Rear Adm. James McNeal '86, U.S. Navy, Retired and is an expert on the Herndon Climb.
He joins Grant on the podcast and tells the story of the Herndon monument and most specifically the tradition of the climb which he considers the Naval Academy's greatest tradition.
Rear Adm. McNeal is "the expert" on this topic. He is humble, funny and a great storyteller and you will love this episode.
He has written the book The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy's Greatest Tradition.
A native of Granada Hills, CA, Rear Adm. James R. McNeal graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a bachelor's degree in 1986 and holds a Master of Science in Organizational Management from Chadron State College. He graduated from the Advanced Joint Professional Military Education program at the Joint Forces Staff College and is Joint Qualified System (JQS) level II qualified.
His personal decorations include Legion of Merit (two awards), the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (two awards) and other unit and campaign commendations. He is a qualified Surface Warfare Supply Corps officer and Navy Expeditionary Supply Corps officer.
Rear Adm. McNeal served six years active duty and twenty five years in the reserves retiring in 2017. He now is back in Annapolis and coaches on the Sprint football staff.
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Links Mentioned in the Show
Rear Adm McNeal's Book - The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy's Greatest Tradition.
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Grant Vermeer: 0:03
This is your host Grant Vermeer Naval Academy Class of 2017 and I'm your academy insider. It's my goal to be your guide through the Naval Academy experience. By sharing my stories and providing you inside information into the life of a shipment. Academy insider is in no way officially affiliated with the United States Naval Academy. All over the content on Academy Insider is my own and does not reflect the views of the United States Naval Academy, the United States Navy nor the Department of Defense. Please, no more believe no more, please, no more. Is it change? You're gonna be here in the moment that combination cover gets put up in the top of Herndon Monument during the plead Herndon climb. And today I am joined on Academy Insider by Admiral James Neal, who was retired Supply Corps officer in the Navy. He was a class of 82 Napster in the class of 86 graduate from the United States Naval Academy, and now he's currently retired but back at the Naval Academy, is a volunteer sprint football coach, and Admiral McNeil is writing a book all about the Hernan climb. So he takes his time and shares with us a bunch of insight into the history of the Herndon Monument. Captain Herndon himself, as well as the Herndon climb and shares a little bit about his new book and when it will be published. So this is a must listen to episode. I hope you guys enjoy it. Let's check it out. All right. Hey, everyone. And welcome to the academy insider podcast. And Jim, thank you so much for taking the time to join the state to talk all about her. And And I really, really appreciate it.
James McNeil: 1:38
Really excited to be here
Grant Vermeer: 1:40
Absolutely. Before we get started in today's episode, Do you mind just telling the audience a little bit about yourself? So where you from, How you ended up at the Naval Academy and then a little bit about your naval career? Sure,
James McNeil: 1:52
absolutely happy, too. So I I grew up in the Granada Hills area of Los Angeles. My dad is a 1960 to Annapolis grad, and you'll have to ah, read the book to find out my little bit of my journey. But ah suffices to say that my dad motivated me to go to the Academy. I was not Ah, one of the high school eat. So I spent Europe forward Island, uh, at at naps. Ah, but my my wife, who came in straight from high school, likes to refer me as the dumb one that had to go to knacks e. I love that. But I did that and, uh, and and did my four years and graduated with the best class ever to graduate class of 1986.
Grant Vermeer: 2:40
Fantastic. And then what? Where would you service Select. And what do you do in your naval career?
James McNeil: 2:46
So I was ah, nurse while rugby player at the academy. And, ah, enjoyed the heck out of that. But ah, ended up hurting myself, Uh, double shoulder dislocation. And so I was, uh, medically disqualified from surface line and Marine, things like that. I ended up in the supply corps, which, uh, which actually was a great move for me. I was I was very, very happy for that. So I was six years active duty. I did my 1st 2 years on an aircraft carrier Ah, out of San Diego and then halfway through that tour, moved over to a destroyer. And then my last two years on active duty was a was the supply officer at Seal Team one and that and then transition to the reserve component in 25 years and the reserves and retired in 2017.
Grant Vermeer: 3:38
Fantastic. Um, And again, thank you for taking the time to come on. And today today's episode is really all about the Herndon climb. Um, So if someone who may be listening is not tremendously familiar with what Herndon is at all, can you just take a quick second to explain what Herndon is and how it relates to the life of a midshipman?
James McNeil: 4:00
Absolutely. So the Herndon climb is the rite of passage for the fourth class midshipmen known as plebes who at the end of their plebe year before they can officially be considered fourth class midshipmen, over the years a tradition has developed where they were, where they were required to climb. The Herndon Monument. The Herndon Monument is a 21 foot obelisk very similar to the Washington Monument in look and named after Captain William Herndon. We could certainly get into his background. Uh, the tradition is that the sophomores at the academy that year will put grease on the monument and then, as a team building exercise, the plebes will attempt to get to the top of it with a human pyramid. There's 4th class midshipmen ple Dixie Cup on top. They try to get someone to the top. They take me Dixie Cup off, and then they take a midshipman combo cover and they replace the Dixie Cup with the combination cover. And once that happens, then please years officially over. Oh, and and you know and you're laughing because, you know, you know, uh, you know, like,
Grant Vermeer: 5:16
it's the greatest feeling I've ever had in my life.
