Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sailors’ Rest: The Naval Academy Cemetery

Naval Academy cemetery. USNA photo by MCSN Michael Croft.
From blacksmiths to Admirals, the Naval Academy cemetery holds them all. Overlooking Hospital Point, the cemetery gives visitors a pleasant view of the Severn River and the Academy waterfront as well. However, visitors are also treated to some of the most influential names in American naval history.

‘‘The cemetery is a reminder of what people sacrifice to protect our liberties today,” says Sharon Moffatt, Memorial Affairs Coordinator and Naval Academy Cemetery Administrator.

The cemetery, which has existed at the Academy since 1869, reads not unlike a ‘‘Who’s Who” of naval history. Countless Academy Superintendents and Commandants of Midshipmen are interred here, as well as Medal of Honor recipients and countless other influential naval historical figures are buried right here.

‘‘We have a lot of history in our cemetery,” says Mrs. Moffatt.

One of the cemetery’s most prominent residents is its highest-ranking officer, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) during the Second World War, King was one of only four Fleet Admirals in the entire history of the U.S. Navy. USNA Class of 1907, King orchestrated Allied policy against German U-Boat attacks during the Second World War. Although his demeanor may have been controversial, King’s analyses and decisions undoubtedly helped win the war sooner and influence future naval policy. King Hall, the Midshipmen’s mess at the Academy, is named for him.

A second famous Admiral is Adm. Arleigh Burke, class of 1923. A veteran of both the Second World War and the Korean War, Burke would push the ships under his command to their absolute limits, earning him the nickname ‘‘31-Knot Burke.” Serving three postwar terms as CNO, Burke fought for the Polaris missile program and a nuclear navy. The Arleigh Burke-class of guided missile destroyer is named for him, presently the only active destroyer class in the U.S. Navy. Despite his impressive record, on his headstone Burke requested he be listed simply as ‘‘Sailor” and his beloved wife Roberta as ‘‘Sailor’s Wife.”

A third but equally famous Admiral is Rear Adm. Clarence ‘‘Wade” McClusky, class of 1926. McClusky commanded the air group on board the USS Enterpirse (CV-6) during the Battle of Midway in 1942 during the Second World War. As leader of the successful air attack on the Japanese carriers, McClusky is credited in a plaque in Memorial Hall for locating the enemy fleet and leading the attack, which crippled three Japanese carriers in minutes.

The list continues. Adm. Husband Kimmel, who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor is here; Adm. Elmo ‘‘Bud” Zumwalt, CNO during the Vietnam War and champion of equality within the Navy; Rear Adm. James Stockdale, Medal of Honor recipient, Vice-Presidential Candidate and President of the Naval War College. These are only a handful of famous names buried here.

While there are a large majority of Admirals interred at the cemetery, they are by no means the only influential personalities to be found here. Lt. Charles Zimmerman and Capt. Alfred Miles, who collectively created the Navy anthem ‘‘Anchors Aweigh,” are both interred here, as is Angus McInnis, a blacksmith and the lowest-ranking individual interred in the cemetery.

The cemetery and those responsible for it take great care to ensure that the final resting places of the men and women here are keeping within the highest honors and traditions of the Navy. Protocol, respect for tradition, respect for rank, respect for history and respect for ceremony are all taken into account in any burial at the Academy cemetery.

Any officer, midshipman or enlisted personnel of the Navy or Marine Corps (or their spouse) stationed at the Naval Academy at time of death is eligible for burial within the cemetery. Any Naval Academy graduate who has attained flag rank while on active duty is also eligible. Finally any person approved by the Secretary of the Navy or the Superintendent of the Naval Academy is eligible for burial.

The cemetery commonly does not bury combat casualties, preferring those to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery or elsewhere. However, several combat casualties are buried in the cemetery, among them Lt. Com. Erik Kristensen, Class of 1995, killed in action in Afghanistan. Kirstensen received the Bronze Star with Combat ‘‘V” for Valor posthumously for his actions in combat. A second notable combat casualty is Lt. Stephen Toth, class of 1967, killed during the USS Liberty incident during that same year.

Also among the casualties, not necessarily in combat but definitely a casualty nonetheless, is Adm. Wilson Flagg, class of 1961 and a pilot with American Airlines after his naval career. He died on September 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

Over fifty older, smaller graves in the center of the cemetery are marked ‘‘lost with the Huron.” In November 1877 the iron sloop-rigged steamer USS Huron was lost off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in heavy weather, taking with her 98 crew members. Their legacy marks the danger that comes with Naval service.

Ironically, the largest monument in the cemetery does not have anyone buried under it. The Jeannette Monument was first erected in memory of those who perished on the ill-fated Jeannette expedition to the Arctic in 1881. The monument’s design is based off of a cairn the recovery crew built in memory of those lost. The cross atop the cairn even has stone ‘‘ice,” a reminder of the frigid environment of the expedition.

The cemetery is intended for those who visit it not to mourn those lost but to reflect on their sacrifice and accomplishments for the future. Midshipmen who visit the cemetery will be reminded of the legacies in which they will be expected to follow, says Mr. James Cheevers, Associate Curator of the Naval Academy Museum. Look at these men and women and what they did, Cheevers says: ‘‘[the Midshipmen] will be doing the same thing in the future.”