All posts by Jim

Let Freedom Ring

i had a good day today. With the help of daughter, i touched my toe in the water of the cyber world, learning how to survive there because for goodness sake one cannot live by bread alone: he must be able to navigate the “cloud” and new fangled no-chord technology. We aren’t talking about Philco radios or RCA Victrolas any more.

i wrote quite a bit. i did some home projects. i created a post or two i liked. i did some work outside and in my garage. i like to tinker and i tinkered away. Good day.

Then i tired from those enjoyments and decided to end the day sorting and throwing away office stuff and cleaning up my documents. There i found the below file i had almost finished but put aside.

i think it captures my mood about our country today:

Thomas, John, James, Abraham, and Mose

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the draft for the “Declaration of Independence.” His words: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The idea had far deeper meaning than Jefferson and the fifty-five other British colony representatives who signed the document could have imagined. The idea is no less powerful for their lack of understanding the depth and breadth the meaning of those words would come to hold for everyone, and i mean everyone, who would become, one way or another, citizens of this country, and to the world at large.

*     *     *

James Madison is credited for being the major writer of our Constitution, from which our country formed the best governing system, which remains so today. It begins:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Madison likely had no idea how impactful his words were to become to the country, but his lack of knowledge of the future does not detract from the power of his concept.

*     *      *

Abraham Lincoln spoke to a large crowd it the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield to honor the fallen Union troops. It is known as “The Gettysburg Address:”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

As our forefathers before him, Abraham Lincoln did not fully grasp the breadth and depth these words have come to mean to us. Abraham Lincoln was not ready to accept racial equality. Where he lived when he lived was not ready to accept races as equal. That was true of all races. The dominant powerful races ruled, but had the “Native Americans,” the Negroes, and all of the other races had the technical superiority and power of the Caucasians, they too would have considered themselves superior, and quite likely did. Yet Lincoln’s words, especially the last part of the last sentence from that address: “…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” captured the essence of equality we not only continue to strive for, but believe in all of our hearts, at least those who try to be pure of heart.

These forefathers’ worlds were different than ours today. But their ideas captured what we should be still attempting to achieve in the true, complete sense of the words they wrote and spoke even though it was not a complete, perfect thought in their minds. It was their ideas of freedom and equality that has made this country great.

It seems to be we have forgotten their ideas of freedom and equality for all humans.

Mose Allison recognized this in his song “Mercy:” 

Everybody crying mercy when they don’t know the meaning of the word…
Everybody crying justice, just as long as they get theirs first…
Everbody crying peace on earth just as soon as we win this war… 

i am sad.

Veteran’s Day

In 1970, i had a cup of coffee seventeen times in Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, or Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam; was caught in the crossfire of .50 cal rifles between mistakened U.S. forces once, friendly fire i think it’s called; thought i was shot at five other times; and at night from my ship’s weather decks, watched tracers from firefights several miles away.

About 0200 in Qui Nhon, a cargo ship moored aft of the USNS Geiger (T-AP 197) on the DeLong pier had a zapper charge blow through her cargo hold. i watched from my stateroom porthole as she took on a list, held upright by her mooring lines with the huge tire fenders between her and the pier being blown up in the air and bouncing down the pier while the crew from several Asian countries running down the pier avoiding the bouncing tires and some climbing our accommodation ladder to inquire about joining our Merchant Marine crew.

At anchor in  Nha Trang Bay after Army intelligence informed us we were a target for zappers in the area, i spent the night with Doc Miles Humphrey, standing by the safety lines on the 03 level, with my .45 cal pistol, the only one of five guns i knew were on the ship, feeling pretty hopeless, watching for any signs of underwater swimmers. The zappers must have been scared away.

In 1984-85 with USS Yosemite anchored off of Masirah, Oman, we were informed by Navy intelligence Iranian gunboats might attack us. We had ad hoc .50 cal rifle teams posted around the perimeter of the main deck and 02 levels for a week or so. Checking out these teams with almost no weapons training, the helpless feeling i had in Nha Trang Bay returned.

In my 15 years at sea, i experienced about ten near collisions and a half dozen or so storms strong enough to frighten the most experienced mariners. i don’t remember ever being scared in the Navy. I felt helpless those two times, i was concerned, especially when other ships were putting my ship and the crew in danger by not following the rules of the road. i have been frightened a number of times in my non-Navy life.

But then, the dangers i brushed near were nothing. Nothing. i have friends, close friends who died. i have friends who were horribly injured and brutally tortured — none of them talk about it, or regret it. Death, pain, long term disability are part of the agreement. They are proud of their service.

i’m proud of my service too, but my service was not so much service as a means to financial security and more so going to sea on ships. Still i am proud of my service.

Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, autumn, 1943.

i think of my father’s service and the service of his generation. It is mind boggling to me: he and all of the other men in that generation who dropped the only lives they had ever known to fight a war in places they had never dreamed of much less been to.  Jimmy Jewell was a youthful automobile mechanic in small country town with his first child on the way. He decided to enlist before being called by the draft. He felt it was his best choice and would allow him to serve using his expertise, fixing things, like automobiles. With a pregnant wife and a sense of duty conflicting in his decision making,  he made his decision based on the inevitable service he knew would come to pass. He took with him a pocket-size faux leather album he kept in his pocket the entire time he was gone containing precious photos like the one here of his wife and him.

i try to imagine how he felt as he went to Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp, and Davisville, Rhode Island for Seabee training, and Gulfport, Mississippi to wait for his ship, places in the states he had never been. Then, what was on his mind when, with 1 five-month old son and his wife on his mind, boarding that liberty ship, traversing the Panama Canal, picking up more 75th Battalion Seabees in San Francisco, crossing the Pacific, and spending almost two years, in the middle of a war like no wars in its expanse.

