Category Archives: Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings

Posts on the topic of the challenges and success of the deployment and integration of women into life aboard a Navy ship. This topic later became my book.

Four Bases Replay: Home Run: Closure Up the Road

My journey back east provided a second wonderful time for me. And i considered it closure, much needed closure. i had a presentation at Vanderbilt University in the late afternoon, Monday, October 17, 2022.

andrew_ maraniss

Andrew Maraniss is the writer in residence in the Vanderbilt Athletic Department, author of four impactful and moving books. He also writes for ESPN. Better yet, Andrew has become a good friend. He sponsored my making this presentation about my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings at Vanderbilt. If not abetted by Candice Storey Lee, Andrew was certainly supported in his efforts by this amazing woman. She has my utmost respect in so, so many ways. Andrew was an incredible host. We toured the athletic facilities at the McGugin Center and the continuing upgrading of Memorial Gymnasium, the unique and rather incredible facility for men and women’s basketball and the upcoming women’s volleyball programs.

It is always a joy for me to visit the athletic complex at Vandy. i keep thinking about my gym at Lebanon Junior High, 1956-58 and the Castle Heights gym, 1958-62. Both housed the dressing rooms for football, basketball, and Heights’ baseball dressing room was in the Heights gym. They were, compared to Vanderbilt’s facility…how to say this? Perhaps rudimentary. Yet the most impressive thing about Vanderbilt’s facilities was not the sophisticated manner in which they provided the utmost of support for the the athletes, but how they reflect the vision of David Williams, the late Vice Chancellor of Athletics, who said, “We do it the right way, the Vandy way, when addressing Vanderbilt’s dedication to ensure the Commodore athletes are provided an education and a full student-athlete experience, preparing them for life after athletics or pursuing their dreams in their sport at the professional level. i could go on and on, but i will just say i believe in Vanderbilt because Williams’ dream is being realized through the ongoing efforts of Candice Lee, the Vanderbilt head coaches in all of their sports, Andrew Maraniss, and a host of staff dedicated to success, not necessarily defined by always winning. Someday, as Clark Lea, the relative new coach of the football team has said they just might be moving towards winning at the highest level of major and minor collegiate sports. i believe in the Vandy way.

That tour Andrew gave me led to my presentation to about 30 midshipmen (men and women) from Vanderbilt’s NROTC program; their commanding officer, Captain Brian Erickson; the coordinator for military and veteran students, Jill Stratton; and Catherine Hooper, the Vanderbilt staffer who has been working on her novel (coming out soon) parallel to my working on my book who also has become a good friend. Candice.

Middle Tennessee State University Dean of English, Stephen E. Severn, came from Murfreesboro as well. i graduated with a BA in English from MTSU. After the turn of the year, Dr. Severn and i will have a “zoom” discussion about the Dean of English in my time, Scott Peck, and Bill Holland, my professor and friend who gave me insight into the Romantics and especially Wordsworth. The two of them were two of the most impactful people in my life. The discussion will add to the oral history of the MTSU English Department Dr. Severn is creating.

i also received one of the best compliments i have ever received in my life at the conclusion of my presentation. It came from one of the more impressive people i’ve come across: Candice Storey Lee, Phd, Vice Chancellor of Athletics, former basketball star, and a disciple of David Williams.

Candice spoke to the group and said, “It’s easy for someone in a minority to speak up for a minority. It is much more difficult for someone in the majority to speak up for a minority. Jim has done that with his book.”

A final note. In August 1964, i left Vanderbilt and NROTC with my tail between my legs. i was within one course of being the first person to flunk out (and lose my Navy scholarship) without failing a course. i had an amazing 14 D’s in four semesters, failing civil engineering “statics” in the spring semester of 1964. There are many reasons, but that failure has haunted me for my entire life. It also put me on a rather amazing path through life. i have sought closure a number of times and never quite reached it. But going back to present my book to the august group of folks who attended and especially NROTC men and women midshipmen served a closure for me.

Thank you, Andrew, Candice, Catherine, Jill, Captain Erickson, Dean Severn, and all of the midshipmen for making my day.

