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Salt Peter

When I was class secretary I was tempted to submit the following as a class column. But I always wondered the reaction to it by those at Shipmate and also my classmates - but here it is it:
POTASSIUM NITRATE - KNO3 --more commonly known as saltpeter, saltpetre in the United Kingdom, and sometimes erroneously called Chili saltpeter. Potassium Nitrate (Saltpeter) a colorless, crystalline compound, used in fertilizers, gunpowder, preservatives, in medicine, and as a reagent and oxidizing agent in chemistry. Gunpowder--an explosive powder, especially a precise mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal, used as a charge in cartridges, shells, etc. for blasting, in fireworks, etc.
SODIUM NITRATE - NaNO3 - Chili saltpeter, especially as found naturally in Chili and Peru. Chili saltpeter is none other that the guano (a most polite form of description) that has been deposited on certain rocky mountains and islands of Chili and Peru over centuries by birds, and likewise mined and culled for its unique attributes over the past few centuries. Less common applications include as an oxidizer in fireworks replacing potassium nitrate commonly found in black powder and as a component in instant cold packs. Sodium Nitrate should not be confused with Sodium Nitrite NaNO2 which is used in the preparation and preservation of bacon, hams, and other smoked pork products. It is considered carcinogenic if ingested in large quantities over a long period of time.

Regarding the use of Saltpeter—a very old military belief of long standing that ingested in quantity over time, will have a decided negative effect on the libido of the young but mature human male species.

SUBJECT: The Surreptitious Introduction of Saltpeter into the daily diet of Midshipmen, United States Navy during their attendance at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland by a person or persons unknown, during the period of 1950 to 1954, and its long term effects thereof.

DISCUSSION: It has been scuttlebutt and alleged for years that saltpeter had been added to our mess (salt or sugar?) during our most formative years, by a most decidedly and dastardly cabal of unknown identity, who for misguided and/or political purposes, felt the suppression of youths natural instincts and libido was of principle priority, in that our formative minds and deep emotions would be better focused on M-type Naval Boilers, Ordnance and Gunnery, Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Differential Calculus, Analytical and Applied Mechanics, and various other Naval and martial subject matter, etcetera.

This suspicion was reintroduced twenty-seven years ago by a most famous member of the Class of 1954, U.S. Naval Academy, during their 35th reunion, on October 7th, 1989, at the Annapolis Raddison (now Loews) Hotel, Annapolis, Maryland; to wit; the late Richard L. Olson (13). As you recall, Dick was Football Team Captain First Class year, and also held the additional honor of Class Anchor Man at graduation. This most unique honor is attained only by nurturing an extremely highly defined sense of balance in exercising the delicate and precise effort required to offset ease versus effort to attain the minimum requirements for passing the 4-year course of instruction, and graduating. For those that have never had the opportunity or dared the challenge, one cannot effectively perceive the degree of fine-tuned academic effort and wholehearted savoir-faire that is required to win Anchor Man status. It is a most dangerous undertaking, and only one can achieve this daring and unique honor. Some classmates still maintain that the Naval Academy consisted of a 5 year Course of instruction, which some completed in 4. Besides this, Dick was also a most likeable and astute observer of human nature and other peculiar and interesting oddities.

At our 35th reunion in 1989, Dick had commented on the matter of saltpeter during a few moments of libation and cheer in a hospitality room at the hotel, as events got underway the night before our class of ’54 meeting. The next morning, at the end of a very serious agenda, Ed Tipshus (2) announced Dick’s wish to address a matter of importance to the class. President Fitz Woodrow (6) gave Dick the floor, and Dick presented his concerns about our exposure to unknown amounts of saltpeter while at the Academy. He created quite a stir with classmates, especially when he alluded that some of the wives of his very close classmates had made pertinent comments on the matter. He did aver of any personal problems. This generated quite a large and loud discussion from those present – especially from close classmates whose names he was about to divulge. However, an uprising was averted as he was shouted down, and the meeting was quickly adjourned, with the matter tabled or pigeonholed for future discussion.

It is our understanding that the Class of 1954, as represented by those attending the meeting, were fully concerned with what had transpired, but did not wish to address the sensitive matter at that time. After more than twenty-eight sensible years of subtle avoidance of the subject, continued indifference and neglect of the implications, we have hereby belatedly decided that the matter is one that concerns the entire body of the U.S. Naval Academy and its Alumni Association. This matter should be taken under investigation so a determination may be made to the truth of the persistent rumor. This recommendation is proffered with the understanding that since co-education has occurred, that the matter should be closely examined in depth, as the matter of some past improper behavior by a very few midshipmen has caused great concern.

No one in the Class of 1954 has openly complained of any personal causative ill effects; however, there has been specific notice of a general degradation of vigor and vitality (and skin tone) since we moved into our octogenarian years.

PROPOSAL: THEREFORE: We recommend the following action:

1. That the Alumni Association conduct a study of its midshipmen and alumni to determine if and to what the degree of impact the possible surreptitious introduction or reintroduction of saltpeter into the meals or condiments of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, with particular emphasis on current and delayed long term effects thereof.

2. That the Association review its and the Academy’s records, so that these concerns and problems are forever resolved. The Class of 1954 is also most concerned that the possible introduction of saltpeter has not recurred since females have become midshipmen. It may be most prudent to conduct a separate study of males versus female graduates over the years to determine if there is a causative difference among the sexes.

3. As part of such study, we encourage, adjure, and hope that current classes begin keeping records, and get their spouses and friends involved, so that more accurate records may be kept as the years go on. This may become of singular importance when their class reaches its octogenarian years.

4. We make this recommendation with full patriotism and concern for the Department of the Navy and the U.S. Naval Academy. We do not suggest any outside government entity or agency, and in particular, the Naval Investigative Service or Congress, heaven forbid, be involved. We hope that there will be a fine spirit of cooperation and an honest desire to get to the bottom of this matter, and once and for all either stop the scuttlebutt that has run rife, or if true, declare it openly to the Brigade, and all alumni. This will give midshipmen, and those alumni, now and in the future, who are concerned, the ability to forever forget the matter, or take possible remedial action, and have some final word with peace and serenity in their golden years.

U.S.N.A. CLASS OF 1954 Members of The Class of 1954 hereby affirm that they do not have any financial interest or personal association with the manufacturers of any saltpeter product, antidote, stimulus, or any generic substitute regarding male libido or any pecuniary interest in the proposal at hand.

The United States Navy, The United States Naval Academy, and the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association are not authors of the above, nor were they in any way involved in its speculation. The Secretary of the Class of ’54 takes full responsibility in this reprise of an old serious issue (or sea story).

RESULTS of the investigation may be published in this column in the future.

I should have taken better care of myself. “
(67 to 63 years ago - Four disciplined years of 8 hours enforced sleep at night, daily physical and mental exercise, and required attendance to three finely planned nutritious meals a day at USNA was the perfect model for taking better care of yourself. Where did we go wrong?)

HOW SAY YOU regarding the proposal?
HOW SAY YOU to the establishment of the Class Motto?


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