The Naval Academy is about molding military leaders, but when it comes to scaling a greased-up, 21-foot-tall obelisk, it takes teamwork.
That's what propelled 19-year-old Midshipman Michael Landry to the top of a writhing human pyramid Monday. He topped the academy's Herndon Monument with a midshipman's hat after 2 hours, 19 minutes, and 35 seconds — a feat celebrated by his classmates with jumping, cheering and singing.
"Plebes no more! Plebes no more!" members of the Class of 2017 chanted.
For decades, academy freshmen — known as "plebes" — have capped their first year in Annapolis with a climb up Herndon, a test of teamwork and determination. This year, the Class of 2016 greased the monument with 50 pounds of vegetable shortening before plebes attacked it, cheered on by thousands of spectators.
Academy lore says celebrations at Herndon go back to the days when plebes were not allowed around the monument or a nearby gazebo — where upperclassmen could bring dates. After graduation, the former plebes would run to Herndon to celebrate. Eventually, someone climbed it.
On Monday, the plebes attacked Herndon after Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller led them in a Navy cheer: "Damn the torpedoes" he said, with the plebes responding, "Full steam ahead!"
Midshipmen raced to the monument and tore off their T-shirts to wipe off as much of the shortening as they could, then formed a human chain around the base.
Each time the plebes succeeded in building another level of their pyramid around Herndon, the crowd cheered. Each time the pyramid crumbled, there was a unified "awwwww."
At about 96 minutes into the feat, Midshipman Miguel Moravec of Annapolis got to the top and pulled off the plebe cap, known as a "dixie cup." But the climb is not complete until the dixie cup is replaced with a midshipman's cover, and the pyramid fell beneath Moravec.
Finally, it was Landry who got the cover atop Herndon. "They grabbed my feet and pushed me up," said Landry, who is 6 feet tall.
Some believed the cover used in the climb belonged to the late Midshipman Will McKamey, a class member who died in March after collapsing at football practice. An academy spokesman confirmed McKamey's cover was out there but couldn't be positive it was the one that went atop Herndon.
Landry received a plaque for his feat, but said his celebration would also include dinner with his family and girlfriend. And rest.
"I'm probably not going to do any physical activity the rest of the day," he said.