Vanness Zhu ’16 sat down with Brad Larsen ’72 to discuss his time at Army and Navy Academy, his favorite memories, and the lessons learned that have carried him throughout his adult life. Read excerpts of their conversation in this month’s Alumni Spotlight:
How did your family hear about ANA and why did you enroll?
“I came to the Academy via Camp Pacific with Coach Maffucci. My parents sent me here to Camp Pacific, and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. The shock came when I didn’t leave. I was being measured for a uniform and enrolling in school.”
How old were you when you were enrolled?
“I think I had my birthday during camp – I came in at 11, and when the Camp ended I was 12.”
What was your first impression of campus?
“I thought it was a dream come true to be next to the beach. I was raised in Southern California, but was always an hour away from the nearest beaches.”
What was Carlsbad like when you enrolled?
“It was primitive and basic, and it surprises me how much so because I saw an aerial photograph and I thought ‘Man, this is old.’ We turn it over and I turned it out I was there then. It had a movie theater and that was the biggest attraction. There was a pharmacy and a mortuary downtown. There was never really much reason to go out other than the movies or the restaurants. I’m really proud of the way Carlsbad has reinvented itself since.”
What did you like most about being a Cadet?
“The discipline and the order. I came to like that and I still put my hangers two fingers apart at home. I really learned to appreciate that order when I graduated and saw the way my friends really had no sense of it. I thought I couldn’t live like that. The guys were like children compared to the Cadets graduating from here. Everyone was just years behind me in terms of maturity.”
What did you like least about being a Cadet?
“Probably the lack of being able to maintain the friendships and relationships back home. We would be here for months and months and not go home. There were seven weekends a year when we would be allowed to go home. I was shocked when I heard that now guys could go home almost every weekend. That was just unheard of. All we had was snail mail and there was a little shack where we would send letters. It was really the isolation, but you get used to anything. On the flip side of that, you really developed a bond with the other Cadets and the people running the institution.”
Who made the biggest impression on you?
“When I became a Cadet, I was severely distressed. I didn’t want to be leaving home and my family. There were some very emotional hours spent with the figure in the statue out there. Major Stoll was a saint. He sat me though it and when it was done, it was done. When I started playing tennis, it changed to Harold Moses, the tennis coach. Those two relationships were great.”
What is your fondest memory?
“Living at the beach. When you grow up by the beach, you don’t want to leave the beach, you really don’t. I’m not much of a surfer, but I just loved getting out and feeling the ocean breeze. When I went back home, it was awful. It felt hot and smoggy, so I knew in my blood that I had to be by the beach.”
What advice would you offer to Cadets now?
“I would say that you have to talk to someone who’s been here to really sit down and explain to you why you’re here. Then try to relax and enjoy your time here. Try to enjoy the relationships you have here and come out of your shell. Don’t be withdrawn or shy. Once you’re gone, you’re gone and some of the friends you make may disappear from your life, too. Understand that your time here will pass and fighting it never worked out well for those who did it. You may not find people who support you the same way that they do here.”
Why have you stayed consistently involved as an alumnus?
“My class and I had reunions pretty frequently after we graduated and many of us attended because we were so close to each other. It’s like a second home. I started missing a lot of the ten year reunions while I was starting my family and business. That military training really help me along. I really also like stepping into Davis Hall and being instantly familiar with everything inside. Being part of the Alumni Association allowed me to see the other side of the coin. You never see the school from the perspective of the administrators and it’s an interesting experience to get to do that.”
What are three things you learned as a Cadet that stayed with you?
“The first is my recognition of my personal appearance and demeanor. Here you learned to stand up straight, wear your clothes correctly, tuck in your shirt, and just have a very good appearance. Discipline probably came second. A Cadet would probably stand up straighter than a normal person from the crowd and walk with deliberation. The Honor Code is the third. It eventually becomes a part of you and you just become really adverse to lying or stealing. A lot of people have no problem with cheating today. It’s found in the political or music scene.”