The Herndon climb is a rite of passage for Navy freshmen, known as plebes. At the end of their grueling first year, they gather, 1,000 strong, at the foot of the monument and work their way to the top in a greasy human pyramid, fighting gravity and slogging through mud as upper-class midshipmen spray the greasy throng with hoses. This year, the hoses, too, were absent.I'm with this grad of the Academy.
A plebe reached the top of the obelisk Monday afternoon in two minutes, five seconds. No one was injured. No one even got particularly dirty. The sense of collective letdown might have been captured best in the words scrawled onto one midshipman's T-shirt: "Where's the grease?"
Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the departing academy superintendent, instructed the midshipmen not to grease the obelisk this year. It was a gesture of his dissatisfaction with an event that, for all its rich, greasy history, has raised safety concerns with academy leaders. In 2008, four midshipmen sustained injuries in the climb serious enough for ambulance trips to the hospital. All four recovered.
Herbert McMillan, a 1980 graduate, put it this way in a 2008 account in The Washington Post: "We're going to send these guys to war but they can't climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on."Exactly.