I was very moved last week by my visit to the United States Naval Academy and its Memorial Hall, which commerorates fallen graduates of the school, such as Swampscott’s Jennifer Harris, whose helicopter was shot down in February. Here’s my piece in The New York Sun.
“The Brigade of Midshipmen, some 4,400 students, clad in dress blues and khakis, stands at attention, arrayed in Noon Meal Formation in front of Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy. Upon command, a small group of cadet officers draw its swords. The drum and Bugle Corps strikes up the notes of John Philip Souza’s “The Thunderer.” The midshipmen, still in formation, march off Tecumseh Court.
This is ritual, underlying the values and tradition of the institution that has trained officers for the Navy and the Marine Corps on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay since its inception in 1845. Even as the midshipmen lined up for inspection on Thursday, politicians in Washington were arguing about the lessons of the Vietnam War and their applicability in Iraq.
A few hundred feet up the steps into the Beaux Arts architecture of Bancroft Hall, there were other war lessons, past and present, for today’s students, recent graduates, and Americans at large. Up a sweeping staircase stands Memorial Hall. A blue flag with the last words of John Lawrence, the captain of the U.S.S. Chesapeake, “don’t Give Up the Ship,” hangs on the wall above a list with 956 names, a “scroll” of Naval Academy graduates killed in action. The greatest portion fell in World War II, among others in the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine Insurrection, and in Lebanon. Twelve names are listed under the Global War on Terror, among them James Patrick Blecksmith ’03, Jennifer Harris ’00, and Douglas Zembiec ’95.”
I will also write a post about the magnificent new Jewish chapel on campus.