James McNeil: 5:19
And it's funny you say that because, uh, if I could share the story of kind of how this this this book Oh, yeah, happened. So my co author, Scott Thomas Chesky him and I have known each other since seventh grade, and he's a writer were on newspaper together in ah, in high school, and he's written a lot of books. Ah, book a science fiction, Time travel, Siri's. And so in 2015 he called me one day out of the blue and May and said, Hey, I was watching ESPN SportsCenter and I saw a thing. A T academy called the Herndon climb, and it looked really interesting. Have you ever heard of it? And I said, Yeah, I've heard that back in my life, but because Gradual, the first I heard it was and, uh, well, I think would be a great book. And in the time I was, I was still in the reserves and I had been re called active duty. I had a pretty big assignment, and I were at the thought of writing a book. I'd always kind of want to write a book, but the thought of doing at that point was kind of daunting. So I started to be very excited and go into the great detail about what he thought the book could be. And as he's doing that, I'm Googling Herndon Book on Amazon Prime time, Getting ready to tell him. Hey, look, I don't want to write this 17th book about heard it. You know, I'm really Yeah. And so I went on Amazon and there wasn't a book, and I said, Okay, we're gotta be something, and really the only if you go, if you Google hurt and climb, the only thing that there is a There's some links to some newspaper articles, but mostly the one consolidated source of the Herndon Klima's a Wikipedia page. And I started to say, Hey, there might be something here, but I said, Hey, look, it's gonna have to be until I retire When I retires, we don't have an opportunity to do it. I'm just I've got too much going on right now. We kept in touch, we put an outline together and then, ah, coincidentally, my wife was also a classmate. We, uh, we moved to Maryland. She got her PhD and should be. She got hired as, ah, professor of Towson University in Baltimore. And so we moved to Maryland. And so we were here and we had the opportunity to really dig into the research. And I figured the neighbours the two press would be potentially a good publishing source. And so we met with them and presented the idea for the book and a sample chapter. And much little to our surprise, they we thought it was a great idea, but they agreed with us and signed a contract. And, uh, so with the book is, uh is in Ah, it's now being edited and will be out dinner first.
Grant Vermeer: 8:15
Fantastic. And so what's the working title of the book right now? And then? On top of that, is it more of like an informational factual book or a book consolidated of stories and different historical experiences of people going through the Herndon
James McNeil: 8:27
climb? So great question be S o. The title of book is the Herndon Climate History of United States Naval Academy's greatest tradition. Ah, and we, uh, way. When we first started looking at it, we might kind of the way I envisioned the project going because, as I said, there's just a Wikipedia page and I thought, Hey, you know, let's let's dig in his thing with do a research project and we'll kind of trace this thing from, you know, from beginning to end. And as we kind of dug into that well, you know, we said, Hey, this is way. Don't want, want to write a textbook, you know, we don't write out a research paper. So while we do have some of the history and there, we cover a lot of different things. So, uh, one of the things that we do is we do give that. And frankly, there's not a lot of history about it. You know, we did, to the best of our ability through a lot of research at the at the library of the Naval Academy, Nimitz Library. Kind of determined kind of how we think it. Of all we we dug into certainly Captain Herndon and his story, uh, we dug into a lot of different class stories are sample Chapter is the class of 98 climb, which is the longest on record, which is four hours and five minutes. That's it, boy. Yeah, that's a long, long time. And it's ah, it's an interesting story. So that was actually a sample chapter that we pitched to the Thio. The publisher have ah, chapter about, ah, Kristen Dyckman, who was a class of 2011 and who passed away in her sleep, Uh, right before the herd and climb. So have a chapter about her and her story. We have a chapter about the women and how their time over the climates of all quickly how women in the eighties were treated and, you know, no spoiler alert here, but they weren't treated very well. And my wife. Certainly I can attest that in fact, where were really interesting was while while I have you and you've you heard it? It's such a great day. It's a lot of the women, especially the ones in the classes of the early eighties. They were treated so poorly to them. It's not a pleasant memory. So we cover that in it. After, uh, we I get Ah, at the end of the book, I get to kind of tell my story of how we ended up at the Academy and my play beer. And then we also have three chapters that are broken up, which is a second person account of the climb. And and the goal of that is what really goes on. This is not to have it just be interesting to among nine. We want not alumni to to be able to understand it. I just I certainly described it in a short amount of time, but we felt it was important in the book to do to allow a reader to get into the kind of the head of a plea that's gonna be going through this and the things that happened. We also talk about, uh, the greasing of it with first company. And, you know, the company that's responsible for greasing it on. And we also, uh, way have, ah, section there. Where we interviewed Admiral Jeff Fowler. Uh, who's a superintendent? Um, three superintendents ago. And we interviewed Admiral Fowler. And he is Ah, he's very anti Herndon. Okay. And so we what we ended up doing was allowing him to tell his story. And hey, makes an interesting point again. We're very pro earned it, but, you know, he makes some interesting points. So So what we really tried to do in the in the book is, uh, talk about Captain Hearn. And why? You know why? There was a monument named after captain heard in a CZ. Best as we could tell the evolution of the climb individual climb stories, some funny, some sad Ah, some ah ah, your laugh. You'll cry, et cetera. And then ah, And then and then a second person account. Like I said, So we could probably try to get them in the minds of someone doing it. So we hope it has something for everybody. And, you know, you just don't know. We've gotten a course. Positive feedback. But you know, when your mom says they like it, that's not, uh, you know, feedback.
