Just as I am … Farewell Billy Graham 7

There was a sad yet joyous announcement this morning as we started our day. The Reverend Billy Graham had passed from this world early on the morning of February 18, 2018.There was sadness in my heart as I started the mourning process for someone who had impacted my life and the lives of so many others, yet there was also joy in knowing that he had finally passed into the awaited Kingdom of Heaven at the age of 99 years and would no longer be constrained by the body that had long ago started to fail him.

Billy Graham is probably the world’s best known evangelist and his message crossed all boundaries of the Christian faith. “God Loves You”. Even as broken as we all are, Billy reminded us that with a redemptive heart and spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ, all have a pathway to the kingdom. His message reached hundreds of millions of people and created many spiritual leaders through the years using his Crusades.

In 1968, he brought his crusade to Pittsburgh and thousands came to hear his message. On September 4, 1968 at the Pitt Panthers Stadium, he came and spoke to a world of people who were troubled by the events going on around them. The Vietnam war was raging, protesters were filling the streets, the civil rights movement was in full swing, women’s liberation was on everyone’s minds and the old world was passing into history. Patriotism as passé. On September 8th, former Vice President Richard Nixon attended the Pittsburgh Crusade as he was closing his successful campaign to become the next President.

The call

And my family was in the stands. At the end of each Crusade, Billy called for people to come down and accept Jesus. My oldest brother went at the call. The choir was singing “Just as I am” and I also heard a small voice inside telling me not to miss this chance… so I got to my feet and at the age of fourteen walked down the concrete stairs out into the field. There were men there waiting for us to arrive and they brought us forward to be prayed upon. I don’t remember the prayers. I don’t remember anything especially spiritual happening at the time. Maybe I felt a little guilty about coming down since I wasn’t really sure what all this spiritual stuff was supposed to be about. But I signed the forms for more information and sure enough within a week, the newsletters started coming.

It didn’t stick with me at the time. I was fourteen and I was just about to enter a world where every manner of distraction would keep me off balance. I don’t think I am any different than many kids of that time. Peer pressure and the world’s rapidly changing landscape drove a wedge between us and our parents and our parent’s ways. The newsletters stopped coming at one point and were replaced with many other things. By the time I was seventeen, the Navy was the only path on my mind.

In all the years since, I have wondered if I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe if I had just listened to the words better that day in September 1968, my whole life would have been different. But through every trial and every journey, I still held the most important words he said that day strongly in my mind… “God Loves You”.

I am in the autumn of my life now. Maybe even the beginning of winter. But I have a great wife who keeps trying to help me come to terms with my spirituality. One of the ways she does this is to continue to be a prayer warrior and be a gentle reminder to share a daily devotional time with her. This year’s book (one of three we are using) is from Billy Graham’s Ministry and is called “Unto the Hills”. It’s a daily devotional with scriptures and thoughts Reverend Graham had over the course of his long ministry. After we heard the news and stumbled through breakfast, we sat down and I opened the book. The title of today’s lesson:

More than Conquerors

We are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Romans 8:37

Out of respect for the copyright, I will only share one part of the message.

“There is only one way to have victory over sin. That is to be so closely walking with Christ that sin no more abounds in your life, that sin becomes the exception with you rather than the rule.”

Today my old friend is walking side by side with his Savior Jesus Christ. As has been said so many times this morning by people far more important than me, I can hear Jesus saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

I will miss you Billy, but we will meet again. Thank you God for sharing your friend Billy Graham with us.

Mister Mac

 

Homecoming… its a harder journey than you think without brothers 11

When you get to a certain point in your life you start taking stock of what mattered.

The first seventeen or eighteen years of most people’s lives are the foundations for much of who they become. If you grew up in Middle America, your understanding of relationships, education, and spirituality are all forged from those basic foundations. I will admit that I truly struggled with all three of these in those early years. By the time I was seventeen, I had shown remarkably little interest or aptitude in any of the categories.

Perhaps because I was so much like him, my relationship with my Dad was tortured if nothing else. As I got older he got less well informed and my defiance ended at least once in a physical altercation (which I lost). As a middle kid, I never really fit into any of my brothers or sisters circles so mostly went out on my own. I saw a great description of how service members see themselves and the Navy person was described as being the adventurous middle child that left home and nobody cared. (To be fair, my Mom cried when I left but she was also convinced I would end up in Vietnam and get killed). One of my favorite family pictures is of me in uniform after I came home from Boot Camp. I never really noticed it until a short while ago but the looks on my sibling’s faces were pretty telling. “Can we just get this over with and aren’t you supposed to be leaving soon?” I know that look pretty well since I just saw it again a short while ago.

