In the shadow of the US Military Academy, a cadet’s death leaves a pall of sadness
The half-mile-long business district here ends at the main gate to the US Military Academy, where a West Point cadet was killed and 19 other cadets and two soldiers injured on their way to a training exercise.
“For a little community, something like this touches all of us,” said Bernell Johnson, 43, whose barbershop caters to cadets.
“They’re not even at war and someone is going to show up at their parents’ house with a flag, saying your son is no longer with us. That’s very sad.”
On Friday, the academy released the name of the cadet killed in the accident — Christopher J. Morgan, 22, a law and legal studies major from West Orange, New Jersey, who was recruited for the Army wrestling team.
“Chris had an infectious personality with a smile big enough to fill any room, and a heart big enough to love everyone around him,” wrestling coach Kevin Ward said in a statement. “He made everyone around him better and he will be greatly missed.”
The cadet corps will hold a vigil Friday night to honor Morgan. A memorial ceremony for the West Point community and private funeral service will be held next week.
West Point has more cadets than village has residents
The cadets, from the Class of 2020, were in a tactical vehicle Thursday on their way to a land navigation course where they were going to do a map reading exercise, according to West Point spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt.
The M1085 long wheelbase cargo truck, a medium-tactical vehicle, rolled over at about 6:45 a.m. off Route 293 near Camp Natural Bridge in the West Point training area, the academy said.
The injured cadets and soldiers have contacted family members, the academy tweeted late Thursday.
Their injuries are not considered life-threatening, said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, academy superintendent.
Resident recalls father of cadet waiting for news about his son
Highland Falls, a village of about 3,800 residents and a 45-minute drive from New York City, enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the neighboring academy and its more than 4,000 cadets.
Thursday’s accident came on the day the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France. As US and Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy during World War II, West Point held its commencement ceremony for the Class of 1944.
‘It’s tragic no matter what day it happens,” said Ginny Lee, a longtime bartender at the South Gate Tavern and Restaurant, a popular cadet hangout less than a block from the elite academy.
“These kids are so good. They are literally the cream of the crop.”
The academy’s website brags to prospective cadets that its alumni include 83 Medal of Honor recipients, 20 astronauts and 93 Rhodes scholars.
The 108-year-old tavern sits in the shadow of West Point, whose cadets stroll up and down Main Street in camouflage fatigues. The tavern owner offers “cadet specials.” Adorned in Army Black Knights gear, the restaurants and bar were bustling after graduation last month.
On Thursday, the father of a cadet sat at a table worried about his son.
“He was on the phone the whole time,” said Kathy Ripa, 58. “He couldn’t finish lunch. He left and still didn’t know if his son was involved in the accident.”
Ripa, who was born and raised in Highland Falls, said her sister has been a barber at the military academy for more than two decades.
“She texted me to say all the kids are crying,” said Ripa, who used to work at a West Point telecommunications center. “She said it was so sad and asked me to please pray for the cadets.”
Many residents, even civilians, are connected to the academy. Main Street is lined with bars and restaurants, an ice cream spot and barbershops, a tattoo parlor and souvenir stores.
There is a laundry named the 5 Star and the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Cadets participate in the annual Fourth of July Parade, and Chamber of Commerce banners celebrate servicemen and women.
“West Point runs this little town,” Johnson said.
“If it wasn’t for West Point, my barber shop wouldn’t exist. Nothing would exist. The tattoo parlor next door wouldn’t be there. Everything revolves around West Point and those cadets.”
Said Lee, “If not for West Point, this place would be a ghost town. We just had graduation not even two weeks ago, and it was such a happy time.”
But on Thursday, Williams, the academy superintendent, told reporters, “Today was a tragic day for the West Point community and our United States Army.”
A pall of sadness hung over Main Street.
“Somebody’s child is gone despite them being in the military,” Johnson said. “That’s somebody’s child. They have to call the parents and tell them.”
CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf contributed to this report.