I try to imagine him watching kamikaze planes from his motor pool crashing before they reached him. i have been to several of the places in the South Pacific where he had been thirty or forty years earlier. i understand why many of his photos show him shirtless in the intense heat and humidity on those jungle islands.

The stories he told me about those times in the war at Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, New Caledonia; Bougainville, New Guinea; an LST ride to Luzon, Philippines. He showed me photos as he told me the stories and gave me a box with those photos to keep. i fervently wish we had taken time for him to tell me more stories and also wish i had recorded those stories in order to get them right in the retelling.

But there was one photo that tells it all for me. Today, Veteran’s Day, is not just to honor those who died in service. The ensign (U.S. flag to you non-Navy folks) is flown two-blocked, not at half mast for it is a day to be proud of our service, not sad. Still there are those who didn’t come back from their service. They remain in places their sons and daughters won’t ever visit. One of those who didn’t come back could have been my father. Heck, now that i think about it, i might not have come back from some of my service: just haven’t thought of it in that way before.

i am proud of all of my fellow veterans for their service. But there is a quiet awe i feel when i look at the photo my father gave to me:

U.S. Military Cemetery, World War II, Luzon.

A Microwave Story

Amy Beth Hale posted on Facebook this morning about getting a new microwave oven. She had put off doing so for about a year and a half after the old one went out, and did so mostly because the light over the stove died with the old microwave.

It brought back a memory of a microwave that wasn’t so benign in its passing. It is a second hand story, so i will attempt to keep it anonymous for i cannot vouch for the veracity. But it’s a good story.

Out west in a hilly region of the countryside, there is a wonderful golf course: tough, up and down among many pines with narrow fairways and small greens, and a small lake. Homes are built around the beautiful private course and many of the residents are club members.

Several of these members played a couple of rounds each week with each other with small wagers. One such wager was at the fourteenth tee at the back of the lake. The group had a standing bet they would all pay a hundred bucks if someone could hit a ball off the tee about sixty degrees right of the fairway line and reach the other side of the lake, about 290 yards away. Each time, they reached the fourteenth tee, they would take turns before their tee shots for the match to try and hit the other side of the lake.

One member whose home was behind the fourteenth tee was often close but still short of his goal. He knew the harder the golf ball, the further it would go. So he devised his plan of winning the standing bet. As they walked from the thirteenth green to the next tee box, he said he had to run inside his house and get something out of the kitchen. When he got inside, he placed his golf ball in his kitchen microwave and turned it on high, figuring microwaving it for a minute or so would make the ball hard enough to go longer and get his shot to other side of the lake.

He turned on the microwave.

The other golfers heard the blast.

The microwave exploded and ruined a good portion of the kitchen.

The golfer/house owner never found the golf ball. His future tee shots never reached the other side of the lake.

i’m not sure why, but i laugh every time i think of that story.

Thanks, Amy Beth.

Déja Vu, Only More So

Last Thursday evening, i attended an event, which produced déja vu for me but in spades. i began this post later that Thursday evening and have been trying to get my head wrapped around it since then.

The event was not as well attended as it should have been. But on the other hand, the few who attended experienced an impactful evening made more so because of the intimacy of just a few.

Sixteen folks were there.

Andrew Maraniss was the speaker. He told of a difficult time in our history and how one man faced it and not only endured but succeeded with very little support. In doing so, this man opened the door to a new and better culture.

The book is Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South.  i read the book shortly after it was published in 2014. It told of how Wallace became the first black athlete to play in the Southeastern Conference in 1967. He played for Vanderbilt. The story is almost overwhelming from many angles. Wallace endured severe racial prejudice, threats, and even violence. Those with best intentions did not provide him the support he needed and he had to grit his teeth and make it on his own.

Make it he did. And finally Vanderbilt made amends for the lack of support and Perry took his rightful place in the history books for being a pioneer who led the change for sports in the South and his rightful place of honor at Vanderbilt. Andrew’s two books, Strong Inside (the adult edition mentioned above) and Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line (young readers edition),  provide a vivid portrayal much better than anything i could offer here.

But the Vanderbilt Alumni meeting was an experience.

i was there…i mean i was at the meeting and i was in Nashville when the Perry Wallace story  unfolded.

The meeting was unique. Although small in number, the attendees included two young boys, recent graduates, and graduates who attended during Perry’s time there. There were guests, my wife, daughter, and two neighbors included.

The reaction to Andrew describing the events in the book brought a palpable, emotional response. Andrew’s style is informal, casual and fit this event perfectly. Those who had not heard the story believed but it was hard for them to imagine it actually happened. Those who had heard the story and read the book, especially me, were taken back again.

The question and answer period was just about perfect. All of the questions and comments were pertinent and on point. Andrew’s discussion for each question left everyone feeling their questions were answered and their time well spent.

And i was taken back again. i was gone by the time Perry had matriculated. But i was around. i saw him play for Pearl High School, the first time a black school had played a primarily white school (Father Ryan, the winning opponent had several black students and athletes). i saw him standing just out of the foul circle, take one step, catch a teammate’s foul shot, which had hit the back of the rim and bounce up and back to the court, Perry catching it with his right hand at the top of the arc and slamming it back through the net. i heard of his feat at Vanderbilt practice picking quarters off the top of the backboard.

Although i was no longer a student at Vanderbilt, working my way through Middle Tennessee State, i spent a great deal of time in Nashville and was thrilled Wallace and Vanderbilt had broken the color barrier and were succeeding. i had no idea, none whatsoever what Perry was going through.

