Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Reflections—West Point

Bert Gildart: Of all the places in the United States, few have affected me as much as West Point. The effects are not, however, what you might first imagine, for in my younger years, West Point was a place I fought tooth and nail to avoid.

I am the son, grandson, nephew, and great nephew, of five different Gildart men, all of whom graduated from West Point, men who then went on to distinguish themselves in careers as military officers. Certainly on that basis I would have qualified for a Congressional appointment, but back in the days when my age was appropriate, if I had made it to first base, my response to the hazing all cadets endure would have been counterproductive. In short, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

That said, I have now come full circle, revere the military awards my father, General Gildart, garnered and the reputation he established for himself. Several days ago that was brought home during a most poignant trip to West Point, where Janie and I visited our parents’ respective graves.

Because Jane Thalmann Gildart’s father was a doctor at West Point when he retired, Colonel and Mrs. Thalmann were entitled to be buried there, and both were. And because my father graduated from the Class of 1937, he was entitled to be buried there, and in 2005, he joined my mother. And once again, as we strolled around this very illustrious academy, I must say that I have come to revere the history that the United States Military academy embodies, and to respect most of the men who walked the Long Gray Line.

But as we toured, my father’s voice rang in my ears, and I was also reminded that there are aspects of the Academy that have changed since 1937 that did not always prompt an approving nod.

Dad’s observations were generally based on history, decorum and propriety, and the Academy embodies all, beginning with its strategic location on the west point of the Hudson River. Because of the huge bend the Hudson River follows here, General George Washington wanted the spot for a fort.

Washington knew the Hudson was the key to the welfare of the New England Colonies and wanted to secure those upriver interests. To this effect, he not only constructed a fort, but as well, he had his troops string a huge chain across the river consisting of hundreds of 300-pound links.

Today, some of those links remain at Trophy Point, and as Janie and I visited the area, we recalled my dad explaining that the links had been held in place just beneath the surface of the water by huge crates. If British ships made it past the cannon fire, they’d still be stopped and most likely torn to pieces by the chain, which was not visible in these murky waters. Today, 15 remnants of the chain still exist, all linked together at Trophy Point to form a large circle.

All of the many battles are celebrated at Trophy Point in the form of cannons, and the collection makes a wonderful area for cadets to stroll with their lady friends. During a tour of the Academy in 2003 my dad expressed the opinion that West Point had relaxed its standards to too great a degree, and as liberal as I can sometimes be, I think he may be right.

As Janie and I strolled around Trophy Point, we saw several “Firsties” who were immaculately dressed, but escorting girl friends who were not so well dressed and who were clinging adoringly to their cadets.

“No public display of affection,” he would have said.

Nor would he have approved of several cadets whom we saw in the nearby town of Highland Falls, sprawled on a bench chatting on cell phones. Because he was of the old school, he also thought West Point should remain a male bastion, and that if women wanted a military academy, they should form one of their own.

Though we toured Trophy Point and other points of historic interest, we, of course, spent a considerable amount of time strolling through the massive cemetery, which in itself is a mirror of the country’s history, as well as the vanity of some of the individual men.

Take Earl Blaik, much revered coach who wanted a headstone shaped as a football. And take the huge tombstone that honors General Custer. On one side of the rather imposing stature is the engraving of a buffalo and of Sitting Bull, while on the other side is a bronze of Custer, sword raised as though riding to victory. Custer graduated bottom of his class and may have received more demerits than did anyone else in his class. His actions at the Little Bighorn, of course, resulted in the death of his entire command. In Custer’s case, vanity apparently overcame logic.

The majority of graduates from West Point, of course, have distinguished themselves or otherwise fought for what they considered to be meritorious. Consider, for instance, the names of the following graduates: Lee, Grant, Eisenhower, Patton, Westmorland, and Montgomery. The cemetery is sadly filled with lesser-known names, but heroes all the same, representing all wars to include Iraq.

And so as Janie and I laid flowers on the graves of our respective parents, we both reflected over their accomplishments. Janie’s father was chief of medicine at West Point, and both her parents lay together beneath an ancient beech tree.

My parents lay together toward the south end of the massive graveyard and the epitaph on my mom and dad’s combined tombstone reminds observers that he won numerous medals to include the highest peace-time medal. Obviously, we’re both proud to be the descendents of men and women closely allied to the history of our country, and speaking for myself, if I had to do it all over again, I believe I might at least consider applying for admisson to the academy that forms a strategic west point on the banks of the Hudson River. On the other hand, my life in journalism has been immensely satisfying, suggesting you review the hand you’ve been dealt, and then play it as best you can.


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

4 Responses to “Reflections—West Point”

  1. John Says:

    Thanks so much,I loved your sharing the west point history and of your family. God Bless our USA.

  2. Susan Gallo Says:

    Bert – thank you for sharing about your Father. My husband,(Sgt. Phillip Gallo), was assigned to your Father in Korea in 1965, as his aide-de-camp. I am trying to piece together any and all detailed info I can get my hands on about that time. Do you have any records/photos of your Dad with his aide(s) or any records of him going back and forth from Korea to Vietnam in 1965 specifically? Please email me @sk.runnergallo@gmail.com.

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