Should it be necessary to bestow a title on these remarks, I would propose it to be "Keeping Remembrance Alive." To an even greater extent than before, that phrase must now become our watchword, as we rededicate ourselves — both individually and as a Class — to the continuing task of keeping alive the spirit and reputation of our Class, and coincidentally the memory of our departed Classmates, for the role they played in the success and the contributions they made.
We meet this weekend to celebrate our 30th reunion. It’s a major milestone. But beneath the surface of happy events, meeting and seeing old fiends, reminiscing and reliving old times, there runs a subtle undercurrent of sober reflection. This reunion marks a watershed for us. We are crossing a threshold. We have joined the group of Academy Classes on the OTHER side of active duty. Now, instead of each new Class propelling us onward and upward to new heights and positions of increasing responsibility, they tend to only push us deeper into the past. Whether we choose to accept it now or sometime later, the fact remains that after the events of this weekend things are not going to be quite the same as they were before.
Thank back with me, if you will, only 10 short years ago, when we gathered here to celebrate our 20th reunion. At that time we were all "40 something," mostly still in uniform, and our hairlines and waistlines had not yet reached the point where they were in fully divergent paths of recessing and expansion. The Navy was pushing toward 600 ships, the Soviet Union was "The Threat," the wall was still up in Berlin, you could divide Germany by two and still get a whole number, and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. In comparing then and now, I think you have to admit that there’s been a lot of change going on in these last 10 years. And, it looks like this trend will continue. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, who among us would have — or could have — pictured Yassar Arafat in the White House Rose Garden?
To keep our collective self steady and on an even keel in this environment as we proceed into the next 10, 20, and more years and into a new century, we need some anchors, something to hold onto in this now fast-changing world, something we can always rely on as a benchmark and a standard. The good news is that we have them, fashioned over those past 30 years by ourselves. Classmates living and dead, for the good of all.
What are these anchors? These markers to keep us in the channel?
First, PRIDE. Pride in our accomplishments, as a Class and as individuals;
Second, our REPUTATION, unblemished and unequaled;
Third, our record of SERVICE, willingly rendered to the Armed Forces, our communities, the Academy, and the Nation;
Fourth, the PERSONAL SATISFACTION and CONTENTMENT that only comes from a life of sacrifice and duties well and faithfully performed;
Fifth, our FAITH, in GOD, our Class, The Academy, and ourselves.
But we also have a foundation, perhaps our greatest asset of all: The foundation of honor, commitment, and courage established and maintained by those who departed early from us, but who remain vitally and totally connected to all we do, all we hold dear, and all that we are.
Keeping remembrance alive … Remembrance is, after all, a very personal thing. Because we’re all different, we can and do choose to memorialize our departed Classmates in many different and individual ways. One thing that we do from time to time, however, is to recall a special Classmate now dead, and remember in great detail the last time we saw and spoke to them, how they looked, what we discussed.
In January, 1966, I was in Subic Bay awaiting ship transportation to my new duty station, a DE on coastal interdiction patrol along the central coast of Vietnam. Skip Templin, my roommate of four years, was flying S-2F’s off of USS HORNET in the South China Sea, doing sea surveillance flights. We had not seen one another since graduation and had not corresponded recently. Not knowing I was in Subic, he was scheduled to fly a plane into Cubi Point for repairs to a strut that couldn’t be fixed aboard ship. Not knowing he as at Cubi, I chose that night to have dinner at the Cubi Point "O" Club. We ran into each other almost by accident, and spent the whole night talking, reminiscing, and getting caught up on each other’s news. He was married, had a daughter, and another on the way. He loved flying.
I saw him off in the morning after we had taken some pictures and promised to write more often. Two days later when I stepped aboard my ship the XO handed me a telegram from Jim DeFrancia telling me of Skip’s being lost at sea on his first flight after returning to the HORNET. I have often wondered why we were given that last chance to see one another. I can’t begin to answer all the questions that such an occurrence raises. But I do know that things sometimes happen for a reason. That final meeting gave me something to remember, vividly, through all these years. It is as clear in my mind today as it was then, and I am thankful for it. I can only hope that each of you can point to some remembered moment, and that it also smoothes the edges of your grief and sadness as my experience did for me.
Keeping remembrance alive … What better place to do that then here in the Chapel, which has enfolded its warmth and protection and comfort around us since the first time we entered it and stared in awe at its beauty, its serenity, its heritage, and its majesty. This Chapel is one of the great common denominators of our collective memories. It was here as Plebes that we all prayed for deliverance from the chaos and firestorm we found ourselves in when the Brigade returned from cruise. Then, later, it was here we prayed for help to get us through to graduation.
Some were married here. Some had children christened here. Some departed this life through these massive doors. I cannot gaze out from this vantage point without seeing a solid tide of rich Navy Blue and Gold, or dazzling, crisp white uniforms filling the Chapel from every door, moving to stirring music, on a beautiful Autumn Sunday, or a warm, balmy one in early May. It is here, in this sacred place, that the presence of our dead Classmates is strongest. I cannot come into this Chapel without a welling up of emotions so strong that my eyes moisten and my senses are overburdened with memories. I lose all outside thoughts, and at the point of the service when the flags are dipped at the altar and Eternal Father is sung, the knot in my throat becomes so hard and so painful that I just physically reach up and touch my throat to garner some relief. How lucky we are that we are part of something so meaningful and so strong that such feeling is not rare, but commonplace.
Keeping remembrance alive …. We will, because of the many examples of courage and determination that they left to us. They have faced the dangers of the sea, and the air, and the violence of the enemy. They showed us how to die well in the face of devastating illness and disease. Wherever they rest, they can rest assured they will never be forgotten. They will continue to inspire.
In December of this year, the USS FITZGERALD, AEGIS Guided Missile Destroyer 62, will be launched in Bath, Maine. Well done, Bill!
Keeping remembrance alive …. We will, through the efforts of our Class Foundation and the Naval Academy Faculty Awards Endowment.
I would like to close by reading
something that has been written about our Class in a well-known publication:
"Duty, cooperation, consideration, and pride in the Service have been the ideals that we have tried to follow. It is the attitude that has made the Class what it is today. We hope that this same attitude will prevail and lead us collectively and individually to future greatness, and finally, we hope that the Brigade of Midshipmen is a better organization now than it would have been if we had not been a part of it."
Keeping remembrance alive …. For our POW’s and MIA’s.
Keeping remembrance alive …. WE will. Always.
God Bless this Class. God bless those who departed this life in service. God bless this Academy and our Nation, now and forever. Amen.