The Rise To The Top Can Be A Slippery Slope

Author’s Note: The following post was originally written in May 2012, and has some references to the Herndon Monument Climb that year.  But, the overall premise and discussion about the symbolic nature of this event is timeless.  Enjoy reading this post, please comment, and please share on your various social-media platforms.  Thank you.

The Herndon Monument is a 21-feet tall obelisk-shaped monument erected in 1860 on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy (the “Yard”) to honor Commander William Lewis Herndon; a naval officer, explorer, and merchant captain.  Herndon went down with the mail steamer S.S. Central America in a storm off South Carolina in 1857, after making a gallant effort to save the ship and the lives of those aboard.  After realizing his forthcoming fate, Herndon left the quarterdeck long enough to don his full dress uniform, in which he returned to his post to meet a seaman’s death.  The quote on the monument’s inscription says, “Forgetful of self, in his death he added a new glory to the annals of the sea.”

The Herndon Monument is the site of the famous “plebes-no-more” ceremony; The plebe recognition ceremony known as the Herndon Climb.  A tradition that started in 1940, the Herndon Climb marks the official end of the plebe (first year students at the academy) year, and is an event where each participant works together to climb the monument to replace a plebe “dixie-cup hat” with a combination cover; the upper-class midshipman hat.  The Midshipman who replaces the dixie cup hat is traditionally given a pair of Admiral’s shoulder boards.  Although it has never been proven to be true, legend says that he or she will be the first of his or her class to make Flag Rank; the rank of admiral.

Annapolis Naval Academy freshmen make a human wall to climb the Herndon Monument which is covered with lard, on May 22, 2012 in Annapolis, Maryland. Each year the freshman class, known as 'Plebes,' climb the monument at the Naval Academy to retrieve the Plebian Sailor's hat and replace it with an officer's hat. The tradition is one step in marking the end of wearing freshman headgear and moving up to headgear more like a U.S. Naval officer. Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images / 2012 Getty ImagesThat sounds simple enough: be the first midshipman to climb to the top, retrieve the Plebian Sailor’s hat, and replace it with an officer’s hat.  But, there is one very interesting twist.  These midshipmen must climb the monument with about 50 pounds of lard spread around the entire monument.  This is not a sole effort.  Midshipmen do not take turns attempting to do this.  They do this working together as a team.  It is a human wall climb that embodies the leadership traits of discipline, teamwork, selflessness, couragedetermination and perseverance.  The event symbolizes the values and beliefs that the Naval Academy instills in its students.  This spectacle is meant to inspire the participants to perform selfless acts with tenacity in the face of adversity; adversity and challenges that they will have to endure and overcome as a naval officer in today’s (and tomorrow’s) Naval force.  A sort of right of passage, these midshipmen are one step closer to becoming an officer in the World’s greatest Navy and Marine Corps.

Yesterday was the Herndon Climb at the United States Naval Academy.  It took Midshipman 4th Class Andrew Craig, 19, of Tulsa, Okla., a little over two hours and 10 minutes to complete the task, with a little help from his shipmates.  The Naval Academy Parent Network‘s website describes the challenge this way:

Bodies turn red with beads of sweat dripping down the tower of people.  Agony shows on the faces of those at the bottom of the pyramid as they support upon their shoulders three or four tiers of muscular bodies.  As the crowd yells in anticipation, the class gets excited and “They’re gonna make it” is heard all around.  Crash.  The bodies collapse like dominoes.  Their greasy skin, stained with dirt, lard and sun make it extremely difficult to sustain any balance for a long period of time.*

I wanted to share with you the history and significance of this event, as it is not merely a spectacle of college lunacy, but an event tied directly to the ideals of strong leadership and teamwork that an officer in the United States Navy and Marine Corps embodies.  Below, please watch the two videos that illustrate the sights, sounds and emotion of this exciting, suspenseful and time-honored tradition.


Sources and Related Articles –

Commander William Lewis Herndon (1813 – 1857) – Accessed 23 May 2012 – The Historical Marker Database –

2012 Naval Academy Herndon Monument Climb: Andrew Craig Makes Greased Ascent – Posted 5/22/12 – Huff Post DC – – Accessed 23 May 2012 – The Huffington Post –

 The Charge of 1000 – The History and Traditions of the Herndon Monument Climb – Accessed 23 May 2012 – USNA-NET – The Naval Academy Parents Network –

Herndon Monument – Wikipedia – Updated 22 May 2012 – – Accessed 23 May 2012 – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia –

Sights from the Annual Herndon Monument Climb – Navy Times Scoop Deck – Posted by Jacqueline Klimas – Posted May 22, 2012 – – Accessed 23 May 2012 – Military Times –

3 Responses to “The Rise To The Top Can Be A Slippery Slope”

  1. David Navarre Says:

    I saw the Class of 2008 climb Herndon. Simply an amazing sight and exactly as you characterize.


  2. I watched this event for five years in a row while stationed at Naval Hospital, Annapolis. Each year was more hilarious than the last. It was only superceded by pranks such as putting an airplane on top of a roof and other grand stunts. Great memories.


  3. […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 7:19 […]


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