Grant Vermeer: 13:01
Uh, um, yes. So, for a book that ranges, um, throughout so much time in so many different perspectives, how did you even go about starting to do the research for that? Like, are there books out there that document each Hernan climb that you're able to research? Or how did you pull together this
James McNeil: 13:17
information? A great question. So, yes. So we so one of the things when we submitted our proposal, we had a sample of table of contents. So, like I said, we kind of had a kind of had an idea of where we wanted to go with the book. But what was what really, really made it fun? Waas was that it went in a lot of different directions. So, for example, we had no way one of our initial chapters we thought was Hey, what wouldn't it be cool to talk Thio? You know the famous people that have done it, You know, you know, this was when John McCain was alive. So, like a John McCain, you know, Roger Rob, people like that. And we Just as we as we started going through, we realized, well, other than being famous, you know, they they don't mean they don't necessarily have an interesting story, right? So then way started going out and talking to people. And I posted a lot on linked in and social media, some face with groups that I that I belong to. And I said, Hey, if you have an interesting story, I'd like to hear it. And that's really where the women, the women chapter was, uh, was born because I got probably half a dozen emails from women from that are now in their fifties from the classes in the early eighties. And they all said essentially the same thing, which is why I have a story to tell. But are you interested in telling the real story, or are you interested or you just gonna gloss over what happened to us? No, I'm interested in telling the true story. So So that that was that was a piece of it. And then, as I would, we were talking to people they would say, Hey, um, have you talked to so and so from the class of whatever will know. Well, they've got a really great story. So it just kind of took on a life of its own, you know? Oh, I would say probably, um, you know, the Kris Kristen Dickman story we knew we were gonna do that she spared in the Naval Academy cemetery. So, you know, we that was a story we knew we were going to do. Um, but a lot of the other one's just kind of went in the direction we just didn't know, and that was really what made it a lot of fun. So the way that we divided the book up was I did all the interviewing. I did most of the research. A Scott's wife did some of the research, but she did also all the transcription, huh? Oh, so 45 minute interviews and she transcribed those Wow. Wow. Uh, I mean, the true hero of the book is Nancy behind. She spent hours and hours and hours and hours of doing the transcription, and then those would go to Scott, and then he would write the chapter, and then he had sent it to me and one of things that was really important to me and was really something I told him. Waas, you know, I wanna have the kind of the final cut. Not that I'm gonna change words, rewrite things, but I really want to make sure that it reads like it's coming from Enable Academy Grant. I don't wantto you know, someone that they hate, you know, on the campus. And you know, things like that and say it's staying on the yard yard. I want to make sure that we're someone reading this. Uh, says Oh, yeah, that's it. This this is a person who went there and so this Because if if it didn't, uh, you know, sometimes you watch you know things about the navy on TV or move ings, and they were there any wrong or they just think you're like, Okay, this thing's reading because that would never happen. So I was really concerned about that. Scott did a wonderful job, but again, unless you go to the Naval Academy, you don't know some of the inside stuff. So But no, we and we got we had a lot of latitude with the publisher of the neighborhood Sue Press. You know, there, once that publish proceedings were really great with Davis. Great support had a lot of pictures that were able to use. That's the other thing that truly front. Is there a lot of old pictures in there? Uh, of some of the first climbs, and that was a lot of fun. So it Z should be a good read. There's good pictures, and ah, it again. It should be something that whether you're a grad or you have no familiarity it all with the Herndon climbing should enjoy.
