By Jennifer L. Warren
WEST POINT – General Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. stood up when others would not. He fought battles on and off the field. He achieved feats many never deemed possible.
For all these reasons, and so many more, the 1936 United States Military Academy graduate earned the distinction of hero from many. Friday, that lofty, reputable status was officially recognized, at the Davis Barracks Opening Dedication Ceremony. Here, over 500 guests paid tribute to a man considered a trailblazer by many, opening doors of opportunity. Now, doors are being opened in his memory as 320 cadet rooms are actively being occupied inside the impressive, new building.
With its building commencing in 2013, Davis Barracks was completed this year. The massive construction undertaking involved 167,901 pieces of granite, making it the largest granite project in North America during its construction period. The building itself features seven floors, five of them cadet living quarters. Additionally, those cadet floors include; office space as well as collaboration, study and company meeting rooms. That sheer space has the cadets who reside there feeling grateful.
“It’s a real privilege to live here, just the space and newness alone,” pointed out cadet, Zade Koch of Milford, Michigan of the Class of 2019. “It’s just phenomenal how much space and technology there is; it is going to improve the quality of life here substantially.
Since many of the surrounding dormitories were erected in the 1940’s, the Davis Barracks has also catapulted living conditions into the new, modern era. The first building at West Point to use radiant heating and cooling, it pumps warm and cool water through the floors depending on the temperatures. Cadets are also allotted some welcomed and elusive freedom, allowed to slightly adjust their room temperatures. Further, each floor includes another new, much embraced feature, laundry rooms. Rather than have to send their laundry out, awaiting sometimes long periods for its return, cadets in Davis Barracks have the luxury of doing their own, yet another subtle sign of cadet living shifting into the modern era.
Friday’s Dedication Ceremony included several prominent guests and speakers. Among those offering words of praise and delight at the momentous occasion was Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen Jr, Superintendent at USMA.
“It’s hard to believe a couple of years ago there was nothing here; now if you look at it, it looks like a natural part of the landscape,” said Caslen about the new Barracks.
“General Davis faced many obstacles of racial discrimination, but each time he overcame, earning the trust and respect of everyone around him; he truly exemplified the values at West Point of duty, honor and country.”
Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers, Army Corp of Engineering, dubbed Davis an “American Hero.” He went on to equate his life to that of the building named in his honor. “Like Davis, this building will not buckle,” affirmed Semonite.
“Each stone has been individually cut, and is a part of the Long Grey Line.” He also pointed out the symbolic nature of other variables, such as the mortar and the windows and how they signified the potent and eternal presence of Davis’ legacy, something cadets are bound to recall each time they traverse through the building.
In addition to prestigious USMA staff offering remarks, a couple of members of Davis’ family also spoke complimentary words at the Dedication. Honorary L. Scott Melville, Nephew of General Davis was very close with his uncle. Learning how to fly planes from his mentor, Melville was like a son to him, leaving an indelible mark.
“Ben always, always kept his eye of the prize,” said Melville, who indicated how his Uncle died on July 4, Independence Day. “God could not have planned it better; he was a true patriot, who if he was here today, would have loved this honor given by a place he loved.”
That place, including its current cadets, continue to love him as well. His spirit lives on, not only in the opening of the Barracks bearing his name outside of it, but also in those who aspire to follow in his footsteps.
“He was determined to endure any ordeal; his perseverance showed how the spirit is not broken easily, choosing what was right,” declared Cadet Netteange Monaus.
“He did not let his circumstances poison him; rather he turned the insults into fuel, bringing about change, and is forever carved into eternity.”