I instinctively hit the snooze button when the alarm went off and by the time it signaled my “bonus” sleep was complete, he was already half-dressed, placing shoulder boards on his SDBs. In just a few moments, we ambled to the car and rolled up to Gate 1 where the guard took a quick look at his CAC, snapped off a quick salute, and offered a “have a good day, sir.”
And, as we had done so many times over the past four years, we rolled on to The Yard. The early morning sun lit the clear autumn sky and he wove us past Dahlgren and the Supe’s house, in front of the Chapel and finally to a parking spot in front of his destination, Larson Hall.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. He got out of the car shuffling papers and walking, looked back and shrugged his shoulders. “To be honest, I have no idea what this will involve.”
And off he went toward the doors.
I looked around, noticing a few Mids in NWUs strolling across The Yard, probably among the those housed at St. Johns. I absently walked toward the chapel and snapped a few pictures of the workers high up on the dome, preparing for the day’s work even with the gusty conditions.
As I had so many times, particularly during my Plebe Year visits, I found myself standing in front of the Herndon Monument, slowly taking my gaze from the base up to the top.
The memories of the Herndon Climb remain so vivid, that gray, damp day filled with the noise of the Class of 2020 adding its names to the storied tradition. The mass of humanity rose up, tumbled to the ground and rose up again multiple times, all of us spectators left cheering and anxiously awaiting the moment when they would earn the right to chant, “Plebes No More!”
I took a picture, of course, and walked slowly back to the car. Before I could clear the sounds of the Class of 2020 singing “Blue and Gold” after the Climb from my head, he was already there, walking out of Larson Hall.
We looked at each other from across the narrow road. “That’s it,” was all he said.
Ensign Noah C. Smith was no longer tied to the United States Naval Academy.
He said that, essentially, they looked over the paperwork he had prepared, stamped it and said, “you’re good.”
I thought back to Induction Day, that horrible morning some four and a half years ago, when we got our first taste of Navy traditions – the oath of office, a Blue Angels flyover, and crisp marching that evolved into precision parades, football game march-ons, the Herndon Climb, the Army-Navy game and so much more. After all that pomp and circumstance, it ended just that quietly and uneventfully in a simple office on a Monday morning.
During the long drive that followed, we talked about his time at the Academy, his next round of schooling, and a bunch of other non-Navy related topics.
At one point, I asked “so, what do you think? I mean, you’re officially gone from the Academy.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I don’t know what to think,” he finally offered. “Maybe it’ll hit me once I get settled down there.”
I looked at the pictures of the Chapel and the Herndon Monument I had taken a few hours ago. I told myself that we would definitely be back on The Yard soon enough and I really believe that. But as I looked out the window, I realized I will probably never look at it the same away again.