As the 1,000 members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2014 spent hours trying to complete a generations-old tradition Monday afternoon — climbing up a 21-foot greased granite obelisk — several members of the Class of 1964 proudly watched.
The two classes have a special bond. They are exactly 50 years apart, and each time the younger class celebrates a milestone in their four years on campus, the older class is there.
First there was Induction Day in June, when the brand-new students moved to campus and took an oath of office. At the end of their “Plebe Summer,” each student received a commemorative coin from the alumni group. Then came end-of-the-year activities, including climbing the Herndon Monument. (I wrote an article about this year’s climb.)
“We were here 50 years ago, not to the day, but 50 years ago in 1961,” said Jay Green, a 1964 graduate who lives in Annapolis and watched from the stands.
Green coordinates the “Another Link in the Chain” program between the classes of ’64 and ’14. The program started with the classes of 2000 and 1950 and has grown over the years.
On Monday, Green and his classmates waited patiently as their younger counterparts wiped 200 pounds of lard off of the monument and built a human pyramid so they could reach the top.
The goal is to remove the plebe dixie cup hat from the top of Herndon and replace it with a midshipman’s one. Legend has it that the student who does so will be the first in his or her class to reach the rank of admiral (although, so far that has yet to happen).
No one recorded how long it took the ’64s to complete the feat. In trying to remember details of that 1961 climb, John H. Dalton reached out to his class’s president.
“I said, ‘Bernie, did we have a plan?’ And he said, ‘Yes. Chaos,’” said Dalton, who was secretary of the Navy for five years during the Clinton administration.
That also seemed to be the strategy of choice for the ’14s, who finally reached the top after 2 hours, 41 minutes, 32 seconds.
“It’s exhausting,” said Matthew Dalton, 18, the midshipman who was lifted to the top of Herndon and swapped the hats. “It’s really greasy.”
One of the next milestones for the Class of 2014 will be getting class rings next spring. Already, the Class of ’64 is collecting rings from their classmates — or widows of their classmates — to be melted down.
“After they receive their rings, this bond will become a physical one,” Green told students and their parents on Monday, according to a copy of his remarks, “as each ring will hold a small portion of the gold from our class’s rings.”