American Valor Quarterly Issue 3 - Summer 2008 - Page 19

General Goodpaster was still serving as Superintendent when, on 20 January 1981, Iran released 52 American diplomats and military personnel who had been held hostage for 444 days. When they returned to the United States, these people and their families were taken to a place where they could have some quiet time together before having to deal with the press and the public. The place chosen was West Point. Goodpaster greeted the former hostages and their families with these reassuring words: “You have been delivered from evil, and you are now safe at a place of great strength and beauty.” One can only imagine the impact of that simple statement, so typical of the man who delivered it. Abrams General Goodpaster’s career was, at a most important juncture, linked with that of Creighton W. Abrams. During the first year General Abrams commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam, General Goodpaster was his deputy. As those familiar with my work know, I have long been interested in the professional values exemplified by General Abrams. That interest began in the early 1970s, when I commanded a tank battalion in Germany that was descended from the 37th Tank Battalion then-Lieutenant Colonel Abrams had commanded during World War II. The Army we had in Europe in the 1970s was in desperate straits, having been adversely affected in almost every realm by the ongoing war in Vietnam. There was not enough money, not enough spare parts, not enough gasoline or ammunition, and especially not enough experienced leadership at the crucial lower levels — captains and lieutenants and sergeants. In an effort to motivate the soldiers in my battalion, I tried to learn more about the history of the outfit in World War II. I read everything I could find, even made a trip to Bastogne. Then I wrote a short history and had that mimeographed, gave little talks throughout the battalion, and so on. In retrospect I don’t think I much influenced the troops, who were basically just passing through. Our battalion, like many others of that day, was turning over about a quarter of its strength every 90 days. But in the process of all this I influenced myself a good deal, so much so that later I decided to tell the Abrams story for a wider audience. That eventually became a book entitled Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times. I went into that project viewing Abrams as an exemplar of the kinds of values soldiers ought to admire and emulate. Had the research revealed otherwise, I would of course have been quite disappointed. Fortunately, the more I learned about General Abrams the clearer it was that he was exactly as he seemed to be. Abrams led from the front, standing in the turret of his Sherman tank, which was named “Thunderbolt.” Said a tank driver from the battalion, “I can recall during our tank battles Abe was right alongside of our tank giving orders to my tank commander and having a ball shooting tanks like the rest of the boys. He would mix in wherever the toughest battle was.” And, he added, “It made us feel more like fighting harder when you could see a great man like Abe right alongside of you.” Officers in higher headquarters said that in the morning they would tune their radios to Abrams’ frequency, just to be entertained by his hard-driving leadership. “In a combat situation Abrams turned out to be a fairly impatient man,” observed one officer. That was an accurate assessment, and the results were nothing short of spectacular. The 37th Tank Battalion was often the lead element of Patton’s Third Army in its drive across France. It was the first to cross the Moselle River; it was the outfit that punched through to Bastogne, on the day after Christmas of 1944, to relieve the encircled 101st Airborne Division; and it was the first element of Third Army to reach the Rhine. Wrote his division commander, “The brilliant combat record of Lieutenant. Colonel Creighton Abrams constitutes one of the sagas of this war.” Along the way Abrams was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, and a battlefield promotion to colonel. What is most remarkable to me about this aggressive battle leader is how he was regarded by the men under his command. A radio operator from the battalion would later write to Abrams that he had never forgotten his “strong sense of values” and his “magnetic feeling of leadership.” As a result, he said, “I still respect you as a soldier and love you as a fine human being. I teach children to grow up to be like General Abe.” Wrote his maintenance sergeant: “I have fond memories of the kind of man Abrams was. He never made things more difficult and unhappy than they were, as did some of the officers of far less rank.” AMERICAN VALOR QUARTERLY - Summer 2008 - 19 United States Military Academy The motto of the 37th Tank Battalion, led by Abrams throughout World War II, was “Courage Conquers,” and if ever there was a motto exactly right for the outfit bearing it, this was the one. Lt. General Goodpaster as Superintendent of West Point. General Goodpaster came out of retirement following the notorious cheating scandal of 1976 to restore a sense of honor to the academy. When he retired from the academy in 1981, Goodpaster’s rank was immediately returned to the four stars of a full general.