"Never Bilge A Classmate"
Thoughts from members of the Class of 1963 on the recent Sexual Assault incident

The Media has picked up on accounts of two Naval Academy midshipmen charged with rape of a female classmate.  The Academy Superintendent, Adm. John Ryan, on 14 July 2000 issued a statement with the intent of reaching all Alumni.  What follows are some discussions of the incident and similar concerns from a few members of the Class of 1963, certainly not a representative sample.  If you would like to join this discussion, send your thoughts to Webmaster@USNA63.org

Preface:  this page of discussion was initiated as private e-mail exchanges between site workers, and has been captured for a wider audience to provide a framework for discussion of important questions such as ethics, gender, abuse, and honor. The opinions are personal and not necessarily those of members of the Class of 1963, its officers, or the United States Naval Academy.  The chronological labels are provided to help illustrate the timing of the elements and the following table is to clarify some of the jargon used.  The reader should recognize that the context of some of the discussion refers to events and terminology of  the 1960's.
Legend:   acronyms and jargon used in discussion
BK Hostmaster:  Bill Kennedy
CS Class Secretary:  Mike Shelley
IMNSHO in my not so humble opinion
WM Webmaster:  Mike Blackledge, aka Blackie

3 July 2000:  BK initiates discussion:
On ABC news there was a two liner.  Two midshipmen (male) were arrested by the Annapolis PD for raping a classmate (female) at a party.

This boggles my mind (I'm stunned).  Admittedly we had no female classmates, but the rules appear to have changed somewhere along the way. 

14 July 2000:
[Superintendent's Message]

15 July 2000:  BK initiates discussion:
While I agree with what Admiral Ryan had to say, I am still at a total loss trying to understand what was on these midshipmen's minds.  He's, of course, correct that the criminality, if any, is a matter for another system, but that's not my point.  My point is that I'm completely bewildered trying to figure out how they'd have the thought, much less carry it out.  Gender aside, I just can't imagine classmates collaborating to assault a classmate.

15 July 2000:  CS responds:
I can't, either.  Maybe they didn't.  All had been drinking, by their admission.  Probably much too much; that would be a USNA conduct and judgement issue.  Did a sexual assault occur?
There was enough physical evidence to produce probable cause for two arrest warrants.  Hopefully there was sufficient photographic evidence to show brutality/coercion.
Reportedly, the two charged mids said the acts were consensual.  Everyone watching this case from the sidelines must remember that these guys are INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.
No question about it and I think Adm Ryan made that crystal clear in his letter.  I have no opinion in the criminal matter because I have no facts.  I'm referring to an act of moral turpitude that can not be denied.  I also don't have any opinion about which of the individuals involved might be a victim.  The victim is honor.
Sad, so sad, that in our society a female's allegation against a man for almost any misbehavior or crime is taken as true on its face.
I regretfully agree but I suggest the Navy has a tougher time of it because of some realities of naval service.  Before I dive into that I must stipulate that the very finest Supply Corps officer I ever worked for was a female CDR.  She was tough as nails but fair.  She probably kept me out of Portsmouth naval prison with some of her stern lessons 1/2 :-)  Further, I have never had any problems working with the few women I encountered on active duty and I became a great admirer of my father's SCUBA diving partner, then USAF LTC, eventually Major General Jeanne Holmes.  He said she was one of the finest officers in his command and the leaves and stars came off when the wetsuits went on. They had a shared love of diving exploration and total dedication to safety.  OK, now to why I think the naval service has an aggravated problem the others don't.

Of all of the armed forces the USN/USMC fundamental culture is the least tolerant.  I told Jennifer (neice) this before she matriculated at USNA.

We were the last to racially integrate and really haven't done as good a job of it as the other services.  No where is this "men's club" better illustrated than the very real if unspoken pecking order.  A ring knocker fares generally better than another until he has destroyed the confidence of seniors and subordinates.  There is a disproportionate number of USNA flag officers compared with other commissioning sources.  It took the USMC forever to break down and have a USNA almnus commandant and CMC's have a similar disproportionate number of non-USNA general officers compared with USNA, but the proportion is backwards from USN flag officers.  In other words, the culture is more deeply ingrained and persistent.  I'll use racial integration in my best example.

Civilian business, government, and the other armed forces, after Truman ordered it, learned that discrimination is stupid, bad for business, and bad for people.  Why then did it take the Polaris program to stimulate the first effort to recruit Caucasian stewards since the Civil War?  The answer is the culture aggravated by reality.  A much smaller number of Negroes volunteer for submarine duty than their percentage of the service and it's a bitch to get a secret clearance for Filipinos.

