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This webpage reproduces an article in
Naval Institute Proceedings
Vol. 61 No. 10 (Oct. 1935), pp1499‑1514

The text is in the public domain,
the 1935 copyright not having been renewed in 1962 or 1963.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p1499  Annapolis, Mother of Navy Men

By Lieutenant Arthur A. Ageton, U. S. Navya

"Carry yo' bag, Suh?"

I looked down from the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis trolley into the shining black face of a small negro boy. It was a hot August afternoon, and I was sorely tempted to accept his offer, but I remembered my slender resources and, shaking my head, grasped my heavy bag and strode down the platform toward this strange and fascinating town of Annapolis.

All morning I had watched through the car window the entrancing panorama of this Eastern landscape. Fresh from the Far West, my imagination had envisioned a more ancient countryside stripped of trees and shrubbery, an endless expanse of industrial development. Yet here was no workhouse. Here was a rolling woodland quite as attractive as the towering grandeur of the familiar Rockies and infinitely more beautiful than the rolling prairies of my home country.

I had expected antiquity, and in Washington and Baltimore I had not found it. As the trolley crossed the Severn River, I had caught one thrilling glimpse of the blue water of the Bay and white stone buildings nestling like jewels in a green setting, with the Chapel rearing its massive white dome proudly above the trees.

As I left the station platform and crossed the street, years dropped from around me like leaves from a tree in autumn. Directly ahead of me, delicate as a Cellini masterpiece, the State House dome limned itself against the faint blue sky. On my right was the beautiful Governor's Mansion with its spacious grounds. Turning the wrong way into State Circle, I was in another world, an older world of grace and charm. The quaint houses hugged the sidewalks jealously. Narrow alleys led slanting down from the circles. Strange, cobblestone streets radiated like spokes from the rim of the Circle. Through every space between the buildings, I could see down some long vista a flash of blue water in the sun. So absorbed was I in this strangely charming city that I walked  p1500 once and a half around the Circle before I turned down a cobblestone street and came eventually by a devious route to Carvel Hall Hotel.

The Author Becomes a Midshipman

Inspired perhaps by Norse tradition in the family and certainly urged along by childhood ambition, I had come from my inland Western home to Annapolis to become a midshipman at the Naval Academy. While I had passed the very stringent mental examinations in April, I had not really expected to enter the Academy until the following summer. A change of political fortunes in my home congressional district had led to a new appointment for immediate entrance.​c

Armed with credential letters from the Navy Department, I reported at the Main Gate on Maryland Avenue so early the following morning that the "Jimmy Legs" detained me at the gate house until two other embryo midshipmen arrived on the scene. We made ourselves known to each other and shook hands diffidently. Guided by Jimmy Legs, we reported to the Administration Building where a confusing amount of paper-work was accomplished. These formalities completed, we were directed across the lovely green campus toward the towering pile of white granite which is Bancroft Hall. We passed through its impressively high portals into the marble grandeur of the Rotunda and were led like lambs to the Sick Bay for physical examination. Even after passing strenuous mental examinations and traveling across the entire continent, I was not yet sure that I could be a midshipman. We three candidates were subjected to such a searching and complete examination that we might well have been forgiven if we had walked out of Bancroft Hall some hours later feeling that, if not complete Adonises, we came very close to being perfect physical specimens.

Back at the Administration Building, we cooled our heels for some moments in the corridor until, one by one, we were ushered in to see the Superintendent. I remember a blue uniform and brass buttons and much gold braid and fierce blue eyes looking out at me under bushy, white eyebrows.

"What's your name, Lad?"

I told him.

"We're glad to have you with us."

 p1501  He moved around the desk as he spoke and approached me.

"We want you to like the Navy. I hope you will be happy here, but you must be good and you must work hard if you are to stay on."

He took my hand in an earnest grip and said, "Good luck!"

"Thank you, Sir," I replied.

It was a simple ceremony, but extremely impressive. I was elated that I was at last, in all reality, a midshipman and a small unit in our Navy, but his words had convinced me e that all ahead of me was not plain sailing. The Mother had taken me under her expansive wing; it was clearly up to me to prove my right to stay and become one of her "infants of the sea."

