THE 6TH COMPANY MUSTERS IN ANNAPOLIS
Or, a Gathering of Old Eagles
This past weekend my wife Marcia and I traveled to Annapolis for the 45th reunion of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1963. We return to Annapolis and gather as a class every five years. Although there are a number of events that include the whole class during reunion weekends, the main groupings are normally built around our USNA companies. When we graduated there were twenty four companies in the Brigade of Midshipmen. Today there are thirty six. My gang is the 6th Company, and nineteen of us returned this weekend along with wives and guests, and the widow of one of our deceased classmates. The 6th Company has always been a very close group. The bonds formed between us as a result of going through Plebe Year together, and being together for four years in the high pressure environment of the Naval Academy, are permanent. 6th Company is usually at or near the top in number of attendees at reunions. The company stayed at the Annapolis O’Callaghan Hotel on West Street, which was within walking distance of many of the weekend’s events.
Class Crest, Class of 1963
Although the festivities started on Thursday evening, we couldn’t make it to Annapolis until Friday afternoon. After we got settled into our room we went to the hotel bar and restaurant and one by one the guys of the 6th Company drifted in. Pretty soon we had a large gathering and had pretty much taken over the bar. Although all of us are in our mid-to-late sixties, we were drinking and carousing like we were young Ensigns and Second Lieutenants again. The insults hurled back and forth amongst us probably were misunderstood by other patrons, but between us they are like sending each other Hallmark cards. We were amazed at our conduct. We thought that with advancing age we had lost the ability to become public spectacles. Our wives, even though they understand the insults, were suitably appalled as they always have been whenever and wherever any two or more of us gather.
We spent a lot of our time between class events in the bar, and came and went all through the weekend to a memorial service, class meetings, a class dinner and tailgate, and a baseball game (Navy-6, Holy Cross-5). The highlight of the reunion is always the Company dinner held on Saturday evening. It is usually the culminating event of the reunion, with everyone departing Annapolis for home on Sunday morning. This year it was at Reynolds Tavern on Church Circle, which was within walking distance of the hotel.
As we gathered for a cocktail hour before dinner I looked around at this group of guys who I’ve known most of my life and who mean so much to me. As the subtitle of this tale says, this was a gathering of Eagles. They are all heroes of the Cold War. They will deny it, but that’s exactly what they are. We served from 1963 to the early 1990s and spent much of our time fighting or facing down tyranny around the world. Represented by these 6th Company stalwarts were fighter and attack pilots, submariners, surface warfare officers, swift boat commanders, and Marines. During a conversation with one of our submariners the subject of Vietnam came up. He almost apologized to me…apologized!!...to me!!...for not having served in country during that war.
Let me tell you about our submariners during the Cold War. We had a lot of smart guys in the 6th Company, and most of them went into the nuclear submarine program, some of them spending time on the diesel "smokeboats" before going to nuclear power school and being assigned to nukes. These were the guys who went places they still can’t tell us about to gather intelligence, who faced off with Soviet attack boats under the world’s oceans, and who dogged the Soviet Fleet Ballistic Missile submarines and would have shot a Mark 48 torpedo right up their ass if they had so much as opened a missile door. Their contribution to our victory over the Soviet Union can never be fully revealed, but it was substantial, and they have nothing to apologize for...especially to an old Marine infantryman.
The pilots flew missions into North Vietnam and delivered close air support to Marines and soldiers on the ground, many times doing so under fire. They started and ended these missions from aircraft carriers deployed to Yankee and Dixie Stations in the waters off Vietnam. They took off and landed on those carrier decks day and night…not an easy task under the calmest conditions. One of the most dangerous places afloat is a carrier flight deck during flight ops. Several aviator classmates, although none from 6th Company, spent years as North Vietnam prisoners of war, and eleven died during missions. When not fighting in Vietnam they were the striking arm of our carrier battle groups that projected U.S. power around the world.
Our Navy Line guys took their ships in harm’s way, coming close to the beach to deliver naval gunfire to beleaguered Marines and soldiers ashore in Vietnam. As a direct recipient of this support I can vouch for its effectiveness. They spent the rest of their time as part of carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups prepared to project U.S. power around the world whenever and wherever required. They chased down and pinpointed Soviet submarines that dogged our fleets around the world. Whenever a natural disaster struck anywhere in the world, you could count on the U.S. Navy to get there as quickly as possible to provide relief.
The Swift Boat guys weren’t really that well known to the general public until the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth came out against John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, but we knew what they were doing while they were doing it. They took their boats into harm’s way patrolling the inland rivers, tributaries and canals of South Vietnam and often came under fire from the Viet Cong along the shore. And they gave as good as they got. At least 50 Swift Boat sailors were killed in action during the Vietnam War. Three earned the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest award for valor in battle.
So these were the guys who are my 6th Company classmates. When the current crop of Naval Academy Midshipmen looks at us during reunions they see a bunch of old grads returning to the fold. That’s how we looked at the Classes of 1915-1918 when we were Mids, because they were the yesterday’s equivalent of what we represent to today’s Midshipmen. They fought in World War I. How’s that for some perspective? What today’s Mids don’t see, and what we didn’t see back then was that these old guys were once the young warriors that took the fight to the enemy to help preserve our hard-won freedom. We no longer look the part, but the warrior spirit remains. As I get ready to sign off I think it’s appropriate to end with the last verse of the alma mater, "Navy Blue and Gold". And I note that this verse is unchanged since we graduated.
Four years together by the Bay
Where Severn joins the tide,
Then by the Service called away,
We've scattered far and wide;
So here’s to you my friends and comrades of the 6th Company. You have earned your place in the storied history of the U.S. Naval Service. See you at the 50th.