The education part was a struggle too. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to read, its just that the teachers kept making me read the wrong books. Given a choice, I would have read every book about the Navy and warfare that had ever been written. But it was the late sixties and early seventies and frankly we were on the cutting edge of books about hating wars and the military and the ecology was just beginning its rise to worship status. So I did the minimum and guaranteed that I would receive rejection letters from every college that I applied for. The only group that seemed to be interested were people in uniforms and frankly by the time I was seventeen, I was ready to get away from endless classes and boring curriculum.

I will save the spirituality part for another time. Let’s just say that God probably got tired of trying to get through to me. I am eternally grateful for the redemption I am assured of now but at the time, well, I was seventeen and bulletproof. The whole matter of a higher power just seemed a bit unnecessary.

Mom, Dad and my girlfriend saw me off to the airport and the real learning lessons of my life began.

In Boot Camp, I learned that you could rely on another person and it wasn’t on a phony or contrived basis. You were all going through the same testing and in the end, if you failed the team, you paid a price. So you learned to pay attention to details, pull your share, and trust your shipmates. After fourteen weeks (the war was still on and I was in the band), we graduated and were sent to our next commands or school. I found out quickly there were real consequences to failing and not some far off threat of a career opportunity. The steam and hydraulics that powered many ships could actually kill you just as quick as a bullet. The gasses used to refrigerate or air condition were invisible demons that replaced the very air that you need to breath. And every modern vessel relies on electricity in some form or another and that little devil will light you up just like a light bulb on your way to being dead.

Submarine school just made the learning more relevant. It seemed like from the first day you got there, you were exposed to more and more things that were designed to do one thing but actually had a side effect of doing another; killing you and your fellow submariners if you did it wrong. Hard to believe that its been forty five years this month (2018)

During all this learning, you start to figure out that even as dangerous as all of these things are, if you follow the directions and become qualified, you will find yourself surrounded with a whole group of people who have also committed themselves to not getting killed. As you grow, you find out that most if not all of them also know that working together as a team will push you beyond what you ever thought you could do. You found the capacity to overcome amazing odds together.

Over time, they become your family.

The members of the family often change because of duty rotations, but that family grows and grows. For those of us lucky enough to make a career of the Navy (even a shortened one or one that had broken service) you discover that these family members are the ones that have the most meaning. Outside of those of you who have had a great marriage like me, these are the people who made a difference in your life.

  • There is the Chief who took a very non-focused young Midwesterner and made him into a fire breathing sea devil capable of fighting a galley fire and setting a broken bone in a state four sea.
  • There is a shipmate that made you work your ass off for a qualification signature but was the first one to shake your hand when you put your fish on.
  • There is that first time that a non-qual comes to you and asks for help and you make sure they get the same advice and knowledge you did. You know that you will be able to count on them because you did your best to train them to the same high standard.
  • There is the shipmate who was so happy to get that letter from home only to find out his girlfriend grew tired of waiting and now he faces a future of uncertainty.
  • There is the watch section that has just spend a harrowing six hours doing something submariners never admit to outsiders they have done in defense of our country only to be racked out for a field day or drill.
  • There is a boat that always seems to be first in line when it comes to unplanned deployments. It’s almost as if you are the only boat in the harbor. But you suck it up, load stores and go do your job
  • There is a radio message to the Captain telling him that he needs to tell your shipmate that his Mom didn’t make it to the end of the patrol or mission. And we can’t go home just quite yet.

There is that day when you see each other years later at some boat reunion and all of the memories come flooding back. And you all hoist a beer and say

“Hell yes, I’d do it all again.”

You would do it all again with your brothers and for some of us a few sisters too. That is the often unstated part of the vow. The men and women you qualified with, suffered through long deployments with, struggled through untold hardships, and every once in a while blew off a little steam in a foreign port.

There is an old saying that you can’t go home again.

I believe there is some partial truth to that. The things that you saw and lived through for the first seventeen years of your life were all done in a place that probably didn’t move or grow very much while you were gone. They learned to live without you just like you learned to live without them. It’s the nature of things I suppose. In the past five years since we moved back to the area I grew up in, that has become abundantly clear. In fact, you often learn that some of those who never moved away actually resent you for thinking you could come back and have a role. They know nothing of your life just as you can’t possibly imagine why someone would miss a lifetime of adventures.

On days like those, I remember my brothers (and a few sisters of note).

I think about all the places we went and all the challenges we overcame. I think about the joy of seeing a brother advance in rank or get his dolphins. I know that they earned and did something that the average person can never understand. I am grateful for each and every one of my family that has stayed faithful and loyal over the past forty five plus years. You listened without judgement, you honored me when I deserved it and you tightened my chain on the times when I have been wrong. But you always did it in a way that showed me I could trust you. I hope when the final muster is taken, you can say the same about me.

