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FirstLights57 - A Sword in the Chain

On Saturday, 25 February 2017, at Mike's Crab Shack in Annapolis, one of Navy's FirstLights in the Modern Era, port oar Lee Walker '57, passed his Navy sword to fellow lightweight port oar Sean Williamson '17.

L-R: Sean Williamson '17 and Lee Walker '57 (Photo Courtesy of Lee Walker)

A Sword in the Chain

We all know about The Link in the Chain program at our beloved Severn School of Small Boats and Barges – but “A Sword in the Chain”?

This story begins on Saturday, 30 April 2016, during the Callow Cup and Class of 1919 Cup races between the lightweight crews of Navy and Penn on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

On shore pulling for Navy! were two former Navy lightweight rowers, Lee Walker ’57, one of Navy’s first lightweight rowers in the modern era [NB: today’s Navy lightweight rowing program began in 1954] and Rob Niewoehner ‘81 who rowed for Navy lightweights from 1977 – 1981. Never having met before, but buoyed by the camaraderie and Spirit of Lightweights!, Lee and Rob struck-up a conversation and learned they were both former Navy lightweight rowers. Now, fast forward to January 2017….

Lee recalled his meeting with Rob in Philadelphia, and something he had been thinking about for some time motivated him to give Rob a call. He asked Rob if he knew a Navy lightweight rower who would like to have his Navy sword, which he wanted to pass on.

Our degrees of separation are always closer than we think…!

Rob’s son, Brent Niewoehner ’17, rows for Navy lightweights. Rob said he’d speak with his son and learn if there were a rower who would like to have Lee’s sword and eventually agree to continue the tradition. Since the first class rowers were the Class of ’17, Lee thought that passing his sword to a rower in that class would be fitting and proper. And through the connection of Lee through Rob and through Brent, Lee and Sean Williamson ’17 were introduced.

This story ended on 25 February 2017 at Mike’s Crab Shack in Annapolis where Lee presented his sword to Sean. You can see the story of the Lee – and now Sean – sword here.

Also joining Lee and Sean on this day were three of Lee’s Classmates, roommate Gary Antonides; fellow lightweight rower Randy Brown; and Air Force option Dave Smith who took the oath of a U. S. Air Force second lieutenant upon graduation. The late Admiral Charles Randall (Cat) Brown ’21, was Randy’s father, and as an added bonus to this occasion the four Classmates of ‘57 regaled Sean with old tales retold about the Naval Academy, Navy lightweight crew, the Navy, and the Air Force, which when also including those tales of Randy’s father spanned a period of exactly 100 years!

But this story truly does not end here. This is only the end of the beginning of a story that will live on into 2067 when Sean continues the tradition of A Sword in the Chain!

June Week 1955 with newly frocked 2nd Company Midshipman 2/C from the Class of 1957 with their ladies (L-R): William Michael McHugh; Beth; Nancy Deaner; Gary Paul Antonides; Helen (Cookie) Brylawski; Clarence Lee Walker, Jr.; unidentified; and David Albert Smith (Photo courtesy of Lee Walker)

Reflections from Navy Lightweight Port Oar Lee Walker '57

While preparing for A Sword in the Chain presentation, Lee found two related articles in his rowing memorabilia.

One is an article about rowers from the East Falls section of Philadelphia, and the second is from a 1954 Naval Academy edition of the Log, a Naval Academy periodical published by midshipmen. [Lee shares these articles through links provided at the end of this page.]

East Falls has a storied rowing history. Two East Falls scullers won a number of Olympic golds in the 1920s, and an East Falls heavyweight eight [rowing with Penn AC] won 31 consecutive races from 1928 to 1931 in National and International competition.

The Log article is about legendary rowing coach Rusty Callow, and as Lee recognized, the link between the two articles is that from 1927 - 1950 Coach Callow coached the Penn heavyweight crews. The Penn and Penn AC boat houses are close together, and the Schuylkill is small enough that Rusty would have probably watched these champion crews and scullers and no doubt talked to other coaches and observers.

Did Coach Callow's memorable quotes, "It’s not the best eight rowers that row the best boat, it’s the eight rowers that row best together," and "The race is won with the oars out of the water," come from his observations at that time?

And, what does Navy’s Great Eight streak in the early-50s owe to the Penn AC 8 of 1929 to 1931?

Unanswerable of course....

Articles Shared by Lee Walker '57

Man With The Old Tattered Hat by Lynn Wehrmeister '55, the Log, U. S. Naval Academy, Volume 43, No. 15 (30 April 1954)

The Greatest Athletes in the World an article about East Falls rowers written by Joseph P. Kelley, ca. 1976 [Note: Currently researching the name of the publication and publication date]

Let 'er run!