September 25, 2008

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West Point’s new library: “A repository of lessons learned”

Jefferson Hall has become a prominent new landmark on the
Hudson River, noted Superintendent LTGen. Franklin Hagenbeck

WEST POINT – “I cannot live without books”, Thomas Jefferson said, to John Adams, in 1815.  When Jefferson envisioned the U.S. Military Academy, he clearly understood one concept about the future.  During the dedication ceremony for the new cadet library that bears the name of the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the nation’s third president, Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, Dean of the Academic Board, recalled Jefferson’s wisdom and words.

“Institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.  As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manner and opinion change with the circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

It was on that principle that plans were put in motion to give the two-century-old institution a new state of the art library and learning center.

The symbolic importance of libraries was recalled by Gen. Richard Cody.  In his final official act of a long military career, Cody recounted the story of Mike Durant, one of two survivor of the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu.  In the home town of the man who saved his life while giving his own, Durant visited the local library to do some last-minute research on the history of the Medal of Honor.  He checked out three books, provided by the librarian.  Cody recalls what happened when Durant returned the books.

Thomas:  "ascended to the realm of legend"

“Then he noticed, all three books had not been signed out for over 16 years.  The last person to sign them out was a young Gary Gordon”.

Gordon was the hero, about to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor.

“Though imperfect, he had a perfect idea that all men are created equal”, once wrote Judge John Charles Thomas, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in Virginia.  At age 32, Thomas became both the youngest person, and first Black, appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

West Point was another of Jefferson’s ‘perfect ideals’, said Thomas.

“That as brilliant as Thomas Jefferson was, he could not have foreseen just how magnificent West Point would come to be.  Because West Point exceeds all expectations that anyone, 200 years ago, could have had.  It has ascended to the realm of legend.”

Along with the Knights of the Round Table and the 300 Spartans, must stand The Long Grey Line, said Thomas.


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