Mister Mac

The Crew 5

The Crew

As I look back over the past forty five years, I keep wondering what it was about serving on submarines was the part of my life that had the most impact on my life. As I look around social media, it’s not too hard to see that I am not alone in that view. Don’t get me wrong. My marriage to Debbie and my parents were impactful and meaningful in many ways that transcend the service, but no other single thing has been as much of a driver as those days on board the boats I was a crew member of.

You can get a little tunnel vision looking back across all of those years and forget there were bad things. Not enough sleep, separation from the family and real world, stress that was off the charts surrounded by unbelievable boredom and sleeping on a foam mattress in a space the size of a coffin (if you were lucky). But there are the good memories that seem to overshadow most of those. When you are young and new to the game, it’s getting a signature on your qualification card. Not just an easy one but one of the really complicated ones that require an inordinate amount of knowledge and skill. With each succeeding signature, you come closer and closer to that goal. Not just the physical symbol of the dolphins, but knowing that you will be seen as a fully qualified member of the crew.

The current trend for many millennials is something called person branding. Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging. Tom Peters, a management Guru, is thought to have been the first to use and discuss this concept in a 1997 article.

Personal branding is the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.

Being a submariner has always been about personal branding but in a bigger way. The focus as you qualify is very inward. You are trying your best to learn the knowledge and become an expert in the skills that make a good submariner. From damage control to operating the ship’s systems, you must be able to contribute in every sense of the need when the ship is operating or when it is involved in a casualty (real of practice). And everyone on board is a member of the combat and casualty teams. You might be a phone talker or you might be the nozzle man on the hose preparing to fight the infamous deep fat fryer fire but you will play some role.

My first experience on an aircraft carrier as a Chief (I was teaching classes while the Nimitz was underway) was a real eye opener. A drill was announced over the PA system and I was trying to rush to my battle station. What stunned me is that not everyone was moving at the speed of light to get to where they should have been. Only designated “Flying Squads” of DC men were in motion. I cannot even imagine that happening on any submarine I ever served on.

But the inward focus gives way to a crew focus once you qualify as a submariner. You have about five minutes to gloat that you have achieved something many never do or could do. Then you start to focus on actually learning how your role is part of the crew’s success. You qualify increasingly more complicated roles on the boat and you learn that you are now expected to train the ones that will come behind you. It is stunning when I look back how quickly the transition from non-qual to subject matter expert comes. Not because you are that amazing of a person but out of necessity.

The first time I found myself “in charge” was when I learned what real challenges are. Even on submarines, there is a small team for nearly every task (with the exception of the Corpsman and sometimes the Ship’s Yeoman). All of the other divisions have work related to their equipment and division’s responsibility. Each of those divisions need leaders and when you suddenly find yourself in charge on that special day, you pray that your training and the coaching you have received will be enough.

The branding for a submarine is twofold. You want to come back to the surface every time you dive and if you have any pride at all, you want your boat to be known and remembered as being the best. To be the best, you must first outperform the enemies abilities but you must also consistently rise to the top among a group of submariners that already think they are the best crews; your Squadron Mates.

To get there, you drill. Drills mean getting more proficient and better able to manage the unlimited challenges presented by operating in the ocean’s depths. All of that means sacrifice. Since there is no place to hide, sleep deprivation and personal sacrifices become common place. Tempers can often flare and we are often pushed to the limit. But the ship’s that drill the hardest are the ones who are rewarded with the recognition of external teams and the personal satisfaction of knowing you can take almost anything the ocean can throw at you.

All of this binds you together as a crew. The longer you serve on a boat, the more your personal brand is overshadowed by the brand of the boat. If you are really lucky, this will last for the rest of your life.

I have been away from the Navy and submarines now for many years. But I still proudly display my dolphins as the single greatest achievement of my career. More than my rank, more than my awards, more than the letters and medals that came from those days. I will always be glad that when my nation needed me, I was lucky enough to volunteer twice and serve with the greatest crews I could have ever asked for. That certainly includes my non-submarine crews but I am eternally grateful to have earned my fish.

Mister Mac

 

Happy Birthday to my Navy Family – 242 Years Strong 5

This speech was delivered to the Pittsburgh Area Navy Ball on October 20, 2017. The Ball was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Council of the Navy League of the United States and the McKeesport Pittsburgh Chief Petty Officer’s Association

Happy Birthday to my Family

Life is full of celebrations. Births, graduations, achievements, weddings, anniversaries. October is a month of celebrations for the Navy family and Navy League members as we celebrate the Navy’s 242nd birthday, Oct.13, Navy Day and Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, Oct. 27.

