Annapolis 40th Reunion for a Graduate Who Became a Different Person, Part I

(Click each picture to expand: 40th Reunion Class of 1964 Parade at Warden Field, Annapolis)

My wife and I entered Annapolis to attend the Naval Academy’s 40th reunion of my class of 1964, and a flood of memories bombarded me from the past. I had entered this city for the first time with my father to celebrate my brother’s graduation from the Naval Academy and his marriage in June of 1960. My father had graduated from the Academy and wanted both of his sons to follow his example. However, at that time I tried to establish my own identity away from the Navy or any military service and searched for something I could not then define. Having serious doubts about my previous religious beliefs, and still holding on to my dream of becoming a professional baseball player, I had dropped the NROTC scholarship I had earned at Duke University that caused a temporary schism with Dad and me. Only two years later I changed course, and entered the class of 1964 at this famous institution.

But as I enter this city, I had a civil rights practice in Los Angeles County, had established a history as a peace activist, and strongly supported John Kerry for president. His message represented a hope for America to reject the failed leadership of the Bush Administration, the false reasons for the invasion of Iraq, and an opportunity to investigate those responsible for abominable human rights abuses. In the 2000 election Gore received substantially more votes than Bush but lost due to a Supreme Court decision not to count the disputed Florida votes. Tax cuts for the richest in our society, invasion of Iraq on false representations, failure to catch Bin Laden, blatant violations of our Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and basic human rights, characterized this dismal period. These major failures made Kerry so necessary to change the course Bush took our country and restore our reputation in the world.

Although I worried that some of my classmates would join with the Swift Boat crowd who had the audacity to attack Kerry as unpatriotic or, for not having earned his medals, despite clear evidence to the contrary, my wife and I entered Annapolis. Those misinformed persons appeared politically motivated for their own agenda, twisted the truth, and defamed the sincere advocate for change so many Democrats recognized in his candidacy for president. In e-mails preceding the Reunion, a few of my friends, notably Annapolis roommates Denny Lyndon and Tom Hawk, defended me against a few attacks from others when I showed my support for Kerry and his progressive ideas. I was not alone on an island of lock-step followers of the Bush-Cheney doctrine.

The beauty of quaint Annapolis with its narrow cobble stone streets, colonial architecture with spires, rotundas, Victorian homes-- the first seat of our government--filled my mind that wondered how I would relate to my classmates a different person from whom they knew? Would the torrent of invective from the presidential race make this reunion as divisive as the nation appeared?

The wind blustered wind and rain pounded so the atmosphere of the city contrasted with those enthusiastic October days when two-masted stay sail schooners whose sails billowed, glided down the Severne River next to the playing fields surrounded by fall colored trees. Their branches hung down with leaves of yellow, orange, red, and various browns intermingled with the green of fresh mowed grass covered with fallen multicolored foliage.

We checked into our hotel and received our identification tags that allowed entry through the Academy's guarded gates. The reunion staff greeted us with a bag of Class of 64 items that included a three inch reunion book that contained classmate photos then, and now, with historical data from graduation to the present. A license plate cover displayed the Class of 1964 U.S. Naval Academy logo, two mufflers for the football game in Navy Blue and Gold, and a pom pom to cheer on the team at the annual football game.

(Annapolis has narrow quaint streets with a colonial flair)

We encountered classmates who wore badges, but none were from my company. Eventually, a few familiar faces appeared. Their “hello” and smiles broke the ice. What understandings or disagreements might develop after forty years since graduation?

From Lowe’s Hotel down West Street to Church Circle we walked with the spire of St. Anne’s Church as a guide where two giant American Elms framed the entrance. Several sycamores with their mottled bark of brown, green and grey shades, stood in stark contrast to the stone structure of Bancroft Hall where we dwelt for four years. At State Circle we passed an enormous white oak, Maryland’s state tree. Two tall Norway Spruces with large showy cones, Southern Magnolias, American Hollies and a Little leaf Linden carried identity markers.

The Maryland State House, completed in 1788, the longest continuous use of any statehouse, where George Washington resigned his commission from the Continental Army after the Revolutionary War and signed The Treaty of Paris. Many classmates moved toward the P-rade (Parade) field where the brigade of midshipmen would march from Bancroft Hall at 4:00 P.M. and we followed. That dormitory housed about 4,000 young men and women from every state and many foreign countries. The massive four-story grey stone building is the largest dormitory in the U.S. A classmate told me two of my former roommates had just passed us, but had entered the main gate from the city. We would have to hurry to encounter them.

We hustled to the gate where clean-cut Marines with their rifles by their sides, demanded identification and glared at us in camouflaged green and brown fatigues. I had not entered a military facility since October 1968 when I resigned from the Navy, a Lieutenant at Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippine Islands. Marine or Navy guards always saluted me upon entering, but after we showed identification they allowed us to enter by a simple arm movement.

(The "Yard" at the Academy in the fall during the reunion with Tecumseh in war paint for the football game)

The crowd ambled to the left towards Worden Field. Our reunion schedule informed us the parade would soon commence. A mass of people preceded us to the parade field. We passed the Naval Academy Museum on the right and the Officers’ and Faculty Club. When we reached Worden Field, a street border of ginkgos lined the area where we marched in full dress parades often when midshipmen. The viewing stands quickly filled up.

