I returned to my room and called the television's ten owners together. I explained the situation, and that I had to bring Hart an answer right away. "Only one of us is going to get the demerits," I said, "and we have to choose who, right now." We settled the question as we always settled things in those days, with a "shake around." Over my objection, my friends, aware of my perilous situation at the Academy, excused me from participating.
In unison, each man hit his right fist three times into the palm of his other hand. On the third strike, each stuck out some of the fingers of his right hand. We then counted off the sum of the nine men's extended fingers, one number per man, with the last number falling on the man who would confess ownership of the television. As luck and fate would have it, the man turned out to be Henry Vargo.
Henry Vargo was a model midshipman. Studious, disciplined, respectful, Henry hardly ever bothered to watch the television. He had joined in its purchase only to help us out, to be one of the guys. Henry did not possess very many demerits, so the punishment he was about to receive wouldn't pose much of a problem for him. As added compensation, we magnanimously said that Hart would have to give the television back at the end of the year and Henry could keep it.
Smiling with satisfaction and relief, I returned to Hart's office to reveal the culprit.
"Midshipman McCain, First Class, sir."
"Sir, the television set belongs to Midshipman Vargo."
"Midshipman Vargo!" he bellowed in disbelief.
"Yes, sir, Midshipman Vargo."
Fighting to stop from smiling, I watched Hart's face flush red with anger. Finally, he dismissed me--"Get out of here, McCain."
I left him and walked back to my room, much relieved to have evaded, for the last time, Hart's wrath and his four-year quest to bring me to justice.
A few months later I sat amid a sea of navy whites, fifth from the bottom of my class, listening to President Eisenhower confer our degrees, exhort us to noble service on behalf of the Republic, and commission me an ensign in the United States Navy.
Eisenhower's remarks were not particularly memorable, owing to a combination of his flat delivery and our impatience to begin celebrating our liberation. Although he wasn't much of a speaker, we all admired the President. I remember wishing at one point during commencement that my dismal performance at the Academy had earned me an even lower place in the class standings.
In those days, only the first one hundred graduates in the class were called to the dais to receive their diplomas from the President. Graduation was conferred on the rest of us by company. John Poindexter graduated first in our class, an honor he had well earned. He walked proudly to the podium to receive his diploma and a handshake from the President of the United States, which the President bestowed on him with a brief "Well done and congratulations."
The midshipman who graduates last in his class is affectionately called the anchorman. When the anchorman's company was called, he was cheered by the whole brigade and hoisted onto the shoulders of his friends. Eisenhower motioned him up to the dais, and to the crowd's loud approval personally handed him his diploma; both President and anchorman smiling broadly as the President patted him on the back and chatted with him for a few minutes. I thought it a fine gesture from a man who understood our traditions.
I was proud to graduate from the Naval Academy. But at that moment, relief was the emotion I felt most keenly. I had already been accepted for flight training in Pensacola. In those days, all you had to do was pass the physical to qualify for flight training, and I was eager to embark on the life of a carefree naval aviator.
My orders left me enough time to take an extended holiday in Europe with Jack, Frank, and another classmate, Jim Higgins. We bummed a ride to Spain on a military aircraft from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. We spent several enjoyable days in Madrid, then boarded a train for Paris. Four days after we arrived, my friends left Paris for Copenhagen and the World's Fair. I remained behind, waiting to meet my new girlfriend, the daughter of a tobacco magnate from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We were in Paris during the summer of de Gaulle.
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."
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