Everybody needs a hero 3

Everybody needs a hero.

Heroes make us believe that people are capable of doing amazing things and give us hope in a world where so many people fail either themselves or us. Heroism comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors. Mine happens to come in a variety of uniforms depending on what year you found her. All are the uniforms of her country.

A long time ago, I was a Division officer on a submarine tender named USS Hunley. The ship was already getting old by the time I got there but I was fortunate to have a good group of people to work with. One of those was a young Machinist Mate named Jeannie. She did a good job for me but made it very clear that the service was not her cup of tea. I have many wonderful memories of that time but when I retired, she also finished her tour and went off to find her future.

Jeannie Keith and her friend Fay the day they were both frocked to Petty Officer Third Class.

Future for Jeannie included going back to college and becoming a nurse. That was not a surprise since she seemed like a very caring person. What surprised me was when she told me she was joining the Army as an Army nurse. Shortly after that, she married her present husband (also an Army officer) and they proceeded to start living happily ever after. Until 911.

On 911, Jeanie was stationed at Walter Reed Hospital and Mark was working in the Pentagon. That story will have to wait for another day. I hope Jeannie will take the time to share it when she is ready.

Fast forward to 2003. I knew that both of them were deploying to an undisclosed overseas location and we prayed for them every day. Then on March 19, 2003 I got this email from Jeannie:

The Eve

“Well, everyone, the time is near. Less than 8 hours to go. Tonight we sleep in our uniforms and have all battle rattle at the ready. Tomorrow’s uniform is full battle rattle plus NBC level increased (can’t tell you what level”. High sense of alertness but a calming atmosphere. Haven’t seen real nervous people.

Loaded containers today for the front. Don’t know when we are leaving, but I am still scheduled to go forward by helicopter, may make it there before my other people and work with another unit until they get there. Had a shower today and steak and lobster for dinner. Every Weds. They do the steak/lobster deal. Pretty good.

Received everyone’s emails. Thanks for the assistance and thoughts. I will need some small bottles of hand sanitizer if anyone wants to send it. Need to go. Time went quickly tonight.

Don’t worry, I am fine.

Jeannie

Funny, the thought of that email still brings tears flowing from my eyes. Don’t worry? Really?

 For the following months, emails would come sporadically.

As I have reopened long lost files to see how I could transfer them, I have been struck with the brutal nature of what Jeannie and her fellow soldiers went through. It has been fourteen years, but the harshness has not dimmed with age. The stories of the women and men of the 28th Combat Surgical Hospital where Jeannie served are all preserved in those emails. One example comes from July 2003.

 

 

 

 

Jeanie’s email: Subject: 23July03

“Sorry for the grouped email but mail has been down for 48 hours. Yes, you guessed it, we had a VIP come to visit and all the internet was shut off d/t his majesty, plus we’ve had a busy 48-72 hours

This morning we had a 26 y/o soldier come in from another RPG/Blast injury. This time he wasn’t so lucky, as the others have been, by just losing one of his extremities, he lost both of his hands and half of his forearms. He also had shrapnel to his thighs and lacerations to his face, his eyes had corneal abrasions and his ear drums busted. People have come to him hour by hour and asked how he was doing. Finally he said “Okay if you don’t have any hands”. I was glad to hear him say this b/c he isn’t fine and he doesn’t have to be fine or okay. And I began asking people “how would you fell if you lost your two hands?” They finally quit seeing him as a sad subject to come and view, as they would in a circus or a zoo.

What his future holds for him I don’t know, but only hope with him being in one of the most technological countries in the world, that something good will happen to him as far as prosthesis.”

The letter goes on and Jeannie talks about a couple of Iraqi citizens who are in the hospital with her as patients.

“Now our unit has two Iraqi civilians in it and hopefully two of them will leave by Friday and the other one will either extubate soon or he’ll die eventually. Not harsh, the truth. With our advanced medical practice, there’s just no hope for them over here if they don’t get better while they are with us.”

