'Stormin' Norman' storming Annapolis Schwarzkopf addressing academy grads.

May 29, 1991|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Evening Sun Staff

Since his return from the Persian Gulf, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf has been making the rounds.

He's been honored as father of the year. He's been the grand marshal of the Pegasus Parade in Louisville. And, he's even had the Queen of England bestow an honorary knighthood upon him.

Today, the Army general was doing some honoring himself, addressing 950 graduates at the 141st commencement exercises of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Schwarzkopf, affectionately known as "Stormin' Norman" to the U.S. troops he led during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, was addressing this year's graduates before they tossed their caps into the air to signal the end of four years at the Academy.

Today's commencement at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium tops a week of traditional ceremony at the academy.

Friday, more than 1,000 plebes raced to climb the 21-foot obelisk Herndon Monument covered with about 200 pounds of lard smeared on by the upperclassmen. The plebes' mission was to retrieve a white plebe "Dixie cup" hat and replace it with an upperclassman's hat.

According to legend the midshipman who switches the hat will become the first member of the class to become an admiral. Brad Cougher, a 6-foot-8 native of Kellogg, Idaho, grabbed the cap after two hours and 36 minutes. Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr. presented Cougher with one of his shoulder boards mounted on a plaque.

Commissioning Week was also marked with a ring dance for junior midshipmen Saturday. According to tradition, midshipmen design their own rings. A midshipman's date wears the ring suspended on a blue ribbon around the neck to the dance. The ring is dipped in a binnacle containing water from the seven seas to symbolize the travel that lies ahead of the midshipmen.

Then, the couple enters a large gold replica of the class ring where the ring is placed on the midshipman's finger. The ceremony is sealed with a kiss.

During the midshipman's senior year, the ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand with the class crest inside, signifying the bond with classmates. Following graduation, the academy seal is turned inside as a reminder of days at the academy.

The hat toss itself has roots deep in academy lore.

Before 1912, Naval Academy graduates were required to serve two years in the fleet as midshipmen before being commissioned officers, so they needed their hats.

But the class of 1912, commissioned at graduation, was issued officers caps. In a spontaneous gesture, the new officers tossed their hats into the air and began a tradition which now symbolizes the end of the four-year program at the academy.

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