Class History: 1964

The Great Class of 1964's Forty Plus Four Year Journey

(As seen through the eyes of a classmate)

On a warm summer day in July 1960, 1,258 young men from around the United States and several foreign countries met in the Yard of the U.S. Naval Academy to begin an adventure which none will forget and one that defines their lives to this day. While the memories of that day and, indeed, that summer have become blurred, each member of the Great Class of 1964 still vividly remembers certain events of that summer as though they happened just a few days ago. "Ready on the Right? Ready on the Left? All ready on the firing line!"

Plebe summer quickly morphed into Plebe Year. We were the first class to be issued white dress shirts without detachable collars (much to '62s chagrin) and a new style raincoat, the last class that stenciled their white works, the first class to no longer "fin out," and the first plebe class that did not have to march to class. We cheered for Joe Bellino and more "carry on." Some of us made it to the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day. Before we knew it we were on our way to the Caribbean and Youngster Cruise aboard an APA. Welcome aboard!

There was one constant during our four years at USNA: Change! We marched for a president's inaugural and then participated in his funeral parade. The nation was changing: Soviet missiles were in Cuba, walls went up in Berlin, and what was true yesterday, no longer applied tomorrow. No "5 inch, 38 caliber gun" or "boiler" courses for us. Thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and ballistic theory courses became part of the curriculum. Many were able to validate certain courses and take electives. We were the first class to have Trident Scholars. Can you define entropy?

During all this, we came together as a class as few before or after ever have. We were fortunate in being able to stay together as a unit in our companies for all four years. Our final year at USNA was the capstone of our efforts. Even though we had to move forward without our beloved "Uncle Charlie" to lead us, we knew that we "could do whatever we set our mind to do." Some of us were in South Bend to watch the great '63 football team defeat Notre Dame, the last time a Navy team has won against the Irish; and we were all in Philadelphia to watch the "Drive for Five" effort defeat Army, again. The soccer team beat Army to advance to the national championship game, and the lacrosse team defeated Army to win its fifth national championship in a row. "Go Navy, Beat Army!"

Before we knew it, 100th night, service selection, the term paper, and final exams were behind us; and our final June Week stared us in the face. But we needed one last time out. Bo Diddley joined us for one of the all-time great beach parties. With that wild and wonderful night behind us, it was time to see our families, celebrate June Week, and finally become new ensigns and second lieutenants. Let the record show that 927 midshipmen graduated on June 3, 1964. The Naval Academy phase of our lives came to a close, but, in fact, our lives were just beginning. '64 was about to hit the Fleet! "Permission to come aboard Sir?"

With the excitement of graduation behind us, and as we headed off to our first ships, nuclear power school, flight training, or Quantico, a new reality hit us right in the face like a big splash of cold water. Vietnam! The first carrier air strikes were launched that very summer, and we realized we were now involved in a very serious business that was soon to become up close and personal.

The aviators and Marines paid the biggest price during these difficult years, but no one went unscathed. Ten names from '64 are inscribed on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Five more were POWs, some for a very long time. Several suffered from exposure to Agent Orange, and all of us found our lives affected profoundly. Just as the Vietnam era was a watershed time for our country, so it was for the members of '64. Career decisions reflected each classmate's individual experience. Deployment schedules were arduous at best. To stay or go was a decision almost everyone faced with some degree of uncertainty during those turbulent times.

Through it all we persevered, just as we persevered through the Dark Ages at USNA. Many went on to graduate school, some in the service and others as civilians. New careers began, families formed, and children grew. We managed to come together at the ten-year point for the first of many successful class reunions.

We needed that time for a break, because the 70s continued to be a period of challenges, especially for those still on active duty. The country was mired in a malaise, and nothing much seemed to be working as it should. Oil embargoes and hostages in foreign lands accentuated the difficulties. Those on active duty faced any number of issues. Reenlistments were at an all time low, drug abuse presented monumental challenges, and the new issue of women in combat was still to be resolved. Funding for the military was reduced. But, we soldiered on as that was our duty.

However, just as night gives way to day, so too did the 70s give way to the 80s. A new president came forward to reenergize the American spirit. At the same time, '64's spirit renewed itself as well as interest in class activities increased markedly. Our 20th Reunion was hugely successful and set the standard for other classes to follow for years to come. It was a weekend of great camaraderie, capped by a moving memorial service at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The class was off and running again, and the best of times were yet to come.

After the 20th Reunion, several classmates in the Washington, DC area realized that if '64 was going to live up to its full potential, a new class organization needed to be developed. Our class officers had not abandoned us, but they were scattered about the country. A review of other class organizations revealed that a core-governing group based in the Washington-Annapolis area best served class goals and objectives. Prior to the 25th Reunion, a new class constitution and by-laws were drawn up. With the concurrence of the class officers it was presented to the class for approval. The new governance procedures called for class presidential elections every five years. The 25th Reunion proved to be even better attended and more successful than the 20th, and it launched the class into a dynamic future.

