"What's this I hear about you leaving?" he asked.
"I have too many demerits, sir," I replied.
"Because I have been punished unfairly, sir."
I then explained how the sentence had far exceeded the prescribed penalty, and that I thought the action was unjust. My complaint seemed only to irritate him. He said I was spoiled, a charge that I greatly resented.
"Whatever you say, sir, but it's still not fair."
He leveled a scornful gaze at me and told me to leave.
The commandant was neither the first nor the last person to accuse me of being spoiled, implying that my parents had greased my way in the world. Witt had been the first to do so when he derided me for being a captain's son. Later in my career, as I rose through the ranks, some would attribute my advance to my admiral father's benefaction. I suppose it is an accusation that many children of successful parents learn to ignore. I never did, however. I grew red-faced and angry every time some know-it-all told me how easy a life my father had made for me. The life my father led me to has been a richly rewarding one, and I am grateful to him for it. But "easy" is not the first adjective that comes to mind when describing it.
My father was only a captain when I was at the Naval Academy, a rank that surely didn't grant him the influence to compensate for my shortcomings. Later in my life, when my father wore stars on his shoulder, he would, indeed, influence my career, but in ways my detractors did not appreciate. He had met the standard his father had set. It was my obligation and my privilege to try to uphold it.
A week or two after Captain Shin instructed me to leave his presence, I was informed that the punishment for my disordered room had been reduced to thirty demerits and seven days of confinement. I was relieved to comply with the order.
A month or so after the room inspection incident, I had yet another close brush with disaster. The ever vigilant Captain Hart believed he had at last discovered a violation that would result in my swift expulsion from the Academy.
In September of my last year, my roommates and I, along with four roommates in the room next to ours and two other midshipmen on our floor, chipped in to buy a television set. In those days, Academy regulations enjoined midshipmen from keeping electrical appliances of any kind in their rooms. Even hot plates were considered contraband. I remember a few midshipmen would take back to their rooms bread and cheese from the mess hall after the evening meal, and sell cheese sandwiches to the rest of us. It was a thriving industry, much appreciated by me and every other hungry midshipman who was denied the convenience of devices to store or prepare food.
Mindful of but undeterred by the regulation, our small syndicate had decided we would risk the wrath of our superiors for the pleasure of watching the Friday-night fights on our own television. We each pitched in ten dollars and bought a used black-and-white television with a twelve-inch screen. We kept the set hidden in a crawl space in our room, located behind a wooden panel. The panel could be easily removed by hand, and we would bring the set out to watch the fights on Friday, Maverick on Sunday, and other popular television programs of the time.
We lived in Bancroft Hall, the Academy's only dormitory, which at the time had not been changed in any of its particulars since the turn of the century. The floors in Bancroft Hall were referred to, in ship nomenclature, as decks. We lived on the top deck, the fourth. We soon drew considerable numbers of top-deck residents to our room to join our forbidden television viewing. On Friday nights, it was standing room only.
In every hall of every deck, a third-year midshipman served as the mate of the deck. The mate's job was to receive and deliver messages to the midshipmen in residence there and, generally, to stand as a sentinel for his part of the deck to ensure that nothing untoward happened on his watch. The mate on our hall stood at a podium directly across the hall from my room. We pressed him into service as our lookout on evenings when we were crowded around our television set. He kept an eye out for company officers who would have loved to discover our blatant disobedience and rapped a warning on my door when one approached.
Excerpted from Faith of My Fathers by John McCain with Mark Salter. Copyright© 1999 by John McCain. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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