Saturday, October 9, 2010

Anchors Away

Magnet # 363:  Annapolis Teddy Bear Sailor

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

Here's to the United States Naval Academy, which officially opened tomorrow, on October 10, in 1845 with a class of 50 Midshipmen students and seven professors.  Prior to then, members of the Navy had simply been trained on ships and while some important figures like Commodore Matthew Perry had advocated an improvement in naval education, Congress refused to do so.  It wasn't until George Bancroft became Secretary of the Navy in 1845 that progress began to be made.  He discovered that he had the authority to have instructors teach at sea and follow the Midshipmen to a common dormitory on land.  It was also within his power to select the location of  this residency.  So he chose the site of Fort Severn, which was once an Army post, to set up these operations.  As it was located in Annapolis just off of Chesapeake Bay, it was an ideal location.  And when Congress realized that the Midshipmen were busy at work there and not distracted by city life, they relented, providing Bancroft with the funds he needed to continue.  By the 1850's, the school was reorganized as the U.S. Naval Academy.  They've remained at Annapolis ever since, with one exception.  During the Civil War, when Confederate sympathy was very prominent there, they temporarily relocated to Newport, Rhode Island.  By 1865, they had returned and the Naval Academy continued to grow in importance, eventually tearing down Fort Severn  in 1909 and other landmarks as it expanded.  And while the Naval Academy might not have as many famous and influential graduates as their longtime rival, the United States Military Academy at West Point, they still have some pretty impressive ones. They have one President to West Point's two, Jimmy Carter, who was elected to one term in the Oval Office in 1977.  While there are those who say he was an ineffectual President, he nonetheless has gained a great deal of respect for his later humanitarian work.  Its alumni have also been become Governors and been elected to Congress, and the two best-known are perhaps Charlie Wilson, whose work helped end the Soviet war in Afghanistan and inspired the film Charlie Wilson's War and John McCain, who unsuccessfully ran for President, but is currently a Senator from Arizona.  And he's not the only Naval Academy alumnus to loose a Presidential race - Ross Perot also made bids for the office in the 1990s.  Of course, plenty of Naval Academy graduated have gone on to become very important figures in the United States Navy.  Perhaps the most noteworthy is George Dewey, the only person in history to hold the rank of Admiral of the Navy due to his exemplary performance at Manila Bay, when he led his men to victory over the Spanish, losing only one life.  He also tried unsuccessfully to run for President.  1897 graduate William Leahy went on to a number of impressive accomplishments, including becoming the first admiral of the fleet during World War II and Governor of Puerto Rico.  There's also John S. McCain, Jr., who served as Commander of the Unites States Pacific Command during the Vietnam War, when his son, the previously mentioned John McCain III, was a prisoner of war.  His father, John S. McCain Sr. was also a Naval Academy alumnus and a U.S. Navy Admiral who commanded sailors in the Pacific during World War II.  That's three very noteworthy graduates from one family.  Oliver North, who gained notoriety during the Iran-Contra affair and now works as a political commentator, also matriculated from there.  And I never would have guessed actor and television personality Montel Williams was attached to the Naval Academy, but he was a member of the Class of 1980.  He worked for years as a Crypto Analyst for the Navy before leaving it for the entertainment industry.  He even played a Navy Seal for three episodes on the hit television show JAG, which is, of course, centered around the Navy.  The academy has also had more than 50 graduates go on to become astronauts, which is more than any other undergraduate institution.  And they have 73 Medal of Honor recipients among their alumni, just one less than West Point.  And while the two institutions will likely compete for many years to come, the Naval Academy is certainly giving its competitor a run for the money in terms of noteworthy graduates.

On my trip to Annapolis last year, I decided to skip the Naval Academy, as I had limited time and I'd already been there years ago. I was probably in the single digits back then and my memories aren't very vivid, but I do remember walking the grounds of the campus which were, of course, perfectly maintained.  While there, we visited with a former colleague of my mom's who was currently working there.  She gave us an unofficial tour.  But official tours are also offered and visitors can see parts of the campus including Bancroft Hall, named in honor of the institution's founder.  It's the largest building there, as well as the largest college dormitory in the world, with 33 acres of floor space in all.  It was constructed from 1901-1906 and its Rotunda is particularly impressive.  Noon formation is held in front of the building nearly every day.  At the center of campus, the Naval Academy Chapel features a dome high enough to be seen through much of Annapolis.  And in a crypt beneath it, tourists can see where Revolutionary War hero and naval fighter John Paul Jones rests in a stunning bronze and marble sarcophagus.  The U.S. Naval Academy Museum is housed at Preble Hall, and it contains all sorts of art, uniforms, weapons, and other memoriblia pertaining to naval history and heritage.  While they're walking the grounds, visitors might hear a verse or two of "Achors Aweigh," the Naval Acadaemy's official fight song.  It was created in 1906 by Alfred Hart Miles, a Midshipman who felt that the institution needed a football march.  Charles A. Zimmerman, a Lieutenant and bandmaster of the United States Naval Academy Band, composed the music for it.  Although I'm not sure why they spelled it so oddly, it's become a favorite of Midshipment and active Navy members alike.  The Naval Academy has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings, now graduating as many as 1,000 a year.  And many of those graduates have gone on to important careers in the Navy and other branches of the military, helping to keep our nation safe from sea to shining sea.

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