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Face of Defense: Five Generations Graduate From West Point

By Randy Mitchell
U.S. Army North

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, June 29, 2010 – Service before self is expected in the military, but one family has taken that concept to new heights.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Col. Mark Armstrong Sr., right, administers the military oath of office to his son, Army 2nd Lt. Mark Armstrong Jr., at as the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., May 22, 2010. Lieutenant Armstrong became the fifth generation of his family to graduate from the academy. Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army 2nd Lt. Mark Armstrong Jr. graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., marking the fifth consecutive generation of his family to do so.

"I wanted to serve my country, develop my leadership skills and get a world-class education," Armstrong said. "At West Point, I was able to do that and much, much more."

Armstrong has some big shoes to fill. His father, Army Col. Mark Armstrong Sr., serves on active duty as the U.S. Army North Region 9 defense coordinating officer in Oakland, Calif., near his birthplace of Palo Alto, where generations of his family have lived and served.

The senior Armstrong, a 1981 West Point graduate, proudly administered the military oath of office to his son.

"I was thrilled to be able to commission my own son into the Army," the colonel said, fully aware that his son may soon be deployed in harm's way in Afghanistan or Iraq. "West Point has prepared him well to be a leader of character in today's complex, volatile, uncertain and multi-national combat environments."

The senior Armstrong grew up in the San Francisco Bay area into a family that already was rich in military family tradition. His father, Army Lt. Col. John L. Armstrong, was a 1946 graduate of West Point. A Pearl Harbor survivor and veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, John died in 2004 and never got to see his grandson in uniform as a cadet.

"We are all so proud of Mark Jr.," said Kathryn Halsey Armstrong, John's widow, who still lives in Palo Alto. "His grandfather would have been so proud of him, too. He's a fine young man, and carrying on a wonderful tradition of service to our nation as part of the 'Long Gray Line.’”

Both of Mark Jr.'s great-grandfathers attended West Point as well. Army Col. John D. Armstrong, also of Palo Alto, was a 1919 graduate. A Pearl Harbor survivor, he served as commander of the 92nd Infantry Division’s 365th Infantry Regiment during World War II’s Italian campaign.

The other great-grandfather, Army Maj. Gen. Milton B. Halsey, was a 1917 graduate who joined the search for Pancho Villa in the Desert Southwest immediately after graduation. He later served with Gens. George Patton and Douglas MacArthur and commanded the 97th Infantry Division in World War II when it liberated Czechoslovakia.

Halsey then moved to the Pacific theater as commanding general of the Yokohama Command and chief of staff of 9th Corps during the occupation of Japan. He later served as chief of staff of 8th Army, overseeing operations in both Japan and Korea.

However, the rich family tradition began more than a century ago in 1891 when Mark Jr.'s great-great grandfather, Army Col. Frank Spear Armstrong, graduated from West Point - starting the chain that hasn't been broken since.

Frank Armstrong was taught by the great Civil War generals from West Point. He served in the Philippines as a young officer and in France in World War I as the quartermaster inspector of the American expeditionary forces and chief of the Remount Service. He later served as the quartermaster of the Army.

Additionally, two of Mark Jr.'s uncles, John Armstrong Jr., 1978, and Jon Halsey, 1985, also are graduates of West Point.

The Armstrong military tradition in America started long before West Point was founded. The earliest Armstrong in his direct line of descendants to serve in America was Army Col. John Armstrong, who served with George Washington and made the famous Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War, earning the "Order of the Cincinnati."

The military ties also extend to the maternal side of the Halsey family, with Army Col. Lee Crandall, commander of 47th Arkansas Cavalry, who served during the Civil War. Mark Jr.'s brother, Andrew, is an ROTC cadet at the University of California Santa Barbara, where his sister, Apryl, recently graduated.

As to whether his younger sister, Leah, will attend West Point, Armstrong said "it is too early to say - but don't rule it out."

Armstrong will attend communications training in Georgia before attending the U.S. Army Airborne School. His first duty assignment will be in Bamberg, Germany, as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

 

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