For the Navy League, We use these occasions to remember and rededicate ourselves to our missions in support of our sea service personnel and their families and to educate the public and Congress on the importance of our sea services in defending our nation and its prosperity.

Some of us were also blessed to be part of something which helped to define us as individuals while serving the greatest nation the world has ever known. Some of us have had the honor and privilege of wearing a uniform of the United States Navy.

I had a pretty good life growing up in the Mon Valley. From my earliest memories, I had been surrounded by the call of the sea and service in the Navy. A faded black and white picture of my Grandfather in his Dress Blues from World War 1 hung on the wall. I inherited the picture and that uniform along with my Dad’s and it is striking how similar they are to my first uniform. The sturdy wool has endured for over a hundred years and the infamous thirteen buttons are still standing guard. The piping of white is a bit faded now but the stars still stand out on that collar. Stars that represent a country and a family,

From the minute I entered Boot Camp, I knew that I was a part of a much larger family. We learned skills and traditions and came to understand that this new family had a purpose. We were there to protect America and her allies from those who want to harm us. President Theodore Roosevelt, who we honor tonight for his support of a strong Navy stated in his second annual message to Congress on 2 December 1902:

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”

In the one hundred and fifteen years since he declared those words, we have seen that come true time and time again. When America has been best prepared to defend ourselves, we have enjoyed the fruits of that peace. But when America has lost its way and allowed its Navy family to shrink and not have the resources needed to be at the ready we have suffered setbacks.

One only has to look at Pearl Harbor to see the cost of underestimating the enemy. The loss of life and the ships that were sunk is a constant reminder to all Americans. As a member of the Navy family, I have openly cried when I heard taps played at the Arizona Memorial. The names on that wall are more than just etchings of a stone cutter. They are members of my Navy Family who gave their all.

75 Years ago, in a far off place called Guadalcanal, Marines, Army soldiers, Coast Guardsmen and Navy Men did the unexpected and pushed the Japanese back after a horrendous struggle. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal will be remembered on November 12-13 as one of the greatest displays of heroism in our proud family history. An out gunned and out matched American fleet took enormous punishment and endured horrific losses, but in the end emerged victorious. From that night on, the Japanese forces were slowly but surely pushed all the way back to their homeland resulting in ultimate defeat.

Our Navy family played a critical role in that victory.

Yet even in the afterglow of victory, danger still existed. Admiral Chester Nimitz wrote in 1948

“Sir Walter Raleigh declared in the early 17th century that “whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.” This principle is as true today as when uttered, and its effect will continue as long as ships traverse the seas.

The United States possesses today control of the sea more absolute than was possessed by the British. Our interest in this control is not riches and power as such. It is first the assurance of our national security, and, second, the creation and perpetuation of that balance and stability among nations which will insure to each the right of self-determination under the framework of the United Nations Organization.”

All of this was tested in the Cold War. Korea, Vietnam, and a growing Soviet Fleet challenged our family to be able to respond. But respond they did, bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. That recognition for a strong Navy has never ended. Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost wrote

“When a crisis confronts the nation, the first question often asked by policymakers is: ‘What naval forces are available and how fast can they be on station?’

In the most recent conflicts, it has been a combination of all of the Armed Services that have served so well in defending this country against new enemies. But the Navy has been there. You only need to look at the ribbons of many in this room tonight to see the ongoing sacrifice that many have made to ensure our freedom.

Yes, these are the members of my family. These are the men and women whom I have been proud to stand together with in both good times and bad. We are forever united in our shared sacrifices. We celebrate not just an organization, we celebrate the people who have been bonded together for a greater purpose. I can never forget that our family includes the wives and husbands and children who wait for them to return from their missions. Their sacrifices are a large part of why we are able to serve the nation so well.

My uniform long ago joined my Grandfathers and my Dad’s in that old trunk. The sword my men presented on the day of my commissioning hangs on the wall near a case of emblems that reflect my passage through the ordeals that made me a Navy family member. But when I look out and see the young faces of those who are about to enter their own journey and become part of my Navy family, I can almost feel the years slipping away. I can feel the deck shifting below my feet and smell the salt in the wind swept air. The chance for one last adventure makes my heart beat a little stronger.

The reality comes back when I remember that my ship has sailed. I know my time now will be spent doing what I can to support my family that will man the watch. For those of us who are now standing on the shore watching you sail into your own history, we rededicate ourselves to making sure you have the support you need. The right ships, the right equipment, the right training, and all that you need to make sure America stays strong in the face of relentless enemies around the globe. Doing less ensures our own failure. That is not acceptable. That is not America.