Even if you don't completely agree with my proposition that USN/USMC are more hidebound than the others, I think you'll have to agree with my next point.  Tailhook did more to set back gender integration in the USN than any one thing before or since.  The Las Vegas episode was rehrehensible ungentlemanly conduct. Hopefully appropriate military and criminal justice punished those deserving it.

That it happened at all is symptomatic of the state of the moral barometer but the most severe damage was inflicted later.  Perhaps the conduct had been learned years earlier from the submariners in Pearl during WW-II but bawdy sailors, unfortunately, earned many of their stereotypes.  That these were officers does make it worse, but I've already said that wasn't the worst damage.  The military and political witch hunts that ensued cast a chill over the entire officer corps, male and female.  Careers were ruined that shouldn't have been, people were stigmatized that shouldn't have been.  An extreme example is the lists demanded by and provided to the senators (I know, I just can't capitalize it) who provide advise and consent for promotions.  A Dental Corps LCdr was stricken from the promotion list because Hilton records show he was a hotel guest at the time.  He _was_.  He was in Las Vegas on leave with his wife and family.  If my vague memory serves it was Hatch of Utah that took him off the list and I think made a special motion to have him reinstated after BuMed reached the end of their tether with it.  Anyone who wasn't gunshy about gender integration before Tailhook certainly witnessed the debris in its wake.

It would be so easy to say that this is all because of the scoundrel residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  God!  I wish I could believe that.  He didn't play any part in the moral gangrene other than to be a perfect poster boy for it.  In 1963 or, for that matter, 1980 who could have predicted that a CNO would turn his .45 on himself?  I shudder when I think that Boorda may have seen so deeply into the Navy he so loved and became so disturbed that he terminated his service.

All that said, I think the Marines may have the gouge on this.  They've thus far managed to keep basic training gender separate.  I don't know if it's really true, but they say it is, so I'll take their word for it.  They say the BAMs (I thought that was a demeaning term until I heard them using it about themselves in a more good natured way than the N word) get *exactly* the same boot camp as the men.  They point out, makes sense to me, that the combat arms and skills training for the BAMs is necessary because in the current state of warfare the battlefield may well arrive unexpectedly where non-combatant service members are stationed.

I'll shut up in a few more lines, but I've got some things still stuck in my craw that I need to get out.  The words "classmate", "companymate", and "soulmate" are gender neutral.  The strength of the bond for each is probably in the order I cited them.  WM and CS conceived the Company Webmaster concept based on an uncanny, almost spooky analysis of this.  Nonetheless, until the classmate bonds were established, the companymate bonds couldn't be.  Two recent examples that I think prove my point (I'm ignoring "soulmate" because each of you has one, so I feel pretty sure you know what I meant :-).  Two of our classmates got to wits end in misfortune and the Class rallied to winch them up.  Steve can confirm my suspicion that 18 led the charge for Bodie, I can confirm that 01 led the charge for their companymate.  I don't bring these up for any reason other than to illustrate my point.  I'll make that point and shut up.

Are we a bunch of sentimental old men reminiscing and being bleary eyed about the good old days?  Certainly not.  Is this loyalty something we acquired after June 6, 1963 when we scattered to the winds?  Certainly not.  Well gosh, maybe it was something each of us had before raising our hands on July 7, 1959?

Poppycock!  Was the great gift (among others) we received by 'never bilge a classmate' lost somewhere along the way?  I think it wasn't.  I think it was never received by one or more of the midshipmen under discussion, but had it been lost altogether Adm Ryan would not have asked the USNAAA to send us his letter.  Obviously Quality '63 got the gift because it took less than two hours from the time the letter was sent until it was published on our site.
Was Adm Ryan's class the last one to get it?  I think not.  The crucial point IMNSHO is that one or more of three midshipmen didn't get it.  There were hundreds in our class who didn't get it for a myriad of reasons, some not so different from the ones under discussion.  What, if anything, can we do to help the USNA assure receipt of this gift?  Is this what the Foundation guys are talking about in Legacy '63?  If so, it isn't obvious enough for me to find in the material.  Further, if so, then let's adjust the material to make it more obvious!  Kicking the soap box aside I want to (mercifully) conclude by directly addressing CS' lament that if a woman claims it a man suffers the consequences.