Perhaps i was just too naive. Looking back on my life my naiveté has been one of my problems throughout my life, even now. i have written here about wondering why folks with darker skin color were at a lower social level, wondered why i didn’t even seen youn black youth, much less play with them. i loved the blues and recognized blues was the propriety of black folks. i listened into the deep of night most nights during high school. As the youth representative for a church committee, i even made a stand for integration.

In college through the good graces of Kent Russ, i met Ralph Boston and remain impressed until this day. i also saw Bob Hayes tie the 100-yard world record. And Cy Fraser and i were frequent visitors to the New Club Baron, a black night club featuring blues and rhythm and blues where we would be two white young men in the middle of a packed house of folks with darker skin, and we would stay into the wee hours.

i just didn’t get it. The protests and the sit-ins had reached a peak. i should have known. i tell myself i should have done more than one measly pronouncement at a church meeting. But i was working two jobs, commuting daily to MTSU, playing softball in a church league, and finding ways to get to my fraternity on the Vandy campus as often as possible. i was interested in getting my degree, going out with women, having fun, and moving on, on and out. That was it. Even with all of the news and the hubbub around the protests, i just didn’t know (as the late Bob Warren, a Commodore teammate of Perry’s said to him years later: “I just didn’t know”).

These kind of thoughts frequently play in my mind. In quiet moments, i try to remember how i missed it, how i didn’t know. i am glad Perry Wallace, “the Jackie Robinson of SEC sports,” did what he did. We needed someone to step forward. i’m proud of Vanderbilt for at least initiating the possibility and even though it was bumbling, giving Perry the avenue to make it happen.

Last Thursday, i went through all of those thoughts one more time: déja vu. As usual, i had no more answers. But i was moved by Andrew Maraniss and was gratified at the response of his audience.

A final note: We have progressed. Athletics is one avenue that opened doors for blacks (i’m using this term for folks of darker skin color than me because someone much more up to date than i told me that was the current preferred politically correct term: i hope i am not offending anyone). Our schools are, at least on paper, integrated. We have made strides through the efforts of many brave people willing to step forward for the first step. i believe both of my daughters and my grandson are color blind. Yet when i look around, i see progress but a long, long way to go before we are truly integrated.

As to how we do that, i feel much like i felt when i watched Vietnamese families escaping a terror, willing to risk the very lives of the families they loved so much by jumping on boats with no idea those boats would even float and heading to the sea with only vague promises and hopes, leaving their homes, their country by the thousands, coming over that horizon south of Vung Tau every day for more than a week. i said to myself then and i say to myself now, “i don’t know what we can do, i don’t know how we got to this point, but we should have done more to prevent this from happening.”

The question now is not what we could have done for Perry then, but what can we do for Perry now?

A Comment on “A Goodbye Long Ago”

One of the most special people in my life who remains one of my dearest friends sent me a comment on my post including my retirement speech. She and her husband are at the beach in autumn — i loved the beach or the coast in the autumn winds and frothing seas. i responded to her comment, and when finished decided what i had written to her captured my feelings about my time at sea. Here it is:

i wish i could spend an evening with you two discussing why i chose the sea, or rather how the sea chose me. There are not a hell of lot of things i believe in. The sea can do that to a fellow. But i believe in the sea. She told me to believe in her.

i wish i could go to sea again, not the graceful sea of the sails and gallantry or even the commercial success of bigger and bigger ships carrying bigger and bigger cargo. No, i wish i could go to the sea again in the clanking, wheezing steam and metal digging into her waves with men on the bridge and down in the holes to take my orders for all ahead full and fifteen degrees right rudder and steady on one four five degrees and ring up turns for twenty-two knots and walk to my port wing in the deep dark of the mid-watch with my cup of steaming black coffee in my hand and my cigarette dangling from my lips (yes, back then i didn’t know or didn’t believe it was a curse and i enjoyed them in the dark of the mid-watch with my coffee) and on the port wing looking abeam to check to see if i could determine the horizon in the black lit by millions of stars and a crescent moon, knowing there were no contacts because Combat Information Center had divulged through sound-powered phones their radar repeaters sweeping green across the black screens had shown no blips within their range, and sipping my coffee, drawing on my smoke, and looking, not up at the impressive array of light in the heavens but down, down deep into the dark, dark blue of the sea flecked with white foam of bow waves, and she would talk to me, tell me i was her own, and ask me if i knew her secrets below and of the storms and the doldrums. And in the cold of the wind abetted by twenty-two knots with the collar on my foul weather jacket up, i never knew but could feel her secrets and fall in love all over again with a warmth in my gut from her knowledge that was almost mine.

Enjoy the beach and feel the sea.

A Goodbye Long Ago

In my quest to get all the facts right in my book about my tour aboard the USS Yosemite, i hit a wall. Tough to write when events of just under forty years ago become hazy. So i have been going through piles of stuff i saved back then primarily as a source  for writing later. Like now later. Much of that pile had little to do with my Yosemite tour. But i was hoping to find some nuggets i had squirreled away in the wrong place,  a rather annoying habit of mine. While rummaging, i found this speech i gave at a pretty significant date in my life.

i decided i would save it and post on November 30.

You see, that was the significant date. In 1989. It was the day i completed my active duty  Navy service, the second most important event that day. The most important event occurred about seven hours later, although that primary event had begun in the late evening the night before. That was when Maureen broke water, and i took her to the hospital to give birth to Sarah, our second daughter.

i had predicted the date in late February when Maureen announced she was pregnant and the due date was early November. i said, “Nope. November 30.” 