(Third row: Coach Murphy on the left Rich Umfrid, Larry Robinson,  Joan just in front smiling before the P-rade)

Denny Lyndon and Rich Umfrid, two of my plebe roommates, filled seats a few feet away where we joined them. After strong handshakes welcomed us after forty years, we introduced our wives. From e-mail messages, I learned that Denny had obtained a Harvard MBA and had become a consultant after he left the Navy. Rich had gone to Rutgers for medical school, and had become a heart surgeon. None of my roommates had made a career out of the Navy. A baseball player from our company, Larry Robinson, gave me a warm greeting and we found seats. Immediately behind a man in a naval officer’s uniform said, “Dan, do you recognize me?” His face was familiar but before I could remember where, he said, “I was one of your Plebe baseball coaches, Captain Murphy.”

“Oh yes, I recall. It is so good to see you Captain."

“You were the best baseball player I ever saw at Annapolis!” he said loudly so Joan and my friends could hear.

Stunned by his praise, it made me self-conscious. How absurd! He could not have known what an abysmal time I had with the varsity coach, or that I quit the team after two years because of his malicious harassment.This kind of praise in front of so many people at a parade seemed surreal.

“Captain Murphy, you and Coach Pastelaniak made playing baseball fun at Annapolis. That was a great plebe team as were our coaches.”

(The colors proudly displayed by the Brigade)

Drums and bugles crashed through the atmosphere with a cadence for the start of the parade at the far right end of the Warden Field. The spectacle amazed me. Women marched with different styled caps than the men.  Women could not attend the Naval Academy during my years. The whole brigade looked immaculate. Many women held positions of company or battalion commanders who marched in front of their groups. The entire brigade in fifteen minutes arrived at the Field, completed their column left maneuver, and stood in front of the reviewing stands. My vantage point differed from any I had before and was much more impressive than when I  participated.

My mind wandered back to when I was a midshipman, my childhood, and the influences that brought me here. Dad's influence was the most powerful. Many other experiences like toy soldiers, plastic weapons, BB guns, patriotic piano music, father in the Navy, and patriotic war movies added to mold my past. These activities condoned by society created a strong background of approval for anything military. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, uniformed high school band since seventh grade, Morgan Park Military Academy, football, basketball, and baseball, contributed to my resolve. However, I was entirely different from my brother and father, and had other interests. My whole life was a search for a pathway to a higher purpose that of a follower. Many unusual incidents and experiences in my life flashed before me that made me change the course of my life into the person watching a reunion parade.

What influences made me join the military?  Military life did not provide what burned inside me that sought purpose. What experiences made me change the course of my life to pursue a different path. My father’s family expected me to follow in his footsteps and my brother's. Conflicts of conscience, major confrontations, the brutality of the Vietnam War, my personal battle against injustice, attraction to the peace movement, and civil rights protests, tested the submissive side of my personality. When challenged I responded with determination to try to do the right thing as I had been taught from parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, coaches, professors, clergy, professionals, and numerous authorities. Fortunately, some intuitive teachers planted seeds that pointed in a different direction than the military model.

I wondered if the men and women with so much potential had any idea of what the military required in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. How prepared did this institution make them to face situations that challenged our sense of morality? Whether they know it or not, many will be professional killers with the most sophisticated weapons at their disposal. The Academy did not teach midshipmen how to act in combat. Decisions made in battle often without time to think, only react, can have cataclysmic consequences, some heroic and life-saving. Collateral damage has become the euphemistic buzzword to justify the civilian deaths caused by our military actions. These men and women must follow and give orders that involve matters of life and death. Any order we give or take in extremis has lives in the balance.

Some of our military leaders including Generals and Admirals have gone on record as opposed to foolish invasions based on faulty intelligence. But, these midshipmen will have to follow their seniors unhesitatingly unless faced with an illegal order as Nuremberg taught us. How does one teach essential conscience or empathy? When does a person in uniform learn that torturing an unarmed suspect constitutes a human rights abuse and violates international and military law despite what President Bush and his administration pronounced to the world?

When does an officer find the courage to resign and start a new profession? For me my life did not reach its purpose until I became an advocate for social justice. But the motivation to change my course came from an awakening of conscience. My story might inspire others to question their situation and determine whether they would be more dedicated to a different path.

(Front: Joan and Kathy Lyndon, with Denny and Rich behind strolling back from the P-rade)

At the end of the ceremony, we left the parade field and headed back for a formal dinner and dance at Lowe’s where some wore a tux. Joan purchased an evening dress and I wore a pinstriped navy blue suit. We found our places at an assigned table surrounded by classmates. After many introductions and a martini, they served a meal of salmon, rice, sautéed vegetables, wine, and dessert. We danced to the sounds of a group called “Retrospect.” By midnight we found our way to our room  and looked forward to the homecoming football game, tailgate, and other activities.

(Reunion Dinner first night at Lowe's Hotel) a href=""> Trust

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