ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As Midshipman 4th Class Chris Bianchi straddled a human pyramid and stretched his 5-foot-3-inch frame to toss a cover atop the Herndon Monument here at the Naval Academy on Monday, his elaborate back tattoo was in full view: A tribute to his late father, a 1985 Naval Academy grad. Cmdr. Kevin Bianchi, an '85 academy graduate and MH-53E Sea Dragon pilot whose helo went down during a training flight in Sicily in 2003.
Bianchi, 19, reached the top of the obelisk in one hour, 12 minutes and 30 seconds, a faster-than-average finishing time for the academy's annual plebe ritual, where freshmen midshipmen work together to scale the vegetable shortening-coated monument to knock down a plebe Dixie cup and replace it with a combination cover as upperclassmen spray them with hoses, symbolizing the culmination of their grueling plebe first year at the academy.
"I'm just glad that I'm a little guy," Bianchi said afterwards.
He was only 7 years old when his father, Cmdr. Kevin Bianchi, passed away. His father's MH-53E Sea Dragon crashed in Sicily during a 2003 training flight. Bianchi's tribute tattoo is a fouled anchor above which is his father's name and the words, "God Family Country."
To remember him, Midshipman Bianchi , but he decided to carry on the family legacy, pointedng to the sky to thank his father for having his back during the climb that had toppled so many others.
After the base of the pyramid was formed, about a dozen mids surged to the top of the pile before losing their balance and tumbling back into the crowd. Then those at the base started calling for lightweights to scurry up.
Before Bianchi could put up the cover, it took a good hour to knock down the Dixie cup, which was affixed to the top of the obelisk in a creative way.
When the sophomore members of 1st Company came out to prepare the monument early Monday morning, per tradition, the dew from a rainy few days in Annapolis made it tough to tape the cover down, Midshipman 3rd Class Mike Germano told Navy Times.
"We had a massive ball of grease left over, so someone had the bright idea to take the remaining grease, put the hat up there, and just kind of grind it down on top to make it a little more difficult for them," he said.
The ball weighed a few pounds, he said, but he wasn't particularly concerned about it tumbling below and hitting anyone.
"We're hoping they can take one for the team," he said.
In the end, the system worked to the plebes' advantage, as they tossed balled-up socks and t-shirts at the cover, which eventually came loose and slid off the side under the weight of the shortening.
After he was back on the ground, Bianchi made his way to the nearby gazebo, where he was presented with the cover of the first admiral from the class of 1969, retired Rear Adm. Stan Bryant, who watched the festivities with his shipmates in their own section.
Legend has it that the plebe who places the cover atop the 21-foot-high obelisk will be the first to make admiral in the class, but as Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter pointed out, that has never happened. However, back in 1966, Bryant's roommate did make it to the top, in just over an hour and a half.
"I remember, looking at it now, that it looked a lot taller than it does today," retired Capt. Jerry Witowski, who went on to be an A-6 Intruder pilot, told Navy Times.
In those days, the upperclassmen had fewer rules about sabotaging the plebes, so they spent all night soaking the grass around Herndon until it was a giant mud pit, Witowski said.
The football and lacrosse teams got to the bottom of the pyramid first, to make the base, he recalled.
"Finally after a long while, I decided to try and wind my way through the crowd," he said. "I got into a few positions, and then people started helping me. The whole thing is to help each other to achieve the goal."
It was a similar story for Bianchi, who said he spent some time at the base, before his friends encouraged him to climb.
"It was these guys who were behind me when I landed," he said, before a small crowd of mids erupted in chants of, "Bianchi! Bianchi! Bianchi!"