We've stomped women pretty good from the age of the saber tooth tiger to the present.  As a nation we considered elimination of slavery generations more important than letting women vote or drive.  I'll not deny they've gotten more feisty since we quit keepin' 'em barefoot and pregnant, and I'll reinforce where I think CS was going with his observation.  I've been the target of two sexual harassment complaints, both treated seriously by the HR department of a Fortune 50 company where I was contracting (off and on for four years).  The first was filed by the assistant to my boss.  She was upset because I had said she was wearing a pretty dress.  She wasn't a pretty woman but she was wearing a pretty dress.  When it became clear that I made a well intentioned compliment with nothing whatsoever else intended the complaint was dismissed.  She never forgave me for it and never got another compliment from me or anyone else who knew what had happened.  The other happened after one of the help desk technicians extended herself to bail one of my end users out of an abyss.  I had her sent one of those friendship baskets of flowers, the kind Merlin Olsen used to pitch on TV.  The card read "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty, Thanks for Helping Earl,  Bill".  I had asked the florist to sign it BK but they said that it had to be my Christian or nickname.  She claimed that I was making an advance by not signing BK.  Little did she know that I never use BK until I'm closer to the recipient than when I was signing Bill.  I had ample evidence of that in my outbound mail folder, the complaint was dismissed.  In this case, however, she sought me out and told me how stupid she felt in retrospect.  I'll confess that she is easy on the eyes and would have gotten some serious leering if I wasn't twice her age.  Yeah, we get some whomps up the side of the head, but when reason prevails, we often escape odor free.

photo courtesy of USNA photo lab

15 July 2000:  Blackie responds:
With regard to your outrage with assaulting a classmate,
I'm not as much outraged as I am baffled.  My astonishment and dismay doesn't really have anything to do with gender, sexual conduct, or alcohol abuse.  If the acts were not criminal (a court will have to figure that one out) then the female midshipman committed the assault.  If the sex was consensual and she later claimed coercion then she bilged her classmates as surely as they did her if it was rape.
        1]  we don't really know all the facts, all the sides of the story (but yes, it looks bad).  As Class.Secretary states, and Adm. Ryan infers, INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.
Agreed, but there was sufficient probable cause for arrest warrants.  The rape kit apparently revealed semen from more than one man to justify arresting two.  It's always possible that the sex was consensual and she changed her mind later.  I'll wildly speculate that there was some evidence of force to support her claim.  If the sex was consensual then I consider it a reprehensible assault on two of her classmates, just as baffling as if it was coercive.
        2]  allow me to be cynical again (twice this year!):  these were recruited jocks involved;  Doug Tozour will tell you up front that jocks don't have a plebe year.  Thus perhaps less indoctrination of 'never bilge a classmate'.
I don't agree with Doug.  If the jock was at training tables all three sets then OK, but I remember Walt Pierce getting just as much flak as the rest of us when he sat among us.  I can speak with some authority on the 'never bilge a classmate' topic because I have recently had metal pounded into my head :-)

I had a tougher than necessary plebe summer because I had spent three years at Admiral Farragut Academy.  I already knew how to fold my laundry, stow my locker, spit shine, manual of arms, etc.  I got double doses of the 'never bilge a classmate' because I did things I knew how to do and appeared to be motivated to make someone look bad or shift blame.  Maybe I was so arrogant that this was part of it, but I never did it on purpose after the first time I did it on purpose.  Joe Bellino was in charge of my crew and he tongue lashed me until I bled.  He also shoved me out over two bayonets (yeah, I know it was verboten) with my rifle at arms length in front of me repeating 'never bilge a classmate'.  Nah, I don't buy the jock angle.  I have vague memory of it being repeated by senior classes to junior classes even after plebe year, I don't think anyone could have missed the message.  Maybe they stopped sending it?

        3]  alcohol was almost suredly a factor here.  I remember ~ Dec 1960/1961 one of the underclass crawling on the bus in Philly at end of Army-Navy game weekend, saying thx to some [non-present] classmate because he got lucky.  He was so drunk he could barely get on the bus.  I was shocked, I wouldn't be in that condition, you wouldn't be in that condition, and of course it is no excuse, but ... once you are in that condition, you are essentially unconscious, i.e., without conscience.
Well certainly, but the mind is still there.  The intoxication impairs all of the motor senses but the mind still works.  Most people don't grab a knife and cut on themselves or someone else when intoxicated by any mind altering drug.  Admittedly some do, but it doesn't constitute criminal defense.

