Senator John McCain’s decision to be buried at the United States Naval Academy rather than Arlington National Cemetery perplexed some people. To those with a connection to the Academy, it made perfect sense. 

By his own admission, McCain had a complicated relationship with the Academy. At his last address to the Brigade, he said, “To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled to be here back then, and I was as relieved to graduate – fifth from the bottom of my class – as the Naval Academy was to see me go.”

But it’s a special place that takes hold of you.

When my son earned an appointment as part of the Class of 2020, I knew very little about the Naval Academy. I mean, I knew it was prestigious and it was in Annapolis and, well, not much else.

Inside the main entrance to Bancroft Hall.

When we arrived on The Yard, as the campus is referred to, for the first time, my head was spinning. Why was there a statue of an Indian chief in front of Bancroft Hall. Geez, Bancroft Hall is huge – and you’re telling me that’s a dormitory? As Plebe Summer – the six-week indoctrination all Midshipmen go through – got underway, then rolled into the academic year, I struggled to keep up with all the information, not to mention the shorthand and acronyms. The Plebes would have to FIO (figure it out). They had to chop through Bancroft Hall and do Chow Calls every day. There was the PRT (physical readiness test) and squaring corners while in Bancroft. Everyone was gearing up for the Herndon Climb – Herndon? Wait, they’re going to climb a D.C. suburb?

The Tecumseh statue that watches the main entrance to Bancroft Hall, widely recognized as the worlds’ largest dormitory. By the way, it’s not really Tecumseh, but that’s a long story.

Taking it all in was like drinking from a fire hose, but once I began to get a grasp on life as an Academy parent, I really began to soak in all the history and legend. That Indian statue was Tecumseh, except that it wasn’t really Tecumseh. And he played an important role in Academy life. The Herndon Climb (they climb a monument, not a suburb) was the culmination of Plebe Year and a great celebration. And then there are sports, of course. The rich tradition of Navy football, the legend of David Robinson and much, more.

I found myself talking to folks about all of these topics and more when my wife said, “why don’t you just write a book?” So I did. Now, in retrospect, she may have said that facetiously, but it was too late.  

I began researching what would become, Anchored in Tradition: An unofficial collection of fun, facts and figures about life at the United States Naval Academy. And I wrote it in a way that I would enjoy reading – it’s broken into pieces so that you can pretty much open it to any page and dive right in. It covers a wide array of topics – everything from the legacy of John Paul Jones (“I have not yet begun to fight!”) to the story behind Dahlgren Hall to quotes from everyone from McCain to Jimmy Buffett. The books includes a lot of sports (did you know Nemo Gaines was the first Naval Academy grad to pitch in the majors?) and interactive quizzes, if you have that friend who thinks he knows everything.

Noah and Karl on The Yard. Note that he’s holding his bookbag on his arm. Midshipmen are not allowed to hoist their backpacks on their back while wearing the summer whites.

In short, the book offers a look behind the scenes of the Naval Academy. And, I hope, it offers just a glimpse into the kind of magic that would lead a man like John McCain to call it his final resting place.

While Karl’s book offers an extensive look at The Yard, he also has a blog about his experience following his son’s life day-to-day life in the United States Naval Academy.