By David San MiguelSeptember 26, 2008
In the fall of 1963, Victor Macias, then a fifth-grade student at the Madera Unified Public School in Madera, Calif., sat on the living room couch with his mother and his younger brother and sister watching "They Died With Their Boots On," a 1941 movie about the life and death of Gen. George Custer.
The movie, which starred Errol Flynn, follows Custer from his life at West Point, his promotion to general at 23 and his death during the classic battle with Crazy Horse at Little Big Horn.
The movie was to have had a lasting impact on the young student.
Macias had already experienced the harsh reality of work in the field and knew that wasn't what he wanted out of life.
During harvest season, his father worked from dawn until dusk to earn a meager wage to support the family. The young teen would often join him irrigating the fields, driving the tractor, pruning grapevines, picking grapes and laying them out in the sun to make raisins. It was hard work.
That's the life that was expected of him, he said. "After all, poor Mexicans weren't expected to do much more."
The movie, however, had sparked his ambition.
"There were so many great leaders whose biographies I read who had attended the academy," Macias said. "My mind was made up. I was going to West Point."
Though surprised, his parents gave him the support and encouragement Macias would need to overcome the obstacles and prejudices which laid ahead.
"People said kids like me didn't go to schools like that," he said. "Poor Mexican kids like me, working in the fields - for that matter anyone on the wrong side of the tracks - didn't fit the norm."
By the time he entered Madera High School, Macias had become more determined than ever and he met and discussed his plans with his freshman guidance counselor, George Farrell.
Surprised but willing to help the freshman achieve his goal, Farrell laid out a plan he said would ensure his acceptance not only to West Point but to any other college.
"I'll tell you what courses you'll need to take," the counselor said. "There will be times when you may wish to take an easier elective, but stick with the plan and you'll get what you want."
Near the end of his sophomore year and his plan in full motion, Macias began the application process.
"I wrote everything in long hand so I recruited a few of my female student friends to type up the application so that it would look good," he said. "I secured the recommendation of Congressman Harold T. Johnson and mailed off the application.
"One day I got a congratulatory letter for a four-year ROTC scholarship and the next day I received a telegram telling me I had been accepted to West Point," he said as a matter of fact.
Once at the academy, Macias confessed that most of the cadets thought he was a foreign student.
"I was the only one with a Hispanic last name, but it didn't matter," he said. "I was treated the same. I was fully integrated into the class structure."
Four years later, Macias achieved his goal.
He was commissioned an infantry second lieutenant on June 4, 1975, and retired as a lieutenant colonel in June 1996 after 21 years of service.
Today, he serves as one of several training administrators for G-3 Training Integration, U.S. Army Forces Command.