ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) – Freshmen at the U.S. Naval Academy spent the day climbing the 21-foot Herndon Monument greased in lard to mark the end of their plebe year. After missing the chance to carry on the tradition last year, these midshipmen were ready.

It was a running start to a tradition that dates back to 1950. And hundreds of excited plebes literally moving to the next class.

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ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND – MAY 22: Midshipman 4th Class (freshman) Michael Lancaster celebrates with his classmates at the end of the Herndon Monument climb at the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22, 2021 in Annapolis, Maryland. The “plebes” worked for three hours and forty one minutes to scale the 21-foot monument and replace a “dixie cup” with the upperclassmen hat, signifying the end of their “plebe” year. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“Everything is sweaty, everything is wet, everybody is slippery because of all the butter,” one said. “It’s really hard to get up there.”

But they did it after 3 hours and 41 minutes, another year of tradition and teamwork capped.

Many of the traditions have been overshadowed by the pandemic’s new world order. But right here, right now, that didn’t matter as fellow midshipmen lathered on the lard and the encouragement.

“This is really important to us just to see everyone do it, but really for the plebes because this is their final stage of their plebe freshman year and this is the end of them. It’s been a tough year, especially given the pandemic, so it’s going to be a great transition to put a tough year behind and really look back and be proud of what they’ve accomplished,” said Midshipmen Second Class Ryan Phelan.

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The challenges of the last year now serve as motivation for the current mission.

“It actually made us closer together and more unified and cooperative with each other, and that’s definitely helped us through this moment,” the plebe said.

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND – MAY 22: Midshipman 4th Class (freshman) Michael Lancaster gives speech after placing an upperclassmen’s hat on top of the Herndon Monument at the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22, 2021 in Annapolis, Maryland. Members of the 2024 midshipmen’s class worked for three hours and forty one minutes to scale the 21-foot monument and replace a “dixie cup” with the upperclassmen hat, signifying the end of their “plebe” year. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“It was a tough year last year, especially with last year’s class not getting to participate so it means a lot to do this ceremony again. It means a lot as a company, as a unit to come out here and get this set up and looking greasy,” said Phelan.

Participating midshipmen all had to be vaccinated for Covid before the climb.

Midshipman Michael Lancaster, 19 of Signal Mountain, Tenn., was the plebe who replaced the cap. Lancaster is a member of the 14th Company, which also won this year’s Sea Trials, a day-long series of tests designed to show the plebes’ endurance.

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“I’m proud to be here,” the first plebe said.

CBS Baltimore Staff