Naval Academy students hail bin Laden's death

Students gather at administrators' homes for impromptu celebration

May 02, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

The president's speech over, Osama bin Laden confirmed dead, jubilant midshipmen streamed out of their dorms Sunday night and into Tecumseh Court, one of the central gathering spots at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Some shirtless, others dressed casually in T-shirts and baseball caps, the crowd grew into the thousands. Some smoked celebratory cigars. After midnight, an officer identified as a brigade commander told the crowd that it was the elite Navy SEALs who had killed the world's most-wanted terrorist, and they erupted in cheers.

"We went pretty crazy," said Michael Spinello, a Naval Academy sophomore.

Chanting "USA! USA!" and singing patriotic songs, at least several hundred midshipmen marched to the homes of Superintendent Michael H. Miller and Captain Robert E. Clark II, the academy's dean. Both leaders emerged to address the students, with Clark appearing exuberant and using off-color language.

Spinello was among many midshipmen with cameras that night, and he and several others posted videos of the event on YouTube, broadcasting worldwide the supposedly private, spontaneous celebration. He said administrators ordered him to take the videos down Monday afternoon because the comments by the school's leaders "were not meant for the general public." Other videos of the speeches and celebrations remained on YouTube as of Monday evening.

The footage provided a rare and candid glimpse of typically decorous midshipmen who live and study according to a strict military code. One academy spokeswoman confirmed the video's accuracy, and another said there would be no events to mark the death of bin Laden. Classes resumed as scheduled Monday, she said.

But the scene on campus was anything but composed immediately after bin Laden's death was announced. Standing on what appeared to be a porch, Clark told the crowd that he had commanded the USS Connecticut in 2001, and recounted gathering his crew after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I told them, 'I don't know when, I don't know how, but someday we're going to get that son of a bitch,'" Clark said, to wild cheers from students.

"I know we started it over there, but I want to finish it here," Clark added. "They woke a sleeping giant in 2001. We had been sleeping, they woke us up and we have a long memory. Like I told my crew I didn't know when it was going to happen, but I tell you what, I'm thrilled I get to share it with you."

Later, Clark said, "Today we made a statement to the world, that you can hit us, you can knock us down, but we're gonna get up, and when we do we will find you and kick your ass."

In a separate video, Miller used a megaphone to speak to what appeared to be several dozen students. He told them he was in New York City on the day of the attacks and later saw the damage done to the Pentagon.

"I've got to tell you," Miller said, "that day we all felt like there was going to be an opportunity for justice. And it came, today."

Spinello said he recorded the speeches because he wanted to capture a "momentous occasion." Though he had meant the videos just for his family and friends, he said, by the time he took them down, they had been seen more than 7,600 times. They were also mentioned on the blog Business Insider.

Spinello said he had considered joining the Navy SEALs but now wants to be an aviator. He has vivid memories of the Sept. 11 attacks, and said he knew he knew he wanted to join the military the moment the planes hit the twin towers and the Pentagon..

"It was pretty electric," Spinello said of the atmosphere on campus Sunday night. "A lot of camaraderie came out."

By Monday morning, the Naval Academy had returned to normal, with uniformed midshipmen walking to and from class on a warm spring day. Groups of elementary school children toured the grounds, led by guides dressed in Colonial garb.

Nearby at City Dock, tourists and Maryland residents expressed relief at the news and admiration for the precision with which bin Laden was found and killed.

Heather Skipper, who works in tourism in Annapolis, said several family members — including her sister and father — are Naval Academy graduates, while other friends and family members are serving in the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's actually a very proud moment for the Navy and the SEALs in general," the 33-year-old said. "Whether they were directly involved or not, it's just a proud moment for them."

Skipper, who was attending college on the Eastern Shore at the time of the attacks, said bin Laden's death brought a feeling of closure.

"I know it's not the end of the fight against terrorism," she said, "but it makes a huge step for the United States."

jtorbati@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jtorbati

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