87 Year Old Grad Still Enjoys Marching With New West Point Cadets
by U.S. Army Brandon OConnor
October 9, 2019
In 20 years of March Backs, Wallace Ward has seen it all.
In the beginning, the march was 15 miles, now 20 years later it
is only 12. Over the years it has moved from taking place in the
middle of the night to starting in the morning. There has been rain
and thunderstorms that soaked and threatened the marchers. There was
a hamstring injury that slowed him down but couldn’t stop him.
No matter the obstacle, the distance or the weather, since
members of the Long Gray Line were invited to the March Back 20
years ago Wallace Ward has completed every single one.
Retired Lt. Col. Wallace
Ward, USMA Class of 1958, marches back with the Class of
2023. Ward, 87, was the oldest grad to participate in the
2019 March Back. Members of the U.S. Military Academy Class
of 2023 completed their final challenge of Cadet Basic
Training by conducting a 12-mile road march from Camp
Buckner, Aug. 12, 2019. They were joined by the cadet cadre,
USMA leadership, staff, faculty and members of the Long Gray
Line. (U.S. Army photo by Brandon OConnor, U.S. Military
year as he stepped off from Camp Buckner before dawn with India
Company, Ward, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in the
Class of 1958, earned the distinction of being the oldest graduate
to participate in the annual tradition.
He first joined the
March Back at 67 and now aged 87 he once again walked the entire way
from start to finish.
“I come back to March Back every year
because I love to run,” Ward said. “I’ve participated in 10
marathons and one ultramarathon that was 62 miles. I have been
running and walking all my life so when they said they wanted people
to hike back with the plebes I thought that was a great opportunity
since I love being outside running and walking.”
brought him full circle as it was running that first introduced Ward
to West Point.
A track athlete in nearby Washingtonville,
New York, Ward competed at a regional track meet at West Point as a
high schooler. He entered the meet with a single goal – earning the
one point he needed to secure his varsity letter for the season --
and determined to do whatever it took to secure it.
finish line nearby and his goal within reach, Ward dove across the
line. His last bit of effort earned him his letter, but it also left
shrapnel in his left elbow that has served as a, “reminder of West
Point for the rest of my life.”
It would prove to be the
first of many marks West Point would leave upon him as the track
meet set him upon a path that eventually allowed him to enter West
Point as a prior service cadet after he was not accepted directly
from high school and enlisted in the Army in 1951.
been to West Point,” Ward said of that track meet roughly 70 years
ago. “I got there and saw this great fortress over the Hudson River
and said, ‘Wow, this is fantastic. I’d sure like to be able to go
there for school.’”
His time at West Point changed the course
of his life after being abandoned along with his brothers in a
Brooklyn flat by his mother. They bounced through different foster
homes before finding stability and discipline after moving near
West Point continued the process of
instilling discipline and helped to keep him from becoming, “a kid
in New York, running the streets, stealing and things like that,
getting in all kinds of trouble,” Ward said.
He retired from
the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1979 after a career as an air
defense officer. Now 61 years after his graduation from West Point,
Ward uses his time with the new class during March Back to encourage
them and teach them about the place that means so much to him.
“We spend half the time (talking), except when we are going
uphill. I always tell them, ‘Cut if off, wait until we get to the
top of the hill. Then we can resume the conversation,’” Ward said.
“When we are walking and having a conversation with the plebes we
tell them it is going to be a tough year, stick it out, keep your
nose clean and work hard and things will come out alright and you
will be proud of the fact you went to West Point.”
years and more than 200 miles of March Backs under his belt, Ward
hasn’t decided if he’ll be back for number 21. He said he will have
to, “think about it,” before lacing up his sneakers and hiking
through the woods with another class seven decades his junior even
though he enjoys his time spent with the plebes and talking with
them as they traverse the hills.
“I get the enthusiasm of
going back to West Point every year and seeing that great fortress
on the Hudson River, meeting old friends and comrades and enjoying
the atmosphere,” Ward said of why he has come back for the last 20
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