Monday, October 16, 2006

Memorial Hall Rededication Ceremony Report

USNA At Large, this is a firsthand report re the Alumni Homecoming Weekend Memorial Hall Rededication Ceremony (originally posted to the CA chat list) --
PS At the link below, you will find a Visit Report that served as one of the catalysts to get this project underway some years ago. JH
Or go to and follow the links to "Files" then to "USNA". JH
Sent: Friday, October 13, 2006 9:21 PM
Subject: Memorial Hall Rededication Ceremony Report

Today I attended the noontime Rededication Ceremony for the completely renovated Memorial Hall and the Vietnam Memorial located on the Dorsey Creek side of Alumni Hall. I thought you might be interested in some of my impressions.

First of all, I was mightily surprised that only a couple dozen of us old timers put in an appearance. My instict tells me that the Word was not sufficiently communicated in advance. At least half that number consisted of the special planning committee members who were appointed by RAdm Ron Marryott several years ago. The committee was chaired by Col John Ripley. The only other committee members whom I recognized were VAdm Al Burkhalter, LtGen Jack Klimp, RAdm Bob McNitt, Captain Bob Hofford and Captain George Zeberlein.

While we were gathered in the Rotunda awaiting arrival of the Superintendent, Ross Perot entered unobtrusively (perhaps "mysteriously" is a more apt adjective), circled the Rotunda once without speaking to anyone, and disappeared inside the Commandant's office. I did not see him again and for some inexplicable reason, the Commandant did not appear at the ceremony.

Upon arrival of the Supe, we moved outside to the front steps of Bancroft Hall where Adm Rempt addressed the informally assembled members of the Brigade. He did a masterful job of explaining the historical significance of Memorial Hall, characterizing it as the spiritual heart of the Naval Academy--the institution's "Hallowed Ground". He explained that this is the first major renovation to Memorial Hall, it should last for another hundred years, and was financed by a combination of Congressional appropriated funds, the Alumni Association, The Naval Academy Foundation and supporting grants from the classes of  1939, 1954, 1968 and 1995. He concluded his remarks by dedicating Memorial Hall to the Brigade of Midshipmen, inviting them to spend some private moments there from time to time to reflect on our sacred heritage that was bequeathed to the Naval Service and the nation through the valor and human sacrifice of all Naval Academy graduates who died in the line of duty.

He then introduced Adm Carl Trost who spoke of our swearing-in ceremony for the Class of 1953 in Memorial Hall that unforgettable day in June 1949 when we all looked up at that flag proclaiming "Don't Give Up The Ship" and were made instinctively aware of the lifelong course on which we were embarking from that moment forward.

Adm Rempt then announced that the secondary purpose of the gathering today is to celebrate the birthday of the Navy and invited the oldest and youngest midshipmen (a male and female respectively) to do the honors of cutting the symbolic cake and eating the first  piece. We sang together the first and last stanzas of Navy Blue and Gold, after which Adm Pempt invited as many midshipmen as space would allow to attend the Rededication Ceremony in Memorial Hall.

After we were assembled in Memorial Hall, George Watt extended a hearty welcome to all in attendance and introduced John Ripley who made the formal presentation to the Brigade.

Col Ripley explained the purpose of the renovation that was presented to the Committee in the form of a "charge" by then-Superintendent, Ron Marryott. The "charge", in essence, was to redesign Memorial Hall in a manner that focuses primarily on the valor and ultimate personal sacrifice of all graduates who have lost their lives while serving on active duty. The form in which the redesign would be drawn was left to the discretion of the Committee. They decided that Memorial Hall should constitute a permanent record of the names of all graduates who met the established criteria to be displayed prominently for all who should enter. The only question was the form in which to record and display the names.

The centerpiece is Captain Lawrence's immortal flag preserved in its glass case in its historic location at the center of the wall directly opposite the main entrance. Immediately beneath is the bronze plaque that declares that the names listed on the Memorial Honor Roll encased immediately below are those graduates who were "Killed in Action". I can't recall the exact number; but it is several hundred.

The issue remaining to be resolved by the Committee was how to record the names of all the other graduates who have died on active duty who were not officially certified by the Navy Department as being "KIA". Their decision was to record all of those names (I believe the total number is approaching 3,000) on separate stone plaques according to each successive graduating class. For whatever it's worth for you to know and perhaps consider, these graduates were deemed by the Committee to have died under circumstances declared as "Operational Loss". These plaques adorn the walls on both sides of Memorial Hall.

There is a profoundly distinctive oversize Bronze Plaque on the right side of the front wall that lists the names of all grads who were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Vietnam Memorial is a bronze tablet that lists all known grads who died in theatre during the Vietnam War regardless of circumstances. Accordingly, some grads' names are recorded on both the "Operational Loss" plaques and the Vietnam Memorial plaque.

Altogether, my detailed examination of all the displays at the conclusion of the formal ceremony was profoundly moving. My emotions peaked when I read the names of my classmates listed in alphabetical order on the "Operational Loss" plaque. I knew most of them from our four years by the bay and their faces and memories leapt to mind as though it were only yesterday. I ran my hand over their names and said a silent prayer ending in "We love you guys".

In a word, Memorial Hall now has a new and profoundly personal place in my heart and spiritual being. Every time I have ever entered, I stop at the entrance for a moment, to catch my breath and attempt to gain control of my emotions. Henceforth from this day, I know it will become an even greater test of will power to enter this "Hallowed Ground". It is destined to serve all those future classes of Midshipmen perfectly for its intended purpose. And it serves all of us survivors and next of kin as an eternal reminder of what  defending liberty and freedom for our great nation is all about. The dead pay the ultimate price.

The Renovation Committee deserves our gratitude for a task "Well Done".

Semper Fidelis,
Bruce Ogden


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