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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 15

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

W. D. Puleston

published by
D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.
New York • London

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.


Upon graduation the midshipman receives his diploma, the degree of bachelor of science, and his commission as ensign in the Navy. If he remains in the Navy, he enters a seven-year probationary period during which his commission may be revoked for misconduct or inefficiency. His first two years at sea are usually spent on a battle­ship, where he serves in rotation as assistant navigator, junior officer in a turret, anti-destroyer or anti‑aircraft battery, in the fire-control division, and in the engine-rooms carrying on as he did on his First Classman cruise. He must learn all parts of his ship, from the fire-control tower to the double bottoms, and, like his predecessors who fought with Truxtun and Preble, he turns his hand to every odd job, gets responsibility early in life, and matures rapidly, for he must develop initiative and sound judgment to meet his continually increasing responsibilities.

At the end of two years' commissioned service he is eligible for either an aviation course at Pensacola or submarine training at New London. Sometimes he is ordered to watch and division duty on cruisers and destroyers even before this. Junior officers are usually glad to go to smaller ships where they are assigned more responsible duties. Aviation and submarine duty appeal to young officers. Submarine officers attain command at an earlier age than those on any other type of ship. Commands are eagerly sought, for early experience as a captain is the best preparation for higher responsibilities.

Three years after graduation an ensign is promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, and four years later he becomes eligible for shore duty. Between the fifth and tenth year after graduation an officer is expected to attend his first  p213 post-graduate school. The lieutenant takes either the school of the line course, which prepares him for more responsible duties in the executive branch of the Navy, or one of the technical courses such as ordnance engineering, radio engineering, internal-combustion engines, and so forth. He then returns to sea, and between the tenth and twentieth year, during another tour ashore, is expected to attend the junior course at the War College and obtain a thorough course in tactics and the minor operations of war, with some instruction in the technic of staff work. After another cruise and during another shore detail he will be given the senior course at the War College to prepare for flag duty and ultimate command of an American Fleet, the goal of every ambitious officer.

In any serious survey of Annapolis as an educational institution it is necessary to consider its course in relation to the Navy's post-graduate schools for which the Academy is the basic academy or college. The purpose of the Naval Academy is not to prepare a midshipman to command the Fleet or to introduce him to all the cultural subjects that add much to life; the Academy exists to prepare a graduate to be an efficient ensign, ready to do certain important and specific duties as a junior officer on one of the ships of the fleets and with sufficient instruction and training to continue his own education. That is why a midshipman is trained to "dig it out" himself. There are no "spoon‑fed" courses, no skilful coaches to make learning easy. Officers are available for extra instruction of midshipmen in danger of "bilging," but the American midshipman is taught to teach himself. He will find time and books in the libraries that will enable him to supply any cultural deficiency by reading — but not much time, for the daily schedule in the fleet is as heavy as at the Naval Academy. His daily duties will add to his professional knowledge,  p214 and in order that he may keep abreast of new developments or refresh himself by study of subjects which his daily duties did not embrace, during his first decade of service he is given a year at a post-graduate school for his own professional development. By the time he takes this course he has selected the particular professional subject for which he has a natural inclination, and he is given an opportunity to specialize in that subject, but he must also keep abreast of all professional subjects.

Each year a few Naval Academy graduates are transferred to the Civil Engineering and the Supply Corps; before being commissioned in their new branch they take special courses prescribed by their bureau chief. Also a few staff officers of high rank are sent to the Naval War College. The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery is responsible for the post-graduate work of the naval surgeons. The Marine Corps maintains its own post-graduate school system, mainly centered at Quantico, Virginia. In addition it sends senior officers to Naval and Army post-graduate schools. Many Naval Academy graduates enter the Marine Corps; usually they are sent directly from Annapolis to Quantico, where they are given one year's basic instruction in the school of the Marines.