The Class of '64's first formal meeting since graduation was scheduled for the last morning of the 25th Reunion. In addition to announcing the results of the new presidential election, the class had to face up to a very important issue. During the Vietnam era, a memorial scholarship fund for children of our deceased classmates had been started. However, it had languished for several years, and the children for whom it had been designed were starting to enter college. The fund was far below what was needed to provide meaningful support to the number of students eligible for grants.

At the meeting the facts of the matter were put before the class for resolution. If we planned on continuing scholarship support, a great deal of money needed to be raised quickly, and commitments for future contributions needed to be obtained. After a lively discussion, one classmate rose and offered a challenge to the class to match his contribution before we finished brunch. In an atmosphere described by one observer as a cross between an Amway sales convention and a Southern Baptist revival, checks came pouring onto the podium. The challenge was met in less than 10 minutes, and thousands more were contributed or pledged before the end of the day. It may have been '64's finest hour. The Memorial Scholarship Fund has served its purpose and is no longer active. However, $207,500 in grants were given to 25 children of deceased classmates.

Another issue was raised at the 25th Reunion. While support for the scholarship fund was unanimous and enthusiastic, members of the class made it very clear to the class leadership that it was time to support a worthwhile project that benefited our alma mater. The class leadership was charged to research options and report back to the class. After much discussion, several alternatives were presented for a vote. Overwhelmingly, the class supported the proposal to support ethical values and leadership at USNA. Now the hard part came: how to make this project meaningful so that classmates would be willing to support it?

After many weeks of consultations with various officials in Annapolis, the breakthrough idea was proposed on a cold December morning in a meeting in Luce Hall. Professor Karel Montor stepped forward with his idea of a book for junior officers that stressed the importance of ethical behavior. It would be based on actual case studies submitted from the fleet. The book had long been a dream for Professor Montor, so his proposal was focused from the very beginning; and it appeared to be just the type of project '64 was willing and able to support. The Class of 1994 was the first to receive Ethics for the Junior Officer. For his work, Karel Montor was made an honorary classmate at our 30th Reunion.

The next dilemma that faced the class was the proper way to distribute the book to the members of the graduating class. Originally, the Superintendent charged that the project could not take any of the midshipmen's time. However, the reaction to the book was so positive that everyone acknowledged a special occasion was warranted. The idea of an informal dinner at which members of '64 would present the book to the graduating class quickly became a reality. VADM James Stockdale, who graciously wrote the foreword to Ethics for the Junior Officer, was the guest speaker at the first ethics dinner. The Class of 1984 has since joined us to ensure the continuity of this new Naval Academy tradition. Over $205,000 have been contributed to ensure the book's publication well into the future.

It has been said that one good deed begets another. So it has been with '64 as new projects came to our attention. During the mid-nineties, Lanny King, the first Prospective Commanding Officer of the USS Carney (DDG-64), approached the class about supporting the about-to-be commissioned ship. Sadly, he passed away suddenly before the ship was commissioned, but with the cooperation of the new Prospective Commanding Officer, we persevered and pressed forward. The Class of '64 established a leadership award for the outstanding junior officer of the year and named it in honor of Commander King. Each year our Jacksonville classmates participate in the award presentation and present a id="mce_marker"000 savings bond to the award winner.

Shortly thereafter, one of our Chicago classmates, thoroughly frustrated by Navy's lack of victories over Notre Dame, proposed a victory trophy that would be maintained only at the Academy. Classmates from around the country chipped in funds. A ship's bell was obtained from the USS Constellation (CV-64) and mounted on the trophy to be rung only after a Navy victory. Hopefully, the sight of the bell in the dressing room during Notre Dame Week will provide the extra spark that will bring home a victory.

As the 90s drew to a close, a new challenge presented itself to '64. The scholarship fund had served its purpose, the ethics book was well funded, and now the class pondered a major gift to USNA on the occasion of our 40th Reunion. An opportunity arose when the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics was established in 1998. Funding for this Center is largely dependent on private sources. The Class of '64 stepped up to the plate and promised $500,000 (along with a gift of id="mce_marker"40,000 for USNA's unrestricted fund). This goal has not only been met, but also surpassed. The Center is up and running and proving to be a tremendous resource for our alma mater, the Navy and Marine Corps, and our nation. Throughout the 90s our generous classmates supported other worthwhile projects at USNA, including new soccer facilities, improved crew facilities, and the renovation of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial stadium.

As we look back at the last forty years, one can look only with pride at the accomplishments of the Great Class of 1964. Twenty-two classmates assumed flag rank, several rose to high positions in the government, even more became leaders and entrepreneurs in the business world, one became an astronaut, and, yes, we even had a general who became an admiral. Others became doctors, attorneys, educators, and writers, and many became spiritual leaders. Every classmate accomplished goals that once were thought to be unobtainable.

The events and accomplishments of forty years plus four certainly cannot be adequately condensed into a four-page history. Hopefully, however, the spirit of a superb group of men can be captured on these pages. Even though today's plebes, the members of the Class of 2008, look at us much as we looked at the Class of 1920, we don't feel that old. An exciting, challenging future lies ahead for all of us.

"Three cheers for those no longer with us."

"Three cheers for the seas yet to be sailed."

"Three cheers for the Great Class of 1964."

 

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