On Krulak's first day at the Naval Academy, a towering midshipman looked down at him, smirked, and said, "Well, Brute."
It is likely the upperclassman, pleased with his sense of humor, moved on and forgot the incident. But from that moment on, Krulak was taken with the name and henceforth introduced himself as "Brute Krulak." Over the years, the derisive nickname would evolve into one of great respect and, in some quarters, a certain amount of fear.
"I was scared of a strange world," Krulak said of entering the Academy. He had good reason. Life at "the Severn River High School" or "Canoe U" was rigorous, demanding, and for plebes (freshmen) brutal. Hazing was rampant, and plebes were verbally abused and physically beaten.
The Navy is the most hoary of all the military services, and it is essential that plebes learn Navy traditions. One Sunday evening every month, Brute and the other plebes marched into Memorial Hall and listened as the Articles for the Governance of the Navy were read: "The captain of a ship shall not suffer his ship to run upon a rock or a shoal," "the captain shall not strike his flag nor pusillanimously cry for quarter" — the famous "rocks and shoals" speech that many Academy graduates remember all their lives.
Attendance was mandatory at a weekly "nonsectarian" service modeled on the Episcopal Church liturgy. Because Episcopalianism was the religion favored by many senior officers in all branches of the military, the Episcopalian model was considered most appropriate for a military academy. It may have been during his plebe year at the Academy that Brute first told the story of growing up as an Episcopalian. This would not have been a big leap; at the time, Jews who converted to Christianity often chose the Episcopal Church, which was seen as the "country club church" of the upper classes. (A widespread saying among Jewish children was, "If you can kiss your elbow, you will turn into an Episcopalian.")
In a very real sense, Victor Krulak's life began at the Naval Academy. On the personal side was the fabulist yarn he had concocted about his early life. On the professional side, he was a tabula rasa, and he soaked up everything the Navy threw at him. But he remained spoiled, undisciplined, and self-indulgent. During his plebe year, he was sometimes late for formation, did not shine his shoes, and allowed food to stain his uniform. His size and high energy level gave him the appearance of a water bug as he scooted down the hall, darting in and out of rooms along the way. Accounts of the time reveal him as a prankster and, though details are slim, something of a ladies man. His grades were undistinguished.
Courtesy of Little, Brown/Hachette Book Group. Read an interview with Robert Coram.