On the sixth of April 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany.
The declaration came after the German government increased its belligerent actions against the United States.
President Wilson who had campaigned on the strength that he had kept the US out of war from 1914 until that very moment had relented after the sinking of seven US merchant ships and the publication of something called the Zimmerman Papers (a secret plot to involve Mexico and start a front against the southern border to the US).
Fifteen days later, John Charles MacPherson enlisted in the United States Navy for a four year hitch. Sadly, I only know a few things about his service (from his discharge papers). He was rated as overall very good (3.4) on the scale and had his highest rankings as a sober and loyal Navy man.
I also know from growing up that he helped to run the local Sea Scouts, most of which ended up going off to fight in far away places in the next World War.
I look forward to meeting him someday and having him tell me all of his stories on the collier he rode. He was an excellent knot tier and had many varnished samples in his workshop. He was pretty tough too from all the stories I heard growing up. I am sure his time on a ship that was designed to fuel bigger ships made him that way. That determination and drive probably helped him to become the foreman at the steel mill he worked at until he died.
His son John also answered the call to arms as a Navy man in March of 1945. He was seventeen years old and in my younger years I imagined him sailing a ship in enemy infested waters manning a cannon or machine gun. It wasn’t until I was almost 40 years old and found his letters from that time period that I found out that he was truly a hero but not in the sense of someone that singlehandedly killed a platoon of enemies. His heroism was the same heroism of his Dad and all of those who answered their countries call to serve in the seagoing service.
When you think about what makes the Navy great, it would be really easy to let your mind drift to battleships cutting their way through a storming sea.
I wouldn’t fault you if you pictures a giant aircraft carrier launching planes and jets into the air to fight an unseen enemy.
Even the submarine comes to mind as it charges from the deep on its way to the surface in a crashing display of power.
All of those things are important, but what makes our Navy great is the people who make it up. The ones who volunteered in war or peace to serve their country as a sailor or leader of sailors. They are the ones who do the tedious jobs of keeping the galley clean, scrubbing the decks of a ship that may never see combat, polishing the rails of a boat that may do nothing more than move people from point a to point b.
Those sailors that stand the mid-watch in a shipyard shivering in the night air while their contemporaries are snug at home in their beds. The ones that miss birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and yes, even funerals because someone has to be the lookout on a auxiliary ship that is keeping the big boys fueled.
It’s the engineman or boiler tech who can barely remember the port call the ship made since most of their time was spent repairing a valve or a pump in order to get the ship underway again. Its that young sailor on the planes of a fast attack who secretly wishes he was any place but the planes as the boat goes through angles and dangles.
The Navy I love is the one that takes a kid who was struggling in life and gives him a chance to someday be a Chief Petty Officer – a leader of sailors. The young girl who everybody thought was such a ditz who will one day become a highly decorated war veteran and Major in the Air Force Medical department because the Navy helped give her the drive to want to help others. A woman responsible for saving and extending the lives of so many brave young boys.
The teachers and doctors and professional people of every color and stripe that learned their first lessons wearing a uniform of Navy Blue.
When the world needs my Navy, we have answered for over 237 years.
I am proud to have served.
I am proud that my brother Tom and several of my nephews (including his son Theo who is probably the best sailor among all of us) have continued the tradition. I am proud of the families that have supported all of us. It has been an honor to have followed the tradition.
It has mostly been an honor to have known so many others who have it in their blood.
Happy Birthday Shipmates!
Thanks Dad and Grandpa… you are missed