CRADLE OF VALOR: The Intimate Letters of a Plebe at West Point during the Great Depression by Dale O. Smith

CRADLE OF VALOR: The Intimate Letters of a Plebe at West Point during the Great Depression

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Affecting reminiscences of a cadet's first 11 months at West Point in the '30's. Smith, who went on to become the very model of a modern major general in the space-age Air Force, reported to the US Military Academy on July 1, 1930. Having survived eight rigorous weeks in Beast Barracks, he and his 300-odd classmates plunged into the eventful ordeal of a plebe year that would last until the following June. Relying mainly on annotated letters to and from members of his close-knit family back in Reno, NeV., the author provides a vivid account of a fledgling officer's demanding existence; he also gives a clear picture of the era's joys, woes, and mores. Though 6'6"", Smith was a more determined than accomplished athlete; the same held true for his scholastic performance. With the encouragement of his family, Smith nonetheless won a track numeral, boxed, made above-average grades (despite problems with ""Frog,"" i.e., French), and sang in the choir. On infrequent occasions, extracurricular activities took Smith to N.Y.C., where he enjoyed riding the subways (then just a nickel) and attending Broadway shows (at which he was often taken for a uniformed usher). Life proved no less difficult or pleasurable on the home front. Depression economics cost Smith's upbeat dad his job as a mining engineer, and he didn't find work again for nearly a year. On the plus side of the ledger, the author's ad-man brother and sister-in-law made him an uncle. Nothing if not resilient, the house of Smith sustained young Dale with lots of love and their own enduring faith in West Point's bedrock values--Duty, Honor, Country. A warm and moving record that offers an understated tribute to family ties as well as contemporary impressions of the West Point experience. The engaging text includes a glossary of cadet slang, in-brief rundowns on what became of Class of '34 grads, and photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Algonquin