On Watch by Marcus Fisk

A Love Story

9th Company Class of 78 reporting as ordered. The finest guys I know.

By Marcus J. Fisk

A hurricane was a-brewin’, once again, but this time her name was Florence. Reminiscent of our 25th reunion when Isabelle blew into town, the Naval Academy Class of 1978 descended upon Crabtown (AKA Annapolis) last month for our 40th gathering to renew friendships, catch-up on one another’s lives, and dish the dirt on those not present. (It is an unwritten law — classmates absent are not spared.) But the bulk of time was spent telling sea stories.

For the uninitiated, the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story is simple. A fairy tale starts out ‘Once upon a time.’ A sea story starts out, ‘Now this is no s – – -.’

We enjoyed the camaraderie of being together again, the years melting away before our eyes, and joking that our class was clearly hurricane-prone and we should consider moving our 50th to a new location since Annapolis is a hurricane magnet.

The golfers of the class set off to attack the links, others walked the ‘Yard’ (as the Academy grounds are called) recalling bits and pieces of our unconventional youth to any poor soul who would listen (family or not), walking into the visitor area in Bancroft Hall, the largest dormitory in the world that was our home for four years (affectionately referred to as ‘Mother B’). Many flooded into the Midshipman Store to buy Academy logo items reminding ourselves of our common, frenetic, torturous past, since, like Folsom or Alcatraz, we too, were once inmates at a government institution.

At a briefing given by Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Ted Carter (Class of ’81) walked us down memory lane. And what a walk it was.

Carter mentioned that because of an unparalleled exodus of officers leaving the Navy and Marine Corps at the end of the Vietnam War, the class of ’78 was, and still remains, the largest class ever enrolled with 1,513 taking the oath of office on 8 July 1974 and 985 graduating four years later. He pointed out that the class had the highest attrition rate of any class in the modern history of the Naval Academy.

9th Company paying respects to John S. McCain III

One of our most extraordinary achievements is that the class of 1978 is one of only four classes to produce four four-star admirals: Mark Ferguson, Cecil Haney, Harry Harris, and the last remaining classmate still on active duty, the ‘Old Goat’ – Kurt Tidd. We were the last class to be issued slide rules and the first class to requisition a calculator and the last class with four years of Saturday classes. Our classmate Harry Harris is the first Asian-American to achieve the rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy, and is now the Ambassador to South Korea. Classmates Alan “Blues” Baker is the first Naval Academy graduate to achieve the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy’s Chaplain Corps, Mark Fox scored the first Navy MiG kill of Operation Desert Storm, and Ken Bowersox became one of our nation’s most experienced space shuttle pilots, logging more than 211 days in space and five shuttle flights. Finally, ‘78 produced 32 Flag and General Officers (admirals and generals to you civilians).

Back on that muggy Induction Day in July 1974 none of us could have imagined any of us amounting to ANYTHING. All that happened that day was a blur — we were taught how to salute, learned how to march, how to say ‘Sir’ after everything we said (sir), got the haircut of a lifetime in 30 seconds, learned a hallway was a ‘passageway,’ a floor was a ‘deck,’ a door was a ‘hatch,’ the ceiling was the ‘overhead,’ and stairs were ‘ladders. We learned how to fold our skivvies (underwear) into nice, neat little squares, and everything neatly stowed into our closets (lockers).’ At the end of the day we had memorized the oath of office, learned the names and hometowns of every guy in our company, and at 5 PM we were sworn into the Navy and a new way of life began, one that lingers in each one of us. (I still can’t fold my skivvies any other way).

Shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, after we said our good-byes to parents and friends, one of our seniors barked us into formation and the reality of our ‘choice’ began to set in. We had just finished singing “White Christmas” when Midshipman 1st Class J.J. Carrizales looked at all of us in 9th Company and said, “Gentlemen. Welcome to the greatest fraternity in the world. And one you will never forget.”

We graduated and went out to ‘the Fleet. We became ship sailors who survived typhoons and collisions at sea, aviators who landed on pitching decks at 150 mph in 2 seconds, one who had bailed out of a jet seconds before impact, one shot down in combat and returned home, submariners who safe-guarded nuclear weapons, Marines that had spent three combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all of us sharing the experience of months upon endless years away from family and friends. Some had children, parents pass away, or shouldered a divorce while they were deployed.

Saying ‘Hi’ to one of our classmates – taken too soon.

Today, we are a merry band of lawyers, a Mayo clinic oncologist, software developers, a San Diego Firefighter, a venture capitalist, security specialists, retired FBI, Maritime administrators, a bank President, airline pilots, college professors, strategic planners, defense analysts, and writers.

So, on a cloudy September day 40 years after we had left Annapolis, members of 9th Company mustered again, to tell sea stories, tell jokes, solve the problems of mankind, and reflect on how differ-ent our journeys were up to this point, but all from a common starting block. There were smiles, laughs that made our stomachs hurt, hugs, and tears that welled in our eyes and rolled playfully down our cheeks. We experienced every emotion possible over that weekend. But the one that was in command – the greatest one present of all – was Love.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother;

be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

William Shakespeare – Henry V

Marcus Fisk is a retired Navy Captain, Naval Academy graduate, sometime actor, sculptor, screenwriter, pick-up soccer player, and playwright. He and his wife Pamela are former long-time residents of Alexandria and currently live in Connecticut where they own a B&B and travel the New England shore in their 42′ Trawler ADAGIO.

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