Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke Saturday morning at the U.S. Military Academy graduation and commissioning, telling the West Point graduating class of 2017 that it was a great honor to be present at one of the nation’s foundational keystones.
Nearly 1,200 students were admitted to the USMA class of 2017, according to the class profile. Of the total, 1,002 cadets were men, 188 women.
In his remarks, Mattis conveyed the respects of President Donald J. Trump, and those of the American people.
“By the time this class was in first-grade classrooms in every state across our union,” he said, “our country had been thrust into a war by maniacs who thought that by hurting us they could scare us. Well, we don’t scare, and nothing better represents America’s awesome determination to defend herself than this graduating class.”
Every cadet in the audience could have opted out of attendance at USMA, he added.
“You’d grown up seeing the war on ‘round-the-clock news. There was no draft. Colleges across this land would have moved heaven and earth to recruit you for schools that would never make such demands on you as West Point … creating American soldiers who are at their very best when times are at their very worst,” Mattis said.
The cadets are graduating in the same week that terrorists took 22 innocent young lives, he said, and the tragic loss in Manchester, England, underscores the purpose of their years of study and training at West Point.
“We must never permit murderers to define our time or warp our sense of the normal. This is not normal, and each of you cadets graduating today are reinforcing our ranks, bringing fresh vigor,” the secretary said, “renewing our sense of urgency and enhancing the Army’s lethality needed to prove our enemies wrong — dead wrong.”
The class of 2017 now joins the ranks of an Army at war, he added, taking the place they have earned in an unbroken line of patriots.
“After four years at West Point,” Mattis said, “you understand what it means to live up to an oath. You understand the commitment that comes with signing a blank check to the American people, payable with your life.”
Hold the Line
Those in the Defense Department recognize that there are many passions running about in this country, as there ought to be in a vibrant republic, Mattis said.
“But for those privileged to wear the cloth of our nation, to serve in the United States Army, you stand the ramparts, unapologetic, apolitical, defending our experiment in self-governance. You hold the line,” he said to cheering and applause from the cadets.
“You hold the line,” he said, “faithful to duty, confronting the nation’s foes with implacable will, knowing that if there’s a hill to climb, waiting won’t make it smaller.
“You hold the line, true to honor, living by a moral code regardless of who is watching, knowing that honor is what we give ourselves for a life of meaning.
“You hold the line, loyal to country and defending the Constitution, defending our fundamental freedoms, knowing from your challenging years here on the Hudson that loyalty only counts where there are a hundred reasons not to be.”
Remember that when the chips are down, Mattis said, “it will be the spirits of your often-rambunctious soldiers that will provide the reservoir of courage you will need to draw upon.”
The chips were down in the freezing days before Christmas, 1944, when the Nazi army was on the attack in the Ardennes, Mattis said, telling the cadets a story.
“A sergeant in a retreating tank spotted a fellow American digging a foxhole. The GI, PFC Martin, looked up and said to the sergeant in the tank, ‘Are you looking for a safe place?’
‘Yeah,’ the tanker answered.
‘Well, buddy,’ the private said with a drawl, ‘just pull your vehicle behind me. I’m the 82nd Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going.’”
The secretary added, “You are a U.S. soldier and you hold the line.”
The class of 2017 today joins an army that left bloody footprints at Valley Forge and that defeated the Nazis’ last gasp at Bastogne, Mattis said.
“Your class,” he said to thunderous applause, “will be remembered for an Army football team that took to the field of friendly strife and beat Navy.”
But they will also be remembered for the history they’re about to write, Mattis said, and when they turn their troops to the next commander, those troops will be as good or better than the commanders of the West Point class of 2017.
“I have very high expectations of you. Your country has very high expectations of you. And we are confident you will not let us down because, while we may not know you personally, we do know your character — West Point character.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @pellerindodnews)