LCDR WESLEY BROWN, ’49

This is a sports blog, not a “general Naval Academy happenings” blog. There are certain events, however, that transcend sports and deserve to be mentioned here. The passing of Wesley Brown is such an event.

On the strength of one link in the cable,
Dependeth the might of the chain.
Who knows when thou may’st be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!

The purpose of plebe summer is not simply an indoctrination to a military lifestyle. It also teaches incoming plebes the single most important lesson for military success: that the individual no longer matters. Once these new denizens of the dixie cup raise their right hands and take the oath, they become part of a team. Everything they will do after that point will be for the good of that team, and in turn they know that they can count on the team to get them through situations they didn’t think they could handle before. That mantra doesn’t end after Herndon; they will carry it with them through graduation and into their Naval careers.

Now imagine going through the rigors of this environment without a team, or even a roommate. No, simply not having a team would have been an improvement. Imagine going through USNA while those who were supposed to be your team were instead actively working against you. Inventing reasons to give you demerits and put you on restriction. Hazing you. Trying to get you to quit if they failed in their efforts to get you kicked out. How many of us could do it? How many would even want to try?

Take heed in your manner of speaking
That the language ye use may be sound,
In the list of the words of your choosing
“Impossible” may not be found.

Wesley Brown did. The history of racial integration at the Naval Academy is not a proud one, and as the first black midshipman to make it to graduation, he endured all that and more. That he was able to persevere is important, but just as important is how he did it. It would have been understandable, expected even, for LCDR Brown to want nothing to do with USNA, and to have been made bitter by his experience. Yet he wasn’t, at least not publicly. He never singled out a classmate for the way he was treated. He didn’t curse the Naval Academy, though he would have been justified in doing so. Instead, he embraced his alma mater, serving on the Alumni Association Board of Trustees and maintaining a visible presence on the yard. He continued to put ship and shipmate before self, and became the embodiment of that most fundamental of midshipman lessons. The grace with which Brown handled his burden prevented further divisiveness and accelerated the process through which the Academy corrected its wrongs and became the institution that it is today.

Doth the paintwork make war with the funnels
And the deck to the cannons complain?
Nay, they know that some soap and fresh water
Unites them as brothers again.

So ye, being heads of departments,
Do you growl with a smile on your lip,
Lest ye strive and in anger be parted,
And lessen the might of your ship.

It is appropriate, then, that there is a building bearing his name on the Yard. If it is a love of country that inspires us to serve, then how great must that love be for someone who answers the call even while being harassed by those who would have him fail? Officers capable of leadership in the face of adversity are exactly what the Naval Academy strives to produce. Future generations of midshipmen must remember the example that Brown set for them. The moment he decided to bearest the strain, our school and our country were changed for the better. 

Say the wise: How may I know their purpose?
Then acts without wherefore or why.
Stays the fool but one moment to question,
And the chance of his life passes by.

May he be remembered with gratitude as he rests in eternal peace.

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11 Responses

  1. Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetuae luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.
    Amen.

    Fair winds and following seas!

    BEAT ARMY

  2. \Hand salute
    \\Ready; two

  3. a true inspiration. anybody who ever says they had a “true plebe year” or got “hazed” should look at what LCDR Brown went through. THAT was hazing.

  4. Phat….great piece. Our daughter met this giant of man during the opening of the fieldhouse named for him and was awestruck. He paved the way not only for racial minorities, but women as well.

  5. Wonderful tribute, Mike.

  6. Mike, Greatly appreciate putting so well into words this tribute to not just a great Alum and Naval Officer, but a great man. We all were fortunate that he embodied
    “On the strength of one link in the cable,
    Dependeth the might of the chain.
    Who knows when thou may’st be tested?
    So live that thou bearest the strain!

  7. God rest his soul.

  8. Beautiful piece, for a courageous man. RIP.

  9. Mike, please know that your moving tribute to my father brought great comfort to my family during this difficult time. Thank you for so eloquently capturing his struggle, his essence and his resolve. Dad loved us, the Navy and our nation. Willetta West, daughter, LCDR Wesley A. Brown, CEC, USN (ret.)

  10. What a wonderful tribute. I had the honor to meet LCDR Wesley Brown at the Inaugural Service Academy Super Reunion. Impressive indeed.
    Lisa Steptoe
    USMA 1987
    Beat Navy Someday

  11. Mike. Great tribute to an impressive man.
    RIP

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