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.

 

 

1 thought on “A Goodbye Long Ago

  1. I feel blessed to have finally heard your adeiu to the sea that I missed 29 years ago. Some day I hope you’ll do me the honor of sharing your first blossoming of love for the sea.

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