Monday, May 23, 2016

USNA Class of 2019 Conquers Herndon Monument

The plebes of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2019 met and conquered the final challenge of their freshman year during the annual Herndon Monument Climb May 23.

Working together to replace the plebe cover at the top with a midshipman cover, the plebes-no-more formed a human pyramid around the 21-foot-tall monument, ultimately capped by Midshipman 4th Class Chris Bianchi in 1:12:34.

The USNA Class of 2019 Herndon Climb

 According to legend, the plebe who replaces the plebe cover will become the first member of the class to make the rank of admiral. In the history of the Herndon Climb, this has yet to happen.

But in this case, it would be especially appropriate. Bianchi comes from a family legacy of naval service, and a tragic one. His father, Cmdr. Kevin Bianchi graduated from the academy in 1985 and served as a helicopter pilot. In 2003, he was killed in an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter crash near Naval Air Station Sigonella.

His uncle, also a helicopter pilot and 1983 academy graduate, was killed in an HH-46 helicopter crash in the Philippines in 1987, before Bianchi was born.

Rita Bianchi and her son, Class of 2019 Herndon capper MIDN 4/C Chris Bianchi

His mother, Rita Bianchi was in the crowd, watching as Bianchi made his way to the top of the Herndon Monument.

“I was praying to his dad up in heaven to just help him get to the top,” she said.

Bianchi made multiple attempts to get to the top and kept getting knocked down.

“People just kept pushing me back up. It’s good to be a little guy,” he said. “It felt amazing to be the one who actually capped it, but it’s really the people at the base that I owe it all to.”

It's the fastest a class has capped a greased monument since the Class of 1991 did it in less than an hour in 1988. It also beat the graduating Class of 2016's time – which had been the fastest in the last five years – by more than 20 minutes.

Midshipman 1st Class Patrick Lien capped the monument for the Class of 2016 three years ago.

“He was pretty fast today,” said Lien. “In the moment it’s surreal. Once you get done and the crowd dies down a bit you start to understand how much it means to everyone.”

Herndon capper from the graduating Class of 2016, MIDN
1/C Patrick Lien and this year's capper MIDN 4/C Chris Bianchi
(Photo by MCSN Brianna Jones)
Every year, the approximately 1,000 members of the academy's plebe class scale the granite obelisk in a traditional rite of passage that has been recorded since 1959. The official date of origin was never documented.

The monument is dedicated to Cmdr. William Lewis Herndon, who died in an attempt to save the crew of his steamer ship Central America during a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in 1857.

Find more photos from this year's Herndon Monument at the USNA Flickr site.

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