“Why?” she queried.

“Because that is the date of my retirement date, and will put me in a quandary,” i declared (or something like that).

i was prophetic.

i stayed with Maureen in the labor room (and man, was it well named) throughout the night, getting little sleep while attending to a beautiful woman enduring more pain than i could imagine. My quandary was beginning to grow. My retirement ceremony was scheduled  for 2:00 that afternoon. i was hoping Maureen would deliver in the morning, so i could get to the ceremony, but it didn’t look good as the sun came up and morning kept moving toward noon.

There were a bunch of friends and relatives in town to attend the retirement ceremony, including my parents who were staying with us, along with Blythe. But for once in my life, i made the right decision. If birth did not occur before the ceremony, i would stay with Maureen. i called Rod Stark, the XO of the Amphibious School, and asked him to read my speech for my retirement in abstentia. Rod agreed.

Then just before noon, the doc came in. Maureen had been given an epidural and a nurse had turned Sarah in the womb, so Maureen was finally comfortable, or as much as she could be. i asked the doc, considering Maureen’s condition when she would give birth. The doc hesitated. Then i asked if he thought i could make the ceremony and get back before birth time. He said i could.

i called my parents and asked them to bring my uniform to the school. i left the labor room in time to get to the command, change, and be there for the ceremony. Blythe graciously agreed to stand in for her other mother. Patsy, Maureen’s sister, was wonderful. She had come to the hospital earlier that morning and told me to go to the ceremony and she would sit with Maureen.

i went, made it through, went to the post party at the Sandpiper O’Club, shook hands and rushed back to the hospital. About 9:00 p.m., i donned the hospital rig over my dress blues sans blouse, and we went to the delivery room. A half hour later, Sarah came into this world.

It was a hell of a day.

Back to the ceremony, Captain Blackmon, Rod, and i explained the situation to the attendees, numbering about 150. The usual fun and nice presentations were made until it became time for my speech. i prefaced it with explaining i was reading it as written and there were parts a bit silly because Maureen wasn’t there.

As i mentioned, i was planning to post this on November 30, but to be honest, i can’t wait. i think the speech describes my life at sea and why i chose to be on that sea for about 14 years of my 22 in the Navy. i have regained contact with a number of my shipmates on my ships through Facebook and email, and i want them to have access to my view of the Navy and life at sea.

My Speech on my retirement (completion of active duty ), November 30, 1989:

Before I really get started in this, I want to thank CAPT Blackmon, CDR Rod Stark, LCDR Terry Frevert, and the school for doing their usual superb job of wishing us old retiring folk farewell. Thank you very much.

I also salute the finest group of professionals with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of working: the LMET Department, which includes our leadership trainers and our equal opportunity trainers. They are very important contributors to the way we do business in the Navy today. It was a pleasure to work with all of you for the last several years.

I want to thank Dave Carey, Larry Phillips, Raul Vazquez, and the current Command Excellence Seminar team, Dudley Morris and Larry Wood for putting up with me and my ego as a partner for what probably seemed to them as a very long time.

I have witnessed a number of these retirement ceremonies over the past several years with increasing interest, taking mental notes on “what to leave in and what to leave out” as Bob Seger so well put it in his song “Against the Wind.” I decided I could not trust myself to rely on my usual extemporaneous comments, or even use my rather infamous 5×8 cards. So I wrote this speech. Please forgive me.

I hope this is short enough to hold your interest. I hope that it is to the point and doesn’t wander from the subject. And I hope that it allows me to keep a tight rein on my emotions. Those are the reasons I decided to make this a speech and not something off the cuff.

Since it is my retirement, there are several things I wish to reflect upon. I have some comments for those of you who remain active in the Naval service.

The first list of items I would like to reflect upon was provided in the command’s letter to me that CAPT Blackmon read earlier. I do not speak of the accomplishments couched in complimentary, formal Navy prose. Nor do I speak of the awards I received over twenty-plus years of Naval service. To a great degree, those awards and accomplishments were more a factor of circumstance, more a product of my timely location and the political acumen of the awards writers, rather than that of my individual effort.

My reflection is contained in the list of twelve commands in which I served – CAPT Kelley, that includes Cayuga. Twenty years seems incredibly short looking at it from this end. But the other day, it dawned on my time in the Navy is one-tenth of the history of the United States Navy. That is not an insignificant period of time put in that perspective.

I remember both the good and bad highlights of all twelve commands fondly. My strongest sense of satisfaction emerges when I reaffirm all but two tours were commands at sea. Without denigrating the super job I’ve had here nor the four years at Texas A&M, I fervently wish all twenty-plus years had been at sea. That was my intent when joined the Navy. The fact I can no longer serve the Navy in meaningful billets at sea is the reason I have chosen to leave the service now. That is where sailors, mariners belong: at sea.

Another list requiring comment because it holds an essence of Naval service for me are the places I’ve been. This list originally took over two legal-sized sheets of paper. To make it manageable, I have excluded locations in the Continental United States, which are also fond in my memory. However, they quite capture the spirit of this list. I also have listed only countries, not each city just for brevity’s sake. But I would ask you to think of the exotic, the unusual, and the exiting images these names suggest:

Bermuda, Nova Scotia, Spain (especially Mallorca), Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Vietnam (Nha Trang remains as one of the prettiest places in the world to me), Italy, Greece, Turkey, British Columbia, Hawaii, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Johnston Island, Eniwetok, Sri Lanka, Diego Garcia (in spite of all of the bad jokes about it, it seemed to me to be the perfect example of what an isolated atoll in the middle of the ocean should look like), Thailand, Egypt (actually, the incredible Suez Canal), Oman, Kenya, Somalia, and Guam.