The First "Come Down"

If I was somewhat cocky a few moments later when I strode through the door of the Fourth Battalion Office to behold a young man in a spotless white uniform seated in a swivel chair with his white heels on an oak‑stained desk, it is easy to understand, for at that moment I felt as though I had reached the pinnacle of success. In my benighted ignorance, I asked quite jauntily,

"Say, is this the Fourth Battalion Office?"

The individual behind the desk pulled down his feet and rose to a really commanding height. "Yes," he said quite shortly, "it is."

I was willing to be friendly. "My name's Ageton. A guy up in the other office sent me down here."

The officer moved around the desk looking at me as if I were a rare specimen from the Zoo. "So your name is Ageton, eh? And a guy sent you down here?"

I began to sense that I was decidedly wrong. "Yes, Sir." I admitted weakly.

The officer was quite good-natured but very firm. "Well, listen here, Mister, you're a Plebe. At least I assume that you are a Plebe."

"Yes, Sir."

"Well, stand up when you're talking to an officer. And, another thing, when you speak about an officer, don't call him a 'guy,' savvy?"

"Yes, Sir."

I assumed what I thought to be a position of attention. When, a few moments later, a white clad Plebe with a duty belt around his waist was leading me up the  p1502 stairs to my new abode, I asked hesitantly, "Say, who was that, anyhow?"

My guide laughed. "Oh, nobody at all; just Ensign Crowley, our Company Officer."

I knew a sinking sensation down in my chest. It was the first of many encounters with discipline as it is enforced at the Naval Academy and, as usual, I had lost by a decisive margin.

* * *

The Naval Academy is unique among educational institutions. There is none other like it, not even that Grey Mother at West Point on the Hudson. There are similarities between the two service Academies, but each has flavor and tradition essentially its own. Situated at the mouth of the Severn River where it flows into Chesapeake Bay, the Naval Academy immediately adjoins the ancient Colonial city of Annapolis, which had a rich and historic background of political life and social culture long before the Naval Academy was even a dream. The establishment of the Naval Academy did not overwhelm the Colonial city, but enabled it financially to maintain almost intact its Old‑World charm. Since industry has never come to the city, it has preserved its ancient cobblestone streets, its old buildings and alleys, and an air of aristocratic sufficiency which is like a dream out of another time.

The Old‑World Charm of the City

The real charm of Annapolis is in its fragrant past. Here in the Arundel candlelight, those ancient aristocrats of Colonial and Revolutionary War days lived their stately, measured lives. Sometimes of an evening as you wander the narrow streets and view through the gathering dusk the splendid houses of Georgian architecture, you sense the ghostly presence of those older residents. We can picture them, the men in knee breeches and powdered wigs, bright waistcoats and blue coats, and the ladies lovely in low‑bodiced dresses with long, wide-spreading skirts, dancing a minuet to the tinkle of the spinet which can almost be heard through one of those long French windows.

And even now, when one enters those  p1503 historic homes one finds the same courtesy and gentility which marked them in an older day. This is of much importance to the Naval Academy, for the midshipmen in their daily and weekly liberties, in their social life, in all their activities outside the white walls of the Academy, are influenced and molded by this more ancient culture, which is not so much evidenced by deed and word as it is absorbed in the very atmosphere of the town.

If the streets are narrow, they are wide enough for their purpose. Their very names bring shadowy reminders of a color­ful past: King George; Duke of Gloucester; Hanover; Cathedral; all of them have survived from Colonial days. The alleys have a delight­ful fashion of shooting off from streets and circles in a way that is reminiscent of the London which inspired them. And, rounding any corner, you are certain to glance up the street to behold some delight­ful relic of Georgian architecture.

From Spa Creek one obtains the best view of the Carroll and Scott residences on the grounds of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Charles Carroll of Carrollton. What echoes of history that name evokes! And the Scott residence, often pointed out as the original Carvel Hall of Churchill's novel, where Francis Scott Key lived when a young lad attending St. John's College. And strolling up Duke of Gloucester Street, the slender spire of St. Anne's Church with its surmounting cross piercing the blue sky. The present structure dates from 1858, but there have been three buildings on this same foundation. Many churches at home and abroad are far more pretentious architecturally, but none, I dare say, is more beautifully appropriate. To walk through its rounds and examine the stones is to read a register of names well known to history.