Grant Vermeer: 17:30
Fantastic. I do want to ask a couple questions. Ah, and actually, hopefully, maybe pick some of these things out of the book already with you. Talked a little bit about talking about the evolution of Herndon in your research and everything that you've been doing. Has Herndon evolved from the start, or has it really remained relatively the same throughout the
James McNeil: 17:49
years? Ah, good question. So So what? We so what we were able to determine and again, this is this is in the book is that, you know, back that before there was the Navy Marine Corps Stadium, graduation was held on Thompson Field, which is kind of this roughly a side of the 11 i Alumni Hall now, and, uh, over by the chapel. Ah, So the basically the kind of the road between the chapel and, uh uh strictly walked that area was an area they called lover's lane, and it had big hedges and upper class were allowed to take their drags, their dates there on Sundays. And the idea was, And again, this is in the early 19 hundreds. And so there wasn't any sort of wild making out going on, right? Everybody's very primitive problem that the idea wasn't that a mountain? We had no women there, obviously at that time, and male midshipmen could take their drags Incident lover's lane. And you have a little bit of privacy with the big hedges, and it was essentially right in front of Herndon. So if you're in one of the interesting things about a lot of interesting things one interesting things about the hurted monuments the only monument on the yard that's never been moved. So So have you ever seen an old picture of the academy and you see fine heard it and that war e ant you to the academy, because that everything else is moved so So, uh, so after. So this starting in early 19 hundreds and there was no Herndon climb, obviously, and graduation happened. And so the sleeps, uh, after they, you know, after the the upper the first class graduated, became third class midshipman and a lot of, um started running and became a tradition to run over to lovers Lane. And to start, uh, just kind of, you know, saying, Hey, we get to be here now because they were prohibited as plead from being in love with planning. And then the tradition became that they started doing a snake dance. And if you know state dances, you have your hips on the person in front of you and you know, they would celebrate by doing the snake dance all around Lover's lane. And again it was by her, earned it. And as is like, uh, still the tradition today, a cz Ah, a lot of times, even though you know you remember them is a plea. But now there are third class, and then they're really kind of being so demontre tive that I think it started to irritate the remaining upper class more. Hey, five minutes ago, Europe leaves in that way. Now you think you're pretty special. So then the snake dance after the snake dance was over, they would take a picture in front of her then and then they started to, uh, take pictures where they had climbed up her end, and I and best as we can tell, that's kind of I think, where the upper class just said, Okay, this this is guys are going crazy and you're just you're throwing this in our face, and we're really starting to get irritated. So to prevent you from climbing up the Herndon monument, we're gonna put grease sauce on it, get harder for you. I love that about has been and again that this is by no means a definitive history. Yeah, but that's about the best way that we were able to go through old Reef Point Lucky Bags. The retired curator of the museum, Jim Cheevers, was tremendously helpful in the book, and it was the curator for 50 years. Uh, you know, he had a lot of the history, so that's about the best that we can determine that this that this crime has happened and it's been Greece. It's been non greased from, um, over the years again, the records were incomplete. About the best that we can determine is the first crime was the class of 62 which was my dad's class, which happened 1950. Now, of course, asked my dad, remember the herd and climb? No. So maybe he did or maybe didn't happen. Uh, it was pretty rough back then. You know, anybody just blocked it out. Ah, but Thea, the fastest climb greased is about 20 minutes, and that was a class are 75. So much like the Miami Dolphins once the last NFL team loses and they're undefeated, season is intact. No pop campaign. That's kind of what the class of 75 passes there happen because they know their record still stands. And I don't think Class of 90 eight's records the longest climb will ever be broken. So yeah, we're probably good in the record.
Grant Vermeer: 22:43
Yes, so we have the longest of all time upwards of four hours, which is just That's an absurd amount of time to be out there, any of the fastest around 20. What, what is the like? Average time it normally takes for a class to get up and you turned in,
James McNeil: 22:57
I would say in and again, it's probably between an hour and 1/2 and 2.5 hours or more in there. And you know what's interesting is, you know, back in my day, you know, back when I was a plead, you know, we didn't have computers and we didn't have cell phones, so we had no way of coordinating so and would call us even having a brief or even talking about it. I mean, we were you know, we just lined up in T cord and sprint it out, and then just kind of figured it out. Well, what's hap? What happens now? And this is we interviewed some, please. Right before the climb. Last year's climb for the and, you know, they had all these e mails flying around their class about strategies. We're gonna do this or do that. We're gonna do this. And they were very, you know, you read in the book, they were very confident that they were gonna take about 30 minutes, and this thing was gonna be a piece of cake. And then, you know, of course, get out there and and again, but that's that's kind of the whole point of it. And I'm, you know, for the people listening that have never seen it. It really is a team building exercise because you 21 feet doesn't sound very when you see the her department doesn't look very tall until you're standing on the bottom of it looking up and then it's grease and can't get a good, good feel. Right? So it's really a fantastic team building exercise. Um, you know, Admiral, foul back Dad will sour. He's a big fan of sea trials, which is something that was added, uh, fairly recently, which is kind of based on the Marine Corps crucible or the battle stations that Navy does for boot camp and heard and still the tradition. Um, but, um, you know, he, uh, he's concerned about someone getting hurt. Any reference the bonfire? Texas A and M if and you know any out. Like I said, he has a good point. Um, but, you know, the tradition is the tradition, and ah, um, you know what? We have to go. So I I think that ah, well, if the trial says not overshadowed it, I think you know, there's a lot of traditions that are are still alive and well, I don't ever say I don't see the herd than climb going away anytime soon. I hope. I hope it doesn't.
Grant Vermeer: 25:19
It's funny the point that you made about the recent plead class like get together and sending e mails and doing all the strategy because I'm pretty sure the Class 17 roughly did the same thing. But they like saying the moment where it actually started, all strategy went out the window and everyone just started running and take out the shirt and thrown in a thing and traffic and everything. And I was like, Oh, yeah, it's It's tough because you probably have, like, 100 or 200 people in the same page, and then you have an additional 1000 that air, just like forget it. We're running up there and we're gonna try and make it happen. Um, so that's that's definitely very interesting. Um, but I do have one more question for you, and this is our actually, two more apologized. The first is kind of based on some folklore, and I was hoping to see if you have any insight into it if I can recall correctly and I may be completely wrong, but I was pretty sure we're believes. We were told that the person who actually replaces the cover on the top the cop put places of the combination cover on the top of Herndon was by tail, supposed to be the first person that would put on either admiral or general in the graduating class. And am I own base with us.