From: Robert MacPherson

Date: Thursday July 24, 2003 2:51 am

Subject: Re: 23July03

Never apologize for sending me any kind of news. I love to hear from you each and every day because it means that you are still doing okay. I will have to admit that I have had a few tears for the young man you spoke about. I always used to have dreams about my submarine going down when we were facing the Russians and drowning. Sometimes when you spent three months under the water, your imagination will get a little carried away. But I could never imagine losing even one of my hands or both.

I know it’s probably not appropriate, but please tell him I have said a prayer for him. I also pray for you. When this is all over (and it will be over soon my friend) please be ready to talk to somebody about what you are going through now. If we didn’t learn anything from Vietnam, we should have learned the human soul can only see so many things without being touched in some way. I am not there so I don’t see the things you do or smell/hear/feel the things you do. But reading your emails has filled me with sadness and a sense of pride for the sacrifices the men and women have given for their fellow man. I know there is no way that we can repay them for what they have done. I promise you that for my part, I will never let the politicians forget their promises to those who have made those sacrifices.

But when I think about what our enemies have already done to the people of the United States and what they could have done to the people of the United States in the future if you and your comrades had not done what you did, it makes me even more aware of the sacrifices you all have made for us. The leaders of Iraq are more evil than people in a free society can ever imagine. The tortures and deprivations they subjected their own people to is horrible in itself, but if we had not acted, we can only imagine the devastation they could have brought to our shores. The thought of innocent women and children being subjected to poisons and gasses that were being produced is more than the mind could imagine. You only have to read the reports about the Kurds and Iranians that Saddam and his monstrous thugs used those weapons on and be repulsed.

On September 11, the terrorists showed us how vulnerable we are in a world filled with mad men. You all have shown us with your courage, bravery and sacrifice that those enemies can be defeated. I am forever in your debt. I am forever in the debt of that young man whose future is so much in question. But I believe with all my heart that God is with you all and will watch over you until you come home again.

With much love and respect,

Mr. Mac

The rest of the story will have to wait for another time. I saved every email and picture on an old Dell laptop but the technology of that time did not allow for an easy transfer of the hundreds of files. I am still working on an easy solution but I am hopeful we can save the stories for another time.

Jeannie, I hope you do write that book. I will buy the first copy.

Mister Mac

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

The Galloping Ghost 1

I’M THE GALLOPING GHOST OF THE JAPANESE COAST

By Constantine Guiness, MOMM 1/C, USN

I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast.
You don’t hear of me and my crew
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan.
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.

I look sleek and slender alongside my tender.
With others like me at my side,
But we’ll tell you a story of battle and glory,
As enemy waters we ride.

I’ve been stuck on a rock, felt the depth charge’s shock,
Been north to a place called Attu,
and I’ve sunk me two freighters atop the equator
Hot work, but the sea was cold blue.

I’ve cruised close inshore and carried the war
to the Empire Island Honshu,
While they wire Yokahama I could see Fujiyama,
So I stayed, to admire the view.

When we rigged to run silently, deeply I dived,
And within me the heat was terrific.
My men pouring sweat, silent and yet
Cursed me and the whole damned Pacific.

Then destroyers came sounding and depth charges pounding
My submarine crew took the test.
Far in that far off land there are no friends on hand,
To answer a call of distress.

I was blasted and shaken (some damage I be taken),
my hull bleeds and pipe lines do, too
I’ve come in from out there for machinery repair,
And a rest for me and my crew.

I got by on cool nerve and in silence I served,
Though I took some hard knocks in return,
One propeller shaft sprung and my battery’s done,
But the enemy ships I saw burn.

I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast,
You don’t hear of me and my crew.
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan,
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.

Remembering the Fitzgerald Seven Reply

 

Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley has ordered the National Ensign to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until sunset on June 27 in honor of the seven Sailors who perished onboard USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62).

In ALNAV 045/17, Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley ordered the National Ensign to be flown at half-staff in honor of the seven Sailors who died onboard USS Fitzgerald:

Hand Salute

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

The Cost of Freedom – Letter to the Editor Pittsburgh Post Gazette 2

The Cost of Freedom

To the Editor

Pittsburgh has long been a source of the materials and equipment necessary for our national defense.

