 

John seems to be having a hard time at West Point. It’s not clear what is troubling him, except that he misses Dorothy and hates school. Keep in mind he’s only 20 years old. Even though he’s been at a military school before, the structure and discipline of West Point seems to be getting to him.