Long-awaited reunions between plebes, families

Naval Academy freshmen given their first leave

August 14, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Dennis and Denise Kirk couldn't wait to see what the Navy has done to Clay, the youngest of their six sons.

They hadn't seen him for six weeks. They even missed his birthday.

They had waved goodbye to their son on Induction Day, when he and 1,223 other incoming freshmen had their heads shaved, learned how to salute, were yelled at and then were swallowed by the gaping granite maw that is the Naval Academy.

That's the day the clock began ticking toward Parents Weekend, when parents and plebes reunite.

Yesterday, the Kirks, who are from Missouri, joined thousands of other parents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends crowded along a swath of the academy's manicured grounds, craning their necks in expectation. Shortly after noon, the plebes -- minus 81 who have dropped out -- were dismissed for their first leave and strode through the crowd in search of their families.

Younger brothers and sisters held signs aloft. Thousands of video recorders were aimed at the approaching plebes, in their pressed white uniforms and shined white shoes. "Do you see him?" they asked.

"They all look the same," some said.

Dennis Kirk, a Vietnam veteran and electrician with Kansas City Power and Electric Co., with a video recorder slung over his shoulder, said his son's first six weeks in the Navy's officer-training school have filled him with pride.

"I'm expecting him to have grown from the experience," he said. "I know he's going to be more mature and probably have a more mature outlook on life -- hopefully, a more adult outlook."

Denise Kirk, a social worker, couldn't wait until the official reunion at noon and sneaked a peak at her son during yesterday's 6 a.m. exercise session on the banks of the Severn River. "I thought, `Oh,my God, he looks different. He looks mature.' And I started crying. I said, `He doesn't look like he did when I left him,' " she said. "There is something here that is so strong."

Clay Kirk wants to be an astronaut. His peers, with similarly lofty aspirations -- submariner, jet pilot, SEAL -- marched toward their families, having grown from the people they were six weeks ago. They rushed into their families' embraces. Parents and grandparents squealed with joy and pride. Little brothers asked, "What's with the hat?"

And there was Clay Kirk, his white cap perched just right, the black visor at eyebrow level. He looked left, then right. His parents called out, "Clay! Clay! Over here."

He rushed into their arms and they locked into a three-way embrace, faces pressed tight together. Denise Kirk began to cry. Dennis Kirk looked like he was about to. They slapped their son on the back and shoulders.

"He looks good, doesn't he?" Denise Kirk asked anyone close enough to hear.

They began grilling him. Has it been tough? How were the push-ups?

"It's been fun," Clay Kirk said. "This past week, I've actually been laughing."

He said the downside has been lack of sleep and the constant urgency to report to places immediately.

"You're always late, even when you're on time," he said.

The family planned to go to an Annapolis restaurant to belatedly celebrate Kirk's 19th birthday -- and the start of his new life.

"What an awesome day," his mother said, wiping more tears.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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