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Plebes participate in the annual Herndon Monument climb May 19 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Miguel Moravec, of Annapolis, retrieved the 'Dixie Cup' and Michael Landry, of South Haven, Miss., placed the cover atop the monument after 2 hours, 19 minutes. (Mike Morones / Staff)
ANNAPOLIS, MD. — The Naval Academy’s freshman class completed the biggest teamwork challenge of their young careers Monday when the plebes scaled the grease-slathered Herndon Monument in two hours, 19 minutes and 35 seconds, bringing their plebe year to a slippery, shoeless and exhilarating close.
In the end, Midshipman 4th Class Michael Landry, of South Haven, Mississippi, placed a mid’s combination cover at the top of the 21-foot obelisk with the help of the class of 2017, nearly an hour after another mid knocked down the plebe “Dixie cup” placed there by the class of 2016.
The event marks the first day in a week of commissioning festivities, to culminate with graduation on Friday, May 23. Now that the plebes are no longer, the Brigade of Midshipmen is ready to advance.
Landry, 19, told Navy Times he had no designs on getting to the top when he woke up that morning.
“It’s not one person with the ambition to get up to the top,” he said. “It’s the person who’s standing there, and they’re called upon to get to the top, and everyone helps them up.”
The madness began just after 1:30 pm, when hundreds of plebes stripped off their shirts and mobbed the monument.
The obelisk was coated in a thick layer of about 50 pounds of vegetable shortening, applied earlier that day by sophomores, known as 3rd class midshipmen, who etched their year in the swirls of grease.
A strong breeze and a little cloud cover provided a break from the sun beating down on the hoard of mids and thousands of spectators. Navy medical personnel passed around water bottles and other staff periodically sprayed the mids with hoses to keep them cool during the greasy — and mandatory — ordeal.
The crowd cheered and sighed throughout the afternoon as the mids scrambled to scale the monument only to collapse into the scrum half a dozen times.
For about the first hour, intrepid men and women scaled the monument with brute force, soon realizing that the pyramid of bodies needed a stronger base to hold someone that high off the ground. By the end, multiple rings of mids kept the lower layers strong, while those at the top encouraged the crowd to push them all closer to the monument.
“It just takes people getting tired enough to realize we have to really get together and make a plan,” Landry said.
When he finally reached the top, the crowd of mids eruped, chanting “Plebes no more!”
'When you get it'
It took considerably less time — about an hour and a half — to scale the monument in 2013, but it took Midshipman 2nd Class Andrew Craig, 21, and his class about two and a half hours to reach the top in 2012.
“When people quit being ambitious and trying to go up there by themselves, when you start working as a team to put someone up there, is when you get it,” he told Navy Times Monday while the climbing went on.
The 6-foot-6inch-tall Craig, a Marine Corps hopeful, said the key for him was three or four very tall guys stacked up.
However, at six feet tall and 155 pounds, Landry said one of his shipmates picked him out for his leanness and he scrambled to the top. He told Navy Times he’s also hoping to join the Marine Corps, as an aviator.
Though humble about his victory Monday, Landry was enthusiastic about the end of his time as a plebe.
“Now that feels good,” he said with a sigh.
Legend has it that the mid who scales the monument will be the first to make admiral. That could be out for Landry, but what about general?
“Maybe, we’ll see what God has in store for me,” he said.