The propulsion equipment for submarines and aircraft carriers comes from manufacturers in the Steel Valley as it has for generations. A strong fleet ensures freedom of the seas and guarantees the level of commerce needed to ensure a robust economy.

In critical global areas, freedom is being challenged. China’s influence in the Southwester Pacific is already being felt by our trading partners. A resurgent Russian naval influence is the result of their leaders trying to regain what they lost at the end of the Cold War. The re-appearance of Russian surveillance ships near America’s submarine bases is definitely a concern for a Navy that is already resource strapped with existing obligations in the prolonged conflicts in the Middle East.

As Congress prepares its budgets, sensible but strong support for the re-building of our fleet must be supported by all citizens. Our submarine forces need new boats to answer the gap left by an aging fleet. Boats that were built in the 1980’s are being retired faster than our ability to build replacements. Even some of the mighty Ohio class submarines are older than thirty five years old. A replacement must be built as soon as possible to ensure our strategic abilities.

It is time for congress to act. I urge all Pittsburghers (and Americans ) to contact your Senators and Representatives and support the rebuilding of America’s sea services.

This is a critical time in our history and your support is needed now. This is the Cost of Freedom.

Robert “Bob” MacPherson

USNL Pittsburgh Council President (2017-2019)

Mister Mac

Summer 2017 USNL Pittsburgh President’s Letter – The Home Front Reply

The Home Front

Greetings to all of the Navy League Members and those who have yet to join. I am always grateful for the membership we have and a bit curious why there aren’t more of us. The Pittsburgh Council of the Navy League of the United States is an active group that supports the sea services in many ways. More about that in a bit.

The Battle of Midway at 75

This year marks the Diamond Anniversary of some of the pivotal events in the life of the nation as well as the sea services. In the Pacific, the combined forces of the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard stopped the Japanese expansion during the Battle of Midway. Against very large odds, this combined force stopped a previously unbeaten Japanese Naval force and turned the tide of the conflict. In the Atlantic, precious few resources were called upon to defend vital shipping in the face of a ferocious submarine onslaught that would be called the Battle for the Atlantic. U- boats were challenging our ability to supply our surviving allies and the Navy scarcely had enough ships to stem the loss of ships to their attacks.

Pittsburgh and the Home Front

None of the services were prepared for the Global Conflicts that they would be called upon to fight. The courage of the men who filled the gap until America’s war machine could be fully engaged saved countless millions from death and destruction. On the Home Front here in Pittsburgh, the mills and mines were mobilized as never before and businesses of every kind were converted into suppliers of the materials and equipment that would be needed to fight the enemy on every front. Their contributions led to ultimate victory but there were many sacrifices along the way.

The current situation the nation finds itself in is similar in many ways. All around the globe, nations and terror groups are challenging the notion that people should be able to live in freedom. Freedom from oppression and freedom to live their lives in a way they chose has always been both a goal and a target. The goal is shared by most thinking people and the target is shared by all tyrants and oppressive groups based on flawed ideologies. Technology and the ability to easily cross state lines has radically increased the ability of the evil doers to impact people who may have previously felt safe and secure in their homes.

Global War on Terror

Once again, the men and women of the sea services are on the front lines of this battle. Whether it’s in one of the three Battle Groups in the Sea of Japan or the Black Sea, we have people in harm’s way every single day. Our allies are learning that the enemy can reach them in the streets of London and Paris and we have lost citizens in the crossfire. The need for a smart, mobile and flexible defense has never been stronger. Just as planners at the beginning of World War 2 found themselves challenged to meet the existing and new threats, we are finding some of the same challenges.

For many years, the sea services have been increasingly challenged to meet the growing missions because of budget restrictions. Training, new equipment and other costs have all suffered at exactly the same time that new threats emerge. Competing social programs and agendas have made it more and more difficult to keep our people fully prepared and supplied for this new conflict.

