Randall H. Miller ’93 & M’07

Randall H. Miller

Randall H. Miller is the author of five books: Norwich Matters, Norwich Heroes, Portrait of a Hero, Chalk 2, and Buck the System.
He writes and lectures from his home in Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and son. Learn more at randallhmiller.com.

In past years, the Corps of Cadets had several daily formations that ended with marchdowns to the mess hall for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (first, second, and third mess). Things could get a bit tedious, so the Band (aka “The Zoo”) was always looking for ways to spice things up. Beginning in the early ’70s, their solution was to play the theme from Hogan’s Heroes during the last full Corps formation of the week (Friday, second mess). This happy tradition lasted until the 1991–92 school year when the commandant at the time decided it was disrespectful to POWs.

The backlash was immediate. Parents and friends coming to visit for the weekend would previously make sure to arrive by 1200 on Friday just so they could see the Corps march around the Upper Parade and down to the mess hall in all of its glory—an extra bounce in everyone’s step thanks to the Hogan’s Heroes theme song. The beat of the drums and blare of the horns were infectious. Morale would spike, and all was well on The Hill for those few fleeting moments.

But there’s a bit more to it. While our obsession with the music had nothing to do with the TV show and everything to do with Norwich, a parallel can be drawn between the Corps of Cadets and Colonel Hogan’s men locked up in Stalag 13: They were a bunch of jovial misfits, whose loyalty to each other was surpassed only by their collective effort to creatively buck the system. This tendency goes back to our founder, Captain Alden Partridge, whose attempt to overhaul the way the U.S. trained its officers led to his court-martial and subsequent firing as superintendent of West Point. So he threw up his hands, returned home to Vermont, and started his own school, where he drilled into his new Corps of Cadets a restlessness that has lasted nearly two centuries.

There’s a common misconception concerning graduates of military institutions—that they march lockstep, always follow orders, and never question authority. This is true to a certain extent, at least at the beginning of our training. But some of the biggest lessons we learn are when to bend the rules, when to break the rules, and when to throw the rules out the window. Innovation and creativity are stifled when men and women simply wait for instructions and do exactly as they’re told. Norwich grads do not “think outside of the box.” We pick the box up, hold it over our heads, and then smash it into a thousand pieces. The problem with thinking outside the box is that the box is still in the picture and, in the spirit of Captain Partridge, sometimes it’s better to start from a clean canvas.

One of the highlights of my 20th reunion was marching onto Sabine Field with my classmates from 1993, as “the Zoo” belted out the “Hogan’s Heroes’ March.” Smiles lit up our faces, the collective bounce in our step returned and, for those brief moments, all was well in the universe.

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