|Memorial Hall recognizes sacrifices of academy
KELLY, Staff Writer
Thousands of area residents will flock to cemeteries tomorrow to
memorialize those who have died serving the country in uniform, but
one place in Annapolis is a special spot for paying tribute to the
nation's heroes who met their fate on the high seas.
On the walls of the majestic Memorial Hall at the Naval Academy
are the names of 890 academy graduates who were killed in action.
Another commemorative wall has the names of 2,500 academy graduates
who have been lost during operations, some from as recently as the
Class of 2004.
The hall also contains a
Medal of Honor plaque which lists the names of all 72 Naval Academy
grads who have won the nation's highest honor. Blank spaces exist to
engrave another 28 names - a chilling reminder of the costs of wars
past, but also a premonition of sacrifices in battles yet to be
Midshipman 1st Class Matt Noble
was visiting the Hall on Thursday, less than a day before he would
be commissioned as a Navy ensign.
hard to put in words: It is where we remember those who have gone
before," said the young officer from South Dakota, who plans to
become a pilot.
Whether in killed in
combat or in the course of training or other operations, the young
men memorialized here illustrate the inherent dangers of Naval duty
whether in war or peace.
Nearby hung a
plaque commemorating the life and death of Ensign Henry Clay
Drexler, who died Oct. 20, 1924. Ensign Drexler, just 23, tried in
vain to prevent the spread of flames after an explosion aboard his
ship which was off the coast of Norfolk, Va. conducting gunnery
drills, according to the Arlington National Cemetery Web site.
Ensign Drexler "burned to death when he threw his body on burning
powder bags. He fell on the spot where he was making a supreme
effort to save his shipmates," another memorial for him at Arlington
Not far away in the Academy's
Memorial Hall, another plaque honored Ensign Joseph Cabell
Breckinridge, who washed overboard on Feb. 11, 1898 as his torpedo
boat, the USS Cushing, steamed towards Havana, Cuba to
rendezvous with the USS Maine, according to family papers at
the University of Virginia.
On deck with the boat commander during a storm, and
already fatigued by near-constant duty, Ensign Breckinridge
was slapped against safety line by a wave. The strong bronze
cord snapped, and the ensign slipped into the sea. His crewmates
recovered his body, but weren't able to resuscitate him. Four
days later the Maine would be sunk after an explosion,
spurring the United States into war with Spain by April.
If one needs more a more recent example to
appreciate the chain of heroes who have died serving the country,
the most recent Medal of Honor recipient listed was Marine
2nd Lt. James Patrick Blecksmith. A member of the Class of
2003, he died in Falluja, Iraq, on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11,
2004. He was deployed to Iraq in September. While leading
his platoon through a clearing of buildings, he was hit in
the left shoulder by a sniper's bullet, according to the Web
site of a foundation started in his name. The round deflected
into his heart. He died instantly.
The pull of Memorial Hall, located just off the rotunda
of Bancroft Hall, is not limited to Naval Academy graduates.
"I was here
briefly last year and had to come back, it impressed me so much,"
said retired Army Master Sergeant Jerry Caballero of Kileen,
Mr. Caballero, a Vietnam War
veteran, is in Washington, D.C., this weekend as part of Rolling
Thunder, an annual motorcycle ride and protest for greater
government involvement in the recovery of prisoners of war and
personnel missing in action. Mr. Caballero walks with a cane and a
limp, as a result of "one helicopter crash too many," he said.
Douglas Klakulk of Annapolis, a guide with
Three Century Tours, often leads tourists through the hall.
Recently he began one tour by reminding the
group that it's a solemn place, and men should remove their
"I live here and, you know what?
Most people have no idea about this room," Mr. Klakulk said.
But, he noted, when visitors do come, they
find it well worth their time.
are fascinated by this room - it is beautiful and has a lot of
history," he said.
The hall is maintained
as a joint project by the Naval Academy and the Naval Academy Alumni
Association, according to Laura K. Kurz, a spokesman for the
"When we get word of a KIA
or operational loss, the name is placed on a plaque in Memorial Hall
usually within a week of notification," she said.
The centerpiece of the hall, which is about
100 feet long, is the inscription on one wall, "Don't Give Up the
These words were uttered by the
mortally wounded Capt. James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake
in 1813, who encouraged his men to keep fighting the enemy - in
this case, the British - even though he was dying.
Midshipmen who die while at the academy are
memorialized in the hall, if their death is determined to be an
"operational loss." If they die from some other cause, such as an
accident, their lives are not commemorated, Ms. Kurz said.
"Memorial Hall is considered sacred ground by
midshipmen and alumni," said Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, an academy
A member of the Class of 1986,
Cmdr. Gibbons has friends and classmates named in the hall.
"Plebes (freshmen) aren't allowed into
Memorial Hall until one of the upper class tells them about the
sacrifices of the names on the wall. It is at that time that
midshipmen gain an understanding of not only the hall, but why they
Located in Bancroft Hall, Memorial Hall is
open to the public the same hours as the academy, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
daily. Bancroft Hall, the academy's dormitory is not open to the
public beyond the rotunda. A kiosk in the rotunda provides brief
biographical information about each person who is named in the hall.
Naval Academy story
to The Capital
Published May 29, 2005, The Capital, Annapolis,
Copyright © 2005 The Capital, Annapolis,