It started last Friday and ended yesterday and, if you ask Lynn Watkins, it was heaven.
"All my life I've wanted to come to June Week," she gushed at the opening parade ceremony. "I'm an old-fashioned southern belle and they treat you so well up here. My mama was thrilled when Bill asked me in February. I'm proud to date a midshipman. They hold the door and light your cigarettes. They're passionate, but they respect you. And they wine and dine you unbelievably."
Watkins, a freshman at Mt. Vernon College in Washington, said she wasn't sure what to bring so she played if safe: four new dresses ("two of them are my debutante gowns"), six new pairs of shoes, several skirts (no jeans) and a new suit for graduation.
Kay Spears, a 21-year-old secretary from Chicago, tingled at the invite. "Where I come from, the girls jump at the chance to come to June Week. I spent every lunch hour for the past two weeks in Marshall Field buying clothes."
June Week still makes girls from Bridgeport to Babersfield go ga-ga over an invitation usually issued five months in advance.
"I suppose it's good hunting grounds," said Drum McNaughton, a 21-year-old-senior (firstie) - one of 945 grauduates. He will marry next Saturday but he decided to forego the traditional June Week wedding. "Graduation and marriage are probably the two biggest steps in my life," he said, squinting through aviator sunglasses, reviewing the passing parade of girls in summer dresses. "I couldn't see them both happening on the same day."
Yesterday, less than two hours after tossing his white cap in the air, it happened to Charles Miller. The gangly 22-year-old firstie from Lawton, Okla., raced back to the Navy Chapel to marry Bev Sciver, in the first of 65 weddings to be performed this week.
Even President Jimmy Carter said yesterday in his graduation address, "When I was at the academy 32 years ago, what I was thinking about was leave and marriage."
Since the midshipmen are forbidden to marry until after graduation (the requisite two-year wait was lifted in 1942 when secret ceremonies became de rigueur), the round-the-clock traditional June Week weddings have come to resemble the Indianapolis 500 of military marriage, a spectacular nuptial assembly line.
The station wagons start arriving Friday morning, sporting license plates from every state in the union. Families, friends, fathers in white loafers, relatives and high school sweet-hearts stroll along the cobblestones, clicking Instamatics. They go sailing on the Severn and shopping in the commisary. They dine at the Middleton Tavern and disco at Fran O-Briens. They are thrown together - 4,000 midshipmen and 6,000 visitors - for six days and five nights and they have one thing in common - the Navy.
The weddings run every hour, on the hour, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. "We're booked solid for next week, too," said head chaplain James Conte. "We've had only three cancellations so far. One midshipman didn't pass his exams." Conte, a warm-hearted man of 57, shakes his head. "Poor girl."
(The weddings performed in the Navy Chapel during June Week are reputed to have a high divorce rate. "I've heard it's 70 percent," Conte says. "Certainly it's high.")
Last December, time slots for the June Week weddings were chosen at random when the couples picked numbers out of a hat. Charles Miller pulled No. 47. "We wanted to be married Saturday night," he said. But the best time left was Wednesday. afternoon. Miller, his bride, friends and family boarded a chartered bus immediately following the ceremony. They were going to Ft. Dix, N.J., for the reception. "We couldn't get any hotel rooms for the family here," he said. Miller has a 30-day leave before reporting for duty, one of the attractions of a June Week wedding.
He was tall and trim, in starched white mess dress and yellow silk cummberbund, smelling of Canoe. She was soft and silky, in floor-length rustling chiffon, wearing loose curls and a wrist corsage. They strolled hand-in-hand in the moonlight, whispering under the rows of colored lanterns.
Saturday night fever - The Ring Dance. They say it's the social highlight of June Week, surpassing the Moonlight Sails, Chapel Walk band-stand concerts, formal hops by the Reflection Pool, Glee Club Concert, Sailing Squadron Formal, "N" Dance and even the Farewell Ball.
The Ring Dance is what separates the brides from the drags (dates). "That's just about when they have their future wives picked out," according to one midshipman.
Midshipmen may not date until sophomore year, and even then are restricted to one or two nights a week.
On this night the junior class will receive Naval Academy rings, "symbols of the bond between a midshipman, his class and his services."
The girls wear the rings, strung on a blue ribbon, around their throats before dipping them into binnacles (a ship's compass case) containing water from the Seven Seas, including, according to the blue-and-gold Ring Dance program, "water melted from ice, which fell as snow, in the Antartic, the year Christ was born."
The scene of the traditional ritual was Dahlgren Hall, a cavernous converted armory decorated with tiny white lights strung from the ceiling. The folding tables were draped with linen, the centerpieces were yellow styrofoam anchors. Punch (non-alcoholic) and petit fours were served.
Kevin Senate and Doreen Barrelli lined up with several hundred party-goers. She leaned down and dipped the ring into the binnacle, carefully holding her long hair away from a Seven Seas shampoo. She turned to Kevin and they walked inside a giant mock-up of the ring. She slipped the ring on his finger. He slipped another ring, a dainty diamond-studded replica known as a "miniature," on hers. They slipped into each other's arms for a long, languid kiss.
It was official.
She ran to the ladies room, giggling.