James McNeil: 26:24
That's exactly the That's exactly is the legend.
Grant Vermeer: 26:28
That is the legend, all right? Yes. At least I'm not making things up and I do remember King's correctly, so that's exciting. So ah, shout out to Mike Landry from the 25th Company back in 2017 because he was indeed are lucky warrior who got up there and made it happen. Um, all right, well, now,
James McNeil: 26:44
too, that's never happened.
Grant Vermeer: 26:46
It hasn't ever happened. That's a That's a fact that
James McNeil: 26:50
it's a legend that has never happened. But we have a fun little story, so we have Ah phew kind of vignettes that really weren't long enough. T make a whole chapter on one of the vignettes is about AA group. Ah, a couple of roommates, and this is about the closest we've found. So the roommate got to the top of Herndon. His roommate was the first ad room. The class guy, that not the best we can. We could sing it this point
Grant Vermeer: 27:21
close by. Association will take it right. Um all right. So now, having spent all of this time studying the history of her and and I kind of want to put it over to you just for an opinion question, what do you see? What do you first see as the future of Hernan? Do you see it staying the same? Or do you think some of the safety concerns may Taylor a little bit? How it's conducted? Um, kind of What are your thoughts about Herndon moving forward? Do you think it's gonna stay relatively the same? Or do you think it
James McNeil: 27:47
will continue to evolve? I think it'll stay the same. We last year's climb we we were for the pho were granted access. We interviewed Admiral Carter. We interviewed the O I. C to actually a spine in Oh, I see to the climb there. Of course, the navy. So there's an instruction. There was safety briefs. Uh, there didn't seem to be a big concern about safety. Heard they had done their pre requisite training. That was, uh, so I think that it's is going to keep if I had to guess. I think it's going to keep on, um, being this name that it wa ce But I also think that there it's a lot more regulated and a lot. There's a lot more command interest in it, and ah, because they do realize there is some safety concerns. But again, it's it's It's such a fun tradition, and it's it's relatively harmless. Uh, there's, uh, you know, if you kind of trouble off the top, you know, one of things. They you know what? I did not know this, but in the safety brief, they say, Hey, you know, get some people on the bottom. If you see someone that kind of falls, you know, try toe, cushion their fall, you know, we don't want falling 21 feet to the ground, But so we've been at the last two climbs, and there were, you know, we we there were no injuries that either one. So I think that it should. We don't keep on going. Yeah, but But the academy is certainly not taking that for granted. And And they're putting, ah, putting up Italian officer in charge of it. And I'm an officer in charge of it. Uh, you know, they're taking it seriously.
Grant Vermeer: 29:29
Yeah, absolutely. Ah, well, thank you so much for the insight before we jump to what I call the lightning round of questions, which we ask all former mid shipment on the show. Do you have anything else you'd like to address the audience? Whether it's about Hernan about the book or anything else in general that you would like to get out there?
James McNeil: 29:46
Uh, well, how much time do we
Grant Vermeer: 29:49
have? Because as much as you want say,
James McNeil: 29:53
Well, you know, I think, uh, you know, maybe a couple of things that I that I would that I would throw in, and you asked great questions. Uh, Herndon himself is a really fascinating individual, and I didn't know anything about him, you know? I knew that, you know, I knew was the Herndon Monument. And, you know, I knew he went down with the ship. So So his store iwas, that he was the captain of the SS Central America. Now he was a Navy commander, captain of the ship. But the SS Central America was a merchant ship, but they were carrying gold from the gold rush. And so there were Federal Reserve banks that had were expecting gold shipments. And because it was a federal government, they had merchant ships. Now they tried to sail around South America. But, you know, with in those days in 18 57 18 fifties, you know you'd lose a ship at sea. And so they said, Hey, it was actually easier pre Padma Panama Canal to bring the the trip around the West Coast, uh, take it over land over to the East Coast and then loaded on another ship. So that's what Captain heard and did. And there was a, uh, a lot of instances that were pretty well known of these ships because there was no radar. They didn't know anything about storms or whatever. And if they ran into some sort of whether there were some instances where the crew got off the ship and there were pat, you know, the women and Children, they were coming back from California. Lot of made their fortunes. It was essentially a passenger ship a lot. You know that the crew would go out of the lifeboats and leave everybody to drown. So is what kind of made Herndon famous was how brave he was. Is this ship, uh, fought for two days to stay a floating on all the women and Children off on, then put his dress uniform on, went to the went to the pilot house and, you know, went down with the ship. And what the reason that people knew him so well, was that the that for a couple reasons? One, we're not. When these women got back to work on these other ships, they got back to the the report. They were interviewed, and they all praised heard in spray Avery. But the telegraph, it just come out. So in 18. 