WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) _ The 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution is a reminder of the armed forces' responsibility to protect its freedoms, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General John A. Wickham today told graduating West Point cadets.

''Just as the United States Constitution was designed for all ages, America will always need soldiers of character for all seasons to defend the Constitution,'' Wickham told the Point's 189th graduating class while a steady rain fell.

In all, 1,017 cadets graduated from the military academy today. Later, in Colorado Springs, Colo., 975 senior cadets were to become the 29th class to graduate from the Air Force Academy.

Wickham, a 1950 graduate of West Point, told the cadets that they were joining the Army at a historic time.

''Our challenges in peacetime, perhaps, have never been greater,'' he said. ''At home, we face increasingly constrained fiscal resources as the Congress struggle to allocate funds for competing national priorities. Abroad, the Soviets continue to modernize their capabilities.''

With the ritual tossing into the air of the white cadet hats, the new graduates - 903 men and 114 women - become part of a tradition dating back to 1802.

Other West Point graduates include Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas A. MacArthur, John J. Pershing, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and astronauts Frank Borman, Mike Collins and Edwin Aldrin.

The speech was one of Wickham's last in his official role, since the 58- year-old general is due to retire next month.