By Randy Mitchell, U.S. Army North PAOJune 21, 2010
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Service before self is expected of our Soldiers, but one family has taken it to new heights.
Second Lt. Mark Armstrong Jr. recently joined five consecutive generations of West Point graduates from the United States Military Academy.
"I wanted to serve my country, develop my leadership skills and get a world-class education," said Armstrong. "At West Point, I was able to do that and much, much more."
As the young Armstrong should know, he has some big shoes to fill as one of five consecutive generations of Armstrong's to attend West Point.
His father, Col. Mark Armstrong Sr., serves on active duty as the U.S. Army North Region IX Defense Coordinating Officer in Oakland, Calif., near his birthplace of Palo Alto, Calif., where generations of his Family have lived and served.
The senior Armstrong, a 1981 graduate of West Point himself, proudly administered the military oath of office to his son.
"I was thrilled to be able to commission my own son into the Army," said Armstrong, fully knowing his son may soon be deployed in harm's way in Afghanistan or Iraq.
"West Point has prepared him well to be a leader of character in today's complex, volatile, uncertain and multi-national combat environments."
The senior Armstrong grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area that was already rich in military family tradition.
His father, Lt. Col. John L. Armstrong, was a 1946 graduate of West Point. A Pearl Harbor survivor and veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, John died in 2004 and never got to see his grandson in uniform as a Cadet.
"We are all so proud of Mark Jr.," said Kathryn Halsey Armstrong, John's widow, who still lives in Palo Alto. "His grandfather would have been so proud of him too.
"He's a fine young man, and carrying on a wonderful tradition of service to our nation as part of the 'Long Gray Line,'" said Kathryn, referring to the nickname for the graduates of West Point since its inception in 1802.
Both of Mark Jr.'s great-grandfathers attended West Point as well. Col. John D. Armstrong, also of Palo Alto, was a 1919 graduate. A Pearl Harbor survivor, he served as commander of the 365th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division, during the WWII Italian campaign.
The other great-grandfather, Maj. Gen. Milton B. Halsey, was a 1917 graduate who joined the search for Pancho Villa in the desert southwest immediately after graduation. He later served with Generals Patton and MacArthur and commanded the 97th Infantry Division in WWII when it liberated Czechoslovakia.
Halsey then moved to the Pacific Theater as commanding general of the Yokohama Command and chief of staff of 9th Corps during the occupation of Japan. He later served as chief of staff of 8th Army, overseeing operations in both Japan and Korea.
However, the rich family tradition began more than a century ago in 1891 when Mark Jr.'s great-great grandfather, Col. Frank Spear Armstrong, graduated from West Point - starting the chain that hasn't been broken since.
Frank Armstrong was taught by the great Civil War generals from West Point. He served in the Philippines as a young officer and in France in WWI as the Quartermaster Inspector of the American Expeditionary Forces and chief of the Remount Service. He later served as the Quartermaster of the United States Army.
Additionally, two of Mark Jr.'s uncles, John Armstrong Jr., 1978, and Jon Halsey, 1985, are also graduates of West Point.
The Armstrong military tradition in America started long before West Point was founded. The earliest Armstrong in his direct line of descendants to serve in America was Col. John Armstrong, who served with George Washington and made the famous Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War, earning the "Order of the Cincinnati."
The military ties also extend to the maternal side of the Halsey Family with Col. Lee Crandall, the commander of 47th Arkansas Cavalry, who served during the Civil War. Mark Jr.'s brother, Andrew, is an ROTC Cadet at the University of California Santa Barbara where his sister, Apryl, recently graduated.
As to whether his younger sister, Leah, will attend West Point, Armstrong says "it is too early to say - but don't rule it out."
Armstrong will attend communications training in Georgia before learning to parachute at the U.S. Army Airborne School. His first duty assignment will be in Bamberg, Germany, as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.