Up from College Avenue rises the long sweep of the lawn of St. John's College, third oldest in this country. What is now  p1504 known as McDowell Hall is one of the finest Colonial structures in Annapolis. It was once called Bladen's Folly, because Governor Bladen spent so much of the colony's money and took so long building it. Here on St. John's campus a host of distinguished men in every walk of life studied and strolled and talked and courted and wished, as do the modern students, that the Maryland spring were not so incredibly lovely and so little conducive to mental concentration.

Paca House, now enlarged to Carvel Hall Hotel, Jennings and Brice Homes, Chase Home! Hammond-Harwood House on Maryland Avenue is now the Colonial Museum of St. John's College. Wherever one glances are the red brick of the houses, the dappled green of the lovely old trees, and blue water of the River or Bay.

The Beginning of the Academy

Into this setting of Colonial antiquity, in 1845, when Annapolis was experiencing its "genteel eclipse," George Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy under President Polk, introduced the Naval School. Previously, midshipmen had been educated at sea and additionally by such "book learning" as the individual chose  p1505 to acquire. There were schoolmasters on the larger ships, but they possessed practically no authority over their students. In 1840, schools were established at Philadelphia and Norfolk to prepare midshipmen who had finished their sea cruise for their promotion examinations. By 1841, the school at Philadelphia had become dominant. Secretary Bancroft recognized the desirability of having but one school. Fort Severn, an Army post at the mouth of the Severn River adjacent to Annapolis, had one important advantage over other possible locations. Then, even as now, a high wall was a strong deterrent to wandering midshipmen.

Accordingly, in 1845, all midshipmen preparing for promotion, all midshipmen on shore duty, and all young lads who wished to qualify as midshipmen were assembled at Fort Severn. Commander Franklin Buchanan was the first Superintendent, with about forty students and seven instructors in his institution.

From this slender beginning, the Naval Academy has gone splendidly forward training the many officers who have given distinguished service to their country. Fort Severn was soon outgrown. When the Civil War came, the student body was completely disorganized through the breaking of ties — the North against the South. The loyal midshipmen embarked on the old Constitution and sailed to Newport. After the War, David D. Porter rebuilt and reorganized the school. The Academy of his day has also disappeared, and the present beautiful institution begun in 1898 has risen on the foundation of the old, far more impressive now than before but carrying always with it the life and traditions of the old "Naval School" which served so well the smaller Navy of its day.

The Yard

Annapolis, the Colonial city … narrow, cobblestone streets, … Georgian houses where Washington once slept … in the gathering dusk, the white dome of the State House of which M. Regeme, member of the French Cabinet,​c once remarked to Mr. John Read Magruder, "I have not seen a building in America that pleases me as much as this." … The Old Treasury, built in the shape of a Greek Cross and dated by antiquarians between 1680 and 1700 … Richard Carvel and John Paul Jones … ghostly presences and the flavor of a rich past … a fragrance of antiquity, a charm that is of another and an older world.

Annapolis, with all its memories of  p1506 greatness, sleeps peacefully at the mouth of the Severn River of Maryland. The present‑day Annapolitan sometimes complains that Annapolis might have had Baltimore's industrial position if the Naval Academy hadn't choked all the life out of it. As if any industrial accomplishment could outweigh the preservation to the turbulent present of the peaceful charm of another day which is Annapolis.

The Naval Academy, contrarily, is something else. I shall never forget my emotion as I marched through its gates for the first time. The contrast with the city was startling. Here, I thought, all is life. Here is a different beauty, the grey stone buildings in a setting perennially green, here is an unusual campus, which they call the Yard, the ancient trees casting vaulted shadows across the Chinese rug of the lawn, the Chapel where lies buried a certain John Paul Jones, Gentleman, whose ghost haunts the City, and, towering above the sleepy harbor, the four white wings of Bancroft Hall, the largest military barracks in the world. For four years, its corridors rang to our laughter, vibrated to the life of the Regiment.

