“A Solution in Search of a Problem”

Why climb a greased-up granite obelisk with hundreds of screaming teenagers?

It seems U.S. Naval Academy officials are asking themselves the same thing and are looking at doing away with the plebe practice of climbing Herndon Monument as a symbolic close to freshman year.

Granted, the practice is bizarre. Climbing the greased beast to swap the plebe cover with that of an upperclassman’s is a rather odd — dare we say — tradition, dating only to the early 1960s. But who really cares? If the mids enjoy it and it’s the worst thing they do in life, why is this even an issue? Sure, some people get hurt (though published accounts say otherwise) but these guys do worse things at greater peril.

So what is it about Herndon, and why now?

One source cites a generational shift in Academy leadership. The former superintendent was from the Class of 1965 — solidly Vietnam-era. The new “Supe” is out of ’78. (Again, dare we say, a nuke!) Solidly post-Vietnam and a Rickover man. That has to affect anyone’s psyche.

Check out the Academy’s statement on the matter: “Similar to how our Navy looks at all traditions in the fleet, we are evaluating the Herndon Monument Climb to ensure the event remains a valid part of our heritage, but it is conducted with professionalism, respect, and most important, safety in mind.” Hundreds of screaming, teenage college kids climbing a greased monument, and they’re looking for an event with professionalism and respect? (And do they really believe the Navy “looks at all traditions in the fleet?”)

How about this: “The commandant has selected a team of midshipmen to review the Herndon ceremony and provide recommendations for a traditional and meaningful evolution emphasizing teamwork and determination.” Meaningful evolution? Like a group hug? If they want to get rid of the thing, why replace it?
Our guess is Academy officials have pretty much cleaned up the Yard in their minds and with no crisis du jour might be looking for something to keep themselves occupied. No cheating scandals? No sex scandals? No drug issues? (Oops, did we say that?) Oh the leadership challenges of a well-mannered, boring brigade! Sigh. Why not liven things up a bit and give Herndon the hatchet?

An ’80 grad might have summed it up best, “Come on. It seems like a solution in search of a problem.” Touche!

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