Amid the cheering, small signs of worry

Academy: Football was the focus at Navy yesterday. But also on the minds of thousands of onlookers were the nation's preparations to retaliate for terrorist attacks.

September 23, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The battles' names are on the wall of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, as if anyone in the Naval Academy's Class of 1942 needed a reminder.

There is Pearl Harbor, bombed the day before class president Jim Small and his fellow midshipmen took their final exams. And Peleliu, where Jake Glick made his combat landing as a Marine. And the Mekong Delta, not far from Da Nang, which is where John T. Hill lost his left foot after stepping on a land mine during the Vietnam War.

And there is empty space on the wall, just beyond Desert Storm, to name other lands where Naval Academy graduates could answer the call to fight another war.

But this being a perfect football Saturday, members of the Class of 1942 - here for a reunion - are not talking much about history, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 or the nation's impending war on terrorism.

They are wondering what has come over the Navy football team as its rival, Boston College, lands another first down.

"I'm still waiting for the Navy to get going here," yelled Hill, an 82-year-old retired Marine colonel.

Glick nodded and pointed toward the field, as if scolding a child.

"Stop that!" the 81-year-old retired Marine brigadier general yelled when his team fumbled the ball.

There were some signs yesterday that all was not as it had been the last time Navy played at home, when Georgia Tech trounced the midshipmen Sept. 8.

Yesterday's game began with a moment of silence and ended with both teams standing together for the national anthem and "God Bless America." An American flag flew at half-staff. Lines snaked around the stadium as fans proceeded through metal detectors and consented to bag searches - security measures established in the aftermath of the attacks.

But during the game, which Navy lost to Boston College, 38-21, fans displayed their Navy loyalty as jubilantly as they always had.

Children decked out in blue and yellow stomped their feet and yelped.

"Go Navy!" yelled 5-year-old Gunner Hudspeth, raising his blue pompons in the air just below the seat of Medal of Honor recipient and one-time vice presidential candidate Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale.

Many of the 30,064 fans shouted similar sentiments as young plebes rushed the field, dropping for push-ups when Navy scored.

"The fans are really digging us today, and we're into it," said Jarrod Williams, a tuba player in the Naval Academy band that had just finished playing the victory march after a Navy field goal. "They're very positive. They're looking for an escape. They're thinking about winning the game."

Moving forward

For Brian and Alison Burke, who attended with their 7-month-old son, going to the game was both an act of patriotism and a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

"People are living their lives, as normally as they can," said Brian Burke, a Navy lieutenant and F-18 pilot. "As long as we do that, we'll never be beat."

Lt. Bart Randall was thinking about winning. But during the moment of silence, his thoughts drifted to his two friends killed in the attack on the Pentagon. In all, 15 former midshipmen were known to be among those killed in the attacks 12 days ago.

And Randall, a Class of 1995 graduate who commands the 24th Company of midshipmen, has many more friends who are overseas and will likely see combat soon.

"You have two choices," Randall said of a midshipman's life after Sept. 11. "You can dwell on the tragedy or you can look ahead. The midshipmen have a tough life ahead of them. If they dwell on tragedy, it will set them back."

Proceeding as planned

Only one member of the Class of 1942 recommended canceling the reunion.

"But we canceled that recommendation," said Small, the class president.

The 105 octogenarians in a class e-mail group unanimously voted to proceed with all reunion activities, including Friday night's crab feast and last night's gala.

They are used to crimps in the best-laid plans, and they say they have learned to be resilient.

"When we graduated, we were in the middle of all kinds of trouble," Small said.

60-year friendships

The class lost 53 of its 592 graduates during World War II and the Korean War.

But 392 classmates are still alive, and many keep in touch with each other.

Hill and Glick have been close friends since they were plebes in 1938. Glick likes to brag that Hill, a guard for the Navy football team, beat Army all three years he played. (They lost in 1938, the year Hill was a plebe and ineligible to play.)

And Hill says Glick is in such good shape that he can still fit into his midshipman's uniform from more than 60 years ago. (Both men's wives confirm it.)

The members of the Class of 1942 say their war was different from the one the midshipmen might soon be fighting.

"Then, we knew the enemy, where he was, what he was doing," Small said. "Here, we think we know the enemy, we're not sure where his minions are, and we don't know what he's going to do."

Asked what advice he had for today's midshipmen, some a full six decades younger, the 82-year-old Small hesitated.

Finally, he answered: "Never give up."

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