I had hardly stowed my new gear in my locker and made my bed for the first of many times when I prevailed upon my new roommate to guide me around the Yard. We strolled across Farragut Field to the Bay sea wall. From that vantage point, Bancroft gave us an impression of massive solidity, of unchanging fidelity, as if rooted in the very traditions and historic verity of the country and rearing its head in defiance of all who would challenge the country's ideals. On either side of Bancroft Hall and connected to it by covered terraces are Dahlgren Hall (the Armory) and Macdonough Hall (the Gymnasium). This group  p1507 of buildings is the scene of most of the life of the Academy, for here the midshipmen live and work and study and here they play when the week‑end comes and the bare halls of Dahlgren or Macdonough are ablaze with the light and color of an Academy hop. Between Dahlgren and the Bay is Thompson Stadium, the scene of many a stirring gridiron battle.

My roommate and I strolled across the Field and passed under the terrace and came eventually to Stribling Walk leading from Bancroft Hall past the Tripolitan Monument to the Academic Group, Sampson and Maury Halls and the Library, a path which Midshipmen tread twice daily to pour out their slender store of learning and hurry back to Bancroft, always in military formation, to dig more knowledge from another set of books.

On our left were the Superintendent's Quarters, the Administration Building (which I hoped never to visit again if I were a good boy), and the beautiful white Chapel, whither each Sunday midshipmen must march in formation to religious service. Farther down the Yard, we passed the Officer's Club with its columned porticos where live the bachelor instructors and duty officers. Behind the Academic Group is Isherwood Hall where we were to suffer so continuously absorbing our allotted portion of engineering lore. Bordered by officer's quarters is Worden Field, the scene of many a color­ful June Week parade. Beyond College Creek are the Postgraduate School and the Naval Hospital, with the cemetery near enough to be a unpleasant reminder to the invalid midshipman of the transitoriness of this life.

I can recall how pleased I was with this strange campus, the green of the trees and the grass and the white and grey of the buildings and the shimmer of the leaves in dusk, like a blurred fade‑out in the movies. As we strolled across the terrace toward our room, the bugle sounded formation and a gong clattered in the Hall. An oyster schooner's sail glistened whitely as she came in on the last of the sea breeze. Across the Bay, the lighthouse winked on in the gathering darkness.

The Naval Academy is a Stamp Mill

Life at the Naval Academy is necessity different from that at other institutions of learning. Fresh from a Western college, I was vividly aware of this difference  p1508 from the first moment of my academic career.

I like to think that the Naval Academy is a stamp mill. We lads were the raw material of youth laid upon the machine and beaten and pounded into shape until the product at the end of four years was a recognizable reproduction of the die. Not that the process was brutal, but it was unbelievably strict. Always around us was an inexorable routine which never relaxed, a power of authority which was ever present in our consciousness.

At first, are readjustment was painful. Like a child learning to walk, I discovered that I must take my bumps until I learned to avoid the sharp corners of the life. As I became more accustomed to the new existence, it began to seem less rigorous. The every‑day repetition of detail made it commonplace, but the discipline was none the less strict for all that it was less felt later than during those first difficult days. It was only that the iron had entered the soul; the change was so gradual, the influence so subtle that even we who have experienced it cannot fully realize the great gap those four years bridged.

Much of this strictness is official. During the summer, we new Plebes became acquainted with the rudiments of military drill and seamanship, and to some extent were made to realize that we were a small part of the Navy. All summer, there was speculation about the rather legendary upperclass men who were away on their Practice Cruise. Our imagination was quite incapable of picturing the reality which we were to encounter.

Like all new Plebes, I had come to the Academy somewhat inflated between the ears. The reason for this is quite obvious. The turnout at home when I left to embark on my career in the Navy had rivaled that given President Taft when he came through our town on a speaking tour. The cheers of the multitude were still ringing in my ears. The deflation process was as inevitably painful as it was necessary.

Even yet, I cannot remember that first day of academic year without a slight shudder. The upper classmen had just returned from September leave. I was steering a course down a corridor of Bancroft Hall, closely conforming to the path under the center line of lights in the overhead, when suddenly I heard a harsh voice behind me.

"Company halt! A‑bout face! What's your name, Mister?"

"Ageton, Sir."

 p1509  "What‑cha famous for?"

"Kicking the shins of cigar store Injuns, Sir."

"Terrible. Get something better'n that."

"Yes, Sir."

"See here, Mr. Badger …"

"Don't argue with me. Your name is Badger. Now, Mr. Badger, report to my room at nine-thirty tonight. Savvy?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Shove off!"