Those places hold special memories for me and put fact into the recruiting boast, “Join the Navy and See the World.” The Navy allowed this person to see more of the world than he could have imagined when he started this association in 1962.

The other lists I wish to address here deal with people.

The next list was extremely difficult to limit. It is a list of Navy personnel who have had a positive impact on my career. It originally seemed to be an infinite list, so I decided that for my purpose here, I would mention only those people who have provided me the most significant guidance through counsel and example in leading people, which is our real job.

Boatswainmate Chief Jones, Steam Propulsion Specialist Master Chief Callaghan, CDR Louis Guimond, CAPT Max Lasell, RADM Richard Butts, CAPT Ted Fenno, Machinist Mate Chief Lindsey (who retired as a LCDR), Boiler Tender Master Chief Miller, CAPT Arthur St. Clair Wright, Boatswainmate Chief Hansborough, LCOL Bill McPhaul, CAPT Jim McIntyre, CAPT John Kelly, CAPT Paul Matthews, RADM David Rogers, CAPT Roger Newman, CAPT Frank Boyle, CAPT Dave Carey, CDR Larry Phillips, ENS Peter Thomas, Torpedoman Master Chief Poston, and Boatswainmate Master Chief Keller.

I have learned from their counsel and example and hope that others, in turn, may have learned some small tidbit through my counsel and example.

The next item is more personal. It is a list of people upon whom I’ve relied upon for advice, support, and love while I’ve met my challenges and survived, and even profited from those crises confronting me up to this point in my life. No amount of thanks from me is adequate for these dear and wonderful people.

Jimmy and Estelle Jewell, my parents. The best parents I could have possibly had. They are my closest friends, the two people I have always sought for advice. They are my models, and I fervently hope I can live all of my life with the fullness they have lived and gain one iota of the respect and love they have earned throughout their lives and 51-plus years of marriage. For those who don’t know them, I encourage you to speak to them today for they are the strongest, warmest, and most gentle people I have ever known.

Finally, there are three more. They are my life. I list them in the order I met them.

Blythe, my daughter. The light of my life. My pride in her development knows no bounds. I wish I could pass to her all of the wisdom I’ve gained through my experience, the ability to avoid those pitfalls I’ve encountered, and how to stand up to my responsibilities when I could have avoided them. But now I know I can only pass a minimum of that knowledge to her, that she will have to acquire most of that wisdom through her own experience. I am confident she will fare well in dealing with her pitfalls while living her life fully, yet serving the requirements of living in our society. I just hope my love and support will help ease her tasks. I think she knows how much I love her.

Maureen. She has put the whole thing into perspective. She has given me focus. She has given me life, fulfilled it, and brought it to order. Eight years ago, I did not believe she existed. I was dedicated to being single because I was convinced no complement to me, no distaff reflection, was possible. Then I met her. The total, it turns out, is greater than the sum of its parts. She has allowed me to attain the fullness of life and love I see in my parents, and I hope what lies ahead for Blythe. Thank you, for being here (even though you are not here).

Then there is Sarah. Sarah is the future. She is on her way. The three of us, Maureen, and I have a significant addition to our lives. I hope we give her the needed direction she needs. She will have a major impact on the way we live. I am excited about her and our future.

I shall not list the final group. They include most of you here today as well as a great many people who could not attend for a myriad of reasons. To list any would slight all others and to list all but one would also bring slight. So please all me this indiscretion of not mentioning your name here to assuage my fear of slighting someone I cherish as a friend.

There are two final items I believe I should address: In my view, the two most important aspects of Naval service. They are what we are all about. The sea and leadership.

Just as the list of faraway places suggest the vastness, the beauty, and the power of the sea, so does my personal list of leaders suggest the power and effect of effective leadership. In our line of work, leadership and the sea are inseparable. The two and inextricably entwined in our job. I think we as a Navy lose sight of that symbiotic relationship all too frequently. I think we lose focus amidst all the rules and regulations and survival in a peacetime bureaucracy. Naval leadership is simply getting all of our people aimed at, motivated toward defense of our constitution, our country, at sea.

Back in 1963, I was a third class midshipman aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas, a FRAM II destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island. Twenty-two of us neophyte officers-to-be had been aboard for about six weeks of an eight-week cruise. The newness had worn off. It had really worn off when I was assigned to the engineering plant for the morning watch (4-8 in the morning) and the dog watches (16-18 and 18-20 in the afternoon, but engineering did not dog those watches, being in four sections and rotating through the watches while the midshipmen were in three, not rotating without two dog watches). Consequently, I was on watch eight hours and worked eight hours every day for three weeks.

One night, I was walking back from the crew’s movie in the DASH hanger. For some reason, I was the last person trekking across the torpedo deck amidships on the 01 level. It was a quiet, dark night with a new moon and more stars than a landlubber like me could have imagined. The wind off the port bow was blowing the roar from the boiler stacks to the starboard quarter, away from me. All I recall hearing was the slap of the ocean against the port side waterline and that indescribable swoosh of a 1940 vintage destroyer cutting through the deep blue at 15 knots.

I stood there alone for some indeterminate time, perhaps no more than a minute or so, perhaps as long as a half hour. I felt the sea. She was omnipotent. She was beautiful. She reached down deep inside of me and grabbed me. She has held onto me. Even now, she has me in her grasp.

