On alumni day last week, Chaplain Richard Camp bowed his head and led the assembled alumni and companies of cadets in one of the last prayers for "the sons of the U.S. Military Academy."
From the moment Wednesday morning that Andrea Hollen of Altoona, Pa., is given her diploma by Defense Secretary Harold Brown, West Point, after 178 years, will have daughers as well as sons.
Hollen ranks first among the 62 women who will graduate with the class of 1980. They are the survivors of 119 women who entered Beast Barracks -- the name of West Point's first summer training -- four years ago after Congress authorized the military academies to accept women.
They encountered not only the rigors of a military educational program that stresses physical as well as academic achievement, but also the hostility of large numbers of male cadets who wanted to see the women fail. Each time a woman dropped out, some upper classmen would remark with pleasure that there was one less woman left to intimidate.
"They made it clear that it was our job to run the female cadets," Cadet Robert Carrington of Fairfax said on the eve of the graduation of his historic class.
West Point's official policy was to discourage sexism and there were a few punishments handed out to violators, but for the women pioneers who were fighting sexism in the trenches, the official policy was not always much help.
"We were afraid to say anything," said Cadet Eleanore Griffin of Alexandria, who will be assigned to the 7th Signal Brigade in Germany after graduation and an advanced training course.
The women felt they had only themselves to turn to for support and the 62 survivors speak of themselves as a remarkably close-knit group. "The friendships here are probably closer than they are anywhere else," said Cadet Joy Dalls of Fairborn, Ohio, one of the two black women in the class of '80.
The tribulations of their class have not been repeated, they think.
"At first I thought it was going to take 10 years before a civil word was said to a female around here, but it's changed so quickly," Cadet Joan Zech of Enumclaw, Wash., said.
Zech and other women of the class of '80 think that the class just below them faced problems almost as bad as their own, but that life at West Point had already become much easier for the younger women there.
"They don't understand what it was like to break ice," Zech said of West Point's future daughters.
And the women, like male cadets since 1802, are proud that West Point training is a special experience.
During a rambling conversation with three women who are about to graduate, each at one time or another, said: "You can't understand this place unless you've been through it."
Having been through it, they are not entirely comfortable with the possibility of new changes in academy regulations.
"It's very hard not to fall into the syndrome 'We had it hard so you should have it hard,'" Zech said.
Cadet Carol Barkalow of Laurel, Md., said as many West Point traditionalists have through the years: "If it gets to be like a regular college, why spend all this money on West Point, why not just have ROTC officers?"
Barkalow played on West Point's first women's basketball team, a team that Col. Howard Prince thinks had a lot to do with women winning greater acceptance here.
At first, said Prince, who has studied coeducation since it began at West Point, the only male spectators watching the women play were a few cadets who had come to the gym for other reasons and stuck around. "Our women were trying to make up with hustle what they might have lacked in talent," Prince said.
"They showed the kind of things that are important at West Point -- aggressiveness, determination, courage."
Now, the women's games draw good crowds.
Studies still find that those women who do not have great physical strength or stamina get lower leadership gradings from men. But, while the female cadets may not equal male cadets, they are in better physical condition than most women and the males see that they can run regular Army enlisted men into the ground during field exercises.
Carrington thinks a lot of cadets have changed their attitudes toward women, but that many in the class of '80 still don't accept the female cadets. "I think the female cadets are of much higher quality than the women they'll meet in the Army in general. They'll probably end up looking back and thinking, 'Hey, these were a pretty good group of girls," Carrington said.
At first, women numbers of the class of '80 tried to be invisible. Some spoke with artificially low voices. Others wouldn't wear the skirts that are optional in some uniforms.
"We ought to make it okay for them to be women who happen to be at West Point," said Prince, who heads the Department of Behavoral Sciences and Leadership. "It wasn't that way at first."
According to West Point surveys, women come to the academy and quit for the same general reaons men do. The major attraction if a free education at a top college. Each cadet gets paid more than $4,000 a year in addition to receiving an education valued at $125,000.
Those who leave for the most part say that the discipline, lack of privacy and lack of free time are not for them.
The academy is concerned, however, that it does not get completely candid exit interviews from departing women. West Point sometimes makes it difficult for cadets to quit, and women may tell interviewers what they think will ease their leaving.
Just under 40 percent of West Point students dropped out of each class in the 1970s. The attrition rates for males in the class of '80 was 37.2 percent, compared to 47.9 percent for women.
West Point recently has raised its target number of women per class from 10 to 15 percent, but it admits only about 9 percent annually and officers say there is a lack of qualified women applicants.
Among the things women were warned about on arriving at West Point were PDAs -- Public Displays of Affection. Given the initial reception of the women cadets by their male peers, affection was not in long supply. But some male cadets resisted peer pressure and dated female cadets.
Dating is still controversial at West Point. Some males refuse to date women cadets, but enough of what the surveys here call "interaction" has taken place so that 30 of the 62 graduating women will be married soon and all of them are marrying either classmates or other West Point graduates.
The Army is trying to accommodate married couples -- Zech, for example, will be assigned to Germany with her husband after several months' separation during an advanced training course.
Other couples, however, will be separated by thousands of miles during three-year tours of duty.
In two years, there won't be a cadet at West Point who ever saw an all-male class here. Most of the women graduating this week expect that male-female problems will be minimal by then.
They are also convinced that their band of 62 pioneers has done their job -- demonstrated that with the exception of a few tests of strength and endurance, women can handle whatever West Point demands of cadets.
Hollen is a Rhodes scholar, the only one in her class. Cadet Kate Gerard is the third-ranking cadet officer in the corps. And two of the 12 cadet battalions are commanded by women.
The star class of '80 has another distinction besides the accomplishment of its women. Vincent Brooks, the brigrade first captain, is the first black to hold the highest-ranking cadet post at West Point.