"It hasn't changed in 40 years," head matron Julia Diggs said Saturday night. She was parked in the pink and maroon ladies dressing room off the dance floor. "They show me their rings and tell me how long they've waited," she said, smoothing her gray hair. Haridryers, electric curlers and small travel irons crowd the counter space beneath a bank of mirrors. The lockers (newly installed five years ago) cost 25 cents each. Mrs. Diggs recalled the old days, when she supplied the girls with brushes, combs - even makeup. "Now we only provide the necessities, things like pins and Kotex." She said the girls and changed over the years. Some, she said, some brought whiskey into the ladies room. Several toilets were backed up. "The girls are not as polite," she said. "I'm not down here to take any sass."
Back in Bancroft Hall, the world's largest dormitory, which houses more than 4,000 midshipmen, Matt Glenn, a sophomore ("youngster") from Boston was sitting by his wndow - alone. He was placed on restriction last month for driving a car on campus. For the rest of June Week he must report to the Main Office every two hours, shoes and brass buckle polished. He didn't have a girlfriend, he said. "There are so many good-looking girls here," he said. "I haven't talked to a girl in so long. I'm going bananas."
Mrs. Marshall, the gray-haired social director, said they no longer have "Tea Fights," the mandatory mixers for the plebes (freshmen) in which a large sheet was suspended between the sexes. You were paired off at random with your partner behind the partition. Saturday night she was meeting mids and their drags in her office on the balcony of Dahlgren Hall. "I suppose they thought it was good etiquette training," she said. "For later on when you might he called upon to escort the admiral's wife."
"Mrs. M.," as the mids affectionately call her, doesn't approve of the June weddings. "I think they should wait a bit before going from one form of supervision to another," she said.
Mrs. Marshall arranges for housing at the "drag" houses, where a girl can still get a bed and continental breakfast for $7 a night. Lynn Watkins was staying at one on Hanover Street. They used to have curfews, but no more.
Watkins was dressing to go to the Blue Angles flight demonstration with her date, Bill Buchanan. He was waiting in the parlor. She crinkled her nose a lot and said "Pardon my French"when she got mad.
"I know Bill's nuts for me. I know he'll do anything for me. But when we go out on dates I try to do what the wants, because his free time is very precious. I know he spends his whole paycheck on me."
Monthly paychecks run from $50 for plebes to $260 for seniors. Buchanan gets $90 month.
"He sends me flowers and calls me on the phone," Watkins said. "It's very important for them to date. They live from weekend to weekend. I don't want to say they get dependent on girls, but they have a tendency to latch on to girls much quicker than other guys. But I'm dating the man, not the uniform." But the main attracttion was the challenge of inaccessibility. Not being able to be near him makes her want to see him more, she said, smiling.
Dave Buss, a dark-haired handsome 22-year-old graduate walked into the senior class Garden Party Monday night - with his parents. He didn't have a date. "I haven't been able to maintain a long-term relationship," he said. "It's definitely hard." He thought most midshipmen felt "socially behind the eight-ball" when it came to women, and that most of them were not ready for marriage. "It's rough on the girls. They never get to see you. You're forced into long-distance relationships." What did he look for in a woman? "Well, she has to be athletic, fairly tall, intelligent, a good conversationalist, pretty." He paused. "Your basic dream girl."
The good news about marrying a midshipman is the fact that after four years of schooling he is guaranteed a job. The bad news is that the job may be in the middle of the ocean.
"It's the girls I worry about more than the men," Father Conte said. He is one of six chaplains (4 Protestant, 2 Catholic) who counseled the June Week couples before their marriages. "I think the girls don't always get the truest picture. They have a tendency to glamorize their future husbands. The problems are simple. The two of them convince themselves that he's the knight in shining armor. He spends time away from home, and she feels left out. There comes a day of reckoning. I tell them if it comes to a choice between marriage and the Navy, marriage lasts a lifetime."
At this point two couples were still trying to get their marriage off the ground.
Two sisters, Mary and Karen Wishart, were engaged to midshipmen Lee Gard and Donald Fitzsimmons - roomates at the academy. They wanted the weddings back-to-back, so the chaplains sweet-talked another couple into trading time slots to accommodate the foursome. The couples will hold a joint wedding reception Saturday night at the Officers Club, booked solid until October. "You should have seen how fast we ran to the Officers Club."
Tuesday afternoon, a mass wedding rehearsal was held in the Chapel. Conte, concerned that the ritual not resemble a conveyor belt, told the couples, "I want each ceremony (45 minutes) to be conducted with grace and decorum. But you must be on time. If a couple is late getting started, you begin the processional from mid-aisle. If it goes too long, the sword ceremony will have to be held at the side door."
The flowers will be changed to suit different color schemes, (part of what the $65 donation fee goes toward.) "If a girl is having peach bridesmaid dresses, we"ll have peach flowers on the altar," Conte explained. Later, the walking back to his blue-and-white-striped-awning house on Parker Road, Conte said, 'It's not the most ideal setup."
This is Helen Folmer's fourth June Week. She is an attractive brunette from Jersey Shore, Pa., who has been dating her boy friend since high school. They got engaged at the Army-Navy game two years ago and will marry Saturday night - at home. "We wanted to get married in the chapel during June Week but we couldn't get hotel rooms for the family." The Annapolis Hilton is already booked for 1980. "It will be more special at home." Helen would like to find a job. "If not, I'll try to be a good Navy wife."
She has heard the statistics for June Week divorces, but she says it doesn't bother her. "We're different," she smiled.