If you’re visiting the Yard in the fall or the spring, you are in for a treat. Every weekday (minus Wednesdays) just before noon (weather permitting), the entire Brigade of Midshipmen (that is 4,400+ women and men in uniform) assembles at Tamanend Court, right in front of their massive dormitory, Bancroft Hall. This is Noon Meal Formation , and it is one of the USNA traditions that has been occurring here for over one hundred years. It is a must-see for any Naval Academy visit.
Related: Do Not Miss the Noon Meal Formation.
All USNA Midshipmen Accounted For: The Beginnings of Noon Meal Formation
Noon formation started in 1905 as a carryover from Civil War traditions, when leaders would “muster their troops” in order to make sure that everyone was accounted for, and then bring them together for the noon meal. It’s a glorified, dignified roll call, and as the USNA Facebook page notes with humor, “In a time before the existence of cell phones, this was the most efficient way to ensure all midshipmen were accounted for.”
This tradition started at the Naval Academy during a time when it was beginning to form its own traditions and identity. Work was just wrapping up on many of the buildings in Ernest Flagg’s stunning Beaux Arts “new academy,” and as the country emerged from the shadow of the Civil War, the Academy was eagerly looking ahead. One of the Naval Academy’s most historic events took place on the Yard on July 24, 1905, when the remains of Commodore John Paul Jones, Revolutionary War hero, were transported here from Paris in a manner befitting this hero. It was an exciting time for the Naval Academy.
Come See the Ceremony
To this day, Noon Meal Formation is done in grand style. The public is welcome to watch the event, and the pomp and pageantry is sure to give you goosebumps. Noon Meal Formation regularly attracts crowds of 100 or more. In a sea of crisp uniforms, USNA midshipmen officers point the tips of their swords three inches from the ground, as has been practiced countless times. Then the loud call begins, "First Battalion all present or accounted for," one midshipman reports. This continues as each of the six total battalions checks in and makes the requisite motions.
“Forward march,” is the final call. The Colorguard assembles, the drums begin, and then the strains of the Naval Academy’s energetic anthem and fight song, “Anchors Aweigh,” and then the powerful Marines’ Hymn (the oldest song in the U.S. Military), “The Halls of Montezuma.” The songs played at Noon Meal Formation can vary. In 2015’s first noon meal formation, the strains of the “Top Gun” theme song rang out, played on bagpipes.
Then all 4,400 uniformed USNA midshipmen file neatly and uniformly into King Hall for the long-awaited lunch, with the band in the rear. It has lasted a total of eight minutes. But the moment stays with you.
The USNA Tours That Lead You There
One of the easiest ways to ensure you catch the action is by joining a tour at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center. The 11:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 11:45 a.m. guided walking tours always make sure to time it right so you can view Noon Meal Formation from the best spot. If you’re not on a tour, aim to arrive around ten minutes before noon for a good viewing spot since the crowds can get large.
It’s worth a Naval Academy visit just to watch this ceremony, which encapsulates so much of what the U.S. Naval Academy stands for—developing midshipmen morally, mentally and physically. Against the breathtaking Beaux Arts backdrop that is quintessentially USNA, with uniforms bright and swords glistening, it is truly a heart pounding experience that will leave you feeling inspired. Watch it here!
While you’re here, be sure to support the Brigade. Every USNA tour you take, meal you enjoy, purchase you make goes right back to the midshipmen, since all profits benefit them. Come see the Noon Meal Formation and be a part of the history making that is the U.S. Naval Academy!
Undated postcard showing noon meal formation at the U.S. Naval Academy.