Naval Academy honors Carter tonight

Ex-president given award for distinguished alumni

October 12, 2002|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

Former President Jimmy Carter, named the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize yesterday, will be honored tonight by his alma mater, the Naval Academy, at a long-planned annual awards dinner for illustrious graduates.

Carter, the only Annapolis graduate to occupy the Oval Office and the second to win a Nobel Prize, does not plan to attend the dinner. But he videotaped an acceptance speech several weeks ago that will be shown at the ceremony.

The Distinguished Graduate Awards recognize "character, distinguished military and civilian service, and stature," according to the school's alumni association.

Carter is a member of the Class of 1947, which actually graduated in 1946 under the school's accelerated curriculum during World War II. He served on battleships and submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and was chosen by Adm. Hyman G. Rickover to participate in the country's fledgling nuclear submarine program. After his father's death in 1953, Carter resigned from the Navy, at the rank of lieutenant, to take over the family farming business in Georgia.

Though the academy's mission is to prepare aspiring officers for combat, its alumni are honoring Carter mainly for his achievements as a champion of peace and human rights, both as president and afterward.

"Jimmy Carter's leadership and reputation have clearly increased in stature since leaving office," one alumnus wrote in nominating him. "He represents the very highest standards of service to country, family moral values and continuing selfless commitment to the less fortunate in society."

Carter's relationship with the academy since graduation has been somewhat distant. His last visit was in 1996 for his 50th reunion, one of the few he has attended.

Douglas Brinkley, a former history teacher at the academy and author of The Unfinished Presidency, an acclaimed 1998 biography of Carter, said Carter had a longer military career than every 20th-century president except Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet for many years, Brinkley said, Carter was kept at arm's length by a military that thought his presidency showed a weak stomach for war.

At the academy, Brinkley said, one of the few visible tributes to its only graduate to become president was "a bad impressionist painting hidden behind a dying fern plant in the corner of the mess hall."

"He's the only president from there, and it took them almost 20 years to figure out he was a distinguished graduate," he said.

Julie Benz, a spokeswoman for the Carter Center, his nonprofit group in Atlanta, said yesterday that the former president does not disclose his criteria for whether to attend events.

The only other academy graduate to win a Nobel Prize was Albert A. Michelson of the Class of 1873. He won the prize for physics in 1907 for measuring the speed of light.

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