A hard place to fall

February 05, 1993

Midshipman 3rd Class Gil Wendel Greene, a reserve defensive back for the U.S. Naval Academy football team, didn't get to play much last season. But even a casual observer of the varsity couldn't help but know of him by the season's end. When he and his brother Gaylord, a West Point Cadet, lined up on opposite sidelines in December, it was the first time brothers had opposed each other in the Army-Navy game in 66 years. The national TV broadcast that day made much of the unique story line.

The next time we heard of Gil Greene was last month: He'd hung himself in an academy shower stall, while waiting to be discharged due to failing grades.

Exactly what was going on in that poor young man's head we couldn't begin to surmise. We do know that, like most of his fellow midshipmen, he'd been a shining star in high school -- an all-league football player in Orange County, Calif. -- and found a tougher go of it when he got to the academy.

The institution at which this nation turns out naval and Marine officers is surely a world unto itself. Area residents without close connections to the place watch in wonder at the human dramas that unfold there from time to time: a midshipman fighting expulsion after testing positive for cocaine; a female middie chained to a urinal in a hazing prank; a pillow fight so vicious that a pair of female mids end up with bruises and black eyes; a footballer's suicide.

No doubt, these controversies and tragedies assume greater attention because of where they occurred. At another college, these incidents might not get mention beyond the campus newspaper.

The academy's pressures are exceptional. Spectators at the school's spring commencement are invariably moved by the immense exuberance that's exhibited, like the uncapping of some great compression built up over 1,000 days. Academy visitors also are struck by the up-close realization that these legions that look so worldly and commanding in their starch whites are really a group of men and women not far removed from their teens.

The academy is, by design, a difficult route to maturity. And judging from the stoicism and bottled emotions at the recent memorial service for Mr. Greene -- even as midshipman expressed regret for not having been more attentive to their mate's inner troubles -- The Yard will continue to be a hard place to fall.

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