I would like to tell you that I have fond memories of these July Plebe Summer nights; but that would be a lie. What I remember is exhaustion, and sweat running down my back, trying to stay awake in an un-air-conditioned auditorium, watching “Victory at Sea” reruns.
Right now I want you to pay attention because what I have to say to you is important: important to you personally and important to you professionally. Therefore if you see your classmate nodding off, elbow them and wake them up.
1972, Viet Nam, Hanoi was surrounded by Surface to Air missile sites. Our mission was to destroy those sites, to protect the next few day’s missions of 100’s of aircrews who would risk their lives hitting targets all over Hanoi.
Flying at 100-500 feet above the deck that night, the anti-aircraft fire was so thick coming up at us that it felt like flying through a 4th of July fireworks display. The seven missiles that they shot at us were so close, they made us veer from our flight plan. In those days there were no smart bombs, only dumb ones. We missed our target!
What do you say in the debriefing room when your skipper is present, listening, awaiting the news of a success, so he can tell the Air Group Commander, who wants to crow to the Captain, who wants to crow to the Admiral? Will you tell the truth? We did. Our skipper was furious, we caught hell, but the next days’ missions knew the truth. Lives were saved.
January 1986, Cape Kennedy a group of engineers are working in the space-program. A space shuttle launch depends on your word.
- NASA and Middle Management want to launch, bonuses depend on the liftoff going on time.
- Upper management wants to launch. Billions in investment depend on this launch under these specific conditions.
- Most importantly, 7 crew members’ lives depend on your word.
You know with 100% certainty that the “O” rings on the boosters will fail at the cold temperature present at the time of the launch. Will you tell the truth or fold under pressure?
- They folded.
- The space shuttle challenger exploded, seven lives were lost,
- I lost my best friend Mike Smith a 67 grad, and NASA was set back three years.
- Lack of honor has consequences.
1991, Iraq. General Georges Sada, retired Iraqi Air Force general, is invited by Saddam Hussein to critique a briefing of the plan for the Iraqi Air Force to attack Israel with chemical weapons.
You listen. You process. What do you tell Saddam after the briefing, when you know the mission is a suicide mission, a fool’s errand, because of Israel’s air superiority? The last general who told Saddam something he didn’t want to hear was shot on the spot. Will you tell the truth? Sada told the truth, God spared his life. The mission never flew.
Will you tell the truth? The answer if you are a Naval Academy Graduate ought to be, “You will tell the truth every time!” No matter what!
Why? Because the Naval Academy will spend the next four years teaching you habits: habits of a warrior. And one of the most necessary habits of a true warrior is “Telling the truth, always!”
- If it makes you look good fine.
- If it makes you look bad, so be it.
- If it hurts, you learn to live with it.
- The truth should and hopefully will become a part of your DNA.
- A lifelong habit. A part of who you are!
The coin that you will get tonight will not make you tell the truth, …………….but it will remind you, of who you are – a Naval Academy Graduate – and they tell the truth!
There are 1000’s of ways to lie and most of them come to us quite easily. Cheating and stealing are two! Every parent can tell you, “You don’t have to teach a child to lie – it comes naturally!”
As we age we become more sophisticated in our lying. Politicians have perfected the art of lying, making it seem as right and natural as breathing.
- Failing strategically to remember.
- Omitting critical details.
- Including selective points.
- Conveniently forgetting specifics.
- Spinning is the current word used for sophisticated lying.
In the next four years you will be tempted to engage in these and a thousand other variations of the ancient art of lying, that began with Satan and Adam and Eve.
The coin, given to you tonight, has many purposes, but one critical one is this:
- To cause you to decide tonight, when that coin touches your hand, that when temptation comes, you have willfully decided what you will do. You will tell the truth!
- If it means getting demerits.
- If it means a lower grade.
- If it means a classmate gets in trouble.
- If it means embarrassment.
- If it means pushups until your arms crater.
- No matter what. You will tell the truth!
You are not politicians, you are not what you used to be, you are Naval Academy Graduates in training, and they tell the truth.
My classmates, giving you the coins, have built careers on truth. Each has a unique story. Ask them for a story! I know I could trust every one with my life, because of their honor and truthfulness. That is a gift greater than silver or gold.
Take the coin. Decide tonight what you will do when you face your temptation. And every time you reach in your pocket and finger that coin, remind yourself why that coin is there. It is there to remind you:
- You made a decision and
- Who you are.
- You made a decision to always tell the truth; and
- Who you are. You are a Naval Academy Graduate in waiting; and Naval Academy Graduates tell the truth.
May God be with you in your journey!
About the Author:
Mr. Bill Newton is a Naval Academy graduate, former Navy pilot, and former Naval Academy Class of 1969 President.