I never planned on becoming an old veteran 12

As Veteran’s Day approaches once more, my thoughts turn to how many veterans I have known in my life. My Dad, of course, comes to mind immediately. He served during the last year of World War 2 in the Navy and returned to an America that was fundamentally changed from the country he had grown up in. His father served in World War 1 and his grandfather served in the Civil War. All of them were volunteers and each came home and participated in veterans groups until they passed on to the next reunion.

Growing up in my hometown, veterans always seemed to be really old.

Their original uniforms were ill-fitting and sometimes they had to wear the uniforms of the organizations they belonged to like the Legion and the VFW. Any attempt to get into one of their original uniforms for many was a struggle that got harder as the years passed. They walked a little slower than I am sure they must have when they served. Some struggled with mended limbs while others just fought the battle of arthritis. But none of them ever seemed to complain. They jockeyed up to see who would have the honor of carrying the flag or one of the Springfield Rifles as part of the honor guard. All of them understood that they were carrying that flag and the rifles for someone who was not able to be there to do so.

As the years passed, there seemed to be less and less of them marching.

Some had to slow down because they were no longer able to take that walk in the cold November weather. Others had long since joined their fallen comrades after having that same flag draped over their coffin. I visit my Mom every Tuesday at the retirement home she lives in now and this week I got a chance to see the men still living as they viewed the pictures from their younger days. Some now need assistance but all came to attention as best they could when the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem were recited and sung. I can’t imagine any of those men kneeling except maybe on the beaches of Normandy to try and avoid getting shot by a German machine gun. Or maybe on a beach in the Pacific to try and comfort a buddy that had just been maimed by a Japanese shell.

Going off to fight for my country

Like my Dad and his Dad, I joined when I was seventeen. I was in a hurry to leave town and serve my tour in uniform. Frankly, at seventeen, all I thought about was the glory and the nice uniform that would set me apart from my peers. Okay, I also thought about how it would help me with girls, but at seventeen, what young man doesn’t have at least a passing desire for the opposite sex. At least in the world I grew up in anyway.

And then reality set in

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered very early on that the payment for wearing that uniform was a lot of sacrifices. On the first day, you find out that in order to serve, you lose your freedoms. Really basic stuff like the freedom to wake up when you want, the freedom to speak when you desire and the freedom to get up and go anywhere and anytime you want. Gone. Just like that you find out that the rights you have taken for granted all of those years are no longer available to you.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still do all of those things. But you will pay an extraordinarily high price if you do not follow the rules.  What you don’t realize is that from that day until the day you are finished, all of those sacrifices are meant to shape you. You learn quickly that all of those around you are going through the same things. You are being built into a team and being prepared to do things that are unnatural and unpalatable to many people. Your actions as an individual and a team could result in the destruction of whole cities and the people within them. Or just a small village and a single enemy. No matter which, they would only be accomplished if the country was in danger. But you needed to be ready to answer if called.

I think that is when I started to understand why those veterans all looked so old.

It wasn’t just the passage of time. It was the understanding of the things they had seen and the things they had done. That hunched over old man wearing an Airborne Badge jumped out of a plane into enemy fire. That Marine who can barely walk had to climb over a sea wall at Inchon and spent the next two years of his life in hospitals trying to learn how to use his legs again. That sailor with the withered hands who survived burns over much of his upper body when a kamikaze plane crashed through the defenses of his ship.

They had the privilege of becoming old while many of their comrades did not.

The ones we remember on Memorial Day hold a special place in their hearts always. Some of them became old because they had something called survivors guilt. Why did that bullet take my brother and not me.

But when you look at your eyes, the age fades away. Those eyes that have seen so much are still intense with the feelings of achievement and sometimes a little pride. I see it every time I volunteer at the VA. I saw it last week at out Veterans Breakfast put on by my state Representative Justin Walsh. Those eyes saw unimaginable horrors but also saw the fruits of their sacrifices fulfilled. They achieved their mission and them came home to a country that was better for their service.

I am older now than the men were who I used to think were ancient. I survived my two decades of service while some of my generation did not. Many who served with me now are suffering from the ravages of age and diseases that surely came from their service. When I have been lucky enough to see them at reunions though, I notice something within a few minutes of talking with them. While outwardly we all appear older, we are all still very young at heart. To a person, they all say the same thing. If they were younger, they would do it all again.

Where do these men and women come from? More importantly, if the country needs them in the future, where will they come from?

Thank you to all who served. It was my greatest honor and privilege to serve as your comrade.

I never planned on becoming an old veteran. But with the Grace of God, I am thankful to still be able to write these words. I know many who did not have that written as part of their stories.

A couple of old Chief Warrant Officers

Mister Mac

 

It takes a thief 2

In the late nineteen sixties, there was a TV series starring Robert Wagner called “It takes a Thief”. Wagner starred as a reformed thief who used his powers for good instead of evil. The series was loosely based on an old English proverb that said “Set a thief to catch a thief”. (Or as is more widely used, “It takes a thief to catch a thief”.) If I remember though, the underlying premise was that stealing was still wrong.

Times have changed. Or have they?

As a kid, I was brought up in a world where stealing was one of the absolutes. We learned the lessons at home and in school. It was strongly reinforced in church and in the scouting programs that most of us belonged to. I seem to remember that oath including a reference to “morally straight” which included not taking other people’s possessions. Since we went on camping and hiking trips a lot, being able to trust those around you was a pretty big deal.

Boot Camp

When I got to boot camp in the summer of 72, one of the first things the Company Commander pounded into our heads was that he would not tolerate a thief. The boys who came together to form Company 215 were from all parts of the country and all walks of life. I am sure that many did not have the same upbringing that I did. That became evident by the way they spoke, their accents, and the things they did that reflected their upbringing. But it was understood that the CC would turn a blind eye to any punishment delivered by the unit for a thief. Of all the offences, that one was nearly unforgivable. For the uninitiated, that would be a late night blanket party which would leave an unmistakable lesson on anyone so accused.

