And they are home, back with their families in their hometowns and away from the rigors of a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Linsly graduate Colin Kelly is near the middle of his third year, and Wheeling Central Catholic alum Joe Minor is in his second after spending his freshman year at West Virginia University, and the pair returned home earlier than usual for Thanksgiving because they both were accepted into a program that involves educating their respective communities about the Annapolis-based service academy.
“If I weren’t accepted for this program, we wouldn’t have been able to get back to the Wheeling area until late Wednesday, and then we would have had to return right after Thanksgiving,” Minor said. “But I really did want to come home to my family and to be able to see my friends who also returned home for the holiday. It’s been a great week.
“I’ve really enjoyed visiting the students in the schools, too, and going back to Wheeling Central was very special to me,” he continued. “I know I was beaming because I’m very, very proud to be a Maroon Knight, and I am very proud to represent the school at the Naval Academy.”
Kelly was raised in Lafferty, Ohio, and Minor, in Wheeling, and the program mandates that both visit high schools in their native states. Both of them did visit with students at Linsly since Kelly is a graduate and the campus of the college-prep school is situated in the middle of the Friendly City.
“It’s easy for me to speak about the Naval Academy because I really do love it because it’s such a unique place, and the caliber of people that you meet there is out of this world,” Kelly explained. “And attending Linsly really prepared me for my education at the Naval Academy because of the level of attention I received there and because of the teachers that I had while there.
“My teachers really took the time to make sure that we were learning the material,” he continued. “And I also learned a moral compass there, and that immediately transferred to the Naval Academy because the code of conduct there is that, as a Midshipman, you will not lie, cheat, or steal. Those are principles that I learned first at Linsly.”
Minor feels very much the same about his experience at CCHS.
“In every way, Wheeling Central prepared me for the Naval Academy,” Minor insisted. “Along with the curriculum, there is that moral aspect, and I was also taught that if I am going to do something, I should make sure that I am doing it the right way without trying to find any shortcuts.
“I also learned to be very adaptable because of the concentration on extracurricular activites,” he said. “And the concentration on serving the community is something I believe that will always stick with me. I learned so much by participating in the high school’s annual food drive and by going out into the community to help the people of the city of Wheeling. I enjoyed that a lot, and that had nothing to do with what I was learning in the classroom.”
Kelly received his appointment to the Naval Academy from U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-6th) and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Minor received his from Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. David McKinley. Academy students have four years to earn their degrees and then must serve a minimum of five years on active duty.
Both of them wish to become members of the Marine Corps aviation division, and they are both interested in flying military aircraft at the beginning of their respective careers. Each Midshipman also is mandated to participate in two training blocks each summer, and this allowed Kelly to visit Japan and San Diego last summer while Minor took trips to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and up and down the East Coast via watercraft.
And, while several motion pictures have centered on the Naval Academy and the rigors of attending, Kelly said one has to live it to truly know it.
“I can tell you about the classes, the trainings, and about my common days, but it’s very difficult to explain what it all feels like,” he said. “I started looking into the Naval Academy early in high school because I knew I wanted to have a higher purpose and believed I could find it there, and I have.
“The bad days that you experience at the Academy are the most important days because they teach you how to overcome whatever issues you may be having at that time. It’s about failure and adversity because there has not been a single day when I have not failed at the Naval Academy, and that fact has taught me a lot of about self-confidence,” Kelly added. “This may sound odd to a lot of people, but I am grateful for those failures because those failures have taught me how to handle those situations. Failure makes you move on and to think of a different way to fix the problem.”
For now, these Midshipmen are home eating their favorite foods and visiting with family and friends during this Thanksgiving holiday, and no matter where these two young men venture next, it will always be the Upper Valley where they wish to visit again.
“I could take an easy out on the ‘What do you miss most at home?’ question and just say DiCarlo’s Pizza, but that’s not even close to the complete answer,” Minor said with a smile. “I love being around the people of the Wheeling area because there’s something special about the people. Sure, there’s all of the great food that I grew up with. and I always look forward to having that again when I come home, but it’s the people that I will never forget no matter where my career takes me.
“I do love the home cooking. There is no comparison between the food at the Naval Academy and what my mother makes for me when I come home,” he added. “And I am a member of a family that is very close with each other, and I love when I come home to be with them.”
(Photos provided by Joe Minor and Colin Kelly)