Since that moment, the most peaceful moments in my life have been communing with the sea as her warrior. My feeling goes beyond respect for her physical awesomeness. It a deep, even future-seeing, understanding of her vastness, her beauty, her power.

My sea duty ended a quarter shy of five years ago. My one regret is not having command at sea. I believe I would have benefitted the Navy in that office. I hold no grudge for not having that opportunity because my record, not the judges of that record, determined the opportunity of command at sea was not to be mine. Ironically – sometimes I think almost cruelly – I spent my last years of Naval service discussing leadership to the very officers who were either serving as or progressing toward command at sea.

It has been wonderful. I have developed insight and capabilities that will serve me well the rest of my life. These last years here have given me the opportunity to reinforce the realization that leadership and the sea are two constants in the Navy, that leadership is an indefinable art taking many forms: a magical, misunderstood, art requiring sincere, deep self-assessment and continual reassessment with the right tools. As Admiral Arleigh Burke said, “It’s hard work.”

So I depart the Navy today. Ready to grow up and meet this new world and its challenges. Maureen, Blythe, Sarah, and I will be moving toward fulfillment in our lives. I am excited. But i will miss the sea and being on it with other mariners dedicated to the art of war at sea.

I originally intended to recite the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley here, but I couldn’t match Dave Carey’s wonderful recitation. I then considered Robert Lewis Stephen’s poem “Requiem,” but other than my favorite lines, it is a bit too morbid for the occasion.

Then while cleaning out some files the other day, I ran across a poem my brother Joe sent me on my fortieth birthday while I was in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Even though Joe is not a mariner, he understood and captured my feelings.

Will you be alone on the bridge
when the moment comes?
surrounded by the winking lights
on the night watch, the scopes that
tell you what’s out there:
the horizon etched in nothingness,
abstract as another’s death,
the indigo sky meeting and reflected
by the dark ocean, so only
the externals, the stars, tell you where you are.

 

One wrong move and it’s a plunge
into the depths of that darkness
which is shallow compared to the depths
0f You.
can all of those lights and signals guide
you there? It is a technical question
I realize, answering how, not why or who.
We’re tacking too close to theology there.

 The externals tell you about entering a new
age, new year, new decade. I’ve never
believed them. Only you know when you are.
History is just a record kept to tell us
about the others. We all cross the bridge,
but a span in time, and make it ours.
When you sit there in the dark watching the lights
straining to know the horizon, capsuled in steel,
knowing the tropic heat will come like a cat
to steal your breath, remember, all moments
are the same and age like history an illusion.
It is the sequestered heart that brings you home.
Remember on your bridge to ask the right questions,
and
laugh at the coming day.
 

In closing, I would like to use a quote from Cassius in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” I have used in departure from three previous commands. It is perhaps no more fitting than now.

Forever and forever farewell, Brutus.
If we do meet again, we’ll smile indeed.
If not, ’tis true this parting was well made.

Thank you.

For the record the ships on which i served enough time aboard for them to have an impact on my life:

USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764)
USS Hawkins (DD 873)
USNS Geiger (TAP 197)
USNS Upshur (TAP 198)
USS Waldron (DD  699)
USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7)
USS Hollister (DD 788)
USS Anchorage (LSD 36)
USS Tripoli (LPH 7)
USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3)
(The previous two was when i was the Current Operations Officer for Commander, Amphibious Squadron 5)
USS Okinawa (LPH 3)
USS Yosemite (AD 19)
My two shore tours were as Senior Navy Instructor at Texas A&M NROTC Unit (1976-79) and Director of Leadership, Education, and Management Training (LMET), Naval Amphibious School, Coronado.

 

 

A Good Man

Today, a guy i met in 1985 had a birthday. For some reason, i did not have this recorded on my calendar.

No photos here. No long praise of his accomplishments. No outlining what he has meant to so many people.

Peter Thomas is quite simply a good man. Back home when my father was in his last days, friends who had great respect for Jimmy Jewell came up to me and said, “He was a good man.” i have come to realize back in Lebanon, Tennessee that was about the best compliment a man could pay another man.

Happy Birthday, Peter Thomas. You are a good man.

New Palestine: Abner Moses’ Sea Stories

i am trying the new “improved” word press way of formatting my posts. i do not like, Sam i am. i am going back to the new one if i can, if i can, Sam i am, although i’m not Sam but my grandson is Sam and that is all right by me. But i will need to consult with the multi-media genius who helps this electronically challenged old man to get me back to where i want to be. Then, i had an epiphany while working through a cold at least abetted by fifty-four holes of golf in two days, or at least it was some kind of awakening, and it all makes no difference to you except i rededicated myself – for about the 467,386th  time to quit screwing around and writing. 

So i started looking at my stuff. i’m still working on my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings, but found several things i want to put out there, eventually under the umbrella title of “New Palestine.”

It is a rambling thing — hell, after all it’s mine and therefore of course, it has to be rambling — with the central focus of a town in Middle Tennessee and the folks who are there or come from there.

A warning: Although the town itself resembles my hometown of Lebanon, initiated by some thoughts i had about my experiences there, and several of the characters come from some impressions and crazy ideas that crossed my mind about some characters actually in that town, these stories, this and the other stories about “New Palestine,” are in no way Lebanon, Tennessee and none of the characters in the story have any connection to folks in Lebanon except they generated my ideas for the stories.

One of the central characters in “New Palestine” is Abner Moses. You may have read at least one story here containing one of his tales. Abner grew up in the town, got in a bit of trouble, joined the Navy and had a successful career, retiring as a Chief Warrant Bosun. He returned to Lebanon and told a lot of stories to a salesman who came into to town on business on a regular basis.

