As upperclassmen, we no longer had to worry about being disciplined or harassed by other midshipmen as we had been during our plebe year. We also took comfort in knowing that our indiscretions would be kept confidential within the brigade and not reported to unsuspecting officers. The most sacrosanct principle governing a midshipman's behavior was the unwritten rule "Never bilge a classmate," which required midshipmen to overlook any violation of the rules by a fellow midshipman short of honor code violations.
Brigade discipline was supervised by four authorities, the most senior being the officer of the watch, an office that was rotated monthly among company officers. Those midshipmen with the highest grease in the brigade rotated daily as the midshipman of the watch, while a group of the more promising plebes served as their assistants.
My pal Chuck Larson, whose exemplary scholastic record and obvious aptitude for command had won him the highest office a plebe could hold, brigade commander, was serving as the midshipman of the watch. Academy officials would have been disappointed to discover their prized midshipman among those gathered around the television in my room to watch a boxing match, shirking the duties of his office to enjoy a few minutes of illicit fun with some of the more disreputable midshipmen at the Academy.
In the middle of our viewing, the mate of the deck rapped on my door to warn us that the officer of the watch was approaching. We quickly returned the television set to its hiding place and stuffed the midshipman of the watch, dressed in his formal blue uniform and wearing his sword, along with his startled plebe, into my closet. The rest of us opened up textbooks and earnestly affected the appearance of dutiful midshipmen gathered together in a study group.
Fortunately, the officer never bothered to enter our room. Had he done so, our atypical studiousness surely would have aroused his suspicion. A few days later, when I returned to my room after classes had ended for the day, I found a message on my desk ordering me to report to Captain Hart. Hart's office was five doors down from my room.
Responding to my summons, I knocked on his door, entered, stood at attention, and announced myself: "Midshipman McCain, First Class, sir."
Sitting there with a look of considerable satisfaction, Hart allowed himself a rare smile as he threw a Form 2 across his desk to me and inquired, "Do you want to sign this now?" A Form 2 was the standard notification that a midshipman had been put on report. A midshipman was required to sign the form acknowledging his offense.
I picked up the form and read the line where the offense was reported: "electrical equipment, unauthorized use of," and on the line below, "television set."
While all the midshipmen on the fourth deck were at class, Hart had taken the opportunity to closely inspect our quarters. So thorough was the inspection that Hart had entered the rooms' crawl spaces, which adjoined each other. When he reached our room and discovered the contraband hidden in our crawl space, he must have silently exulted in his good fortune, believing that the day of judgment was finally at hand for the sorriest midshipman in his company.
The penalty for the offense was thirty demerits and seven days' confinement. The demerits I had already accumulated took me perilously close to the limit, and again I faced certain expulsion. I thought over my situation for a moment while Hart waited contentedly for my response.
"Sir, this isn't necessarily mine," I finally replied.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"The television, it isn't necessarily mine."
"Whose is it?" the now less content and incredulous Captain Hart responded.
"I'll let you know in a very short time."
A puzzled look overtook the captain's smile, and he dismissed me with an order to report back quickly with an answer.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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