The first American Graduate of the Philippine Military Academy – Class of 1963

11 March 1940 – 27 July 1966

Solomon1 BlogEckwood Harold Solomon Sr. and his wife Faye raised their son Eckwood Jr. in their hometown, Key West, Florida, perhaps the southernmost town in the continental United States. There he grew up in that quiet island, with his eldest brother Millard, an older sister Betty and a younger brother Joseph. Like many American boys, Ecky was active in several sports. He was Co-captain of the Key West High School basketball team and a key member of the baseball team that won twice the Florida State Championship.

Mom and Pop Solomon handled the distribution of the Miami Herald in Key West, and Ecky delivered this newspaper around the neighborhood until he was old enough to help his parents in bulk deliveries to the various outlets throughout town. He had a busy schedule from sun-up to sundown, but he knew how to manage his time and get everything done – and still graduate as valedictorian of the Key West High School in 1958.

Towards the end of his high school days, Ecky began to exhibit an interest in a military career. Finally, he decided to make a try for the United States Military Academy at West Point. That year, the vacancies for the Class of 1962 were already filled by those with principal appointments, so Ecky was able to secure only a slot as an alternate. Nevertheless, his experience with the entrance exams gave him the confidence and determination to make another attempt the next year.

To gain some college experience, Ecky enrolled at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (renamed Auburn University in 1960). His studies were cut short because the US Army had noticed his outstanding academic and athletic records and made him a most unusual offer: to enter West Point or to be the first American Cadet at the Philippine Military Academy. Ecky decided that choosing the latter would mean a unique and valuable experience of a lifetime that is not gained easily by anyone anywhere.

So one fine day of April 1959, a US Army Private named Eckwood H. Solomon Jr. arrived in the Philippines and shortly thereafter, reported to the PMA, together with the other freshmen of his Plebe Class. He quickly made the adjustments to cadet life, while excelling in sports and academics during the next four years. He had also acquired a new nickname, “Kiko” from his fellow cadets – and had gained their friendship, admiration and respect. Kiko had worked hard, played hard and studied hard during his entire stay at PMA and was rewarded for his efforts by graduating Nr. 1 in his class on March 24, 1963, followed immediately by a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army.

Kiko broke the PMA record for garnering the most number of awards by any Cadet, including the Presidential Saber which is presented to the Class valedictorian. Not surprisingly, the most enthusiastic, if not loudest cheers in the audience came from the Solomon family members — his brother T/Sgt Millard Solomon of the US Air Force had somehow managed to get a 3-year tour of duty at nearby Clark Air Base beginning in 1961. And Mom and Dad Solomon had chosen this particular time to take a vacation and visit the Philippines for a family reunion!

2LT Solomon returned to Florida and the first thing on his agenda was marriage to a girl back home — his long- time sweetheart, Christina Pinder. This was followed by a series of assignments in various Army units, like the Artillery School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma (where Ecky graduated Nr. 1 in the Artillery Officer Basic Course) and then to Fort Benning, Georgia, where Ecky earned his Parachutist Badge. His training period temporarily over, 1LT Solomon received his first real posting – a NATO missile site in Italy. Christy was able to join him there, but their idyllic family life did not last very long, because Ecky had decided to volunteer for an assignment in Vietnam.

The Solomon family returned to Key West, so a pregnant Christy could wait in familiar surroundings until the Vietnam tour was over. Ecky received orders in April 1966, assigning him to the 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery stationed in Pleiku, Vietnam, where he would be promoted to Captain a few weeks later.

However, on 27 July, 1966, a tragic incident ended the life of this young officer. As the senior Officer-in- Charge of a mine clearing operation, he bravely led his team in probing for buried mines. CPT Solomon was killed when one such mine exploded in his vicinity. For his heroic action, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device.

Ecky’s body was brought back to his grieving family and was buried amid full military honors in his beloved hometown. He left behind his widow Christy and three children: Eckwood III, born in Fort Benning, a daughter Cynthia, born in Italy and son Aaron, born in Key West a few weeks after his father’s death.

SolomonBlog2Christy and her children continued on with their lives. The young widow soon met a fine gentleman in Key West who married her and together, Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Rumbaugh raised the three Solomon children plus one more of their own. In 1968, his work meant a transfer from Florida to California, where the children grew up and finished college: Ecky III with a geology degree from California State University, Cindy, a Mechanical Engineer from UCLA and Aaron, a CPA also from UCLA. Today they have become solid American citizens, who are responsible adults with families of their own.

The name of CPT Solomon continues to be preserved in Key West history to this day. At nearby Fleming Key, a Hawk Missile site was named in honor of CPT Solomon. In addition, the Key West High School created in 1967 the Eckwood H. Solomon Jr. Memorial Award – which is presented to the graduating senior who has shown outstanding athletic and academic abilities. The “Solomon Award” continues as a formal event each year, and its winners have consistently proven their worth by becoming congressmen, doctors, teachers, professional athletes and military officers in their adult lives.

Eckwood H. Solomon Jr. finally became a member of USMA Class of 1963. During its 30th Reunion in 1993 at West Point, the Class approved his posthumous induction as an Honorary Classmate.

On May 28, 2011, the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association, East Coast USA Chapter honored Eckwood H. Solomon Jr. with a march to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall for his gallantry and dedicated service to his country. He exemplified the PMA’s motto of Courage, Integrity and Loyalty and will forever serve as inspiration to many graduates and former cadets of the Academy.

On July 30,2016, we will march again to honor and commemorate Cavalier Eckwood Solomon’s 50th death anniversary.