Commissioning Week: Traditions, Folklore and Pranks

Below are excerpts from a forthcoming E BOOK titled:

Pranks: Perfect Crimes at the Naval Academy 


In the 1945-1946 Reef Points , it is noted that behind Melville Hall is Plebe Park. According to tradition it is here that Academy graduates had planned to erect a monument in honor of the first "Anchor" man. This never happened.

Since the 1970s ,the "anchorman" has been a tradition discouraged, though not quite successfully, by the Naval Academy. The "anchorman" is the graduate ranked at the bottom of the class. The ranking incidentally is not entirely academic. It is weighted as follows:

Academic Performance Military Performance Athletic Performance
65% 17.7% 7.8%

The weighting is suppose to predict future success, though some question its correlation.

Needless to say, the "anchorman" is a scarlet letter, to use a literary term. That does not seem very laudatory, but at the Naval Academy it is (at least financially), for the anchorman traditionally receives $1.00 from each of his classmates. However it is not always cash. Roy Gilbert, a Naval Academy graduate, recalls when he was there that the anchorman received GHW Bush's watch, right off the President's wrist. The anchorman (if the anchorman is a woman, by the way, do you call her a "anchorwoman"?)  is also the one who receives the loudest and most sustained cheer as he/she crosses the stage. Sometimes the ceremony needs to be delayed with all the applause.


John McCain, who describes his time at the Academy as "a four-year course of insubordination and rebellion," ranked 894th out of 899 in 1958. He followed in his father's footsteps, also rebellious at the Naval Academy. James S. Robbins, in his book Last in Their Class, developed a thesis that the "bottom of the class tends to produce a different kind of leader than the top." They tend to be risk-takers, the innovators, usually very well-liked and in their own way driven." They know how to get in trouble as well as out of it.


Public Domain Photo 

It use to be that the anchorman was the last one to cross the stage, and he/she would carry with him/her a cardboard or wooden anchor. In the 1970's, the Academy changed the order of graduates. Now it is done by company rather than class rank. Yet, you will hear a cheer as the anchorman crosses the stage.

Everyone remembers their anchorman, but not necessarily the first in the class. Julie Fluhr, Class of 1990, remembers him well. It was Pedro Martinez, and he carried a brass anchor with him across the stage. The tradition is hard to squelched.

Being an anchorman is not all bad. A variation of an old medical joke is a commentary on the anchorman. It goes like this. "What do you call a person who graduates last in the class at Annapolis?" Answer: "An Ensign." He/she still graduates. In 1999, the anchorman was Manuel J. "Manny" Metcalf, from Anaheim, California. He collected 783 dollars, and with such wealth treated 11 of his 15 family members to a $255.00 dinner.

And being last is not an indicator of the future, for about eleven anchormen have been Admirals.

Though that "other institution on the Hudson" is an arch rival, the similarities between the schools and the tradition of an "anchorman" are strikingly similar. At West Point, the anchorman is called "the goat." Its name is a derision of the Naval Academy mascot, "Bill" the goat. And like at the Naval Academy, becoming an "anchorman" (at West Point, a "goat") isn't as easy as it sounds. You could possibly not graduate. Cadet David Burget, West Point Class of 1974, an anchorman himself, noted in a blog.

And if you have a low ranking in class, you won't have a great amount of choice in terms of future job assignment. Perhaps imporssible to became a navy/marine pilot, marine ground, or submariner --as noted by Academy graduate Eric Adler who had a friend who was the anchorman at the Academy.

The origin of the "goat" or anchorman is quite unknown but there are written references, according to Mr. Robbins, back to 1886. A "goat"

1) Tries hard but just barely makes it; and

2) Opts to do the bare minimum preferring to pull pranks rather than study.

They are risk takers. They don't quite fit in. They are goat-stubborn. They are survivors.

As Mr. Robbins states, the tradition is important because it kind of encapsulates that American spirit. The guy at the bottom can be a success. At West Point he certainly was.

The "goat" of 1846 The "goat" of 1861
General Custer, "Custer's Last Stand" George Pickett, "Pickett's Charge"
Public Domain Public Domain's_Charge


Note that the "last man" is more universal than just the Naval Academy and west Point. In the Iditarod and Tour de France the last finisher is called the "red lantern," like the red lantern on a train's caboose. The last athlete drafted in the National Football League is called, "Mr. Irrelevant."

Don't count the "anchorman" out. He is the American dream.