Over the Wall

No, this isn’t a story about Tarawa or Inchon

I was a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland from July 1959 until I graduated in June 1963. I was, generally speaking, a pretty well behaved Mid who tried to follow the regulations and only was caught in violation on rare occasions. The Naval Academy Regulations were contained in a book about 2 inches thick and covered just about every aspect of Midshipman life from how and when to cut your hair through honor violations, which would get you kicked out of the Academy. Officers from the Executive Department, which included our Company Officers, and upperclassmen were always on the lookout for violations of the Regs, and were always putting Mids on report.

Demerits were awarded when you were written up. Minor violations, like unshined shoes or being a few seconds late for a meal formation would get you the minimum of 5 demerits, which required one hour of punishment. The punishment for underclassmen consisted of an hour of calisthenics at 0500 in the morning (5 AM to the uninitiated). First Classmen (seniors) were restricted to their rooms on weekends. As violations became more serious, more demerits were awarded. If you stacked up a specified number of demerits in a year, you could be dismissed from the Academy as a conduct case. Each year you were at the academy, the maximum allowable number of demerits decreased. Plebes (freshmen) were always being put on report because of the rigors of Plebe Year, so their max was somewhere around 300 demerits, if I remember correctly.

As I said, I pretty much toed the line, at least while inside the yard at USNA. However when we were on liberty in town or in Washington, DC, it was a different story. See http://www.mofack.com/Reminiscences_of_Midshipman_Days.htm and http://www.mofack.com/Clenece-USNA_1963_Angel.htm .

One of the most serious violations was going on unauthorized liberty, or “going over the wall” as it was called. In my day our liberty hours were very restrictive compared to what they seem to be today. Even as First Classmen our weekend liberty on Saturday night expired around midnight. Sunday liberty expired at evening meal formation, which was at 1830 (6:30 PM), as did town liberty in Annapolis on week days. Most of us didn’t go into town on week days anyway. Any other time you snuck out of the yard you were “over the wall”.

Since the Naval Academy is surrounded by tall brick or stone walls, or cyclone fence, and you couldn’t get by the gate guards, you literally had to “go over the wall” to get out. Behind the Field House the cyclone fence literally was built out over the water to prevent Mids from escaping, but that didn’t stop the Spider Men who occupied Bancroft Hall from using that route. There were other places you could sneak out as well.

During my four years at USNA I only went over the wall once. It was during the early winter of 1963, First Class year, and the reward for doing so had to be pretty sweet to make a relative straight shooter like me take such a risk. And therein lies the story. My roommate Dick Williams’ younger sister Monte had graduated from the University of Wyoming. A sorority sister of hers had come to Owings Mills, Maryland to teach school after she graduated at Laramie. Owings Mills is a suburb of Baltimore. Monte had asked Dick to look her friend up, which he did with me in tow, and, as one thing led to another, I started dating the cowgirl from Wyoming. I will refrain from naming her to protect the innocent (her), the guilty (me), and to avoid embarrassment, both on her part and on mine.

She and I hit it off quite well and she seemed not to be too resistant to my amorous advances. She kept me at arm’s length, but the promise of greater things to come was there. We had been seeing each other for several months and the prospects for me were improving every time we got together. She came to Annapolis one Saturday and things got pretty hot and heavy as the evening went along, but time was running out. At midnight Midshipmen turned into pumpkins. I figured that the pump was primed, she was ready, and I couldn’t miss this opportunity that I had worked so diligently for, so I decided that I would go over the wall and meet her for a late night tryst. She agreed to meet me at a specified location at around 0100 (1 AM) on Sunday morning.

Saturday night liberty expired at 2400 (midnight), and I immediately started preparations for going over the wall. Being a novice at this kind of thing and not knowing the ins and outs of this breach of regulations, I decided to take as little risk as possible. I dressed in dark blue uniform work trousers and pulled on a black sweater that was part of our uniform issue, and topped it off with a black watch cap. I probably would have blackened my face if I could have, but I really didn’t learn that art until I was a Marine at The Basic School in Quantico later that summer. Rather than take the shortest route to the wall, I decided I wanted to be as far away from Bancroft Hall as possible, so I headed for Hospital Point, an area of athletic fields, the Naval Academy Cemetery and the Naval Hospital. The distance from Bancroft to the wall on Hospital Point is probably about ¾ of a mile. I had told her I would climb the cyclone fence near the water at Hospital Point and would wait for her in the ditch. The road ran right next to the fence.

I moved from tree to tree and house to house, ran across the foot bridge to Hospital Point and skirted the edge of the hill near the cemetery until I reached the fence. It was an 8 to 10 foot cyclone fence with three strands of barbed wire on top, leaning outward at an angle. There was a tree growing right beside the fence with a branch pointing across the fence line about 5-6 feet above the barbed wire. That was my route of escape. I would climb the tree, grab the branch, swing out over the barbed wire and drop lightly to my feet in the ditch on the other side.

There was no one in sight on either side of the fence, so I quickly climbed the tree and got ready to swing over on the branch. I swung out, and while still parallel to the ground, the branch broke off with a sharp crack. I landed flat on my back on the barbed wire, the branch falling on my head, and then bounced off the wire, plunging face down into the ditch. At least I had fallen on the right side of the fence. I had gouged a nice hunk of flesh from behind my shoulder when I hit the barbed wire. I carried the scar from that for a couple of years. It would be four years later in Vietnam before I was beaten up that badly again. As I lay moaning in the ditch, the cowgirl drove up, and I got into her car.

We headed for a secluded park and got down to business. I figured that tonight was the night, and after all the trouble I’d gone to, and the injury I’d suffered, that I was about to receive my just reward. But it was not to be. I strove mightily for a couple of hours, but refused to even consider marriage, and struck out. I finally gave up and asked her to drop me at Gate 3, the Maryland Avenue entrance to the Academy. It was probably about 0400 (4 AM) in the morning by now, and I was sore and pissed off and suffering from a major case of lover’s nuts, so I just walked past the sleepy Jimmy Legs gate guard and walked straight back to Bancroft Hall. To hell with the snooping and pooping I’d done to get out. I was tired and needed some sleep. Sunday morning Chapel was in a couple of hours, and in those days Chapel was mandatory. You went to church whether you wanted to or not. There wasn’t a soul in sight as I entered Bancroft Hall through the window of Dick’s and my room, which was on the zero deck (first floor in Naval Academy terminology) and easily accessible from the terrace. Dick inquired of my success with the cowgirl, and then had a good laugh when I told him I had failed in everything but picking up a good case of blue balls.

So that’s the tale of my one and only sortie over the wall at USNA. It makes a good story, I guess, but it really wasn’t worth the effort. The cowgirl and I didn’t see much of each other after that. Three years later I spent about a week at the US Naval Station at Subic Bay in the Philippines awaiting transportation to my new assignment with the Marine Detachment on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61). The ship was conducting operations against North Vietnam from Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin and I would join her at sea (see http://www.mofack.com/Clark%20AFB.htm for the start of that adventure). Somehow I found out that the cowgirl was a Department of Defense school teacher at the US Naval Station, Sangley Point, which was located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay, a number of miles from Subic. I considered making a trip to Sangley to see her, but good judgment finally overcame me and I refrained from further making a fool of myself. Where she went and what happened to her after that, I don’t know. Dick’s son Jay is getting married in September and his sister Monte will be at the wedding. I’ll have to ask her whatever became of my cowgirl from our days on Severn’s shore. Until then…

  Semper Fi,

  Dirck Praeger sends