Tributes & Stories


1960 Army-Navy Game

You Can Take the Boy Off the Farm, But....


1960 Army-Navy Game

by CAPT Rob Sollenberger '67 (7th Co.), USN (Ret.)

In 1960 my late father, Captain Harold “Gus” Sollenberger, USNA ’43, was the BUAER representative at the Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine manufacturing plant in East Hartford, Connecticut.  The Army-Navy football game was fast approaching and my father, for the first time in many years, was within spittin’ distance of Philadelphia, and was determined to take my mother, me, and another Navy pilot to the game.  This would require him to obtain four tickets, the Holy Grail of Army-Navy ticketdom, and a feat next to impossible.  However, somehow this  humble Pennsylvania farm boy pulled it off, and shortly before game day an envelope arrived at our home with not only four tickets, but four consecutively-numbered tickets so we could all sit together!   Life was good!

We were in high spirits as we made our rendezvous in Philadelphia, and only then did we look to see where our seats were.  While we fully understood that not everyone could be seated on the 50-yd line, our seats were at the complete opposite end of the desirability spectrum, in the highest row of the nosebleed section, and which were bore-sighted thru BOTH sets of goalposts with a precision that would have made any shipyard dry-docking officer turn green with envy.  Well, we rationalized that "We were at THE Army-Navy Game, AND we were all seated together so a little altitude sickness wasn't going ruin our day.”   After an agonizingly-long climb to our seats we arrived only to discover that "four consecutively-numbered seats” does NOT necessarily mean “seated together.”  Our four seats were divided into two sets of two each, with one pair located on each side of an exhaust chimney serving the restrooms and food vendors in the lower bowels of the stadium.  In the best tradition of the Stoics, we sighed and once again rationalized that “We were at THE Army-Navy Game, AND we were going to see the LEGENDARY Joe Bellino in his final Navy game.  Who cares that in order to talk to the other half of our party we had to lean over and around the folks in the next row down, praying all the time that we would not lose our balance?”

Through all of this my mother was the epitome of the good Navy Wife as she fought to maintain her dignified composure, while my dad, our guest and I thought that no price was too high to pay to be part of the adventure that is THE Army-Navy Game.  That is, until only two feet above our heads ominous noises presaged what was about to happen when, without further ado …


To Mom’s credit she almost, but not quite, “lost it!”

I’m still not sure if I ever saw Joe Bellino on the field.  A pair of shipboard “Big Eyes” might have done the trick, but even had they been available, no one wanted to lug them up to nosebleed row.

Epilogue … After hearing of our ordeal, the maître d’hôtel at the Old Original Bookbinder's seafood restaurant took pity on us, and despite the odors which permeated our clothing, he invited us in for their trademark lobster and special seafood soup dinner which he refused to allow us to pay for.  My theory is that, in addition to being a nice guy, he thought he had a winner for the next “can you top this?”story contest at the local bar.


You Can Take the Boy off the Farm, But....

By Captain Richard (Nick) Holman, '67, USNR (Ret.)

I’m not sure if the academy mess hall still has raisins for breakfast in the small, one ounce food service boxes, but they did when I was going through school.  It was during 1C year that it occurred to me that raisins are dried grapes.  As a farm boy from Iowa, I’d had plenty of experience gathering wild grapes from our woods and turning them into a concoction euphemistically called “country wine”.  I think you can see where this is going.  Raisins were not particularly popular at my table so I had no trouble accumulating about 50 boxes (about three pounds) of raisins.  I won’t bother giving the details of turning table raisins into wine but, at one point, sugar and the harvested juice are combined, and then it’s just a matter of sitting back and letting nature do its’ part.  And that’s when the trouble started.

My “still” was a couple of glass bottles that had the screw-type tops.  They had to be kept screwed very tight so that:  (a) my room wouldn’t smell like a still, and (b) the bottles would safely fit into my confidential safe laying on their sides.  (Where else would you keep a top secret item like this without fear of it being discovered during a room inspection by the company officer?)  However, it was extremely important that the pressure building up in the bottles – they were fermenting, you know – was released every day, without fail.  I made it a point of routinely doing this right before noon meal formation.  One day I was running a tad late, so I decided I’d wait until after the noon meal to open the safe and relieve the pressure in the bottles.  In those days only Firsties were allowed to leave the mess hall early – which I did as soon as they gonged the bell.  As I was coming down the corridor on my deck I picked up a distinct and aromatic smell.  Knowing instantly what it was, I rushed into my room and there, dripping onto the floor, were the remains of my prized concoction.  Both bottles had blown.  I immediately went into overdrive, racing to the Moke Shack to get a mop, pail and lots of Pinesol.  I was able to get the mess – broken bottles and all – cleaned up before the rest of the company returned from noon meal.  My one, last concern was turning in the confidential pubs at the end of the year with wine stains all over them.  I was, fortunately, able to put the really badly stained pubs at the bottom of the stack and get them turned in without incident.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d gotten caught.  At a minimum I suspect I would have “earned” a Black N.  And, if the Administration wasn’t particularly taken by my creative and daring initiative, it probably would have been much worse!

