The year was 1943. Adolf Hitler had declared war against America and precautionary measures were implemented to stop the pervasive rise of fascism stemming from Germany.
West Point became a war-time academy where cadets were educated for three years instead of four and stringent military orders were placed on the U.S. Military Academy’s Corps of Cadets to remain at West Point. It was explained to the cadets at the time that midshipmen couldn’t come to support the Navy team at the Army-Navy Game during the war, and they needed someone to cheer their team along. In the spirit of sportsmanship, the Corps was separated — one to support the Navy and the other to support the Army, retired Col. Doniphan Carter, USMA Class of 1944, explained.
“Particularly, in my day, when they told you to do something, you did it. Everybody, which was, then, the 1st Regiment of Cadets, were divided into two regiments,” Ed Winthrop, USMA Class of 1945, said of having to cheer for the Navy. “That was a real downer that year. At least for me and for most of my classmates and fellow 1st Regiment cadets.”
For Winthrop, it felt strange rooting for Navy when the Army was losing the game and the strangeness felt much more palpable as the Army eventually succumbed to defeat. There wasn’t much talk with cadets that day for Winthrop. He recalled the disappointment he and the rest of the cadets felt over the loss. Still, something more disappointing remained etched deep in the cavern of the memories he carved throughout his 97-year life’s journey.
“A big disappointment for me was I had bet my bathrobe against a Navy Midshipmen’s bathrobe and I lost,” Winthrop said. “So, I had to send a bathrobe to Annapolis.”
Also, for retired Col. Amos Wright, USMA Class of 1945, it was an upsetting experience but a humbling one. Despite the upset, Wright couldn’t help but acknowledge Navy for their effective strategies throughout the game.
“We had high hopes we would win of course, but from the start, the Navy team was better, and they just dominated the whole game. As I remember, they were down close to the end zone and we were cheering as hard as we could to keep the Navy from going in, but Navy executed that ground game play just perfectly. The whole stadium was quiet because the guys cheering for Navy were disappointed,” Wright said as he chuckled at the thought. “It was a disappointment because here we were at West Point — they were coming in, and dogone, they just had a better team at the time.”
After the ‘43 game, time had passed. The 121-game rivalry continues between the Army and Navy. Both components compiled historical wins. However, another game wouldn’t be played at Michie Stadium for another 77 years, and for former cadets from the U.S. Military Academy, a win at Michie stadium meant everything. The moment of truth finally came and on Saturday. redemption was made as the Army team battled through four action-packed quarters to earn a 15-0 victory over Navy.
Despite COVID-19 preventing outside fans from partaking in gameday festivities, the stadium was teeming with excitement and passion as the thunderous cheers of cadets and midshipmen echoed throughout the stadium.
Before the historic win, Class of 2023 Cadet Evelyn Pickett learned about the former grads watching West Point lose the Army-Navy Game in 1943. She also watched her fellow cadets lose the Army-Navy Game last year so, winning the game meant everything for her and Corps of Cadets.
“Well, I can relate to those former cadets who watched the game all those years ago,” Pickett said. “We’re all really hoping, especially with the climate of everything going on in 2020 that we can pull off a win today. It’ll improve the morale of the Corps a ton and Navy coming here on our home turf and beating us would not be good. We’re really hoping for a win.”
Conversely, Class of 2024 Midshipman Eric Esqueda believed the Navy would win the game this year. He thought Navy played a tougher schedule than the Army. However, in this case, experience won against the youth as Winthrop argued against the young Midshipman’s calculation predicting Army beating Navy would be the outcome of this year’s game.
“I’ll question the midshipman’s statistics on who played the tougher schedule. We played tough teams in Cincinnati and I forget who the other one (Tulane) was,” Winthrop said. “But both games were played against those teams representing our defeats this year and they were both good teams — particularly high-ranked Cincinnati. Navy didn’t play anybody like that. And so, you can always phrase statistics in any way you want, but the outcome will always speak volumes. Go Army, beat Navy!”
The Navy couldn’t devise a strategy to gain the lead, and with that, history was made. Army rose to the occasion with a dynamic 15-0 shut-out performance over Navy.
“It’s about damn time!” the Director of the Department of Military Instruction Col. Alan Boyer said. “It feels great and you know what else? We put a lot of work and discipline into this and since March of last year — getting through COVID — I’m glad to say that Navy gets to experience this moment. I know they didn’t get the outcome that they wanted but it’s great that the Army won the day — beat Navy!”
After the victory was announced the Army football team, along with Corps of Cadets stood at attention and sang the Alma Mater. Afterward, members of the team embraced the Corps of Cadets reveling in their historic accomplishment.
“It feels amazing to win at home,” Class of 2024 Cadet Bo Nicholas Paul, who plays cornerback for the Army football team. “We have a great atmosphere and a great crowd. I love this team and I love this country that we proudly represent.”