Most of the other
Plebes at Annapolis had prepared themselves by reading the handbooks
that tell you the pat answers to the standard questions to be posed
by upperclassmen and give good advice on how to survive as a Plebe.
I went innocently into that institution without any preparation, and
what a shock. I quickly learned obedience and subservience the hard
way. I failed to answer the first question put to me at dinner time
and shoved out most of the meal. The question was, Mr.
Jarvis, why are you here at the dinner table? I replied, To
eat, Sir. I couldnt have made a greater mistake. My reply
was supposed to be, To serve and entertain the Upper Class,
Sir. That was a sample. It got lots worse and stayed that way
It is all right to haze Plebes, up to a point. Officially, hazing
gets outlawed every few years but it seems to go on, regardless. There
was one Youngster at my table who was a bad oneYoungsters are
second year Midshipmen having been plebes so recently, they are sometimes
worse than the more seasoned 2/c and 1/c. But all upper classmen are
in fact superior officers to the Plebes and are entitled to give orders.
This Youngster thought I needed a lot of attention because I hadnt
come prepared with all the stock answers and I was pretty naive in
general. To make me more worldly he had me recite Dangerous
Dan McGrew, a dirty poem that is still in my memory.
Dangerous Dan McGrew
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in one of those Yukon
The kid who tickled the music box was steadily scratching his balls.
The faro kid had his hand on the box of a lady known as Lou.
And there on the floor on the top of a whore was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
When out of the night which was black as a bitch and into the din
and smoke, pushed a dirty old prick just down from the crick with
a rusty load in his poke.
He shouldered his way through the flea bitten crowd and yelled that
he wanted to play.
His pants were split and covered with shit that looked like the white
of an egg. His face was red as a baboons ass. And in him a passion
burned. He gazed around at the flea bitten crowd and everyones
The lights went out, the stranger sprang in the dark. His aim was
true, the sparks they flew, his domickers hit their mark. The lights
came on; the stranger rose a satisfied look on his pan.
And there on the floor, his asshole all tore, was poor old cornholed
That was Youngster No. 1. Another Youngster insisted that I was so
gross I had to do the fly act. That meant going over to
the mess hall door where an electric mesh zapped incoming flies. The
fly act meant sticking your fingers in the mesh to get
the same electrical zap that the flies got. Some upper classmen frowned
on this a bit as inhumane punishment, but nobody ever seemed to get
injured permanently. For some reason, I didnt mind this punishment,
I guess because there were worse ones and this one seemed to satisfy
the Youngster for the moment.
The matter that did bother me, however, occurred after meals when
the Plebes have to push their chairs in to the table and stand erect
with their behinds touching their chairs. This permits the Upper Classmen
to file out of the mess hall without any Plebes in the way.
One Youngster who passed by me every day got in the habit of popping
me in the stomach on the way out of the mess hall. I always did get
at least something to eat during meals and really resented his popping
my full stomach. One day when I was least expecting it, he popped
me particularly hard. I will never understand my reaction but, instinctively,
I let go my right fist and hit that Youngster so hard that I decked
him. Boy, was he surprised. I can hear him now as he got up and confronted
me, shouting, Dont you know its a capital offense
to strike a superior? I was scared, really scared that this
incident would, at the least, get me kicked out of the Academy. When
suddenly a First Classmen interjected, saying to the Youngster, Come
on, let it be, you deserved what you got. And that was the end
of it. I still cant imagine my decking that Youngster, but I
did it, and thank God for that First Classman.
The common saying is that Midshipmen are officers and gentlemen by
act of Congress, but the courses at the Academy are designed to try
to make the gentleman part a reality. Where else would
you wear white gloves and a sword to all the hops (formal
dances) and have all your teachers address you as Mister Jarvis?
And take courses in Naval Courtesy and Etiquette, in International
Diplomacy, Naval Traditions, and be bound by a rigid Honor Code in
all matters? And take required courses in the manly art of fencing
and in the gentlemanly art of sailing where you mastered the handling
of pleasure yachts?
At one breakfast in the cavernous mess hall, a particular Youngster
(second-year midshipman) demanded of me, Mister Jarvis, who
was it that said, If the mast goes, I go with it?
I could just envision some heroic Navy man tied to the mast of his
ship uttering those famous words. But, not knowing the answer, I made
the only permitted response, Ill find out, Sir!
In the weeks following I searched history books and asked my upperclassmen
friends but to no avail. Because I didnt have the answer, I
was shoving out at practically every meal, that is, assuming
a sitting position but without a chair.
Finally a Second Classmen gave me a tip. He said, Go look at
the placards in Isherwood Hall. Sure enough, in one obscure
corner there was a wall full of placards. One placard read, If
the Mast Goes, I Go With It. It was signed Midshipman Jarvis.
In the old days there had been another Midshipman Jarvis. After Plebe
year, my graduation from Annapolis was almost an anti-climax.
Like other famous
East Coast schools the sports program was fantastic. Every afternoon
I had to go out for sports; I can recount at least 15 different sports
I participated in.
But the nub of the Annapolis program lies in the day-to-day academics.
We were graded in every class every day. In addition, we had other,
regular, more extensive exams during each course as well as the final
exams. All these grades and your athletic and leadership marks went
into a big hopper and out came your class standing. Each year you
knew exactly what your class rank was.
This class rank
is important in many ways. Take a small example Navy etiquette.
When two ships approach each other in the ocean, the junior ship Captain,
is supposed to haul up his saluting flag first and only then the senior
Captain from the other ship flag salutes. What if both ships are captained
by officers who graduated from the Academy the same year? Very simple:
class standing governs! Class standing was important to me in a different
way. At the end of my very first year at Annapolis it was decided
to split the class half of us would graduate early and serve
in the Japanese invasion which was to end World War II. Since I was
in the upper half of the class I got to graduate a year early. Even
so, I missed the end of World War II because the atom bomb had ended
the Japanese War prematurely, but I was in time to serve in the Korean
War which followed. My class standing for the first year was 450.
Although my class standing was lowered because of all the demerits
I got from being an off the ball Plebe, it was high enough
to make the top half of the class, well under the dividing point of