- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Even during the summer, when the Yard is largely empty of midshipmen, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis still seems to crackle with military history and tradition.

Plebes, or first-year students at the academy, are there finishing up the grueling "plebe summer" before their first-year classes begin. Sharon Camera, a tour guide at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center at the academy, told one recent group that, by the end of the summer, plebes will know what it truly means to be a midshipman at Annapolis. She did not elaborate, but her Cheshire-cat smile spoke volumes.

But during the fall, when classes are in session and all 4,000 or so mids are on the grounds, families who tour the Yard might catch even more glimpses of military tradition, even if they don't elect to take a guided tour.

If they plan a visit around noon, they might see the Brigade of Midshipmen (the Academy's term for the student body) form to march into the dining hall for lunch.

Or maybe they'll get to watch various Navy varsity athletes train in the Lejeune Physical Education Center, which features an Olympic-size pool and hundreds of photos of celebrated Navy sports stars. Navy's two Heisman Trophy statues (won by Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino) are on permanent display at Lejeune.

Or, like the O'Dell family of La Porte, Ind., who recently took the 75-minute guided walking tour that runs daily from the visitor center, the chapel is the focus of interest. The chapel certainly holds plenty of attractions, such as one-way glass windows (clear from the inside, opaque when viewed from the outside), the huge stained-glass windows and the crypt of Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones underneath.

The O'Dells were interested in all of that, but their interest was piqued by the fact they will be attending a wedding at the chapel in November.

"This is the first time we've been here," says Evelyn O'Dell, standing next to her husband, Ed, and son, Mark. "We've always been interested in Annapolis and the history associated with the Naval Academy, so we thought now would be a good time to visit since we're on vacation."

Mr. O'Dell served in the Navy for six years but didn't attend the academy, so he was particularly interested in the tour.

"It was interesting seeing the dorm rooms and buildings," he says. "There's obviously a lot of history in this place."

About 73,000 visitors take the guided tour every year, says Mianna Jopp, manager of the Information and Guide Service at the visitor center. Many of the tour guides are Annapolis residents or natives who have an interest in history and the academy but aren't necessarily Navy men or women themselves. Some are wives of officers stationed in Annapolis.

And, she says, two guides are military academy graduates, although interestingly, neither is from Annapolis. One is from West Point, she says, and the other went to the Air Force Academy.

"Obviously a lot of the history here is Navy history, but if you served in the military at all, there's a sense of belonging here for you, too," she says.

The visitor center has plenty of brochures and maps for families who don't want to take the guided tour or who want to come back to look at monuments or buildings in more detail. All of the stops along the guided tour are open to the public for further, longer visits.

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