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like…

Tomorrow, i will be putting out updates on the website including a new, easier, and secure way to obtain a signed copy of my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. i am creating more posts on my journey with the book and what i consider exciting news about my new project.

i worked today. It felt good. For kickers, i visited my friend and saving grace with all things of the web. Walker Hicks not only fixed a lot of things in my giddyup, he got me on track again. He’s a guru plus.

i also attacked a number of home projects today: wrapping gifts and finishing up shopping, organizing and actually making some progress rather than my usual moving one stack to another place and another stack to where that one had been. A couple of other things got done as well. i was planning to write and organize some more tonight.

Then, i grilled hamburgers. i stacked the fireplace with wood, lit the fire, and went out to the grill and began that process. It was about a half-hour before sunset behind our hill. i had my bluetooth speaker on, and my library of songs, shuffled, began with the B-side of the Silhouettes’ 1957 hit, “Get a Job.” I always enjoyed “I’m Lonely” more than the huge hit on the other side. With the crackling of the needle before the song began — i digitized about 250 of my 45 RPM records — i knew what was coming. With a glass of Bordeaux in my hand while tending the sizzling burgers. i looked up at our flag on the top of our hill.

Seeing the sight above, i ceased my thoughts of more work. We ate the burgers, fries, and bean salad on dinner trays in the family room as is our custom. But no television tonight. We put on some Christmas instrumentals and rested. Maureen came over to my chair by the crackling fire and removed my book to the reading table and sat in my lap. Our heads rested against each other’s. We held hands.

Man, it’s been a great day, and it’s beginning to feel a lot like…well, you know.

Four Bases: Home Run Replay: The Journey East

i began this journey in October. It lasted ten days. i’ve been trying to capture my feelings about the journey since then, beginning a narrative at least five times. Now, it is time to move forward.

October 11, 2022, i went on a tortuous airline trip back home. And i mean “home.” I had pushed for a marketing trip to produce sales for my book, Steels Decks and Glass Ceilings. Through the gracious help of several good folks, it happened…in spades. The trip turned into more than a marketing trip. It became an ego booster and reconnection journey, beginning with a stop at “home.”

That first stop was Lebanon, Tennessee. i grew up there, leaving when i was 24 for the Navy’s Officer Candidate School. i stayed in the home that was my other home, about two blocks from the house where i grew up. From our births, Henry, as in George Henry Harding, IV, and i have been close. We were Christened at the First Methodist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, before it had added on the extra wing; before the church moved to West Main when Jim Horn Hankins, H.M. Byars, and my father bought the property and tore down the sanctuary and the old wing, and turned the new wing into offices; and before it was torn down by the First Baptist Church, which eventually bought the property.

That Christening took place on Sunday, May 6, 1945, two days before Victory in Europe (VE) day. The service program saluted the coming VE celebration.

From the beginning of school in 1950’s, Henry and i ran together, even when Henry went to Lebanon High School and i went to Castle Heights Military Academy.

On this trip, my stay was in the house where he and i spent countless hours with his maternal grandparents and his mother and father, and his brother Jim, or as we called him, “Beetle.” Henry’s wife Brenda was not only a positive addition to the Harding family, but she is one remarkable woman, and one of the best hostesses for a houseguest ever.

i was planning extensive time seeing other folks and traveling around. Didn’t happen. i went out to dinner with my other good friends forever, Eddie and Brenda Callis, and the Hardings. i saw James Cason at Sammy B’s in what had been Castle Heights superintendent’s home. James and i consider ourselves the Lebanon experts on the Goat Man, and i have spent several martinis discussing the subject with him for many years. i signed books for three people at Sammy B’s on Saturday, including a classmate, Laverne Patterson Griffin and Beetle, who dropped by.

That was it. Oh yes, Henry and his Brenda and i went to the local Cracker Barrel, which is headquartered in Lebanon where it started by Danny Evans, a Castle Heights alumnus.

But i chose to remain in that wonderful old home with my compadres. Brenda’s food was terrific, which included Henry’s remarkable barbecue. And we spent many hours on the open and enclosed back porches just talking except for watching Tennessee beat Alabama, and in the den with Henry putting up with me watching Padre playoff baseball.

It was one of the most peaceful, restful stays at home that i can remember. A return to history.

Thank you, Henry and Brenda, and everyone else in Lebanon. Next time, i will visit with more of you.

