The gulls kept to their ancient orbits over the Severn, with an eye on the fish, and paid no attention at all to the cannon saluting the new Secretary of the Navy, and if the sight of 65 women in the parade of midshipmen startled them they gave no sign of it.
Wednesday was as dappled and soft as any day remembered from dreams or childhood, and the kind of spring day not often seen on the earth. The parade field, where Secretary W. Graham Claytor reviewed the Naval Academy midshipmen for the first time, was a vibrating green, and along its far 1,000-foot boundary to the east the old row of gingko trees still stand, parting to reveal the sun on Severn and its traffic of small boats with green and yellow or red and white sails.
Well before the ceremonies an orderly but wiggly gang of boys, said to be in a preparatory school for the Navy, ascended to the highest bleacher. From the ground they were surveyed by a couple of quite senior retired admirals and visitors who at first were amazed: "I knew midshipmen were young but" hardly 11 or 12 years of age.
A sea-blue canopy gave a nice sense of a Royal Enclosure to the 125 guests invited to sit on folding chairs all uniformed in white slip covers and labeled for the presumptive sitter (though there was a certain amount of swapping around, which is not against naval law).
The band marched with its four tubas nodding left and right in unison, very much like whales at a tennis match, and the Oceanographic Advisory Commission in a section just outside the canopy gave visitors a sense that the sea and everything in it was under stable control.
Robert Hartman, a member of the Academy's Board of Visitors, had not seen one of these parades before, and he and his wife. Roberta both thought the women midshipmen (they are not called midshippersons) were probably a good idea on the whole.
"As I understand it," said Roberta Hartmann, the main trouble they have had is managing to keep up with a man's stride." It did indeed seem, sometimes, that the Navy had tended toward tall men and short women.
"The old argument used to be that women were not physically strong enough," said Robert Hartmann, "but now that warfare is more a question of pushing buttons, I see the argument has changed to 'women lack the ability of command decision' or they lack judgment.
"Men like to say that," he said, "but the average woman raising kids makes more command decisions in a week than a man does in a year. As for judgment, some women clearly have better judgment than some men."
He thought a second -- after all, chilvary can go too far -- and added justly. "And of course some men have a great deal better judgment than some women."
His wife, developing the beginning of that look by which wives say Lord, what else is new, said.
"Let's hope they don't get together."
Claytor, in a sharp gray business suit, is one of the neat trim men of the capitol, as befitted his long career as president and chairman of the Southern Railway before recently becoming Secretary of the Navy, but he looked -- well, more civilian than the officers in their whites all around him.
After the National Anthem, the band played the Marine Hymn and all the Marines sprang to attention, while the Navy men sat firmer than ever on their seats.
Four thousand midshipmen filled the field. As they marched by, light ripples of applause broke out from time to time, and the sun went in and out and it was beautiful.
Nothing could possibly be going wrong in the world because here was order and discipline and harmony, lots of white starch and clean hair.
Down by Dorsey Creek you could see joggers well into their devotions, and across the way a lacrosse game was in mid-agony while far to the left, beneath some flowering chestnuts, a small boy was being encouraged by his father to rise to the high mystery of catching a softball.
The quadrangle, open to the water, is lined on two sides by huge Victorian houses, staff quarters. These were once thought ugly and gross buildings, but now they seem ample and gracious with huge rooms. One would not hesitate to have 14 children in such a house. (Not that many do, though they all tend to have a great many house guests.)
The trees wear labels (Quercus phellos, Ginkgo biloba) and the baroque chapel ("Please Wear Correct Attire") is guarded by 10,500-pound anchors.
Adm. and Mrs. Kinnaird R. McKee had a tea for Secretary and Mrs. Claytor at the Superintendent's House after the parade, complete with watercress sandwiches over a verandah overlooking a garden of box bushes and rambler roses. Guests entered past a portrait of Commodore Perry and a vast painting of The Wabash Leaving New York for the Seat of War. Many a guest resolved to straighten up and not eat many of those puff shells stuffed with chicken.
Claytor said he doubted women should serve on a battleship in a combat zone, but saw no reason a woman should not be Secretary of the Navy.
"I'm not worried about morals," he said (the Southern Railway pullman cars were no caravan of purity, come to think of it) "but about tensions and flights. In the war (Claytor commanded a sub chaser) we were cooped up for 14 months without any shore leave. It was bad enough with just men.
"If we'd had women aboard, well, we might as well have just given everything to Japan to begin with."
Adm. McKee agreed with several midshipmen that the women had been no unforeseen problems at the Academy. The midshipmen said they were working out fine and doing well, and the admiral said 65 remained of the 81 women who began this year -- an attrition rate only slightly higher than among the men.
"One man said to me that women could hardly command a battleship, and I said, 'Well, I don't know that I'd trust you to command a battleship, either I've never seen you stand a watch, or serve in any of those positions that lead up to command.'
"Trust comes from seeing performance," the admiral said, looking over the gallery to an arbor where nothing, it turned out, was going on. "When women fill positions of responsibility, well, then we'll see."
Guests stuffed on watereress and the sun sank and however many bells it was, all was well.