We must also remember those who have suffered in body, mind and spirit in the fight. As a family we must still offer them comfort, hope and support. That is a sacred trust. That is what real families do.

The world has turned over 88,330 times since Congress realized the need for a naval service. From a small band of patched together frigates to the mightiest force the world has ever seen, the United States Navy has one continuous thread: Brave men and women who were willing to face any challenge and challenge any foe.

This is the United States Navy.

I hope you will share with me today and every day the importance of our outstanding naval family, and remember always what the United States Navy stands for through its resonant motto:

“Not for Self but for Country”

Thank you for the honor of being allowed to share my family story.

Bob MacPherson

President, US Navy League Pittsburgh Council (AKA Mister Mac)

I grew into it 4

I grew into it.

When you are seventeen and the whole world is just outside of you front door, you can be a little anxious to get started. Some kids will go off to college, some will go to work in a factory or mill, and some kids find themselves drawn to something more adventurous. In my case, that was the military and more specifically, the Navy.

I convinced my parents to sign the permission slip and without much real thought on my part (other than the foreign ports I would hopefully see) I raised my right hand and said a bunch of words. At seventeen, I honestly had very little idea what the words meant or what I was obligating myself for. As we were lining up to say them at the Navy office, I seem to remember a serious feeling coming over the whole proceeding. Up until that moment, the kids that were in the room with me had been typical kids just kind of joking and being “brave”. Then we all said the words together…

“I… (state your name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the Officers appointed over me according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Yep. Seventeen years old and I just took an oath to support and defend a document I had barely read in school and understood even less. I was supposed to defend it against all enemies both foreign and domestic (whatever that meant) and I was going to obey the orders of a guy I have never met in person and a bunch of men and women who I had not yet met.

What was I thinking? I was only seventeen. I had only shot a gun a few times before and certainly had never shot at another human being. And orders? Holy cow, my Dad and I used to fight like two prize fighters over the stupidest stuff. Now I had to willingly follow the orders of some guy I hardly knew?

But I grew into it.

The Navy very wisely sent me off to boot camp where I met a large number of other bewildered young men. We marched, we got up at a certain time every day, and we learned about Navy stuff while starting to become men. We learned to look out for each other and give up some of our self. We learned about teamwork and sacrifice. We learned that there are consequences for bad behavior and we learned about authority.

On graduation day from Boot Camp, our parents and girlfriends came to see us march one last time. I was in the band and I still can’t remember a group of guys performing those songs with any more pride or talent. When the last note was finished and the announced that we were now US Navy sailors, there was a sense of completion and a sense of fear of the unknown ahead. What kind of sailor would I be? Would the task be more than I was able to complete? We had heard all the stories about brave men and ships being attacked by the enemy and to be honest I was not certain I would measure up.

But I grew into it.

The challenges would come faster and faster over the years. Technical schools, submarine school, the first of my five boats leading to becoming a Chief Petty Officer. But through it all, we learned our new roles and we were ready to do what we had agreed to do those many years ago in a small town Recruiters office someplace in America. We became the teachers and the mentors and the leaders who served this great nation in times of peace and war. Then the day came when our time was up and we had to relinquish the watch. A new generation would fill our billets and have to carry on the traditions. The nation would have to depend on them for protection. I wondered how they would do.

But you know what? They grew into it too. As the earth continues to turn and as freedom loving peoples still desire freedom, a strong Navy will always be needed. There will never be a shortage of enemies who would take that freedom away if they had the means.

I just pray as I look around the country now that enough young people will still be willing to raise their right hands and give themselves and the country a chance to grow into an even better place than when my generation were in charge. This modern Antifa movement is kind of frightening to me. Many of these kids are seventeen too and maybe aren’t sure what it means to attack your own country. There is a word for that: Treason

Mister Mac

 

Still serving – More resources for veterans and their families 1

Once in a while, I get emails from people who have checked out the web site and found one of the pages meaningful. I recently got this email and wanted to share it with my readers.

Our veteran population is growing day by day and the issues and concerns they will have to face do not stop when they hang up their uniforms. We think of them sometimes but the problems they face are real and exist every day. Overcoming a long term health issue can be challenging when facing it alone so any additional resources mean making the difference between success and failure.

The Leansubmariner will continue to do its best to bring connections to people still fighting the country’s battles, even the ones they sometimes have to fight in silence.

Mister Mac

 

Hi,

I’m writing to thank you for the resources here you’ve put together to help those who serve. My father-in-law is a disabled vet and lung cancer survivor, and it has meant the world to be able to find resources to help him pay for everything he needs. You’re really doing a great service for people like him – I cannot thank you enough.

