Founders Day Ball: A Toast to Tradition
“I propose a toast to the [U.S.] Army …” a lone voice said amidst a crowd of silent people.
“To the [U.S.] Army,” the crowd of voices replied, and more than 200 drinking glasses were raised in unison.
Soldiers, West Point alumni and cadet candidates, El Paso community leaders, spouses and friends dined in during Founders Day Ball at the Bicentennial Banquet and Convention Center, East Fort Bliss, Texas, March 26.
The celebrators are affiliated with the Col. Buster Hayden West Point Society of the El Paso Area.
The annual event, Founders Day celebrates the founding of the United States Military Academy March 16, 1802 by the third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson directed the establishment of “a corps of engineers” school as a military academy at West Point, N.Y., with the “sole function to train engineers,” according to the www.monticello.org website.
Prior to the dinner, a reception and social hour for admissible West Point candidates and their parents was held.
Col. Charles “Gus” Stafford, USMA, chief of staff, and Founder’s Day Dinner guest speaker, spoke to several West Point candidates about the educational opportunities, and he played a video presentation of daily life at the academy.
The dinner and social is intended to better connect with younger generations of alumni and USMA cadet candidates, said the event organizer, retired Lt. Col. James Houlahan, president of the El Paso based Society.
For some Soldiers the highlight was the attendance of the former WPSEP president, retired Col. James Hayden, USMA Class of 1945, during the annual event.
“The Society received permission from West Point to name the Society in El Paso after his namesake,” said Houlahan.
Col. Hayden is a living inspiration among West Point graduates, according to Houlahan.
“(Col. Hayden) is a Class of 1945 graduate and after 30 years of military service, he subsequently completed 30 additional years as a recruiter and admissions official for West Point,” Houlahan said. “He has enabled over 350 El Pasoans to attend West Point in that time period - more than any other single recruiter in the history of West Point admissions!”
One class of 2004 USMA graduate said he Hayden directly affected his life.
“I am originally from El Paso—graduated school here, and went through the West Point admissions process here, and Col. Hayden was the one who recruited me,” said Cpt. Macell Hickman, 5th Armored Brigade, First Army Division-West, chief of training.
Selecting his namesake seemed to be a simple matter for the society.
“Basically, he is a legend up there at West Point. You can see his entire adult life has been devoted to serving our Nation, our Army, his Alma Mater, and the El Paso Community ... there are not too many folks around like that these days,” Houlahan said.
As Fort Bliss continues to develop, so does the plan for reaching out to a new crop of USMA Army graduates among the El Paso community, Houlahan said.
And true to his plan, a Color guard of four Eastwood High School Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students, in ROTC Dress Green uniforms, posted and retired the Colors with the precision of a honed USMA drill team.
“The support for this year's event was tremendous,” Houlahan said. “We had almost 200 attendees, including senior leaders from both the El Paso and Fort Bliss communities, alumni, Cadet candidates, families, friends and supporters.”