A number of stories are Abner’s “sea stories,” several of which, like this one, i heard during my own Navy career. Here is one:

Abner Moses and the Pious XO

“Newport was different then,” Abner observed to no one in particular although Ratliff knew another tale was coming whether he wanted to hear it or not.

“You talking ‘bout Tennessee?” Ratliff queried, knowing full well the old Bosun had left Tennessee for his beloved sea stories and was launching on a Navy tale.

“Hell no, Ben,” Abner Moses grumbled, “I’m talking ‘bout Rhode Island: the real Newport. At least it was back when I was up there in the fifties.

“When the young Culpepper boy started OCS, it still was pretty much three towns in one, but the uppity side was getting the upper hand: just no one knew it.

“By the mid-eighties, even the Navy was uppity. Damn shame.

“But back in the fifties, it was good and different. Hell, when i first got up there, they didn’t even have enough pier space for the cans even nested back then. We all were out there in the bay, the channel really, moored to buoys.”

“Hold on, Ab,” Ratliff implored, “I ain’t got enough Navy in me to have a clue as to what you’re talking about.”

“Hell, Rats,” Abner apologized, “I plumb forgot. I’se sorry but sometimes when I get to talking about those times I forget where I am.

“Cans is what we called destroyers. Tin cans. Nesting was putting one ship outside another at the pier , which allows you to get more ships to the pier.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” Ratliff nodded reaching for his coffee.

And Abner Moses began his sea story:

Back then, the world operated at a different pace, even a different rhythm, and the Navy sure as hell was one sight different from what it is today.

Took care of people, even the ones that couldn’t cut the mustard elsewhere.

Lots of things were different.

But even then there were folks that were gonna fix the world.

I was on a can back then, actually she was one of those early diesel destroyer escorts. She was a good ship with a good crew. Course, damn near every crew said that about their ship. The Morton. We were moored to a buoy. There was pier between the Naval Base and the town. That’s where the liberty launches would ferry us to and from the ships.

Had a bar right there at the head of the pier. Leo’s. Smart boy runnin’ the place. Had a big neon sign in the front. When you landed to go on liberty the seaward side of the sign read ‘Leo’s First Stop.’ When you was comin’ back from liberty, the shore side read “Leo’s Last Stop.” Boy had to make a mint. Damn near every sailor stopped on his way off the ship, so he could get a little oiled before getting serious. And every damn sailor stopped on the way back from liberty for one more before catching the liberty launch.

Back then, there weren’t no stigma to a sailor drinkin’. Fact is, guys that could toss it down were sorta admired although not being able to hold your liquor gave you a bad name too.

Cussin’ wasn’t quite so accepted in polite society back then, but sailors were sailors and cussin’ weren’t so much a way of life as an art form.

But even the Navy had its porcelain saviors. The XO on the Morton was one. He was a lieutenant commander named Harley from somewhere up in New England. Poor sum bitch was gonna save the world. He mighta pulled that off, but he started by trying to stop the Morton wardroom from cussin’.

Now on a ship like a regular can, he might’a had a chance. But the Morton had three warrant officers, including me. But i was fresh off of being a chief boatswainsmate and still a little tentative in the wardroom But those other two old salts weren’t gonna give up their inalienable right to cuss. Cause they were sailors first and officers second.

But the XO was Mormon, misplaced on the east coast from Utah by the Navy’s assignment whims, and he was gonna wipe out cussing come hell or high water.

So we had officer training in the wardroom one Wednesday afternoon, something about damage control. When the training’s over the XO gets up and starts a speech.

“‘Profanity is the scourge of the earth,” he says in about ten different ways. Then he says, “And there’s not one situation, when a regular word would not be a better choice than a profane one.”

The old gunner warrant, who was sitting at the back of the wardroom table, raises his hand.

“‘Okay, gunner,” the XO says with exasperation, “What do you want?’

“‘Well, XO,’ the old gunner drawled, ‘I don’t wanta be disrespectful or nuttin’, but i gotta differ with that last thing you said.’

“‘Go ahead, Gunner,’ the XO said, giving away the floor and obviously thinking he would have a good counter to whatever the gunner had to say.

“‘XO, we had a geedunk run the other morning…

(Rats, a geedunk run back then meant a Navy roach coach…, er, I’m sorry, it was a mobile canteen van would come out to the end of the pier in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and the ships would have boat parties come get snacks for the crew.)

The gunner went on, ‘Well, we collected up the money and the orders, and Seaman First Walker got two shit can tops to haul the snacks back. He boards the motor whaleboat and the party hits the roach coach.

‘They gets loaded up and start back to the ship, but the bowhook has let go of the bow line before the coxswain had started the engine.

‘So there’s Seaman Walker with one foot on the gunnel and one-foot on the pier, slowly doing the splits with a shit can top full of geedunk in each arm.’

‘So what’s your point, Gunner,’ the XO prods wishing to get this over.

‘Well, XO, Walker looked around at his predicament and said, “I’m fucked,” and there ain’t no other word that could ‘a described his predicament any better than that.’”

“The XO looked just sorta fed up for a second and then he said, ‘You all get out of here.’”

Reflections

i am experimenting with a new whateveryoucallit system, hoping it will make the posts better for you. But i remain technology challenged. So i hope it works. If not, i will once again call upon my friend, the multi-media astonishingly great Walker Hicks to help.

i also have been reticent to post much of anything here lately. i could blame it on a number of things, but to be honest, i just haven’t quite felt like it. Oh, i’ve been doing some writing, but it has been it struck me to do so, not because i have had to write. 

