Videos capture Naval Academy memories

July 21, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Sitting ramrod straight at the edge of their seats, looking neither left nor right, a table of U.S. Naval Academy plebes shouted the third and fifth laws of the Navy in between swallows of Oriental vegetable beef.

Orders to drop their forks and chant came from the upperclassmen at the head of the table, in a noisy dining hall that stretched out like a football field. At the behest of an upperclassman, plebes at another table shot out of their seats and stood tall, shoulders back, to sing a rousing version of "Anchors Aweigh."

The scene at the lunch table appeared a bit curious to the outsider not used to the Navy way, and Annapolis photographer Larry Thornton thought it was worth documenting, so he had his videographer turn the camera on the white-uniformed young men and women.

For five summers now, Mr. Thornton's video camera has followed each new class of academy students as they trade civilian life for the military. In the weeks before the academic year begins, Mr. Thornton documents the newly shorn plebes as they take up wearing caps, marching, saluting and sailing.

Mr. Thornton often sells the tapes -- one on a day in the life of a plebe, another on induction day and a third on parents weekend -- to high schools across the country for viewing by interested seniors. The tapes range in price from $45 to $60.

But his main customers are parents.

Ralph Tayman, a videographer working with Mr. Thornton last week at the Naval Academy, panned the camera over another dining hall table, where an upperclassman urged the plebes to "look sharp for Mom and Dad."

For some six weeks, the videographers spend frantic days rushing from one end of the campus to the other, taping plebes during early morning calisthenics, swimming class, noon lunch formation and obstacle courses. Their goal: to get as many of the 1,250 plebes on film as possible.

"The challenging part is to get every kid," said Mr. Thornton, whose Thornton Studios also offers wedding photography. "We have to get every face. Mom and Dad want to see their kid doing something."

Because he has no idea which parents will order tapes, Mr. Thornton is faced with the mind-boggling task of capturing each of 36 platoons in each of the three tapes at least three times -- and in different activities. He keeps a well-worn grid schedule of activities for each 30-member platoon.

With the sun beating down last week, Mr. Thornton and Mr. Tayman taped the plebes learning how to rig and de-rig 9-foot Lasers, line up with their platoons at noon to march into the dining hall and swim laps during a class.

From there, the video team headed out to tape the plebes learning the ins and outs of six-foot sailboats called knockabouts, swimming and playing intramural sports.

The photographer got the idea for the videos five years ago, after producing a tape on academy traditions. He proposed the idea to the Naval Academy Alumni Association and won a contract.

"I live in Annapolis and I like the academy," said Mr. Thornton, whose father went to the school in the 1930s. "There's a lot of interest in these tapes because the kids' parents may not know much about the academy. The kid has just gone away, and [the parents] don't know what's going on."

Parents will likely have a better idea after viewing the tapes, with soundtracks complete with instructors' voices.

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