“A Change Is Gonna Come”

Several folks have warned me against talking or writing negative comments about anything related to my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. i can’t do it. i mulled it over because i hope to sell enough books to break even. But breaking even, i thought was for Maureen. Then, she tells me doing it the prescribed way is not worth the stress and anxiety i suffer. She’s right. i’m old enough to do it my way. Also, i don’t want folks to buy my book because i’m selling it. i want folks to buy my book because they believe it will be interesting. All of this wasp on my mind when i wrote this column. Just being honest with you and myself.

That’s what Sam Cooke sang. For me, it ain’t coming. It’s here.

For the last four months, i’ve been trying to sell a book. To quote another singer, some guy named Dylan, “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” i am not an effective salesman. Never have been.

So i backed off after a presentation to a local group. It went okay, just didn’t feel right…for me. Maureen said, “It ain’t worth the stress.” i agreed.

So, i am spending this holiday season reassessing how to go about making my book known and available without sweating it.

This post, of course, is one way.

And i am going to tell about the other end of the spectrum: success, warm-feeling, satisfying. A trip back east about a month ago.

Stand by.

Triple Play Replay: Introduction

 This is the first of a series of posts. The “triple play” in the title does not deal with baseball, in spite of the title. That title came to me in the middle of the night, as many ideas i think are too good to not record on a scrap of paper or this damnable machine they call a computer.

These posts are, in fact, about opportunities to tell folks about my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings. They include my trip to Middle Tennessee, Newport, Rhode Island; and Boston, Massachusetts. They are as much about my return to times and places past as they are about my book. I have began composing them on my journey back home from my notes during the two-week adventure.

It seemed appropriate. I liked it.

The trip’s generation came from several conversations after my book was published.

Andrew Maraniss, the author of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South and several other excellent books, had discussed many aspects of writing my book. with me during the process and suggested when it was published for me to come and present my book to Vanderbilt students.

Concurrently, Ed Hebert, a friend through golfing and a retired Navy captain, told me i should present the book to the Surface Warfare Officer School’s (SWOS) initial training (newly commissioned officers who are in the line of suvrface warfare attend to learn the basics of their new duties). Then, in an email exchange, Emily (Baker) Black, the Damage Control Assistant (DCA) during Yosemite ‘s 1983-84 deployment with me, also recommended i make a presentation to the SWOS training.

After that, Noreen Leahy, who was the operations officer on that deployment, was having lunch with her friend, Margaret (Peg) Klein, a retired two star admiral who is the dean of the “Leadership and Ethics” college at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Noreen and Peg were in the second graduating class of the Naval Academy that included women. Peg read the book and set up my making a “presentation”Lecture of Opportunity” at the Naval War College.

Peg read my book and during ensuing discussions, the plan was set for me to do a “Lecture of Opportunity.

i was thrilled. The trip to Tennessee and then Rhode Island would launch my getting out to try and sell my book and also let me travel to four places i had yearned to visit for quite some time.

i’ve been trying to get back home to Lebanon, Tennessee for several years without success. Now i would get to stay with my boyhood friend, Henry Harding, and wife, Brenda. Even better, i would be staying In Henry’s home where he grew up and was my briar’s patch as Brer Rabbit had his. i spent almost much time in this home as i did my own up until i left town for good to attend Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport.

i would be going to see Andrew Maraniss and a number of Vanderbilt friends. Andrew is the resident writer in the Vanderbilt sports department. He also is a writer for ESPN, and his other books include Games of Deception about the first U.S. men’s basketball team in the Olympics, Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke, and the recently published Inaugural Ballers about the first U.S. women’s basketball team. i admire his writing and consider him a good friend.

Following that stop, i would be in Newport, Rhode Island, one of my favorite places on earth. Better yet, two of Yosemite’s officers who were with me on that deployment lived there. Even better, Linda Schlesinger, the ship’s stores officer followed by becoming disbursing officer and now lives in Carlsbad, was traveling there as well. It would be a mini-reunion of the wardroom. To add icing on the cake, Andrew Nemethy, who shared a stateroom with me on our first ship, USS Hawkins (DD 873), announced he would be traveling down from Vermont to spend some time with me.

And finally, i would cap off the fortnight trip with a weekend in Boston with my brother Joe and his family.

i was excited.

Following posts will address each of my three stops in more detail. To summarize, the trip was one of the most rewarding experiences i have had. It was flat wonderful.