The Navy keeps turning up in the paper in a suspicious light. If they aren't shooting down an Iranian passenger plane, they're chaining a woman sailor to the urinal. When their shipboard big guns explode they say some homosexual meant to blow up the ship.

It's natural for all of us to herd together in the face of assault from outsiders, and the Navy would be strange indeed if it did not rally promptly after any mishap with some plausible (to the Navy) explanation. The theme of all explanations is that the Navy itself had nothing to do with it.

The passenger plane should not have been flying near the ship that shot it down. Surely planes know the shipboard crew has trouble working the high-tech stuff that should prevent such accidents. And ship explosions, for Pete's sake, as in the case of the Iowa, have nothing to do with naval ineptitude at the inspection and maintenance of guns. What can the Navy do if some deviant wishes to slaughter a large batch of wholesome American males? Terrible, of course, but you can see the Navy is hardly responsible for such freak behavior once every thousand years.

As for the Navy woman chained to the urinal, well that is not at all in the high traditions of John Paul Jones, and the Navy has never authorized it. But you know if one or two midshipmen perform such a prank, it can hardly be blamed on the Navy.

At Annapolis there are a lot of high-spirited lads. If war comes you don't want every soldier or sailor to be so sensitive he can't pull a trigger without reading through the Gandhi memoirs, do you?

Certainly the Navy will speak to the men about it. No more chaining ladies, you hear?

But you have to remember the men of Annapolis (and the women, also, I guess) are under stress. Besides, in the case of the woman, she wasn't cut up or raped.

My own experience with our Navy is limited, but even years ago I detected a flaw in Navy procedures or customs. It pleased me to see that in spite of that, the Navy acquitted itself well in World War II.

The first thing that struck me about the Naval Academy was an element of luxury in sleeping arrangements. I was a member of a visiting athletic team that competed with Navy, and the academy put us up in what was said to be a regular dormitory.

Just here, lest anybody think I am playing the macho game, let me say our sport was cross-country running, a sport nobody pays any attention to, because you don't get to hit the other team with clubs or have any real fun at all.

At my school the heat was iffy. You were supposed to freeze when you got out of bed in the morning. The nearest sanitary john was a quarter-mile from my cubicle and was in the squash courts. True, there were showers beneath our cells but they had things stored in them and the walls had fungal flora.

So imagine our surprise at Annapolis. At bedtime we couldn't open the windows. But later they opened automatically and the bracing cold night air came in. But in the morning the windows shut without human hands and you woke up as if in Tahiti. Furthermore, you got real food.

Can youths be turned into men where such luxury abounds?

Then another experience, this time on a troop ship sailing tropical waters. It had a library with Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu," which I spent more than a month reading. I was grateful at this change from comic books, but wondered if -- well, at least it is a great book.

Now you won't believe this, but even troop ships have brass spigots in the walls and you can just walk about and punch out a cup of coffee, really good coffee, any time you like. Later, in our tents on land, we thought of it. We tried to keep extra coffee from breakfast under our canvas cots, but within a few hours it fermented. Bubbled just like Vouvray in the springtime.

Back to that ship for a second. On Christmas Day we had a turkey feast. Only when you cut into it a foul smell wafted up. A thousand or so trays of turkey went over the rail and I hope it didn't hurt the nice dolphins or sharks. As I said at the time, you can't blame the Navy for rotten turkey, but there ought to have been a chief turkey mate first class to test it somewhere along the way.

These little incidents were to me a warning sign, a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, that something was askew in the Navy. And now, all these years later, you see what it's come to.