We started talking a little about the Army-Navy rivalry last week in advance of the Army-Navy football game on December 10th. This week we’ll introduce the Academies’ symbols and mascots and talk a little about a few of each school’s most accomplished graduates. Army and Navy have both put a ton of super-successful flag officers into national service; listing them all would be impractical in the extreme. I am therefore making different comparisons, comparisons that I hope will appeal to casual fans and those new to college sports’ greatest rivalry.
Crests and Logos: West Point
West Point gets itself into trouble with crests and logos. There is an official Academy crest, a separate crest for the United States Corps of Cadets, a crest for each and every graduating class, and a separate Academy sports crest with an alternate “A” logo used primarily by the Association of Graduates (AOG) and the Army “A” Club. That is a lot.
|The Official USMA Crest.|
|The USCC Crest has been in use since the mid-19th|
Century. You can tell a cadet's year by the color brass.
|West Point Class of 1995 crest.|
|The new "Army West Point" sports logo is based on the|
|The Army "A" remains in use as a secondary logo,|
especially by the Association of Graduates.
Crests and Logos: Annapolis
Navy has an Academy crest and a crest for each graduating class. They also have a single Academy sports logo that to my knowledge has never changed.
|Official USNA crest. Note the motto.|
Advantage: Navy. Simpler is better, especially when it comes to logos. The classic “N” with the North Star has never gone out of style because it’s already perfect. Yes, Army’s recent rebranding improved on the previous brand, but introducing two separate logos, a primary and an alternate, was overkill.
Also: “Army West Point”? Ugh. I get that people don’t automatically associate the United States Military Academy with the U.S. Army, and that this was a problem. Two wrongs, however, do not make a right.
One of the reasons that people get confused is that there are so many symbols and terms that mean the same things. The actual execution of Army’s new sports crest, that it’s essentially the USCC crest with the sword drawn for competition, is fine. However, it is in no way better than the traditional “A” that West Point, and especially AOG, has maintained for “secondary use.”
Nicknames and Mascots: West Point
New York City sportswriters dubbed the Army football team “The Black Knights of the Hudson” back in the 1930s. The name stuck and was formally applied to all Academy sports teams with the rebranding of 1999. Cadets attend West Point, but they compete on sports teams as Black Knights.
Nicknames and Mascots: Annapolis
Naval Academy teams compete as Midshipmen. The Naval Academy’s mascot is Bill the Goat. As with the Army mules, midshipmen care for Navy’s goat.
|Bill the Goat, looking fierce.|
Advantage: Army. If goats have ever served a useful purpose aboard ship, that purpose must surely be the kind of thing not easily spoken of in polite society. Further, legend has it that the Army mule kicked the Navy goat into the stands during one of the earliest Army-Navy football games. Needless to say, this delighted the Army sideline.
It’s also cool that Army came by its sports nickname organically via major NYC-area sportswriters. Army loses points, however, for having essentially two different mascots, especially when the school itself already has so much overlapping symbology and terminology.
Colors: West Point
Black, grey, and gold. These represent the ingredients in gunpowder—charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur.
Blue and gold. Blue is the color of the ocean; gold represents integrity. Navy’s alma mater is also called “The Blue and Gold”.
Advantage: Push. They’re colors. I will note, though, that West Point has its own colors while Annapolis uses the colors of its parent service.
Presidents: West Point
West Point has put two graduates into the White House, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Grant’s term is not highly regarded by most presidential scholars, though there has been a revisionist movement of late to suggest that many of the issues in Grant’s administration were outside of his control. By contrast, Eisenhower’s administration is very highly regarded indeed. Among other accomplishments, Eisenhower ended the Korean War, kept the U.S. out of Vietnam after the French disaster at Dien Bien Phu, and took Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to Disneyland.
Depending on your point of view, Army may get bonus points for the abortive 2004 primary presidential campaign of former Army Swimmer General Wesley Clark.
Annapolis has put exactly one man into the White House, Jimmy Carter. Carter presided over the Iran Hostage Crisis and was defeated by Ronald Reagan in a landslide in 1980.