I’m happy to pass on some other pages we’ve found useful, in case you or your viewers might think so too:

Aging Vets – How to Plan Wisely for Your Future
Residential Leases and the Military – Your Rights
Resources for Vets & Families Living with Cancer
Military Veterans Resource Center
Assistive Tech for Veterans and Military
Guide to Military Moves
Behavioral Health for Veterans
Mental Health Needs of Vets & Families
Justice for Vets

Thanks,

Meagan C.

What are you willing to risk to celebrate Independence Day? 1

Happy Independence Day

God Bless America

Like most people, I think of Independence Day as a wonderful way to celebrate all things America and have some great food.

Fireworks and festivities crowd out the fact that over the years, many Americans have been unable to actually celebrate the day. Those are the men and women of the armed services who are engaged with the countries business.

While we in the homeland enjoy our barbeques and baseball, somewhere today a young man or woman is manning a post in a hostile environment. As we swim in our pools, another sailor relieves the watch under the threat of an unseen missile attack from a rogue state. As we watch the rockets sailing into the dark night, a pilot provides close in air support to one of our ground troops in danger from being overrun by radical terrorists.

The spirit has been there since the very beginning

Countless sacrifices have been given through the years to make sure that everyday ordinary Americans can celebrate our freedom in relative peace.  One such sacrifice happened over seventy five years ago in a little know event in the Philippines after the Japanese invaded and brutally punished the American and local defenders. Because of many factors, large numbers of Americans had become prisoners of war. They would be  over three years of brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese captors.

These men had been stationed in the Philippine Islands with the intent of defending the vital country from aggression. As America slept and dithered on and on about not becoming entangled in a foreign war, they had prepared for the worst. When the worst came, we were not prepared and they were sacrificed to buy time to actually build up our forces and beat back the Japanese invaders. While America geared up to answer the call, they suffered unspeakable horrors.

But on July 4th, 1942,  75 years ago, a group of very brave men who had recently been captured showed the true spirit of America while held capture by the Japanese Army.

American prisoners of war celebrated American Independence Day in Casisange prison camp at Malaybalay, Mindanao, against Japanese regulations, 4 Jul 1942

Most of the men in this picture would never make it home. But they never forgot who they were and what country they served. The penalty if they had been caught would have been death.

It was against Japanese regulations and discovery would have meant death, but the men celebrated the occasion anyway.

The Visayan-Mindanao Force under US Army Brigadier General William F. Sharp was composed of the 61st, 81st, and 101st Infantry Divisions of the Philippine Army. Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright, in nominal command of all the Allied Forces in the Philippines, ordered Sharp to surrender on May 9. Sharp complied and most of his men entered captivity at Camp Casisang, Malaybalay, on May 10. Camp Casisang had been a training ground for the Philippine Constabulary. The barracks were of crude construction, some with corrugated steel roofs but most were made of either thatched wood or nipa palm fronds. Water was a scarce commodity and the prisoners were limited to one canteen of water per day for all purposes. One pump was the sole source of water for about 1,000 Americans and 11,000 Filipinos.

On August 15, 1942, All Generals, Full Colonels and their orderlies left Camp Casisang. There had been a large number of full Colonels plus five Generals at the camp. One of them was Philippine General Manuel Roxas, who after the war became the President of the Philippines in 1946. The Japanese gathered 268 men and marched them to Bugo where they boarded the Tamahoko Maru on October 3, 1942 for a 3-day voyage to Manila. At Manila they were marched to Bilibid Prison to wait for transportation to Japan. Many did not survive the war. On October 15, 1942 Camp Casisang was closed. All remaining prisoners were moved on the Japanese frieghter Maru 760 to Davao.

When you celebrate Independence Day this year, please remember all of those who paid a price for your freedom and pray for those who are still out on patrol.

God Bless each and every one of them and God Bless America

Mister Mac

USS TRIGGER SS 237 – The First Patrol June 26, 1942 (75 Years ago) Reply

USS Trigger SS 237 Departed on her first war patrol on June 26, 1942.

The United States Navy had not planned on using the submarines at its disposal in the way they found themselves forced to in the spring of 1942. The Japanese Navy had crushed the battle fleet in a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 but failed to do much damage to the submarines or their base. This fatal error would cause them damage of amazing proportions in the four years to come.

The USS TRIGGER was a Gato-class submarine, the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the triggerfish.

The Gato-class were a class of submarines built for the United States Navy and launched in 1941–1943; they were the first mass-production US submarine class of World War II. Together with their near-sisters the Balao and Tench classes, their design formed the majority of the United States Navy’s World War II submarine fleet.

