On June 12th, 1915, Kansan Dwight D. Eisenhower and 163 other cadets graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Fifty-nine of these men would attain the rank of general, to this day an unprecedented number from a single class. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley became Generals of the Army (five star), and there have only been five of these in history, two became Generals (four star), seven became Lieutenant Generals, 24 Major Generals and 24 Brigadier Generals. A further distinction for the class was that future Maj. Gen. Luis Esteves was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from West Point. Esteves was also the first in the class to get his stars when he was appointed to be the first Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard.
Eisenhower graduated 61st in the class; Bradley was 44th. The top man, William Covell, became a two star general, while number 159 was future Brig. Gen. John Keliher. The top men in the class went to the Engineers and the Artillery.
Seventy-four men from the class didn’t serve in France during WW1, including Eisenhower (at Camp Colt PA) and Bradley (at Butte, MT); thirty of these seventy-four later became generals.
Of the twenty-nine future generals who did go to France, only four had distinguished combat records:
Gen. James Van Fleet, who commanded the 17th Machine Gun Battalion. Wounded in the Meuse-Argonne Nov. 1918. Ended the war as a Major.
Lt. Gen. John Leonard, who commanded a battalion in the 6th infantry, 5th Division. Awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for heroism on 14 October 1918 in the Meuse-Argonne. Wounded Oct 16th. Ended the war as a Lt. Col.
Maj. Gen. Paul J. Mueller, who commanded a battalion in the 64th infantry, 7th division. Received a divisional citation for bravery in action near the Bois de Puvenelle, 10 October 1918. Ended the war as a Major.
Maj. Gen. Charles Ryder, who served as a company and battalion commander in the 16th infantry, 1st Division, at Toul, Montdidier, Soissons and Meuse-Argonne. Awarded a DSC for heroism at Soissons, 21 July 1918, and a second DSC for heroism near Fleville on 9 October 1918. Also wounded on July 21st. Ended the war as a Lt. Col.
Barbara Tuchman wrote in her great work The Guns of August:
“In the chapel at the École Spéciale Militaire de St. Cyr (before it was destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II) the memorial tablet to the dead of the Great War bore only a single entry reading ‘The Class of 1914.’”
Yes, they all died. In contrast, ten members of the West Point Class of 1915 were lost during the war, three killed in action and the rest to disease or accidents.
That West Point 1915 was a class of generals is a fact. It was clearly a class of leaders. It is also likely that it was a class with many who were exceptionally good at becoming generals. There is less evidence that it was a class of heroes, but heroes may not make good generals.