ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The U.S. Naval Academy awarded the 2006 Naval Academy Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Award to four alumni for lifelong achievement and service to the nation in a ceremony before the Brigade of Midshipmen March 31 in the Academy's Alumni Hall.
The recipients are retired Capt. Thomas J. Hudner Jr., class of 1947; retired Adm. Kinnaird R. McKee, class of 1951; retired Air Force Gen. Robert T. Herres, class of 1954; and retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, class of 1958.
The Distinguished Graduate Award, established in 1999, honors Naval Academy alumni who have provided a lifetime of service to the nation or armed forces, have made significant distinguished contributions to the nation via their public service, and have demonstrated a strong interest in supporting the Navy or Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Academy.
"The Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Award goes to a select group of Naval Academy graduates. It is difficult to choose these few from a pool of hundreds, if not thousands, of 'distinguished' alumni," said George P. Watt Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Alumni Association and Foundation. "The four men who make up the Distinguished Graduate Award Class of 2006 represent living role models for today's Midshipmen and today's active duty officers to emulate."
Hudner is best-known for his historic attempted rescue of Ensign Jesse Brown, the first African American naval aviator, behind enemy lines during the battle near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Hudner received the Medal of Honor for the attempted rescue.
"It is a humbling experience to have been designated a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval Academy," Hudner said. "This recognition has special significance to me because I have always been proud to have served my country as a naval officer with an Academy background."
McKee had a distinguished career in the submarine service, including tours as executive officer of USS Nautilus (SSN 571), USS Sam Houston (SSBN 609) and as commanding officer tour of USS Dace (SS 247). McKee served as commander, Submarine Group 8 and commander, Submarine Forces Mediterranean, and became the 48th Superintendent of the Naval Academy in 1975.
During his tenure as Superintendent, McKee was responsible for the successful integration of women into the Brigade of Midshipmen, as well as substantial improvements in the academic and professional curricula. His post-superintendent duties included tours as commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet and as the first director of Naval Warfare. In his final tour on active duty, he relieved Adm. Hyman H. G. Rickover as the director of Navy Nuclear Propulsion.
"I am particularly honored to receive the Distinguished Graduate Award," said McKee. "I was only mildly aware of the nature and importance of the program until I sat as the chair of the selection committee. My three years in that role gave me a clear understanding of the rigor of the selection process and made my own selection even more meaningful."
Herres has led a distinguished military and civilian career, joining the then-young Air Force after graduating from the Naval Academy. His career included tours as a commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command, and the first commander of the U.S. Space Command.
Herres also earned master's degrees in electrical engineering and public administration from the Air Force Institute of Technology and George Washington University. His military career concluded with a tour as the first vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"My four years at the Naval Academy were the bridge between youth and the career that followed," said Herres. "I came to appreciate many times during my career the value of the education and training that we experienced as Midshipmen and the many subliminal ways in which it influenced my thinking and my reaction to difficult situations. I am eternally grateful for what this institution has meant throughout my life."
Larson's 40-year military career included two separate tours as the superintendent of the Naval Academy. As a flag officer for 20 years, Larson served in nine assignments both ashore and afloat, including commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, where he led the largest of the unified commands and directed all Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force operations across 103 million square miles - more that 50 percent of the Earth's surface.
"I have been blessed with opportunities, a wonderful supportive family and great people working for and with me," said Larson. "This award means a lot to me because it is given by an institution that has been so important in my life. I feel both proud and humble."
After the ceremony, the award winners mingled with Midshipmen at a post-event reception. The future Navy and Marine Corps officers got the opportunity to personally talk with the 2006 Distinguished Graduates about their careers and experiences.
"Every time we attend these ceremonies, it's an honor and a privilege," said Midshipman First Class Cody Bench. "Their histories, their lives, it's just incredible. We're mentored by some of the best here."
Midshipman 3/C Kathleen Williams agreed.
"I learned a lot from the gentlemen who won these awards," she said. "I feel honored to be in the same institution they came from."
For related news, visit the U.S. Naval Academy Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/usna/.