Class History

Spanning a Century of Change 1917 – 2017

If there had been a program called “Another Link in the Chain” in 1963, our Reef Points would have contained the history of the Great Class of 1917. Those young men were to witness World War I and the transition beyond ships powered by wind or coal fired steam into combat using submarines and aircraft. The Class of 1917 would never have imagined nuclear powered ships, space travel, computers and advanced satellite communications. They entered a Naval Academy built on the 1896 master plan of world renowned architect Ernest Flagg which situated the buildings as a reflection of the Naval Academy’s mission develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically. Bancroft Hall and its companions Macdonough Hall and Dahlgren Hall were to care for and develop the physical needs. Mahan Hall and wings of Sampson Hall and Maury Hall were to develop the academic and mental capacities. The Naval Academy Chapel, commanding attention on the highest point, was there to develop the moral character of Midshipmen. All three components faced upon Dewey Basin and the Severn River from which Midshipmen would launch their training and careers.

The Class of 1917 saw an early graduation in March of that year as the United States declared war on Germany. During 1917, Bancroft Hall would see the addition of two wings to double the size of enrollment as World War I progressed.

Fast forward 50 years and the Brigade would increase to 4,400, Bancroft Hall would have eight wings and the Yard would have many new facilities. On a hot, humid, and sunny June 26th in 1963, the Great Class of 1967 took the oath of office on Tecumseh Court. A diverse group of 1,291 young men whose parents’ lives spanned the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War were challenged to face the familiar constant – change. That year, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was still new; President Kennedy had issued the challenge to reach the moon and safely return; and personal computers were called slide rules.

Many changes impacted our 4 years together by the Bay. By 1963, many new facilities had been added to Flagg’s design to strengthen naval, physical and academic training. Michelson and Chauvenet Halls were built during our four year tenure. The brigade was no longer required to march to classes as the academic curriculum became more diverse with elective courses and majors. On Sundays, we continued to march to mandatory Chapel or to church services in town. We observed the constitutional passing of power when the nation was shocked by the assassination of a President. We were privileged to be led by three very dynamic and different Superintendents. The Brigade expanded from 24 to 36 companies. Most significantly, we watched with anticipation as the conflict in Vietnam was changed by an incident at sea from a military advisory role to an air and ground war updated on the nightly television news. While change would continue to be a constant factor, our mutual sense of virtue remained anchored in the Naval Academy values of Honor, Courage and Commitment embodied in Ernest Flagg's vision.

At graduation, classmates headed out to careers of service. Most selected unrestricted Navy line billets, a few selected restricted duty, 86 chose the Marines, and 6 went on to become SEALs in the early days of Special Operations. During the ensuing conflicts, 6 Silver Stars for valor were awarded as well as numerous Air Medals, Distinguished Service Medals and Purple Hearts. The Vietnam War claimed 9 classmates and 1 POW held in the Hanoi Hilton. Their memory is kept alive in Memorial Hall.

The mid-1970s were times of cutbacks and oil crises which impacted many of our career decisions. Some classmates opted for continuing to serve with the reserve forces. Many more moved into civilian careers or roles in government. All were to find value in their leadership and character development received at USNA.

As the years passed, like all classes before and after the Great Class of 1967, there were individuals who would rise to high levels of leadership in the Navy and Marine Corps, our nation and our culture. These included a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps; a Commander of Strategic Command; a Commander of the Atlantic Fleet; the 30th Superintendent of the US Naval Academy; and 14 other flag officers. Two Naval Aviators, one Navy and one a Marine, became NASA astronauts. In federal government, classmates served as a Deputy Secretary of State, and a Secretary of Veteran Affairs. Many went on to careers of service as doctors, lawyers, clergy, corporate CEOs, FBI agents, authors, appointed and elected officials. The Naval Academy recognized three classmates for its Distinguished Graduate Award.

Perennially, the Class of 1967 has been proud to support the institution which gave us such great opportunities with generous gifts to both the Alumni Association and Foundation and the Naval Academy Athletic Association through funding of strategic needs in facilities, programs and athletics. We have participated in several large fundraising campaigns building Navy – Marine Corps Memorial Stadium facilities, the Visitors Center, Alumni Hall, and the Stockdale Center for Ethics.

Fifty years from now the Class of 2017 will forge a link across half a century of change. The more the change, the greater the need will be for well prepared leadership.