So as i try to move forward and get my stuff in order, again and again and again as The Highwaymen once sang, i decided to post this old one.

i don’t know where i actually posted this. It was a while ago. It may have been a long lost post. It could be, and i move in this direction, a Democrat column. but i don’t know and am not really interested in finding out. i just stumbled across it tonight. It struck some chords.

i don’t know why but John Kennedy’s assassination kept coming up in my mind tonight. It was just over a month and 55 years ago. A long time. It reminded me of Nashville and Vanderbilt where, when walking back from class (yeh, i actually attended most of my classes, believe it or not) Winston Churchill’s nephew Charlie, a distinguished chap, came out of the Beta house and asked me and several others if we had heard the President had been shot. Kennedy had been shot and i gathered with the other Kappa Sigma brothers around the radio and listened until the news folks reported he was dead. Stunned. In disbelief.

And somehow, that terrible moment in time put me in tune with the below post or column or whatever it was. This was written several years ago.

So i share:

Dirt, Rain

It is always, always nostalgic for me when I visit home as I have this week (hence, no San Diego dateline).

Thursday when I drove up the hill of Castle Heights Avenue, nostalgia whacked me in the face with a flat-bladed shovel.

McFadden Auditorium was gone. Tilled brown dirt covered the lot where the old regal edifice had dominated the skyline since 1941. McFadden always comes to my mind when I hear a school sing the lines in their alma mater:

“On the city’s western border,
“Reared against the sky
“Proudly stands our Alma Mater
“As the years roll by.”

The tune I associate with alma maters came from the 1857 big hit, “Annie Lisle.” Written by H.S. Thompson of Boston, the lyrics were far from inspirational, telling of the demise of a young damsel, presumably of tuberculosis, or consumption as it was called back then. Yet the tune was picked up by scores of high schools and colleges for their alma mater.

The most familiar lyrics were originally written for Vanderbilt in 1907 by Robert H. Vaughn, but I have heard those lyrics adapted for schools across the country, including my daughter’s high school, Bonita Vista, in the Southwest corner.

But when I hear those words, I think of McFadden Auditorium reared against the sky.

No more.

On my drive, I turned down Hill Street to be face-whacked by that nostalgia shovel again. More dirt and even a few houses had taken over the old Heights drill field. Although I missed most drill periods for athletics, the freshman and junior varsity football practice fields were part of the freshly tilled dirt as well.

Thus far, the baseball diamond and football practice field have been spared from development mania, but there are large bushes occupying the former location of the visitors’ dugout, and the bushes and  on the south end of the old field have extended to where home run distance to fenceless center field now would be about 300 feet, not forever like back when the Tigers were swinging away.

Whack, whack went the nostalgia shovel.

Some of the best moments of my life were spent on that football practice field and baseball diamond long, long ago.

The next day, I drove to Vanderbilt to explore some possibilities I have had in mind for some time. The next shovel whack came when I tried to park. In my two-plus years there, cars were few and far between. A number of upper class-men had cars, but that was about it.

Thinking plentiful parking would be next to the stadium, I drove to the west end of the campus. No spaces. I finally parked in Centennial Park and walked across West End to the campus.

I believe Vanderbilt has shrunk over the last fifty years. I do not know if it’s the newer buildings, the additions and design pleasing modifications to old ones, or the trees have grown that much, but everything seems more compact than in 1962. Yep. Another whack of nostalgia.

Of course, I did not take a campus map, and recalling where to go and how to get there was complicated by faulty memory and new obstacles. I eventually succeeded and accomplished my mission, but I observed the changes in detail.

Perhaps the most obvious change was dress. The uniformity of madras shirt, khaki pants, and weejun loafers for males, and skirts and blouses for females had been replaced by another uniform approach: shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops.

Returning to my car before noon, I walked by a fraternity house just I had done 46 years and ten months ago. It was like reliving a dream. That day many years ago, a student was standing at the door of the fraternity house shouting, “Kennedy’s been shot. It’s on the news. The president’s been shot.”

Friday, the fraternity house was fenced in, undergoing refurbishment. Whack went that old nostalgia shovel one more time.

But in my meanderings through the first half of my visit, I felt the late summer rain on Thursday morning, I smelled the grass as I walked through Centennial Park and Don Fox Community Park, and I talked to people who were just as friendly and concerned as they were those years ago. There is a difference between those things here and in the Southwest corner. But there also are ca lot of things alike in both places.

Some things never change, and that is a good thing.

A Wonderful Woman: History

i have been sitting here for a couple of hours trying to come up with something to write a bit different about my sister. She is 72. Today. 72.

i am at a loss for words…not really, just can’t come up with anything adequate about how i feel about her, her husband, her son, her daughter-in-law, her grandchildren. i mean i can’t talk about her without talking about those other folks.

So i just thought i would revisit some times of hers over 72 years. And regardless of her age, she will always be my younger sister.

A few years ago.
Add one and you’ve got one hell of a family.
Our mother was so proud she made a calendar and handed them out as Christmas gifts.
And the brother and sister were best friends.
And the she went to McClain School.
And then, this other guy came along, and they became best friends. Still are.
And the two of them played together in all kinds of weather while the goofy one of the three was playing sports.
Then, she went to college and became a beautiful school teacher.
And the three gathered at the old homestead for special events.
They all grew older and remained close, even after those rather incredible people in the middle left us.

 

And she loves both of my daughters and became like a second mother to this one.
And she goes on, overcoming physical ailments to hike and have fun.

Martha Jewell Duff is my sister. She is very special, very special. But she won’t ever be older than me.

Happy Birthday, young sister. i love you.