June 7, 1972…the first day of the rest of my life…The Day I graduated from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis. Annual Letter to Seventeenth Company
Thirty years ago, on June 7, I sent the following letter of reminiscence, and thanks to my Seventeenth Company Classmates at the United States Naval Academy, explaining what they and Annapolis mean to me, and how it and they inspired, and continue to inspire me today.
They all hear the story every year, and if I am late getting it out, I usually hear from a few of them. We spent four years, institutionalized (indentured), together..,..38 of us on June 28, 1968, living together for 4 long years on the Second Deck of the Seventh Wng of Bancroft Hall. On Graduation Day…Wednesday, June 7, 1972, we were 19 strong, and ready to become New Ensigns and Second Lieutenants…it truly was “The first day of the rest of our lives.”
Not only was graduation from USNA one of the proudest moments in my life, but in my parents’ life as well. It was my father’s dream…a submarine veteran of World War II and a Pearl Harbor Survivor, that his son graduate from Annapolis. It was instilled in me from my earliest recollection, that I would someday be a Midshipman, and I owned that ambition. I now realize that beginning my adult life having accomplished my greatest boyhood ambition, graduating from Annapolis, was a blessing in so many ways.
So here is my story to the men who are as close as brothers to me, we learned to tolerate a lot together…including each other 🙂
I first reported my recollections and confessions of Graduation Day to you back on June 7, 2002, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of our departure from the arms and loving wings of our guardian angel and protector, Mother B. It was an institutional life style we enjoyed together for 4 years…a lifestyle that more closely resembled life in a medium security prison than it did a college or university. We had a “free ride,” but it was not so much like a scholarship, but more like indentured servitude.
On June 7, 1972, we were “getting out of this place” forever, as Midshipman. During that final June Week, we marched in our final Dress Parade on Historic Warden Field.
That June Week, in the Summer of ’72, we packed our personal belongings into those big cardboard sea chests (Earlier graduating classes had wooden sea chests. The wooden sea chests stopped with the Class of 69). Everything we needed to live, all in one cardboard box, after 4 years at NAVY.
So once again Classmates, here are my recollections and thoughts of June 7, 1972…you may tire of hearing it, but I will never tire of telling it.
Play it again (and again and again), Sam…
June 7, 2017
Congratulations Classmates…45 years ago today, we had no idea where life would take us, but we were ready for whatever the world would throw at us. In 1972, the year 2017 was far outside of most of our “planning horizons.” I remember certain parts of June 7, 1972 as if it were yesterday, as I know you do as well. A recent conversation on Facebook asked “who was our graduation speaker?” I could not remember (Melvin Laird). And other moments of that long awaited day, remain vivid. 1968 to 1972…For four long years. June 7, 1972 seemed like a day that would never arrive…but it had…and I was still a Mid!
Our first 3 years at the Academy were quite an academic challenge for me. We had some great minds in Seventeenth Company (I think we were number one or two in the Brigade in Academics First Class Year.) Unlike all of you (except maybe Jay :-), I lived for the first 3 years with uncertainty about whether or not I would have the QPR to remain semester after semester let alone the QPR required to graduate. Every day was an academic challenge for me and I had low confidence and anxiety everyday about my future as a Midshipman…day after day, month after month, year after year…which is, I am sure, one of the reasons I have fairly frequent dreams about being back at the Academy, or aboard ship getting ready to deploy.
So, from a 1.71 First Semester plebe year QPR with an “F” in Chemistry (and an Academic Board number), to flunking Youngster Cruise (and an Academic Board appearance, and a repeat of Youngster Cruise…which took me to Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong and Da Nang, South Vietnam)…to a 1.29 first semester Second class year with an “F” in Naval Engineering and a “D” in Wires (and an Academic Board number)…to an unsatisfactory professional review by the MPA on USS Guam on my First Class Cruise Med Cruise and an Academic Board number and probation for the first semester of First Class year…lucky for me the Navy needed officers in 1972, timing is everything! With all of that, my class standing was 666.
It wasn’t until the First Class Year (I ended up with a 3.0 our last semester at NAVY) that I felt truly confident that I would fulfill my lifelong dream, and the dream of my father, and graduate from USNA. I know that the reason I made it was the tutoring and support of Eric, Nic, Harry, RD, Bob, Mark, Cliff, Jim, Kimber, Tom…probably every one of you at one time or another over the four years. As it turned out, one of the most valuable things you all taught me was how to teach, and teaching has been a skill that has served me well over the years. I believe the reason I am able to make complex issues easy for students to understand, is I had all of you as teachers as a Midshipman, each of you using different styles, techniques, and examples. It was not the professors and officers of the faculty who were my greatest teachers and greatest influence, but it was all of you. Thank you Classmates!
Back to June 7, 1972.
I remember very vividly the March to the Stadium on June 7, 1972. It was a march we had made together as Members of Seventeenth Company about 20 times in the previous 4 years (3 to 4 home football games a year and 3 graduations come to mind). As we approached that bridge where we crossed a creek (was it Weems Creek?) I heard the familiar command “break step on the bridge.” (Resonant Frequency, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, etc.) .
At that moment, on that sunny Annapolis morning of June 7, 1972…at that instant…as I looked down at the pavement as we all “broke step on the bridge”…the thought that began to run through my mind:
“I made it.”
The moment was surreal. My lifelong ambition had been accomplished. Everything else from that point forward in life, was going to be gravy. To this day, this event remains the most vivid “aha moment” of my life, and one upon which I called upon at various times over the last 45 years.
As the thought, “I made it,” echoed in my mind, I also felt an incredible surge of confidence which has served me well throughout my adult life. A confidence which let me report aboard ship some 90 days later as the Repair Officer onboard Mt Vernon (LSD 39), not knowing how to repair anything mechanical, now in charge of all things mechanical except main propulsion on a US Combatant…and knowing that my lack of experience didn’t matter, because I could handle it, I would figure it out…USNA had taught me to be confident…and I was too naïve to know any better at that point. My graduation itself was proof to me, that I could do anything I wanted to do, if I just wanted to do it bad enough. I know the primary reason I graduated from USNA is because I wanted to graduate from USNA.
Admiral Calvert once told us that graduating from the Naval Academy would be one of the most significant events in our life, and that has been the case in my life experience. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have at least a fleeting thought of the time we spent together at Annapolis.
As I mentioned, I still dream every few weeks or so about being at the Academy. I think it is a mild form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The dreams are almost always about returning to Bancroft Hall after some period of leave of absence…and almost always, I am about to be late for formation and I can’t find my uniforms…I used to think that maybe it’s a good thing that I could not find them because I think those uniforms might be a little tight…not that I weigh that much more (I actually weigh about 2 pounds less), but the pounds have shifted a little. Lately I have had a few dreams where I had to report to a ship to deploy, thinking…how is my business going to make it without me for 6 months?
It was my dad’s dream for me that I graduate from the Academy. He himself had wanted to attend the Academy, but ended up enlisting in 1940 and retiring in 1970 as a CWO-4. On June 7, 1972…Harry gave my Dad a hat to toss in the air as we tossed ours. Right up until my Dad passed away, I talked to him every year about how on June 7, 1972, he tossed a hat into the air with all of us. And now, after 45 years, Harry is a retired 4 Star Admiral…who would have thought, those 45 long years ago?
Good friends and good memories of days long since gone, and youth fairly well spent! Yes, Seven June, was the First Day of the rest of my life, and yours too I would wager (have you ever known me to wager, beyond an Army B-Robe?).
To all of you and yours, have a great June 7th Classmates. I’ll be thinking of all of you.