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Stamp honoring academy unveiled But pictured sailors stay in background for anniversary fete


The U.S. Postal Service celebrated the Naval Academy's 150th anniversary yesterday by unveiling a commemorative stamp that features six academy sailors aboard a sloop.

However, the sailors were kept under wraps. They weren't recognized in the unveiling ceremony and while crowds lined up to get their first-day issues postmarked, they sat by themselves in a classroom next to Mahan Hall with the lights out.

"The post office is disavowing us," joked academy graduate Jim Detwiler, who appears on the stamp as a blue-cloaked figure on the sloop's deck. "They didn't even acknowledge us at the ceremony."

The stamp unveiling was the highlight of yesterday's celebration to mark the founding of the academy Oct. 10, 1845. All 4,000 midshipmen were given the day off and the band and glee club put on a concert that included singers and trumpeters, a color guard ceremony, a giant cardboard cake and an appearance by the academy goat.

The stamp, based on a photograph, shows the midshipmen sailing Swift, a 44-foot sloop, on Chesapeake Bay with the academy's chapel dome in the background.

But because about the only way to get on a U.S. postage stamp is to be dead -- and these sailors are very much alive -- they stayed out of the spotlight yesterday.

No one -- neither Deputy Postmaster General Michael S. Coughlin; Adm. Charles R. Larson, the academy superintendent; nor Navy Secretary John H. Dalton -- mentioned the sailors by name during the ceremony. The sailors' identities also were not revealed in the program or in news releases.

The Postal Service says the stamp reflects the academy and not any one person. And academy officials say few individuals -- midshipmen or alumni -- were showcased during the celebrations.

"There were very few people on the podium," said Karen Myers, an academy spokeswoman. "The only midshipman featured on the podium was the brigade commander."

That decision didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of these quasi-celebrities. "It's OK," Mr. Detwiler said. "We know in our hearts who was in that boat."

The sailors signed each others' commemorative brochures and joked about their new fame, delighted by their thumbnail-sized piece of immortality.

"I'm on a stamp, for crying out loud," said Tim Kinsella, a senior midshipman. "This good looking fella here is me."

Sailor Chip Wrye, a 1993 graduate, was so excited he invited his mother to the ceremony.

"It's like the type of thing you can't even dream about," he said.

Other sailing team members featured on the stamp are Steve Karson, Ara Barton and William Wright. The crew members were photographed on a brisk October day in 1992. The photo, on the cover of the 1993-1994 academy catalog, was reproduced in watercolor for the 32-cent stamp.

The sailors said it took three tries to give the picture that dramatic look. Photographer Dianne Olmstead had the crew sail into the wind, using larger sails than they should have -- and doing whatever else it took to make the boat heel.

The result is one heroic-looking shot. And a profitable one, too.

Larry Carney of Arlington, Va., sold the stamps on commemorative envelopes for $3 each. He made $1,000 in 30 minutes.

More than an hour after the ceremony, people still were waiting to pick up sheets of stamps. Lynn Villemez of Severna Park was under orders to buy the stamps for her daughter, a 1993 academy graduate.

"She was so thrilled," Ms. Villemez said. "She knows all their names on the boat. She told me, 'Get me that stamp.' "

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