I remember gathering close to the bus door at the mid-trip pit stop so I could claim a seat free of vomit.  I've since been intoxicated enough to be a disgrace and a boor, but never a criminal (other than DWI).  There is some chemical imbalance in my body that stimulates unacceptable behavior after indulging in too much wine or clear liquor (gin, vodka, etc.).  It's repeatable and it takes a lot less by volume to constitute "too much".  I'm no stranger to the dark stuff, I occasionally abuse bourbon manhattans, but I engage in no criminal activity.  Once educated (by court sentence) about DWI I realized I may as well execute a sober assault with a firearm as a drunken one with a vehicle.  I also wholeheartedly supported lowering the statutory limit from .1% to .08% for blood alcohol.  I will carefully drive at .01%-.02% (two beers at my body weight) but declare myself incompetent and a road hazard beyond that.  At .08% I pass out, maybe lower than that.

        4]  the worse part:  what's the old saying, when the member rises, the brain subsides. (conservation of blood)  The final point is that she was not a classmate at that time, she was a female.  [see 2 above].
If your final point is accurate then the Naval Academy Mission failed.  They did insufficient imbuing for at least three of their midshipmen.  I'm more embarrassed than angry but mostly just thunderstruck.  BK

15 July 2000:  Addendum:
Bilging a classmate can be accomplished without prevarication.  Prevarication that damages a classmate is clearly bilging them.  CYA that damages a classmate is also bilging them regardless of whether it's done with a lie or the truth.  Tailhook started an epidemic of CYA, some may have been related to classmates, some perhaps not.  CYA is IMNSHO is a form of moral turpitude, prevarication is, without question, moral turpitude.

One or more of the midshipmen in the alleged rape situation is lieing, the liar is guilty of moral turpitude.  The only reason for lieing in a situation like this is CYA, midshipman or anyone else on Earth.  The combination is bilging a classmate.  While I don't necessarily feel that bilging a classmate constitutes moral turpitude (I didn't think so when I did it, I don't now) it's reprehensible (it was when I did it).

Honor and loyalty are inseparable companions.  The legal and Constitutional components of this are moot, the statutory process will handle them.  My emotions are inflamed by the honor and loyalty components.  If I'm being too old fashioned I hope I'm ashes before those components are moot.  BK

16 July 2000:  Blackie:
I think you made your points well, and part of the reason that Adm. Ryan wanted his message to get out to all Alumni was, I am sure, to encourage healthy debate and work toward not only a solution, but the re-establishment of the USNA ethos as a higher standard.
I'm not sure I agree that his letter was an invitation to anything.  I have read it several times and feel that his theme was one of reassurance.  I'm equally sure he wanted to communicate with each fellow alumnus both as a fellow alumnus and as the cognizant military commander.  He accurately points out that this is an isolated incident involving an almost negligible percentage of the population.  While I agree with his arithmetic, it doesn't alter my astonishment.  I'll use a ridiculous illustration.  If you lived in a neighborhood where drive by shootings cause only .01% of the fatalities, the statistic is less impressive to you if you become a victim of one.  The victim in this case is honor and he alluded to that.  I tired your eyes and burned your phosphor saying he should have emphasized it.

I was blessed being raised in a family where honor and its worth was taught in words and deeds.  I walked into Tecumseh Court in July 1959 with a pretty good balance in that account.  The experience of the following four years dyed it indelibly into my moral fiber.  I have every confidence that had I not been so blessed, the experience would have made up the deficit and I would have left campus with essentially the same account balance I had.

I recall one indoctrination session regarding the Honor Concept as vividly as if it was playing today.  The trainer was offering us ways we could weigh what we perceived to be misconduct by another.  We were invited to ask ourselves whether or not we wanted that individual to wear the same class ring or whether or not we would depend on them in a combat or other life and death situation.  I consider myself fortunate that I never encountered a situation, as a midshipman, when I had to reach a negative conclusion.  I was, however, faced with several situations where I had to apply those criteria to my own conduct and was fortunate enough to use them as armor to avoid misconduct.

The class ring criterion has an analogy in the submarine service, i.e. the wearing of dolphins.  There's a confidence attributed to those who have qualified in submarines that must be earned or demonstrated by those who have not.  There's no perfect immunity as was so clearly shown by my submarine service.  I have nothing but disgust for one XO, qualified in submarines and wearer of the USNA ring.  He's a martinet, liar,  and common thief.  I have nothing but respect and devotion for another XO of the same ship who qualified in in submarines and was an enlisted plank owner in USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571).  So much for using hardware to measure fiber.