Theft

“To steal an article from a shipmate is a criminal act. In any large group of men there may be a few who are dishonest or who might be tempted to steal if the opportunity were too inviting; hence it is wisest to keep things locked up. Theft is a serious offence in the Navy. The least punishment given is a bad conduct discharge; the greatest may be several years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.”

This quote comes from the Blue Jackets Manual, Fourteenth Edition, Naval Institute Press (the edition that I carried in my back pocket during boot camp.)

The thirteenth edition which was used post World War 2 actually specifies 2-4 years in prison and an honorable discharge).

Interesting note: By the twenty fourth edition of the BJM, no references to stealing from a shipmate are included. The whole section about morals and individual responsibility has been replaced by lessons on sexual harassment and diversity. I guess they must have run out of room for what was previously cautioned about. The version I have has some interesting information about Green, Yellow and Red with a 1-800 number to report anyone who goes into the red zone. I am frankly surprised that there isn’t a Twitter or Snapchat feature to speed the process up.

 

Barracks life

When I graduated Boot Camp I moved across the street into the Snipes Castle which was the barracks reserved for men who were entering the Machinist Mate, Boiler Technician, Engineman and other mechanical engineering rates. The comradery of boot camp quickly dissipated as we were all thrown into a barracks with a little more personal space but still no lockable doors. The Navy was going through one of its growing stages where artificial space was created by the placement of lockers around the bunks we occupied to form cubicles. There were still no walls per se and the overhead lights were either all on or all off. The second day I was there, I learned my first lesson about why the Navy is so hard on thieves. I had come back from class and needed to shower. Since the common shower was only a few feet away and I was only going to be a minute or two, it didn’t seem dangerous to leave my stuff unlocked. It was a combination lock and I have always struggled to memorize numbers.

When I returned a short time later, it only took a moment to realize that I should have taken the time to remember that not everyone has the same values as I do. My wallet with all of my cash in it was gone. So was my liberty card, my ID card, my chow pass and my picture of my then girlfriend. I tore everything up looking for it. But of course, it was gone.

I have to tell you, I felt violated and betrayed (and a bit ashamed for being that stupid). I went to the duty Chief and humbly told him my woes. He of course asked me if I had not read the very large signs at both ends of the barracks passageway about locking up your stuff. Yep, it just kept getting humbler and humbler. He did take pity on me and gave me a temporary chow pass so I could at least eat. But without the liberty card and ID card, I wasn’t going very far. Not that it would make any difference. I was now also dead broke. Not that we made much anyway, but it was always in cash since none of us had banks. I can only imagine the damage a thief could do now with all the plastic I routinely carry.

A few days later, after class, the Chief called me to the Quarterdeck. The mailman had just been by and dropped off my wallet. The cash was gone but the ID cards were still in it, along with that picture of my girlfriend. I took my lecture well but had already started locking up everything else I could and shortly after moved off base with a couple of guys I went to Boot Camp with. I’ll save that story for another time but let’s just say I had a little less faith in humanity from that day on. In my whole career, I would be very sensitive to the potential that someone else might not have my same moral compass.

Submarines

The absolute aversion to thieves becomes even more important when you sail on a ship or on a submarine. I will freely confess that my shipboard experiences were all as a Chief and Officer so I will assume that the berthing areas for lower ranks potentially have some issues.

But from the minute I went to my first submarine, the old rule about how thieves are dealt with returned with a vengeance. The close quarters and need to rely on your shipmates is such an overwhelming force for Submariners. You literally have inches of personal space on some of the boats so respecting that becomes almost sacred. On the five boats I served on, I do not ever remember any long periods where a thief was able to operate. Yes, there were the exceptions, but in most cases, we knew each other’s business and habits so well, it would have been nearly impossible for a thief to operate unchallenged for any length of time.

Trust

In all of the leadership course I have taught and still do, the core bedrock of a functional team is the existence of trust. In order for a team to operate with efficiency, that trust must be cultivated and grown until it is the most common expectation of any member.

I would like to say that it is common in life but sadly, trust is one of the first things sacrificed when people have their own agenda. It just evaporates and once it’s gone, it’s nearly impossible to get back. The absence of trust is a powerful enemy to progress. It is hard to look forward when you always need to be looking over your shoulder. When someone breaks that trust for any reason, it makes you a little wary of dealing with not only them but others like them.

How is the lack of trust overcome?

  • First, you have to set a personal example. Every single day, you need to strive to respect others rights and possessions and make sure you are not guilty of appropriating incorrectly that which belongs to them.
  • Second, help others to get back on track. That occasion where people find shortcuts and are tempted by the relative freedom of taking things belonging to others should be an opportunity for you to help them see the cost of their actions.
  • Third, recognize that we live in a world that still requires locks and hasps from time to time. No matter how much you want to give people the benefit of a doubt, you have to recognize that some people are just morally bent or broken. Keeping your stuff locked up properly actually helps them since it deters them from doing the one thing that makes them a thief: taking advantages of the unprepared.

As a writer and someone who creates content, I am aware that there are many who will not respect where the idea came from. In the past year, I actually felt it necessary to copyright some of my more widely viewed work. I had discovered that some of it was appropriated, modified to look like original content and rebranded for sale. That is a shame. It’s also now a crime. I have freely shared many things on social media but have decided to cut back a bit on that. Articles on theleansubmariner that are mostly made up of properly quoted content from other sources will still be available and shared. I will also work very hard to make sure to properly credit every item I include.

But I am going to be very careful about what I post from now on.

Mister Mac