President Barack Obama told a U.S. Naval Academy graduation Friday that the full story of the Navy’s recent rescue of commercial sea captain Richard Philips from Somali pirates will never be publicly known.
Speaking to graduating midshipmen at the academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Obama urged them to follow the example of those who had gone before them and cited several examples, including Philips’ rescuers.
Philips was taken captive while fending off Somali pirates who attempted to seize his cargo ship. Held for days in a small boat shadowed a U.S. warship, Philips was ultimately freed when Navy snipers shot and killed three of his captors.
“I will not recount the full story of those five days in April. Much of it is known. Some of it will never be known,” Obama told the midshipmen.
The victory, Obama told the 1,036 graduates, belonged to “all the sailors — officers and enlisted, not on one ship, but several — who diligently stood their watch.”
“They did their duty. They performed their job. They stood their watch. They took their time and then they took their shot. And they brought that captain home,” Obama said.
The graduates included 833 men and 203 women. Among the 755 new Navy ensigns was John Sidney McCain IV, the son of Senator John McCain, who received a huge cheer from the crowd of some 30,000.
McCain, who ran against Obama last year, is a Naval Academy graduate, as was his father and grandfather before him. Wearing a Navy cap, he sat in the front row with his wife Cindy and received a standing ovation when he was recognized by the 2009 class president.
Another 267 of the graduates become Marine second lieutenants and two others received an Air Force or Coast Guard commission.
Obama, who took delight in shaking each graduates hand and giving many a friendly slap on the back, embraced the younger McCain when he came to the stage.
Obama won over the crowd early with a display of his powers as commander-in-chief.
“Now, I know it’s customary at graduation for guests to bring a gift. And I have. All midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses are hereby officially absolved,” Obama said.
Returning midshipmen got a bigger present.
After consulting with Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler, the school’s superintendent, “I hereby grant you something extra — an extra weekend” of leave, Obama said.
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Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Graduating midshipmen toss caps in the air after commissioning ceremonies); Reuters/Larry Downing (Graduate reacts after receiving diploma)