Navy families reunite at Plebe Parents' weekend

Juan Magallon enlisted in the U.S. Navy while still in his home country, the Philippines, and served 20 years, taking part in such battles as Operation Desert Storm. Now a U.S. citizen, the Tucson, Ariz., resident said he frequently spoke to his son, Justin, about the gratitude he owed the nation and its armed forces.

Apparently, Justin listened. He is among 1,200 plebes in the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2017 who since June have been immersed in their first year at Annapolis, away from friends and family. On Saturday the Magallon family reunited for the Plebe Parents' Weekend, a tradition that academy officials said stretches back several decades.

"The Philippines is a third-world country and there are not many extensive opportunities there, and a lot of Filipinos go overseas to get opportunities," Juan Magallon said. "I was plucked from that system [of Filipinos] who joined the Navy. I explained to my son, 'You're a first-generation American here, and I owe a sense of gratitude to the U.S. government.' That motivated him."

Justin was among those chosen from what academy officials said was a field of 17,000 applicants this year. For them, the close of the weekend's festivities marks the end of Plebe Summer, when beginning midshipmen (called Fourth Class) are prepared for the academy's four-year professional development training.

Midshipman First Class Colleen Randolph of Annapolis, who trained plebes under the oversight of an officer, said Plebe Summer brought back memories of her first year.

"You watch from the outside or you see them marching to football games, but you don't know until you get there yourself — it is a whirlwind," said Randolph.

She said that on the first day plebes are issued gear and begin such basics as learning to salute and to keep eyes forward. They must memorize information such as Naval Academy history and enlisted officer rank because they can be queried on the facts at any time.

Plebes, she said, have virtually no outside contact except for three 30-minute phone calls during Plebe Summer. Beyond that, she said, they interact only with classmates and academy personnel.

Plebe Parents' Weekend began Thursday, and families took in such events as a War of 1812 exhibit and a "History of the U.S. Naval Academy" presentation.

On Saturday morning, festivities included a parade and performances by the drum and bugle corps, which academy officials say is the nation's oldest active corps.

The plebes were also granted town liberty, a period when they can visit areas with a 22-mile range of the academy grounds. Plebes took full advantage of the perk; many were seen in full uniform (a town liberty requirement) in Annapolis with families.

Maura Devey of Golden's Bridge, N.Y., said seeing her son, Dennis, after six weeks was "fantastic," and added that to hear her son tell it, he's been very busy during Plebe Summer. "He can't remember the first two weeks," she said.

For parents like Zenaida Savella of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., the moment marked another step toward careers children have considered for some time. She said her son, Daniel, spoke about coming to Annapolis during the fall of his senior year in high school, eager to pursue a career in the medical field.

Saturday, she said, was "exciting, with mixed emotions, and we're so happy for him and for all the sons and daughters."

Joel Lee of Iowa City, Iowa, said his son, Matthew, has been interested in joining the Navy since the seventh grade. Daughter Abby chimed in that Matthew's interest peaked during 11th grade, when he worked with Navy officials while taking part in a mission trip, volunteering at a veterans' home in Asheville, N.C.

Parents like Magallon left serving notice that they, too, would be embracing their children's Annapolis experience — including the rivalries.

"West Point sent him an invitation," Magallon said, "but it's a good thing he chose the Navy."

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