Young men and women make reckless, bone headed, and mistaken decisions.  It's part of the process of maturing.  Additionally there's the axiom that states there's always two percent who never get the word.  Either or both of these might mitigate the situation regarding the three midshipmen we've talked about.  The Honor Concept isn't perfect because humans aren't perfect.  The paragraph above shows that the USNA graduated a common thief.  My point is that despite alcohol intoxication, one or more of the three midshipmen should have heard honor collision alarms and shouted CEASE FIRE before crossing the line.  Speaking only for myself, those alarms sometimes start sounding before I can even *see* the line.  The simple fact is that one or more of the three midshipmen involved crossed the line.  Neither alcohol nor libido can dull or silence those alarms, they have to be consciously ignored.  If one assigns no worth to their honor then what is their worth to mankind?            BK

17 July 2000:  Terry Abell:
Regarding the Midshipman Sexual incident.  I'm not sure it's more than a reflection of a general malaise among the young that seems to have become pervasive throughout the human culture.  I do believe that letting the Maryland legal system deal with the matter before the Navy takes action is the correct sequence here.

20 July 2000:  Doug Tozour:
Just be sure you understand "I" exempted plebe year as much as possible, but fortunately got lots of lessons on moral fiber and ethics.  In truth, did we get it at USNA, or at home, and get it hammered in at USNA?  I suspect if it was absent in childhood no amount of hammer at USNA will work.  Interesting challenge to the recruiters and Blue and Gold teams.  Especially when diversity and perceptions are so important.

11 August 2000:   Chris Munger:
I am a little late in coming to the table with my comments, however, I will make them anyway. I retired after 25 years in the FBI, many of which were dedicated to training local law enforcement in criminal investigation procedures; legal, physical evidence and crimes of interpersonal violence (sex crimes) among the most significant topics. I was trained specifically as a Sex Crimes Instructor (please no jokes as I feel sex crimes is no laughing matter) and I take pride in the fact that police officers who attended my programs, were sucessful in putting child molestors and the like behind bars. That said, I agree with comments of some of my classmates that the legal system should run it's course and also, that the alleged offenders, if guilty or not, did not learn that behavior at the USNA.

As the father of four children, the eldest of which is a daughter, I was always concerned about her safety and cautioned her about drinking, least she become a victim while drunk. I also told my sons to treat women with respect and help them, not abuse them. I remember stories in the past of some young ladies imbibing too much and being taken advantage of by less than desirable persons (not USNA types). I also remember taking care of classmates, fellow marines and maybe an agent/cop or two, who had too much to drink, and getting them home safely. So it does disturb me to hear that some mids may have taken advantage of a situation (whether the victim was willing or NOT) and instead of protecting a classmate, they used her for their own selfish reasons. That behavior is reprehensible and should be dealt with harshly.

This incident should also be a lesson to all young ladies, not only midshipwomen, that if you put yourself in harm's way (ie. willingly getting drunk ), you may share some of the responsibility for any incident that may occur. This statement may leave me open to criticism from the feminazis, but I feel it has to be said. Thanks for listening Chris Munger

21 July 2007:  Dave Anderson:
Being geographically separated, and perhaps not as interested as I should have been, my feeling is that it should never have happened. If the concept of honor in the alleged assault was not enough, the probability of an unwanted observer, like a BOWOW, or an upperclassman, would have been a factor influencing the decision(there must have beeen some noise). If there was a third party present, he (or she) would have an equal share of the violation of honor. I concur that Honor was the victim.

Having been bilged by a classmate gives me no special insight in this question. It happened on one of those occasions when we had to range over the entire mess hall looking for a place to sit. I joined a table and was asked a question by one of the upper class. I made the proper response (I'll find out, Sir) and the question was directed to a classmate next to me, (seated at his regular table), and he answered the question immediately and without hesitation, followed by laughter from all. I was puzzled and distressed by this action. That this is an important issue, to this day I vividly remember, the classmate and the occasion. It is said that forgiveness does not change history, but enlarges the future, but I am yet to feel any, and I regret that I cannot feel any sense of forgiving, but perhaps sharing this will help me. I revere the bond of my classmates, especially those three or four hundred who came to my support with emails when I was experiencing treatment for brain cancer, for which suport and prayer I am still in awe. I am embarrassed that I cannot feel any sense of that bond with that unfortunate classmate who gleefully chose to exalt himself and entertain the table at my expense.

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