Induction Day at the Naval Academy is a production. It’s specifically for in processing for midshipmen candidates. Their families and the incoming candidates have activities lined up that can keep them busy for the whole day. Samantha had prepared for it with her father’s help. He had given her his copy of Reef Points and, knowing it was updated annually, she had dutifully memorized everything anyway. She had studied everything she could find in the library and online. She knew where to go and what was going to happen, and she knew that when she walked into Alumni Hall there was no turning back.
I followed the other candidates to the check in station. On my way I was stopped by a Marine Colonel who shook my hand and welcomed me aboard. “Are you Admiral Pederson’s daughter?” That took me by surprise, but I was too dazed to notice his name tag. I learned afterwards that he was Colonel Allen, the Commandant of Midshipmen. He was still shaking hands when I walked up to the table to pick up my name tag and information packet.
The guy who handed me my name tag looked at my t-shirt. “I hope that doesn’t mean you think this is a mistake.”
I laughed. “Heavens no. I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to do my best to set some new records.”
“Great attitude. So what are you standing around for?” He smiled and nodded toward the next table.
Much of the rest of the morning and afternoon was a matter of following lines of candidates from one station to the next and then waiting in line. One of the first things we got was a copy of Reef Points. We were told to start memorizing it. We were measured for uniforms and given a gear bag, actually a large laundry bag. We exchanged our civilian clothes first for shorts and a t-shirt and then a “white works” uniform went on over the athletic gear. We got the ubiquitous black canteen. It was supposed to be to keep us hydrated, but I suspect it was also to mark us as plebes.The gear bag got heavier as the remaining uniform gear went in it. There was a medical exam, a dental exam, the obligatory haircut. Actually, I remember that because I didn’t even get to sit in the chair. I was one of several candidates who wore our hair shorter than required. One of the women barbers joked, “Maybe we should cut her hair like we do the guys.”
After what seemed like an interminable trek through station after station, a group of us were herded into a loading dock. We gave up our gear bags on which we had written our names and units in large capital letters. The bags were thrown on a truck and dropped off just outside Bancroft hall. We were left behind to spend some time learning military customs and courtesies, like how to salute and how to answer questions by upper classmen.
It seemed like as soon as we all managed to say, “Sir, yes sir,” in unison, we were ushered out of the loading dock and onto a bus. When we arrived at Bancroft hall, we were hurried off the bus and into the arms of awaiting detailers, upper-class midshipmen, who rushed us over to a stack of gear bags and told us in no uncertain terms to find ours and get it inside without delay. That was one thing I really remember, we couldn’t do much of anything without a detailer yelling at us to hurry up.
Other detailers led us to our plebe summer rooms where we learned things like how to make our racks (beds) and store our gear. Because we were the stragglers, we broke for lunch almost immediately. When we got back to Bancroft Hall, there was some catching up to do, but the afternoon seemed to be gone almost before it started. Then to the shouts of the detailers, we were lined up and marching – as best we could – into Tecumseh court for the swearing in ceremony.
The ceremony was relatively brief, but it seemed to drag on. Admiral Moore had his say, and we all stood with our right hands in the air to respond to the oath of office with “I do.” We were no longer candidates. We were midshipmen. But we were still plebes.
I don’t remember anything else, whatever it was. After that we had 45 minutes to spend with our families, which for me included a personal swearing-in ceremony conducted by my dad, naturally.
That 45 minutes was the shortest time of any event that day. Before I knew it, I was saying a tearful goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Nelson. I squatted down next to Nelson. “Well, little brother, it’ll be a while before I see you again. Take care of Mom and Dad for me.”
“I will.” He smiled mischievously. “Does this mean I get your old room?”
I had to laugh, and it broke the gloomy spell that had been cast over me. I pecked him on the cheek and stood up. I kissed Dad on the cheek and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, sweetheart.” He gipped my arms just below the shoulder and held me back from him to take a look at me. ”God, I’m proud of you. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be easy, but you can do it. I know you can.” He stepped back and saluted. I didn’t have my cover on, but I returned the salute.
Mom was still emotional. I couldn’t blame her, but I was doing what wanted to do, and I was excited about it. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too.” She tried to sound flippant, but I could see the glint of moisture in her eyes. “Take care of yourself. See you in six weeks.” She took Nelson’s hand and started toward where the car was parked, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.
“Goodbye, everybody.” I waved one last time and then stood there until they walked out of sight.
I turned back toward Bancroft Hall. Tomorrow began the real program. Six weeks. Plebe summer. I dreaded it and looked forward to it.