Such was my first encounter with an upper classman. So often did I hear a similar line those early days of Academic Year that it became increasingly difficult to keep my goat safely tethered. Accustomed as I was to the free and easy habits of civilian existence, it was some time before I could accommodate my mind to the cheerful acceptance of that fundamental principle of all military organizations — that seniors, because of training and experience, must carry the weight of greater responsibility and authority and consequently have additional privileges. This principle was early and frequently impressed upon my consciousness. The deflation process was well under way.

I was ignored except when corrected for some dereliction. I lost my identity and became merely another "Mister," the tag handle for any Plebe. I was whittled down here, chopped down there. Not a moment of the day, save during study hours, could I call my own. Ever present and ever power­ful was the force of an immutable discipline much more searching than during the comparatively care-free days of Plebe summer, for the upper classmen were always with us. Even at meals, I was subject to correction and instruction.

Most of this badgering was in the spirit of fun and, if so received, was easy to bear, but woe betide the Plebe who was "ratey." His life was made miserable. I doubt that this system was perfect, but it had the advantage that it worked. In no time at all, I was thoroughly convinced that I was a lowly earthworm, the lowest form of animal life in the Navy. If for no other reason than for this remarkable subordination  p1510 of ego to the common aim of military discipline, the Academy course was worth while.

How we rejoiced at our release from Plebedom, only to discover that the life of an upper classman was not all plain sailing! All classes observe the same routine; reveille at the ghastly hour of 6:15, breakfast twenty minutes later, two classes and two study hours in the morning and one of each in the afternoon. We marched by classes in military formation to and from recitation. After supper in the evening came a two‑hour study period. At ten, all midshipmen must be turned in ready for taps inspection. During a normal day, we had attended seven military formations, recited three times, and drilled once. Liberty to go out into town varied with classes from one to seven days per week.

If the upper classes paid less attention to us once we ceased to be Plebes, the duty officers gave us a correspondingly greater amount of their attention. It was a difficult existence and through it ran the motif, "You must do so‑and‑so, or such-and‑such will happen to you." Try as I did, it was impossible to comply with all of the requirements and I ran afoul of trouble. I hadn't had time to shave, or had forgotten to shine my shoes, or was late to formation, or any one of a hundred things which were on the "don't list" in the "green book," the seemingly trivial things which make up the disciplinary features of the life.

I was remiss; I was reported; I was punished. The punishment was "extra duty." How we did walk or, rather, gallop on those cross-country pilgrimages which were called "extra duty." Duty officers competed among themselves to see who could cover the most miles of dirt road in the two hours allotted to hike. On one championship gallop, which I attended as a penalty for neglecting to obtain permission to visit another room during study hours, the front guide asserted that he had seen the dome of the Capitol in Washington, 24 miles air line from the Academy. However that may be, I was in the rear of the company some two miles behind the duty officer and the guide when the front rank halted on the outskirts of Annapolis to allow us less well-conditioned culprits to stagger up into position.

A Peculiar Mode of Instruction

But the rigors of discipline are not the only troubles which harass the midshipman.  p1511 I early learned that "academics" were not to be taken lightly if I wished to stay on at Annapolis to graduate and to become an officer in the Navy. Thrice daily, we marched in military formation to our recitation rooms to be scored. The system of instruction is probably unique in the annals of education. In its essence, it is survival of the scholastically fit. A certain dose of learning is prescribed for each recitation. I must absorb enough of it from the books (sometimes as many as four per subject) to be able to drag a high percentage of it from my memory and to write it on the blackboard. If able to do this, well and good; if not, the gates would clang on my civilian clad back with no soft music.

While there are some civilian professors, most of the instructors are young officers ordered to Annapolis for shore duty. They are usually assigned to teach those subjects in which they have demonstrated marked ability. At the end of two years, these officers return to their duties at sea, and a new group comes to Annapolis to be instructors of midshipmen.

Each class is divided into sections of fifteen to eighteen midshipmen. It is practically impossible for an individual to escape reciting. A few moments are devoted to troublesome questions, which the instructor endeavors to make clear. At the end of this period, the instructor orders, "Draw slips. Man the boards." When all have answered the question on a slip drawn from the instructor's desk, each in turn is called upon to read his board. The instructor sits back and records the results in his little "red book." This daily mark is mathematically averaged with the monthly examination mark to obtain a final score for the month.

