More than his four brothers, Tim Shanley gave serious thought to going to college somewhere besides the Naval Academy. He had been offered a full scholarship to Georgetown University, and a spot was waiting for him on its football team.
His mother hoped he would go. But deep down, she knew that Tim would do exactly as his brothers - and their father - had done.
"Psychologically speaking, I don't think Tim had a choice," said Eileen Shanley, sitting in her Annapolis living room recently, surrounded by framed photographs of her sons in uniform. "He had to be a member of that club, with his four brothers and his father and all the men in his life."
And so it is that tomorrow, Tim will toss his white cap in the air and become the fifth Shanley brother to graduate from the Naval Academy - a record at the 158-year-old military college, officials say.
Other sets of five brothers have served in the military. Five Bixby boys fought in the Civil War. And the Sullivans of Iowa were killed by a Japanese torpedo in World War II. Their story inspired the film Saving Private Ryan.
The Shanley story has yet to be told - in many ways, it is still being written. But in the wardrooms of Navy ships around the globe, its outline is already familiar.
"Every port we pulled into where there were other Navy ships, we'd bump into one or two people who knew a brother," says Gerard Shanley, the third-oldest, a 1990 graduate who served with two of his brothers on the USS Kalamazoo, a supply ship.
"They knew the Shanley name."
That name might not be what it is today were it not for the aspirations of an athletic Brooklyn boy named John J. Shanley Jr.
The son of a butcher, Shanley was 18 when the academy offered him a spot in the Class of 1956.
Annapolis was the farthest he had ever been from home. Yet when he arrived on the campus of austere gray buildings along the Severn River, his visions of glamour gave way to a harsh reality of grueling schedules and sharp restrictions on freedom.
"Everybody that was there in those days couldn't get out fast enough," says Shanley, a hearty 69.
As he climbed the ranks of the Navy's civil engineer corps, he came to appreciate the gift Annapolis had given him - an ability to press on in the roughest of waters. That lesson carried him through the war in Vietnam and 27 years in the Navy.
His sons say their father was not the whip-cracking "Great Santini" some of their friends pictured, just a regular dad who coached their soccer teams and imparted fatherly advice at the dinner table.
Then, in 1976, John Shanley took a position as the Naval Academy's public works director. The house that came with the job sat at the edge of the school's main parade field.
Jay, Kevin, Gerard and Tom, ages 7 to 11, watched most afternoons as the athletic fields filled with clean-cut midshipmen tossing footballs, kicking soccer balls, running laps. When they were older, the Shanley boys would mingle among the students, charming their way into pickup games or, in winter, ambushing mids with snowballs.
During one dress parade, their Irish setter got loose. The boys chased the dog as it scampered through the neat lines of marchers.
"I had been in every building and every nook and cranny of the Naval Academy before I was a midshipman," says Jay Shanley, 37, the eldest brother. "I knew the tunnel system. I knew the bell tower. We'd run through the cemeteries at night."
Their years there also gave them direction. They saw that midshipmen were not just good athletes but well-rounded students. Tom Shanley, a football star at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, joined the drama club. Other brothers became class presidents.
When their father was appointed commander of a naval base in Port Hueneme, Calif., in 1979, his sons glimpsed the privileges of rank. The family lived in a lavish home with exotic gardens and a pool in the front yard.
"It was sort of like your dad being the mayor," says Kevin Shanley, the second-oldest. "Your dad's picture was everywhere. I mean, we weren't cocky about it, but we were definitely proud."
Says Tom, the fourth brother: "We thought that was the way everyone in the Navy lived."
The first time Jay applied to the Naval Academy, he was rejected - there is a limit on students with poor eyesight. So he attended the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., for a year and made it into the academy the next.
As the other Shanley brothers followed, they realized, as had their father a generation before, that the sports wonderland they saw as boys was only one part of the Annapolis experience. The academic demands, they discovered only as midshipmen. Several struggled to make good grades.
Mom had doubts
Their mother, who went to a Catholic women's college on Staten Island, always had doubts about the Naval Academy. A strong-willed woman who set curfews and insisted her children kiss her when they entered the house, Eileen Shanley resented the academy's presumption of authority over her boys.