The Gato-class boats were “Fleet Submarines”. The original operational intent behind their design was that they would operate as support units for the main battle fleet, based on the way battleships were operated and had been since World War I. The submarines would scout out ahead of the fleet and report on the enemy fleet’s composition, speed, and course, then they were to attack and whittle down the enemy in preparation for the main fleet action, a large gun battle between battleships and cruisers. This operational concept had developed from experiences gained during the First World War

A remarkable ship

From the Official Naval Records:

“A fantastically colored and dangerous fish is the trigger, and like the fish after which she was named, USS TRIGGER had a fantastically colorful career and a dangerous for the Japanese. Her brilliant record was not made without danger to herself and her last patrol proved that heroes are often lost but heroic achievements will never die.

The twisted plating of many Japanese vessels went to the bottom of the ocean from the daring attacks of TRIGGER. Battered and pounded time and a in by the merciless depth charges of the Japanese, TRIGGER returned time after time from the deep, dark shadows of an ocean grave to fight on. Former TRIGGER men throughout the submarine service fought on with new resolve when they learned of her loss.

From the very beginning TRIGGER had a spirit of go-ahead built into her trim lines. She was completed several months before schedule at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, and the keel for the next submarine was laid in the same spot four months ahead of schedule. Her keel was laid on 1 February 1941 and by 22 October of the same year, Mrs. Walter Newhall Vernon, wife of Rear Admiral Vernon, senior member of the Board of Inspection and Survey, Pacific Coast Section, served as the sponsor for this ship at the launching.

TRIGGER joined the United States Navy on 30 November 1942, the date of her commissioning with Lieutenant Commander J.H. Lewis, as the first commanding officer. It took weeks and months of arduous training before she was ready to meet the enemy. The officers and crew had to learn the multiplicity of complicated mechanisms before they knew their ship well — their ship— their home— their destiny! It was in the early days of rugged training that TRIGGER acquired that last intangible installation called soul.

As TRIGGER nosed into the submarine base at Pearl Harbor before her first war patrol, she was a neophyte, a trifle self-conscious and perhaps apologetic to slip her trim form into the berth of her illustrious sisters. Little was she to know that before very long any submarine of the fleet would be proud to tie-up alongside her.

Off to a slow start on her first war patrol, TRIGGER departed Pearl Harbor on 26 June 1942, bound for the area around Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. During her first war patrol, six enemy contacts were made but bad weather and unfavorable approach conditions precluded any successful attacks. Considerable time was spent on special tasks in connection with the bombardment of Kiska Harbor and in searching various harbors and bays. Pickings were mighty slim and the patrol terminated with TRIGGER’s arrival at Dutch Harbor on 10 August.”

USS TRIGGER would go on to win eleven Battle Stars. On her twelfth patrol, she left port with the USS TIRANTE, A radio call was sent out from TIRANTE calling TRIGGER. From the official report:

“Silence was the only answer — a silence that has never been broken; a silence that told a wordless story. The call for the TRIGGER is still echoing through the ocean depths; echoing through the hearts that knew her for the gallant ship she was. The spirit of the TRIGGER lives on. It will never die.”

USS TRIGGER Lost with all hands
Struck from the record 11 July 1945

Mister Mac

It was never easy 3

It was never easy

On the day I retired from the Navy, my crew presented me with a shadow box. That box sits on my desk and I look at it from time to time when I am not typing stories or checking out the latest on the Internet. It’s a nice box with beveled edges, a glass cover that has kept the dirt at bay for many years and a deep blue velvet background. The display is a chronology of my service from the time I enlisted until the day I retired. All of the achievements of my career are visible and each remind me about the one thing that all military people know and understand. It was never easy.

The Oath

I took my first oath at the age of seventeen with my proud parents standing by. Like my father before me and his father too, I chose the Navy. I wanted adventure and travel and the recruiter had promised me that and much more. The Navy would give me the chance to grow and learn many things. I would get to travel to exotic parts around the world and experience so many things that I would never find in the Monongahela Valley where I grew up. He said that many sailors found time to achieve a college degree and if they worked hard, they could someday be a leader and maybe even an officer. But he was an honest man and added this stern warning: “It won’t be easy”.

Taking the oath of enlistment at such an early age was actually very easy. I guess in retrospect, the oath was just a step you had to take on the journey to where you wanted to be. Up until the moment I took it, I will confess that I did not think about what I was doing too much. But in the moments leading up to raising my hand and repeating it, the gravity of it came over me. For the next six years, I was going to be committed to doing whatever it was the Officers and Chiefs appointed over me would tell me to do. There were no half measures in making that commitment. If I failed, I would disappoint my parents, my friends, and myself. I remember a small moment of panic as I realize that I didn’t really know what was ahead. What seemed like such a simple step became a really big thing in that moment.

