The Cold War
Shortly after its victory in World War II, the United States faced new international security challenges. The Soviet Union established Communist governments in central and eastern Europe and sought to spread its influence into other regions of the world. Communist China likewise threatened American interests - it fought directly against the United States in Korea and, along with the Soviet Union, supported the insurgency in Vietnam. In response to these threats, the United States fought a "Cold War" with the communists that lasted 45 years.
Despite the mutual animosity, the threat of nuclear war discouraged the superpowers from direct military confrontation. Instead, they engaged in regional conflicts that involved the allies and proxies of the other. Korean and Vietnam were the principal Cold War battlefields for the U.S. Army, but American forces operated in many other countries. Additionally, they maintained a forward presence in Europe and Korea that deterred war and demonstrated America's commitment to defending itself and its allies.
During the Cold War, West Point graduates served in leadership positions at all levels of military command. They led American and allied soldiers on the battlefields of Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Panama. Concurrently they deterred aggression and enforced peace in numerous other countries. Their service contributed immensely to the U.S. victory in the Cold War.
The end of the Cold War did not bring an end to conflict and crisis in the world. After 1991, the United States, often in concert with other nations, sought to keep peace, respond to humanitarian disasters, and defend democracy around the globe. Members of the Long Gray Line, serving in key leadership positions at all levels of military command, engaged in operations in Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo during the last decade of the twentieth century. Their presence helped relieve the suffering of millions of people and bring order and stability to troubled regions of the world.
The Korean War
The Korean War began suddenly in June 1950 when North Korean forces attacked across the 38th parallel and made rapid advances into South Korea. In response, the Eighth U.S. Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Walton Walker (USMA 1912), deployed to South Korea from Japan. Walker's soldiers waged a heroic withdrawal to the Pusan Perimeter. Their efforts bought the time necessary for the United Nations commander, General Douglas MacArthur (USMA 1903), to conduct a brilliant counterstroke at Inchon in September. Allied forces then drove the retreating Communists north to the Yalu River, the border with communist China.
In November 1950, Chinese communist forces launched a massive counterattack that pushed the allies south of the 38th parallel by the end of the year. Within a few months, the new Eighth U.S. Army commander, Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway (USMA April 1917), had pushed the communists north of the 38th parallel, stabilized the battlefield, and forced the enemy to begin peace negotiations. During the next two years, allied and communist forces fought bloody engagements at places like the Punchbowl, Heartbreak Ridge, and Pork Chop Hill in an effort to influence the peace talks. Allied forces held firm, and in July 1953 the communists signed an armistice that recognized the futility of their efforts to conquer the south.
During the Korean Conflict, West Point graduates served in every leadership position from Platoon Leader to Theater Commander. Their collective efforts helped contain communism and permit the development of a stable, peaceful South Korea that remained a key American ally for the remainder of the twentieth century.
The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War - the longest and most divisive in modern American history - was an outgrowth of the Cold War. Committed to a policy of containing communism, the United States helped South Vietnam in its struggle against an insurgency led by Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of North Vietnam. At first the United States provided military advisors only. However, starting in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson authorized the deployment of ground forces for use in a combat role. West Pointers were at the forefront of this effort, leading at every level from Platoon Leader to Commanding General.
General William Westmoreland (USMA 1936) led the American forces. He simultaneously fought a conventional war against the North Vietnamese regulars and an unconventional war against the Viet Cong. A weak South Vietnamese government - and a tough, resilient enemy - posed daunting obstacles to success. While U.S. forces and their allies won nearly every tactical engagement, the war dragged on inconclusively.
A major turning point occurred in January 1968 when the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. Although the offensive failed to meet its operational goals, the shock of its scope and intensity undermined support for the war in the United States. President Richard Nixon ordered a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, but much hard fighting remained. Under General Creighton Abrams (USMA 1938), U.S. forces continued ground and air operations against the North Vietnamese and civic-action programs to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people. Unfortunately the South Vietnamese could not sustain these activities once the Americans left in January 1973, and in April 1975 the country fell to the Communists.
Throughout the difficult conflict, heroism and sacrifice marked the service of America and her allies. They fought with the conviction that theirs was a just cause, worthy of their last full measure of devotion.
The Persian Gulf War
The end of the Cold War brought new security challenges as rogue states no longer were constrained by superpower rivalry in seeking power, territory, and influence. The Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, exploited the situation by invading Kuwait in August 1990 and positioning his forces to threaten Saudi Arabia. President George H. W. Bush ordered U.S. military forces into action. Within days the 82d Airborne Division was on the ground in northern Saudi Arabia, and follow-on forces from the XVIII Airborne Corps and the U.S. Marine Corps were close behind. With unusual speed and solidarity, the United Nations condemned Iraqi aggression and authorized the use of force to expel the invader from Kuwait. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (USMA 1956), Commander of the U.S. Central Command, led a military coalition consisting of the forces of 36 nations.
The allied air campaign began on 17 January 1991. Coalition forces quickly gained air superiority and, over the next five weeks, destroyed military targets and weakened Iraqi defenses. The ground campaign began on 24 February and achieved rapid success. At battles such as 73 Easting, Wadi al-Batin, and Medina Ridge, allied forces decisively defeated the Iraqi army and liberated Kuwait. On 28 February - about 100 hours after ground operations began - President Bush ordered a ceasefire, as all coalition objectives had been met.
West Point graduates served in the Gulf War at all levels from Platoon Leader to Coalition Commander. They led a professional army that had recast itself as a powerful, agile, and resilient force in the years since the Vietnam War.