57 Herndon story went their version or viral. So a lot of people have heard I've heard it. Okay. And, uh, but people had also heard of herd. And prior to that, because in 18 51 is a lieutenant, he was given orders from the department of the Navy to explore the valley of the Amazon. That was his orders, and he was There were no Westerners that ever had done that. So he assembled an expedition and went from the west coast of South America to the East Coast over the course of a year. And he kept a journal of what he had seen and the people in the food and and and went through. And it was just essentially a diary. And, you know, he would boil water north the temperature and could figure out the elevation of it. So when he got back and it was a, you know, for those who don't message to Garcia was a classic method to Garcia, right? Go exploding out of the Amazon. And that was the order. If he got gets back to the gets back to the States and he takes this reporting, he hands it in and it's reads like a novel. And, you know, and Scott and I both read it, Uh, and it was just a fascinating read and became so popular that it that they had a printing Ah, 10 or 20,000 copies of this Navy report. It became so popular they published it as a book. Thanks. And there was a guy. Young man in a Kirk, a Kiowa who read this book and said, Oh, man, I want to go do that. I wanna I wanna go see, You know, South America. So, Kirk, a Kiowa is on the east coast of violence on the Mississippi. So he took a ship down the Mississippi and goes to New Orleans and goes to the shipping office and says had, like, one ticket to, ah, South America. And the guy kind of laughed at him and said, We don't go there When I read this Mark, you know, I read a map, returned aRer lieutenant heard it, and it was okay. We don't do that. So he ended up never going. Ah, but he ended up writing a series of books about his experiences on the Mississippi River. Samuel Clemens, a k a. Mark Twain. Like that. Okay. And s O that. I think that's an interesting story. Um, I have to to do. Ah, plug, if I can. For the the author of the Road are forward. That's Gary Tender. And he wrote a book called Ship of Gold In the Deep Blue Sea and Supergirl That Need Lucy is about the, uh, salvage operation of the SS Central Americans. The s s Central America went down with 200 tons of gold. But problem was it was an 8000 feet of water, and no one had ever done. You know, this was kind of simultaneous with the Titanic, but no one had ever figured out a way to bring that up and trying to find out just where it waas because there was no GPS back then. They had conflicting flat wrong where the ship had gone down. So it's an absolutely fascinating book that Gerry wrote, huh? And after reading Captain Herndon's ah, balloting, Amazon expedition and feeling like you really know the guy, too. You read the account with one of the first couple of chapters of that book, Gary and he spent 10 years writing it. Piece together almost minute by minute. The the nervous a Central America fighting to stay afloat and finally going down with ships. You kind of feel it kind of felt like in new. Uh, yeah, but Gary was kind enough to write the forward for our book. And so that was, uh that was really, uh, night. Nice of him, and I highly recommend that you read that. It's Ah, it's It's one of the It's a nonfiction book that reads like a fiction book because it's just It's a It's a page turner.
Grant Vermeer: 36:12
Absolutely. And just one more time. So you tell us the name, the book. And once it does get released, Ah, where someone if they are interested in buying it and reading it where they can go to make that happen.
James McNeil: 36:24
Yeah, it's Thea Hernych. Climb a history of the Naval Academy's greatest tradition. Ah, it'll be on Amazon. And also it will be published to the Naval Institute Press pup. Tentative publication date is September 1st of this year.
Grant Vermeer: 36:39
Fantastic. All right, well, thank you again for sharing all that insight. Um, are you ready to move on to lightning round of questions or do you want a couple more minutes?
James McNeil: 36:50
Ah, I think we're good. I think everything we want to dio Yeah. Yeah. All right. Everything we want to do.
Grant Vermeer: 36:58
Fantastic. Um great. Well, then let's do it with the first question. And I love that you had brought up this terminology earlier in the episode. What is your favorite spot on the yard.
James McNeil: 37:10
Well, my favorite spot in the yard is Farragut Field. I am a volunteer coach with the Navy sprint football team, so shouting out, too, and the Thio for my sprint football players back in the day, it was £150 football us. The league started 1934 Now the weight limit, £178 very fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to, ah, to coach them. So no matter what's going on in my life and no matter what's happening, as soon as I walk on fair, good field and get to be with the, uh, you get to be with my script players, um, you know that that's a magical time for me
Grant Vermeer: 37:51
and a dominant team at that. So I gotta imagine that is fun. Um, all right. What? The next question is, what is your favorite meal in King Hall?
James McNeil: 38:02
Well, you know, I love the males and King Hall. I thought that Ah, they were fantastic. I'd say probably the favorite meal, and I was a California kids, so I had no idea where cramp waas, but I would have they would have crab. I think a couple of times a year, and they bring out all the crap. And, of course, I had no idea what I was doing. But I remember the little hammer on then. You know, you know the thing about eating, You know, uh, you know, uh, crab blue crab is takes a lot of effort to get about a tablespoon full of bees also have a bunch of ribs and things like that. Uh, that that was certainly one of my favorite meals. But I just thought the meals themselves were, you know, the food was just was was fantastic. And, you know, there was a foot wrong hot dogs with Texas sauce, chicken tenderloins with pool ace. I mean, I could probably give you, you know, they didn't know if it helped me
Grant Vermeer: 39:01
spoken like a true supply officer,
James McNeil: 39:03
right? Always as you know, I I will never bash the food having run. You know, my one of my jobs on the USS Constellation that carrier was on was the wardroom officer something charge of the flag mess and the chiefs mass and the drums on on the consolation. So I will never, ever bash food movie institution.
