Carter tells ex-classmates to boost 'academy's image' 370 from Class of 1947 recall life as midshipmen

June 05, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

For the past two days, men in their 70s hugged, exchanged addresses, shared old black-and-white photos, snapped new pictures and swapped stories about their days as midshipmen at the Naval Academy.

About 370 members of the Class of 1947 returned to Annapolis for their 50th anniversary reunion, distressed over the scandals that have rocked their alma mater, but ready to act on the words of their famous classmate, former President Jimmy Carter, who urged them to "improve the academy's image."

In a speech in the academy chapel yesterday, Carter praised the school that shaped their lives.

"No two of us are alike," said Carter, speaking from the pulpit during a memorial service. "But the basic ideals of life, moral values by which we live our lives, have been shaped for us by the Navy and what we learned here."

He said his classmates must make accommodations for changing times but "cling to unchanging values."

Fallen classmates

"To me, that's what the Navy does," he said. "Listen to these words and remember your classmates who have fallen. Obedience. Knowledge. Loyalty. Justice. Faith. Honor. Inspirational words appropriate for the 200 members of our class who are no longer with us."

It was a speech that brought tears to the eyes of many of his classmates as they sang "Navy Blue and Gold."

"It was beautiful," said George Grove, a West Newberry, Vt., farmer. "He really just said it all."

After the ceremony, classmates laughed as they expressed amazement that classmate Jimmy would go on to become president of the United States. They nodded matter-of-factly that Stansfield Turner, who always showed leadership qualities, would become an admiral and head the Central Intelligence Agency.

And they groaned good-naturedly as they remembered the thousands of drills they performed every day and daily tests they took in math and science courses.

It was a reunion among room-mates and for battalion members, as well as for members of the academy's national championship soccer teams of 1944 and 1945, who re-lived the only game they lost in three seasons, by one goal to Army.

Distinguished graduates

It also was a reunion that boasted a distinguished group of graduates. In addition to Carter and Turner, there was Adm. William J. Crowe, the 11th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Adm. James Stockdale, a prisoner of war in Vietnam who ran for vice president with another Naval Academy alumnus, H. Ross Perot, in 1992.

As they caught up with each other's lives, members of the Class of 1947 also remembered the ones who could attend only in spirit.

William E. Grimes, who died in a naval air crash at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park. G. G. Ely Kirk, who died of pancreatic cancer a few weeks ago, after he called classmates to tell them he couldn't make the reunion. Henry B. Rathbone, killed while serving in Korea.

But scandal also was on the minds of many, and several alumni called for sterner discipline.

"It never would have happened while we were here," said Kenneth H. Volk, 73, a maritime lawyer in Portsmouth, N.H. "There's a little bit too much slack here now. Back then it was prohibited to even get in a car."

Country was at war

Perhaps it was their time in history that saved the Class of 1947, several alumni said. When they started school, the country was in the middle of a war.

"We focused so much on serving the country," said Don Donohugh, 72, a retired physician from Hawaii. "There was no time to get into trouble."

To quickly get more officers into the fleet for war, the Navy accelerated each graduating class so that midshipmen finished school in three years instead of four. So the Class of 1947 graduated in 1946, which explains why members are holding their 50th reunion this year.

Leave was restricted in those years. Midshipmen's summer cruises were cut short. Battalions drilled constantly. Liberal arts courses were trimmed from the curriculum. Everybody studied engineering, alumni recalled.

Not very military

"It doesn't seem very military anymore," said Bud Baldwin, 73, a professor at Kinran College in Osaka, Japan. "It's very relaxed. We had a much harder time."

With the end of their reunion today, members of the Class of 1947 will take away fond memories of what one of them described as "a bunch of young boys who later became men" and hope that this won't be the last time they meet.

"This is the nicest party most of us have been to in 50 years," said Chuck Slonim, a retired city planner for Manassas, Va.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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