In August, an annual pillow fight between freshmen cadets at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, left 30 injured and 24 concussed, the New York Times reports, after some cadets apparently stuffed helmets in their pillowcases.
The “plebe pillow fight” is an annual tradition, extending back to at least 1897, marking the end of a long seven weeks of basic training during which time cadets are not supposed to speak to each other. At the end of their training, West Point cadets build fellowship within their class by beating each other with pillows.
Tweets, photos, and videos of the brawl hit social media on August 20th, but West Point did not confirm its occurrence to the Times until Thursday.
According to the Times, the fight left one cadet with a broken leg and others with dislocated shoulders. Cadets speaking on the condition of anonymity said one was knocked unconscious, taken to a hospital, and has not yet returned, but an academy spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, said all cadets had returned to duty.
Upperclassmen overseeing the freshmen required cadets to wear helmets during the pillow fight, Colonel Kasker said. But, clearly, not everyone did, and some cadets said that some of the helmets ended up getting stuffed into the pillowcases.
“At first the body count, people were joking about it,” a female first-year cadet told the Times. “My friends were really excited. And right after, when we learned how many people had gotten hurt, everyone felt totally hard-core. I know it looks weird from the outside, but it really bonds us.”
But then she saw a classmate being carried into an ambulance. “The goal was to have fun, and it ended up some guys just chose to hurt people.”
“If you don’t come back with a bloody nose,” one first-year cadet told the Times his upperclassman commander told him, “you didn’t try hard enough.”
“West Point applauds the cadets’ desire to build esprit and regrets the injuries to our cadets,” Colonel Kasker said. “We are conducting appropriate investigations into the causes of the injuries.”