Grant Vermeer: 39:28
I love it. Now take a turn to a little bit more of the sentimental side. Ah, and so the first question for you on this is who or what? So could be a person or an experience from your time as a midshipman has the biggest impact on your leadership style that you have today and basically tracing that back to the academy.
James McNeil: 39:47
Well, tie that back to the book again. Ah, don't want Thio little bit of Ah, I don't want to do too many spoilers But my first semester squad leader and my second semester squad leader plead here we're stuck Fantastic examples of poor leadership that I learned year what not to do so I will always be thankful to both of them for showing me how not to lead.
Grant Vermeer: 40:16
Interesting. And that's that's such an important piece of it that right, is seeing seeing what doesn't work. So that's Ah, that's an interesting answer. Thank you for that. I think, uh, I too have experienced said individuals. Ah, and in my path as well. Um, all right. We talked a little bit about Herndon. We talked a little bit about commissioning and that graduation day and throwing it up. But what other would you have? Another great memory from your time at your Ah, you're four years in Annapolis. Or were those those two days by far? Enlarge your best to moments at the Naval Academy?
James McNeil: 40:52
Well, I'd say those two moments and then I'll have to throw in the 3rd 1 as I as I mentioned, my wife is a classmate, and we met, uh, second class Summer. I'm pro Trim it. Ah, I was Ah. Ah. Much more interested in her than her in me way had a major. We were lab partners. Our first semester, junior year. We had a bit of a falling out, Um, and for about the next ah year really had no contact. And then we had a class together, senior year, second semester, senior year, and I asked her out on Valentine's Day of our senior year, and she thankfully said yes. And, uh, once I once we went on that date, you know, there was no doubt in my mind that ah, that I wanted to get married to her, took her longer to come around, but, uh, were married almost 32 years, have three kids and and one grandson. And, uh so that's ah, fantastic memory of meat that, you know, when I think back to my time of the academy, You know, it certainly was hard. One of one of my classmates stand bow stir also a leading actor like me and in lucky bags there, his court one Just 1/4. And they said it wasn't easy. Wasn't supposed to be. That's really that's the case. But the memories and the friendships that you make of the Naval Academy Ah, uh, you know, beyond anything that you could get a civilian school. Ah, and it's happened to me time and time and time over the course of my career, whether you see them in, you know, in the service or you see him at an advance or a union or whatever it is, uh, you see a classmate and it could be, uh, you saw him five years, 10 years, 15 however old you are. But soon as you start talking to him, it's no matter how much time has passed, it's like you saw him yesterday, and that's the That's the thing about the academy that is so special. And that's the thing that makes it all worth it.
Grant Vermeer: 43:00
Absolutely. I love that answer, all right. And to the final thing is that, Ah, large piece of our audience, uh, are high school students or parents of high school students who may be interested in the Naval Academy. So if there's someone like out that out there listening, what advice would you give someone who may be interested in the Naval Academy about what to consider when trying to decide if the Naval Academy is a good choice for them?
James McNeil: 43:25
Well, I guess that answered this a couple of ways. One in, you know, there's a lot of there's a lot of interest, and so the competition is absolutely clear. Before my kids were even in high school, a friend of mine had a saying. He told his kids, and I stole it from him, which is, you know, everybody closes the door, so you you can't brings through high school. You can't, uh, not apply yourself in high school and think that the Naval Academy is gonna be interested in you, so you have to work a tool. The second piece of that is, and with blue and gold officer for 20 years, then accounts a lot of lot of model of a potential midshipman. And I think a lot of high school kids. I mean, I, you know, and I put you in this category to the competition and just the quality of the of everybody that supplying and going to the academy there was so much higher. Um, I don't I think they would probably just return to sender My application, you know, now. So that s o The competition is fierce, but it's it's not, uh, not just trying to collect extracurricular activities. It's not trying just in tow. Have 10 things, and I and I think whatever he kind of fails to realize because they don't know because they were kind of on the outside Looking in is that the Naval Academy is a leadership institute. What does it matter that you were in the chess club in the Stamp Club and the ski Club? What were your leadership roles in those organizations? Because we're looking for leaders, you know, we're looking for young men and women who are already demonstrating the ability to be leaders or having successes leaders, because we can take that and then we can build that up and up and up. So the that when they get out of the fleet, they're gonna be successful. So if I'm talking to a high school student, uh, make sure you really apply yourself. But don't just collect extracurricular activities. Really. Focus on on on Leon things that can show your leadership team captains in a sport obviously very, very important. Uh, and the thing about if you do end up at the Naval Academy and you know the retention is is pretty high. I think, like I said, the competition is fierce with ones that end up getting in. I think I think the retention is a lot higher than it used to be, for sure. But once you do that and you're able to graduate from the Naval Academy, you have, you're set for life, and it's not necessarily in a Navy Marine Corps setting. I'm amazed now that I'm 56 years old and I'm I've done a lot of different things. I spent a lot of time of the corporate world after I got off active duty, and that is always amazing to me, too, to see and whether it's it's Corp. Corporate jobs or organizations, or myriad things out there where the leadership is military academy people. And, you know, if you look at the mission statement, the mission statement talks about Hey, we were developing leaders and but leaders in our community and it happens all the time. You know, you'll say, Wow, that that person is leading that church committee Man, they're really, really squared away. That really impressive. And then you walk into Oh, yeah, I went to the Air Force of caste. And so uh, that's the thing. It's It's not just a the name career. And, you know, every as you know, you have people say, Hey, I'm getting out after five and they're in a firm for 40. I think I'm staying in for 30 and they're out after five. So you know, Well, you don't know Thio, do you know? But whatever he end up doing, so many Naval Academy graduates are successful because of the leadership.
