One of the reasons I don’t plan to move out of Annapolis is that I can probably never find another town where you get fireworks four times a year. (OK, maybe I could move to Disney World.) This past week, the Naval Academy Brigade of Midshipmen celebrated Spirit Week outside Bancroft Hall with a rousing pep rally in Tecumseh Court.
The Mids are hoping to extend their streak against West Point to twelve straight wins in the classic Army-Navy football game. This year, the Mids are taking extra precautions to keep their mascot -- Bill the Goat -- from being kidnapped by the Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy. In past years, the Army’s Black Knights have had the pleasure of getting Navy’s goat.
But this year, Navy is protecting Bill the Goat. (Actually, both Bills; there are two official Navy goats). To prevent any raiding of goats, Navy is hiding Bills the Goats and not letting anyone know where. They’ve posted a guard dog to alert everyone to any attempts made to liberate the Navy goats. In this case, the watchword is not just Beat Army -- it’s Bite Army!
I’d suggest that Navy hide Bills the Goats at nearby Fort Meade. That’s also where the National Security Agency (NSA) is located. We could all rest assured that ex-NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, won’t spill the Navy’s beans. At present, Snowden is snowed in. In Moscow.
Goat snatching and Mule bashing are all a part of the great traditions of our service academies. So, too, is another T Court event: The Induction Day ceremony that each summer brings to the Academy about 1,200 new Midshipmen. (Yes, the young ladies are called Midshipmen, too.) They come from every state in the Union and from a number of foreign nations, too. The foreign Midshipmen are excused from taking the Oath of Office.
It’s a moving and powerful scene. The “Plebes” crowd into the vast expanse of T Court. They’ve had their hair buzzed (or cropped for the ladies) and been issued baggy new “white works” as uniforms. They have been medically tested vaccinated.
For the five years my wife, a Navy captain, and I attended this ceremony, she would remark how young they all looked. Finally, I pointed out the Plebes’ parents sitting in the bleachers and noted how young they look.
Navy jets (if they aren’t grounded by the sequester) storm overhead. You feel the roar of their engines in your gut. They call it “the sound of freedom.”
And then the Plebes take this Oath of Office:
OATH OF OFFICE
Having been appointed a Midshipman in the United States Navy, do you solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?
There is hardly a parent who witnesses this ceremony who is not in tears. Many of the Plebes, likewise, are tearful. For good reason. Added to all the normal emotions of a son or daughter going off to college is this sobering thought: The oath they have just sworn, the step forward they have just taken, could be the first step toward a patriot grave.
Inside Bancroft Hall is the Memorial to hundreds of Naval Academy graduates who laid down their lives that we might live in freedom. From across College Creek, on a hill, the crosses and Stars of David in the cemetery bear silent testimony to the importance of the oath these Mids are taking.
This is the Oath taken by tens of thousands before the Class of 2017. It is the Oath that binds -- and must bind -- all the members of our all-volunteer military services.
There is currently a controversy over this Oath. The atheizers have succeeded for the time being in having “So Help Me God” dropped from the Oath as administered at the U.S. Air Force Academy. No one is forced to swear to any belief he or she does not hold. The Constitution of 1787 banned religious tests for all federal offices. But what the atheizers are demanding -- and too often getting -- is official atheism. They want to suppress our constitutionally protected free exercise rights.
George Washington was not only the first president; he was also the first Commanding General of the armies -- and the navy -- of the United States. Before he took his own Inaugural Oath as president, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. For four months, Washington attended every session of the gathering, mostly in silence. It was the greatest tutorial in political philosophy, history, law, and economics ever held on this continent.
So when he took the Oath as President of the United States on April 30, 1789, it is no small matter that he added to the constitutionally prescribed Oath of Office four words.
So Help Me God
Washington understood the importance of oaths. In his Farewell Address to the Nation, he asked: "Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths?" If George Washington could do that, so can every other officeholder in America.