West Point: National service through the generations

Virginia Mills

Graduation season is in full swing and this weekend more college students will enter the "real world." Among them is a Kokomo native who is finishing up a degree in International Relations.  She'll share a special bond with a special person who has had a huge influence on her life.

Virginia Mills makes her way down the hallway at one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. For the past four years The United States Military Academy at West Point has been home. In just a few days, the Kokomo High School graduate's title will change from cadet to 1st lieutenant. 

"The closer I get to graduation, the more nervous and the more excited I get", she said. "But mostly, I'm just excited to actually get out there and put to use all of the things I've learned over the past four years."

She'll join the ranks of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, General Norman Schwartzkoff and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who are all West Point grads. 

"Well, looking back on it, I don't think we really realized what talent she had," explained Virginia's grandfather Willis Knipe.  While sitting in the living room of his Kokomo home, he said that while growing up, Virginia didn't talk about attending West Point.  "No, never. Isn't that something!"

Especially remarkable, considering his own history. He himself graduated from the military academy in 1947. After retiring from the Army at the rank of lieutenant colonel, he settled in his hometown Kokomo, where he taught math at Kokomo High School and watched his family grow. 

 "The best thing in my life was just to have her [Virginia] sitting in my lap or wrestling on the couch," he recalled.   

While teaching his granddaughter the basics, like riding a bike, Knipe also gave her insight into his own education and career. 

"He never pushed me to go to West Point. He never implied that he would be more proud of me if I went to West Point," Virginia said during an interview at the United States Military Academy. "But just being around someone of his caliber and character and those he interacted with really gave me a great chance to see what people who went to West Point were like in the long term.  So in that sense, he did have a major impact on my decision to attend."

That decision comes with a serious commitment. After graduation, cadets serve for at least five years active duty in the Army. Over the past two decades more 600 Hoosiers have attended West Point. On Saturday, 28 more will graduate.

 "The Army's really getting their money's worth out of Virginia," Knipe said with a laugh. 

At 88, this grandfather will have a special bond with a young woman 66 years his junior, who he says he admires. "Oh heavens, yes, and would take her advice with no problems at all."

That feeling of admiration seems mutual.

"He's always shown me what it means to really put yourself second and others before you," said Virginia. 

Dedication to service handed down from generation to generation.