It is a peculiar system but it is efficient, for the midshipman is forced to dig things out of the book for himself, which is just exactly what he will have to do all his life in the Service.

Athletics are Highly Developed

Athletics at the Academy are a fetish. In many ways, they are more important than all other activities. A marvelous system has been devised. First of all, there are intercollegiate teams and, second, intramural teams. The better athletes make "A" and "B" squads of each sport, the "A" squad being composed of those individuals from whom the Naval Academy team is chosen, and the "B" squad being the grinding stone upon which the first team is polished. Beside these organizations, there are class squads and battalion squads and company squads until every  p1512 midshipman must take part in some sport if all squads are to have sufficient players. It is an all‑inclusive system and it does produce results.

All forms of athletics are well supported by midshipmen, but football is by all odds the great favorite. And what person who has ever seen an Army-Navy football game can ever forget it? I have never known another thrill as great as the first time I stood in the stands at the Polo Grounds and heard the band play "Anchors Aweigh" and saw the grey clad corps of cadets across the field from us howling for our scalps.

Oh, the snapping tingle in the autumnal air and the sweet thrill of the first smash of conflict. The game was under way, slashing end runs, long passes, and grim, dogged line plunging. Wild enthusiasm reigned when a Navy back dove across the goal line for a touchdown.

Between halves, there was great ceremony. Army mule and Navy goat met in mid‑field to discuss the situation. Cheers, songs, and the band ending with an "Anchors Aweigh" that sent the shivers chasing up and down my spinal column then and still does.

Color, pageantry, and inspired football — can there ever be a better combination? And when the last whistle had blown, we tumbled wildly from the stands on to the muddy field to make revel before a silent, downcast, but sporting cadet corps standing erect in their seats while we sang our taunting, jubilant songs and wound out our pattern of victory.

 p1513  The Lighter Side of Life

It must not be thought that life at the Academy was formal and joyless. There was much of fun and frolic interspersed among the more serious pursuits. In the four years of comradeship, friendships were formed which will last down through the years. The funmaking commonly associated with "college" is not lacking. Most midshipmen are far from blushing violets, in fact quite the opposite. I had a fine time out of my four years. Except during Lent, there was a "hop" each Saturday. Feminine visitors from as near as Washington, Baltimore, or Annapolis and as far as San Francisco provided the most necessary ingredient of romance. There is no better setting in all this world.

An Academy hop is a spectacle of color. The vari-colored dresses of the girls mingled with the blue of dress uniforms and the glitter of many gold buttons present a kaleidoscopic panorama of beauty. And not all the time need be spent in the formal brilliance of Dahlgren Hall, when languorous, moonlit nights summon couples out of doors to stroll arm in arm across a short strip of lawn to the Bay sea wall where they may sit and gaze down the moon path on the water and listen to the music softened to dreamy beauty drift across the still night air. Of such material is romance fashioned.

On Summer Practice Cruises, we had marvelous experiences in ports from Honolulu to Christiania and Trinidad to Halifax. There were curious, new cities to wander and strange sights to see; there were unusual foreign girls to meet, to know, and to forget; and there was all the delight of lazy days of steaming down the torrid sea lanes of the tropics, than which there is no greater pleasure, providing it be not too prolonged.

June Week

And ending it all, the four years of struggle and joy, of work and pleasure, we drifted into our last June Week. Hundreds of beautiful maidens from all corners of the country came down to make our June Week the one which is never to be forgotten. There were drills and evening dress parades, our ladies present in color and beauty, waiting for us after each parade and drill. We lunched and dined together, we danced, we drifted in ragged old canoes down Spa Creek toward the moon, we roamed Lover's Lane and whispered the many things which are always to be said.

And then, one day, feeling terribly  p1514 proud and, as the paper said, "looking like white angels" in our new uniforms, we marched up to the rostrum to receive our diplomas from the Secretary of the Navy, to graduate, and at last to become officers in the Navy. That is a moment to remember when we threw our midshipman caps to the roof in a cascade of white and danced out of Dahlgren Hall singing, "No More Rivers to Cross." Beside the Japanese Bell, our ladies fastened on ensign shoulder marks, significant of our new station in life. We had successfully piloted our ship through the tortuous channel.

