40 Years and a Wake-Up Call. 61st Superintendent inducted at US Naval Academy

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Gish and Door attended the change of command at our Naval Academy last week. Here is a compilation of their observations.


Port visit on 2 August to Annapolis for the relief of Admiral Fowler by Admiral Mike Miller. For starters, if the traffic up I-95 gets any worse or any more aggravating, sea-borne conveyance along the coast may be revived. Took good ‘ol 301 home; stopped in Bowling Green, Va for lunch (BG remains renown as the ultimate landing place of John Wilkes Booth in April 1865. He ‘landed’ after failing to dodge a fusillade of mini-balls from the highly irate Union soldiers in pursuit of the assassin of A. Lincoln). Delicious open face roast beef at the cafe’ on Main Street.

Annapolis, as we never knew while wearing WUBA, is a lovely town with a pleasant breeze – except if you lived on 6-3 in starched white works – and plenty of good chow and rum vendors. Quarters at the State Circle Inn, a kind of an upscale drag house. I tried to persuade my one&only after we returned home from dinner to make-out in the parlor for old times sake, but she suggested we return to our room- mainly to watch cable tv.

Alas, the Maryland Inn is no more and, incredibly shocking is that Johnson’s, on the corner of Maryland Avenue and State Circle, is empty except for a suggestion to visit their web site to buy all of those fuddy duddy, now funky clothes that only retired admirals seemed to wear. Is everybody wearing cargo shorts now?!


The Yard is as before with the variety of monuments that I never seemed to get straight except that I forever find something special and moving about JPJ’s crypt. JPJ made more of a difference and was less appreciated in his lifetime than even the many of those who tried also to keep the country on course despite the chaos of their economic, political and intellectual seas. There were plenty of fourth class mids about: young, tall and healthy looking as any class before. Whiteworks remain standard issue except that every plebe has to carry a canteen affixed to his/her/its bayonet belt or a plastic bottle in hand if sporting gym wear. Stunning is the sight of the nametag, Gish ’14. Figure it out: our graduating class of 1974 is getting to be equidistant to 14 in both directions, 1914 and 2014. Note to self: accelerate plans for next Ho-Jos (rent room at Howard Johnson’s; chill beer in bath tub evolution) party as time, indeed, waits for no man.

The Change of Command or the meat (maybe crabcake) of my epistle
Remember when Admiral Zumwalt became CNO on 1 July 1970 in T-Court? Now these sorts of occasions are conducted in Alumni Hall, the basketball gym, where a stage is set at one end so that the audience looks down on the occasion. I prefer a staging of looking up to the occasion. Notable was the near complete absence of midshipmen ( I saw one) and the invitation-only nature of the occasion. Are not towns people, aka townies, welcomed? Is this a by-product of 911 security requirements?

I’m sure that our WWII vintage dads would recognize the ceremony, especially the part where the E3 could not master the bell welcoming and off-boarding rank. Bells inside are incongruous in my opinion. After all, the Navy is an all weather entity, is it not?! The PA system is the one used at most such occasions. You know, the model where it cuts in and out in opposition to the adjustments of the dials. The charming young lady singing the National Anthem was either on mute or supremely ‘knocking them together’ if you know what I mean (being heard at Fort McHenry).

We sat in our respective cheering sections: Admiral Miller’s class of 1974 to his side and Admiral Fowler’s class of 1978 opposed. 74 outnumbered 78 and out-cheered them when encouraged to do so by the guest speaker, Vice CNO Grenert. Former commandants were present as was Mrs. Rickover and the first African American mid and a handful of WWII vets, selected congressmen, federal officials, family, friends, every constituency, demographic and voting block – except for mids.


The remarks of the guest speaker, VCNO, were notable on two points: how nearly everyone in the audience was acknowledged in some way and the persistent lighthearted humor. Admiral Fowler specifically acknowledged all those that the Vice CNO might have overlooked with an emphasis on Team Fowler to include his wife and children. The inbound Supt smiled, nearly beamed the whole time as the other two spoke. His punchline paragraph combined leadership, trust, ethics and innovation. And these remarks address what really bothers our alumni more than the slush fund buzz. Multiple Honor Offenses are given a pass (used to be one and out for same); oops, that was a joint? Marines from USNA cheating on Quantico exams; and simply the sense that the general decorum of the Naval Academy has diluted much of what made it special as it strives to look like America with its heavy emphasis on football success. The goal of the season needs to be well educated, hard working, self reliant, willing and able to help others with an understanding that unfunded debt, insincere legislation and polarized politics is pretty much the antithesis of why this country was founded in the first place.

We visited the recently renovated Yard Museum which offers a vibrant history of US seapower. Who needs the Potter book, History of Seapower!? As we meandered about the cemetery, observing the grave sites of Admirals Kidd and Holloway, enlisted marines, ancient mariners and the touching children’s section, turned a corner into the recently sodden plot of Admiral James Calvert identified only with its name, date and submarine emblem. No mention of his Skate and the North Pole; no indication of his own tour as Supt. A well lived life is impossible to capsulate on a grave marker. I believe that it is best if our deeds and even our misdeeds live in the memories of those we truly leave behind.

The Mrs. commented that the ceremony surprised her for its absence of gravity and celebration of the occasion. Maybe this is the way that submariners want it; maybe this is what the Navy insisted be afforded the outgoing Supt under the shadow of the slush fund fubar. She felt that a recent, local NROTC graduation offered the appropriate ceremony as she envisions such military occasions.

The Naval Academy’s advantage is that each midshipman should be able to readily understand his or her purpose. In short, able to answer the question, what does it mean to be a midshipman? This is not true of nearly the rest of our national institutions. What does it mean to be a graduate of Princeton? or Harvard? or to be an employee of Wells Fargo? The innovation that Mike Miller referred to his brief remarks doesn’t need to be better sub reactors or flight controls or sonar systems. The innovation that our country needs, and desperately so, is leadership founded upon unyielding principle that the right thing must be done for no other reason than it is the right thing.