This is the comprehensive scheme of the Bureau of Navigation to educate officers of the Navy from the time they leave the Naval Academy until a few hardy survivors in each class hoist their Admirals' flags. No naval generation is ever permitted to carry through such a long-range plan; war or national emergencies invariably interrupt some features of the program. Yet, war itself is the most valuable school for naval officers; the experience it affords more than compensates an officer for an interruption in his education. As for the Naval Academy, it was created during the Mexican War, and carried on at Newport during the  p215 Civil War. It laid out its new buildings with the purpose of expanding its plant in the Spanish-American War, and during the war of 1817‑18 it uncovered an almost inexhaustible supply of junior officers in American colleges and universities. During past wars and the present conflict the Naval Academy has demonstrated its ability to train an ever-increasing number of junior officers for the United States Navy; that is the reason it was founded and maintained.

To appreciate the Naval Academy of to‑day as an educational institution one should regard it as the basic academy where the fundamentals of the naval profession are taught to young Americans between eighteen and twenty-four, who are trained at sea while they are instructed ashore. Beyond the theoretical and practical training is the continuous effort to instil into naturally high-minded youths the naval code of honor and duty. The Navy wants no intellectual sharks, no smart sea lawyers who can argue their way through the service. It wants the keenest minds, the finest bodies, but most of all it wants that indefinable thing called spirit. Poise is expected of even junior officers; they got it from responsibility in the old Navy. Character they must bring with them, and unselfishness, and the desire to make their contribution to the Navy and the nation. Finally they need the most delicate sense of honor, that willingness to swear to their own hurt which inspired Oliver Hazard Perry to testify against himself when court-martialed in the Mediterranean. That illustrates the indefinable Navy spirit. On these foundations the Navy can train its officers not in four years but during their careers in the service.

In addition to supplying the officers needed in the permanent Navy, during national emergencies or war the naval personnel must immediately expand. Reserve officers,  p216 mainly ensigns and junior lieutenants, are needed to officer the additional ships. No country can afford to maintain in the regular navy all the officers it will need in wartime. In its early history the Navy turned with confidence to our sea‑going ships in the merchant marine for its officers; to‑day ships of war are entirely different from merchant ships. The Navy now looks to the colleges of the nation as the principal source of reserve officers. College men with trained minds and a basic education can familiarize themselves with the professional subjects. Collegians are young, and it is in the junior ranks that the most reserve officers are needed. On demobilization these young reserve officers can return with the least disturbance to their civilian careers. No system can make reserve officers average as well as regular officers with the small amount of time that they can afford to devote to naval training; and they can rarely be prepared to be senior officers or for command rank, but they do make competent junior officers and it is in those ranks that the greatest need will arise.

During the present war the Navy is offering reserve-officer graduates of the R. O. T. C. units appointments in the regular Navy "in such numbers as the President may deem necessary provided that they are less than twenty‑six years of age, and have served one year of continuous active service on board ships of the Navy and shall before appointment establish their moral, physical, mental, and professional qualities in accordance with such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Navy may prescribe."

Similar provision is also made to appoint Naval and Marine Corps reserve aviators into the regular Navy and the Marine Corps. They are eligible if they have completed "not less than eighteen months of continuous active service next following the completion of their duty as aviation cadets undergoing training." Like other candidates for  p217 commissions in the Navy and Marine Corps, aviation reserve officers must establish their moral, physical, mental, and professional qualities in accordance with the rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Navy.

The Naval Academy has become the instrument which has enabled the Bureau of Navigation to solve the problem of supplying commissioned personnel to the American Navy. The Naval Academy has reproduced itself in twenty-seven colleges and universities, and is prepared to instruct reserve midshipmen in professional subjects and imbue these future reserve officers with its own standard of duty. In wartime the regular and reserve officers, mobilizing to grapple with an enemy, merge into one homogeneous body inspired by the ideals which have come down from John Paul Jones, John Barry, Thomas Truxtun, Edward Preble, and John Rodgers.

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Page updated: 10 Nov 20