I remember packing frenziedly so that I might leave town that afternoon. With my last suitcase strapped, I sank down on my new trunk in the center of the littered room to consider. What had it all meant to me? What had the Naval Academy given its newest graduate? Not a complete and final education. Often has it been said, perhaps quite truly, that many schools in this country provide a far better education than does the Naval Academy. The loyal Annapolis man will explain, if you insist upon this point, that the Naval Academy motto, "Ex Scientia Tridens," means more than any scholarly translation; "for it is not only a highly specialized education which we received," he will tell you. "More valuable than mere learning, the man who stands at the end of his Naval Academy course a graduate has acquired a code of ethics, a set of traditions, handed down by Decatur, Farragut, Dewey, Evans, and their kind, a clean, high-spirited legacy unequaled in our day."

That, perhaps, is a bit over-enthusiastic, but I cannot help feeling that his explanation very closely approaches the truth. The indoctrination so necessary to transform the raw material of youth into a naval officer seems to take place almost extra-curriculum. It is in the "martial music" of the grey and white stone buildings, the green lawns and trees, the blue of the Bay, and the grey pig iron of the battleships lying out along the Roads waiting "to carry her sons away." And it is in the very air they breathe, particularly that rarefied atmosphere of Annapolis, the Colonial city of modern antiquity. In truth, instilling into the midshipman the traditions of the Service is so much a part of the daily life he leads that I doubt that he realizes how fundamentally he is being remade, unless he be one of those introspective mortals who can look back from graduation day at the four years and evaluate the great distance he has come.

One last memory I have, which will endure when all else has been forgotten. One evening, I paddled my canoe out across the darkened Bay. Gazing shoreward, I could identify the light atop the Chapel dome and the mass of light of Bancroft windows shining across the harbor. Softened to dreamy beauty, the melody of taps drifted out to me over the still water. One by one, the lights of Bancroft winked out and all was darkness there.

"The Mother sleeps in silent beauty, drawing strength unto herself for the trials of the morrow."


Thayer's Notes:

a Arthur Ainslie Ageton was born on October 25, 1900, in Fromberg, MT, entered the Academy on August 25, 1919, and graduated in the Class of 1923. He taught Navigation at the Naval Academy in 1935‑1937 and 1941‑1943, and during the rest of World War II fought in the Pacific theater, earning a Bronze Star. He retired from the Navy in 1947 with the rank of Rear Admiral, and spent his retirement — interrupted by a tour of diplomatic duty as ambassador to Paraguay — writing a variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction: among them the 5th and 6th editions of the Naval Officers Guide (1960 and 1964) and as co-author, American Ambassador to Russia (1955) with Admiral William Standley whose memoirs they are, as well as The Marine Officers Guide (1956). He had already written Naval Leadership and the American Bluejacket while still in the Navy, in 1944. Adm. Ageton died on April 23, 1971 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The fuller biographical sketch (1965) by the Navy Office of Information from which I extracted this summary is online.

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b And in fact, not long after this article was written, those projects came to fruition. The Governor's Mansion no longer looks like this. Built in 1870, it had the mansard roofs we see here: in the 1930s they were removed to give the building a more Georgian air. A history of the Mansion, and a small photograph of its current appearance (2021), are found on the Maryland State Archives site.

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c Our author was originally from Fromberg, Montana but at some point in his childhood or youth moved to Pullman, Washington from which district he received his appointment to the Naval Academy, entering in the summer of 1919. In that year Pullman was in the 4th District of Washington; in March its representative William La Follette was succeeded by John Summers. Why a change in Republican congressmen should have made a difference in the appointment of midshipmen is unclear to me.

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d This name does not look French, and in fact I've been unable to find it anywhere except as the acronymic name of a modern hospital in eastern France: certainly not as that of a "member of the French Cabinet", whatever that awkward phrase may mean. I suspect a garble due to scribbled handwriting; I've had no luck with the obvious variants — Régenne, Règerie, Régnière; farther afield, Vergennes would be a possibility — had that contemporaneous French foreign minister ever visited America.

Mr. John Read Magruder is unfortunately no help either. There were three by that name in an appropriate period: father, son, and grandson in the same proud Maryland family.

For me then, the mystery remains entire: if you have good information or even a good suggestion, I'd be glad to hear from you.


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Page updated: 14 Nov 21