Navy may also get bonus points for the iconic third party candidacy of H. Ross Perot and for the more recent Democratic primary candidacy of former Virginia Senator James Webb.
Advantage: Army. Grant and Carter are a push, and Clark’s primary campaign was at least as successful as Webb’s. This leaves Eisenhower versus Ross Perot. I like Perot and think he’s a great American--I almost went to work for him when I left the Army--but that’s no contest.
Battle Cry: West Point
“There is no substitute for victory!”
--General Douglas MacArthur, from his famous message to the Corps of Cadets during WWII: “From the Far East I send you one single thought, one sole idea -- written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo -- There is no substitute for victory!"
Battle Cry: Annapolis
“Damn the torpedoes!”
-- Admiral David Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. Farragut was ordering his ship through a minefield to engage a battery of shore-based Confederate guns.
Advantage: Push. Navy’s other iconic quote is “Don’t give up the ship!” by Captain James Lawrence. No credit there, however, because Lawrence died thirty-one years before the Naval Academy was official established. I also decided not to give Army credit for “Much of the history we teach was made by people we taught,” on the basis that’s it’s not the kind of thing you scream before attacking a machine gun nest.
There are a zillion lesser quotes, of course. I tried to choose the most ironically memorable ones that actually got said by a graduate of the institution in a time of war.
Authors: West Point
West Point has produced a substantial number of successful popular and academic historians--enough that I put together a full Summer Reading List: West Point and its Graduates--but if the U.S. Military Academy has an iconic literary form, that form is the memoir. I’ve made no effort to catalog all of the notable literary works, especially memoirs, that West Pointers have produced over the centuries, but a few of the most well-regarded are listed below.
The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant are widely regarded as the best military memoirs in American history. Written using Grant’s personal battle diaries and published with the help of his close friend Mark Twain, these memoirs make Grant both the Academy’s first president and perhaps its most successful author as well.
General Hal Moore had his own hit memoir with We Were Soldiers Once, and Young. This later became a highly successful film.
James R. McDonough wrote Platoon Leader, an iconic memoir of small unit command. This was required reading when I was a cadet and later became a successful 1988 film.
Brian Haig is the New York Times best-selling author of a well-regarded series of military thrillers, the Sean Drummond series.
LTG H.R. McMasters wrote Dereliction of Duty, a highly acclaimed popular history of the politics surrounding the War in Vietnam. He is credited with the saying, “Speak truth to power.”
John S.D. Eisenhower was not only the son of a president, he was also a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, and a highly regarded popular historian. The Bitter Woods is his history of the Battle of the Bulge. So Far From God is my personal favorite. It’s a history of the Mexican-American War, chronicling the early careers of some of the Civil War’s most important men when they served as company grade officers.
Alas, West Point’s most famous author didn’t actually graduate. Edgar Allen Poe dropped out when his father took ill in the middle of his cadet career.
The Grandfather of Science Fiction, Robert Heinlein, graduated from Annapolis with the Class of 1929. Among many, many others, Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, The Puppet Masters, and Stranger in a Strange Land. He was a multi-time Hugo and Nebula Award winner. His works have spawned more movies than I can easily list, including iconic films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
William Lederer wrote The Ugly American.
Former Virginia Senator James Webb wrote my favorite piece of military fiction, Fields of Fire.
Advantage: Navy. This one’s not as close as it might seem. West Point has a much deeper bench, and we could maybe argue that maybe Grant and Moore were as successful as Lederer or Webb, but that’s being a little generous to be honest.
West Point has no one to match the stature of Heinlein, unfortunately, though if Poe had actually graduated…
That’s all I’ve got. Come back next week, and we’ll talk a little about the actual football game.
 Sean Wilentz, “The Return of Ulysses,” The New Republic, Jan. 25, 2010. https://newrepublic.com/article/72699/the-return-ulyses-s-grant
 Platoon Leader (film). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platoon_Leader_(film)
 I met Ambassador Eisenhower as a cadet studying in West Point’s History Department. Hearing his lecture on the Battle of the Bulge was one of the highlights of my cadet career.