Grant Vermeer: 47:23
Absolutely. And I love what you're saying earlier about, you know, demonstrating that leadership that's always been a big thing of mine. Whenever I talk, someone is we don't want to just like see you try and hit checks in the box, right? Like George trying to check every box. It's not it. It's fine what you enjoy. Find what your passion is and then make an impact in that thing, right? Like you do what you do, do what you enjoy, do what you love and then demonstrate within a community that you really believe in and really like that you can make an impact on the organization of the people around you. Um and that's like the the phrase that we use the Navy, right is that sustained, superior performance is like a find something you love, get into it and just demonstrate that you can perform at a high levels in a person and as a leader in that organization. And I'll set you up for success, all right.
James McNeil: 48:10
And when I only when I always stressed t young officers who go up there and it really doesn't matter what their community is, you're gonna be at some point, you know, I mean again, you know, if you're a pilot or, you know, in aviation, it takes you a while. That's going to get through your training. But whenever soon as you get out there you're gonna be working with, you know, really, the finest young men and women that the country has to offer. You know, the sailors, you know, Marines, airman that are that are part of our military. And when I tried, until J O's is, you're trying to tell them is they want to be led, Okay. They are dying to be led. They want strong leadership now, they may growl, and they may complain, and but that that's just how it is. And that's how you know, that's just how you know how the navy is, um, in the navy for as long as I waas. But don't ever let that think that they don't want to be led. And it doesn't matter. You know what? You know whether you know it. I went out of the supply Corruptor, and I was the dispersing officer, And I had, uh, when we deployed a month after I got there, I had $9 million in cash in my safe, and I had a Ah, you know, I had, uh, 5000 people that were crying me and my people to make sure they're paid will try. And this is before direct deposit. So it was a long paper checks and all that, and I don't know the first. You know, I knew the brew real basics, and I've learned a supply corps school. But what I was put there for was to lead and to take care of my people so that they could take care of the crew and that, And that's that's really the crucial thing that I think that way sometimes missed. Ah, at the academy where say, Hey, this person really good in this, uh, this sport or they're really good academically. What's their leadership like? Because all that other stuff doesn't matter. You know, I know you probably had a 40 I had a 2.3.
Grant Vermeer: 50:09
I did not have a four
James McNeil: 50:10
out. Oh, don't matter. It's B is leadership that matters absolutely. And, you know, there's nothing more gratifying in our again. I have three kids, and you know, I always say it's always more fun to watch your kid hit a home run than for you to hit a home run. But I'll tell you, there's nothing more gratifying. Especially now, at my stage of life is a leader where you know, at least once a week on a bare minimum, I will get une male or a call or a text message from somebody that's worked for me checking in with me. Hey, could you call me? Call me. I'd like to run something by you. Hey, could you write me this letter of recommendation? Hey, could you advise me in this situation on DATs all just about and that's not because I'm wonderful. I mean, I'm retired now. I can't help anybody you know have any power at all. But I was able to build a relationship on they respect, you know, expect me is the leader. And really, that's kind of my lasting legacy, I think, is that I was able to tow, have some success, is a leader. And to see the people that work for me, a guy that was just, you know, work for me just was selected for flack, you know? So that's the type of
Grant Vermeer: 51:24
a good family that makes it special. Absolutely. Well, Jim, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and coming on to talk all about the hernia, climb the history of it and as well the book. So again, as always again, if you were intrigued, we will put a link to the Amazon page. Once it does get released in the show notes, you can make sure to check that out. Otherwise, make sure when it does get released that you guys go by and take a read. Ah, you're gonna see some great stories, a lot of history about Hernan and a lot of insight. Um, so again, thank you so much for taking your time and sharing it with us here on academy
James McNeil: 51:57
Insider. Thank you very much. I appreciate it was great talking to you.
Grant Vermeer: 52:01
Absolutely. All right. Into the academy insider audience. I hope you guys have a great day. Thanks. All right. Well, I really hope you all enjoyed that episode as always. Please leave me a review on Apple podcasts and be sure to subscribe again. If you were looking for anymore information into the midshipmen experience or life at the Naval Academy, make sure to follow my Facebook page academy inside or you go to my website www dot academy insider dot com. As always, I'm grand from here, The academy insider and thank you so much for letting me be your guide to the United States Naval Academy.