They lined us up in that room in the Federal Building in Pittsburgh. Stand at attention and raise your right hand.

“I, (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

And just like that, I took an oath that would change my life forever.

On either side of the shadow box are little brass plaques that say when and where I was stationed. Looking at them now, they seem pretty cold and sterile. There are twelve of them that represent the twenty plus years of active and reserve service. Interestingly enough, one of my commands is missing. When I look at them, I see something more than just brass. I see the sacrifices, the endless days at sea, the loneliness and the danger that many of them represented. A number of training commands, five submarines, one drydock and one submarine tender. They all have one thing in common: none of them ended up being very easy.

The ranks and awards make up the middle section of the box. Candidly, some took longer to achieve than I would have liked. For the longest time, I was convinced that the Navy would come to its senses and do things my way. Then, after a series of faltering steps, a wise Chief let me know in no uncertain terms that the Navy had done quite well for over two hundred years and if I really learned to accept that, I might make progress a little faster.

Starting over is never easy

I am lucky that I was able to completely reboot my career but as I have probably already indicated, it wasn’t easy. I learned that the oath really meant what it said. I also learned that in addition to the oath, there needed to be a strong willingness to sacrifice. I looked at those around me and saw many people who were giving their all to the service they chose. Don’t get me wrong. There were others who bitched, moaned and whined (BMW) every field day and duty day. The difference was, I decided not to be one of them. I took ever collateral duty I could, worked more hours than ever before in my life, learned new skills and polished up the old ones. No challenge was too great and I humbled myself as much as I could to achieve them.

During all of that time and ever since, I learned something about the men and women I served with. They all took the same oath. They learned what sacrifice was and learned to work together to achieve common goals. These are my brothers and sisters who share a devotion to their country and to the promises they made. Some fell along the way and some could not live up to their pledge. But on the whole, the people who I look back on now in my life with the most respect are the ones who discovered that even though it was not easy, you lived up to your oath. Even when the storms at sea knocked you about, you stayed the course. Even when it meant a ton of self-sacrifice, you honored your promise.

It is fitting that shadow box reflects the ranks in an ascending order to show the progression of growth. The ribbons are not as plentiful as some I have seen on current sailors and officers chests. But each one is a testament to the teamwork and shared sacrifices of my many shipmates. The dolphins represent membership in a unique brotherhood (that now includes a sisterhood).

The most dominant feature is the folded flag at the base.

This particular flag flew on a summer’s day over my last ship, the USS Hunley. If any of my previous commands had ever given me a hope that this one would be easy, that hope was dashed immediately. But with the help of my many shipmates (Chiefs, Officers and Sailors), we overcame some very large challenges together.

The flag at the base is a constant reminder that when you take that oath, there is something much bigger at stake than the temporary loss of some of your personal freedoms. It is the flag we all sailed under, protected with our service, and still honor today. I see the world around me now and worry that many people do not understand what it means to be counted upon. I see people too easily taking oaths or promises and just walking away with little to no remorse. I watch people who don’t get their way rioting in the street and refusing to commit any form of self-sacrifice.

But there is still time. We as a country can still turn the ship around. There are still many young men and women who have already raised their hands and taken that same oath. They need our prayers and our support. If you are not already a member of one of the many organizations that veterans have open to them, time to step up and do so.

I would just offer one word of advice:

It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.

Mister Mac

There are no routine days at sea on a submarine 4

Thresher

 

It was just another day at sea. Routine in many ways but in others it became an eternal reminder of the dangers associated with operating a submarine. The sea is unforgiving and the impact of any small failure becomes magnified beyond control within moments. I have sat in a chair, strapped in holding the yoke that controls the planes. I have stared at the numbers on the darkened panel a few feet in front of me as the numbers clicked off the change of depth. You can feel the pull of gravity as the boat descends deeper and faster with each passing moment. On another day on another boat, we were too heavy and the surface had just released it’s grip on us. Bow heavy, we were going deeper and deeper when we lost propulsion. The fairwater planes were jammed in a rise position and I pulled back as hard as I could on the stern planes to try and slow the dive. Test depth came and went. The boat creaked and men quietly prayed. “Conn, maneuvering, propulsion has been restored”. We slowly climbed back to a safer place between the ocean’s floor and the typhoon that still raged above us. I still have waking nightmares about that night. I clutch my pillow to my chest like it was the outboard yoke, straining with all of my might to will the boat back from the deep.

I often imagine what it was like on the 10th of April 1963 for the planesmen as Thresher made that last dive.
I salute my brothers still on eternal patrol.

Mister Mac

In memory of those we have lost