Fifty Years of The Great Class of 1964

On a warm summer day in July 1960, 1,244 young men met in the Yard of the U.S. Naval Academy to begin an adventure which defines our lives to this day.  Each member of The Great Class of 1964 still vividly remembers events of that summer as though they happened a few days ago. The heat of Plebe Summer morphed into the rigors of Plebe Year. We were the last class that stenciled white works and marched to class until the second semester. 

While we were at the Academy, the nation was changing:  Soviet missiles were in Cuba, the wall went up in Berlin and trouble was brewing in Southeast Asia.  We marched for President Kennedy’s inaugural and then participated in his funeral procession. Thermodynamics and ballistic theory were added to the curriculum, while boilers and five inch guns were removed.  We were among the first midshipmen able to take electives.  We had the first Trident Scholars. 

We were fortunate to stay in our original companies for four years.  We were in Philadelphia to watch the “Drive for Five” effort achieve another victory over Army.  The soccer team beat Army to advance to the national championship game, and the lacrosse team defeated Army to win its fifth consecutive national championship.

We graduated 945 midshipmen on June 3, 1964. As we headed to our assigned duty stations with the excitement of graduation behind us, a new reality hit us: Vietnam!  Aviators, Seals and Marines paid the biggest price during those difficult years, but no one went unscathed. Twenty-nine classmates lost their lives in operational incidents, many combat related. Ten names from '64 are inscribed on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Five more classmates were POWs, some for more than 5 years.  Our lives were profoundly affected both by the war and the associated National turmoil.  

Later, new careers began, families formed, and children grew.  We came together once again at the ten-year point for the first of many successful class reunions.

The seventies presented challenges for those on active duty: hostages in foreign lands, disturbingly low reenlistments, the issue of women in combat, and reduced DOD funding.  President Reagan reenergized America’s spirit in the eighties.  At the same time, '64’s spirit renewed itself as interest in class activities increased.  Our hugely successful 20th Reunion was capped by a moving memorial service for our lost classmates.

The 25th Reunion proved to be more successful than the 20th, and we held our first Class election and business meeting since graduation. During the business meeting, we realized that a previously established Memorial Scholarship Fund for children of our deceased classmates was poorly funded and the children were entering college.  After a lively discussion, one classmate challenged the class to match his significant contribution.  Many checks came forth to meet the challenge; the Fund suddenly had a solid start. It may have been our finest hour. Ultimately, tuition grants were provided to 26 children of deceased classmates.

At the 25th Reunion, members of the class decided it was time to support a project that benefited Midshipmen. After much deliberation, we overwhelmingly supported the idea of promoting USNA ethics and leadership. Working with the USNA staff, we adopted the idea of a book based on case studies stressing ethical behavior for junior officers.  The Class of 1994 was the first to receive our book, Ethics for the Junior Officer, which is now available online.

The reaction to the book project was so positive that a dinner was held from 1994 until 2006, at which we presented the book to the graduating classes. VADM James Stockdale was the guest speaker at the first ethics dinner.

During the mid-nineties, Commander Lanny King, the first Prospective Commanding Officer of the USS Carney (DDG-64), approached us about supporting Carney.  Sadly, Commander King passed away before the ship was commissioned. Subsequently, we established an Annual Lanny King Memorial Leadership Award for the outstanding Carney junior officer.

As the 90’s drew to a close, we pondered a major gift to USNA for our 40th Reunion.  We helped fund the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics, established in 1998, largely dependent on private funding. The Center proved to be a tremendous resource for USNA. 

In 2004, we honored our deceased classmates in a joint memorial service at Arlington Cemetery along with the Military Academy Class of 1964.  We will repeat that ceremony every five years. Also, the ’64 Cares program has been established to take care of our own classmates who have health concerns.

We can look with pride at our accomplishments as a Class. Twenty-two classmates assumed flag rank including one Commandant of the Marine Corps, several rose to executive positions in the government including one Ambassador to China and one Secretary of the Navy.   More became leaders in the business world.  One became an astronaut, and we had a general who became an admiral.  We had one USNA Superintendent, two Commandants of Midshipmen and two Distinguished Graduates (DGA 2009 and 2010).  Others became doctors, attorneys, educators, and authors. Many became spiritual leaders. Each classmate is a link in the chain upon which the strength of The Great Class of ’64 depends.  We freely offered the strength of our Class, the thread of support for ethics, and our years of experience to the Class of 2014.