That is exactly where the Navy League and groups like ours comes in. We are the independent voice that Theodore Roosevelt envisioned over a century ago when he encouraged the nation’s civilian and business leadership to join together and support the sea services. I love reading his speeches and writings from a historical perspective but many of them ring so true today. Preparedness is the key word for the survival of any democracy in the face of tyranny. Preparedness is not an option if we wish to survive.

All of the activities we do in the Pittsburgh Council are geared towards supporting those who continue protecting us. Whether it’s one of our fundraisers that support scholarship programs or our direct support of the Coast Guard and Navy, we are focused in making sure the people on the front lines know that we on the Home Front have not forgotten them. Our efforts through our National organization in identifying budget needs is critical. Being a part of the Navy League makes sure your voice can be heard and we can truly help the sea services to meet their daily challenges.

The call to action is this:

Support your Pittsburgh Council (or your local Council) by participating in the various events listed in our newsletter and on our Web Page http://www.navyleaguepittsburgh.org/. (If you don’t have a newsletter and would like one, please contact me and I will make sure you get one.)

Encourage others to join with us and help us to show a strong unified Home Front in this new conflict. Stay informed and encourage your representatives in government to see the value and need for strong and vital sea services on all fronts.

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz once wrote: “It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil.”

I would only add that the Navy and all of the sea services do their job best when we at the Home Front have done ours just as well.

Mister Mac

President, United States Navy League – Pittsburgh Council

USS Fitzgerald DDG 62 – How to help the crew 1

The collision at sea between the USS Fitzgerald and a civilian cargo ship has caused so many people to want to do something to help.

This message came from the ship’s Facebook Page on June 19, 2017.

The Navy Relief Society in Yokosuka is also helping and as always, they will accept financial  donations.

http://www.nmcrs.org/

 

Thanks for your consideration

Mister Mac

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Maintain Silence About the Decks 1

It’s Sunday morning and the sun is shining on this muggy Pennsylvania day.

Even though I am far from the oceans, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that the sea has claimed some of my shipmates. In the faraway seaport of Yokosuka, a damaged vessel is now being tended to and the inquiries will soon begin. A board of officers will be appointed by letter and the grueling process of deconstructing exactly what happened will commence. Anxious families here in the homeland are still waiting for the official notification and will soon be swept up in a whirlwind of grief mixed with anger and frustration as the Navy conducts its reviews.

On other ships around the world, officers and crews are probably being issued the standard precautionary warnings about the dangers of the seas and maintaining a keen operational readiness. Former sailors are filling the internet with their thoughts. Some are simple and supportive. Some are typical armchair quarterbacks who will do their own reconstruction free from actual facts. It has always been that way but I think with the advent of social media, it is just a lot more visible.

“Maintain silence about the decks” was a standard announcement made just before the start of Divine Services on board the ship I served on.

I would hope that today’s Divine Services on board every ship and submarine would be overflowing today with men and women praying for the lost souls of their shipmates. It has been more than twenty years since I was piped over the side for the last time. I would suspect that the services will perhaps be a bit fuller but nowhere near what they should be. The Navy is a microcosm of society and the number of spiritual people probably reflects the diminishing numbers in America today who regularly worship.

Naval Customs

I have a book that dates back to before the Second World War called Naval Customs, Traditions and Usage written by Leland P. Lovette. This book captures the origins of many of the Navy’s traditions including Divine Services at Sea. On Sunday morning immediately after quarters, all hands were mustered and immediately gathered in their appointed place near the Quarterdeck. I can only imagine the outcry if the Navy tried to do something like this today.

Saying Farewell

Losing a shipmate under any circumstances is like losing a member of your own family. You share the same challenges day after day, you have the same frustrations, and you experience the same joys. You have trained side by side to face enormous challenges and danger and learn to rely on one another in the worst of times. Even though all of you may not be close as friends, the magical word “Shipmate” binds you together tighter than any rope ever designed.

In many ways, that term also becomes universal. Once you have sailed the oceans, you become a lifelong member of that brother and sisterhood. I still swell with pride when I see the American flag streaming from an American Navy ship. It’s not just the ship or submarine though. It is the sailors and officers who sail her. These brave souls defy the ocean and put themselves in harm’s way every time they cast off all lines. No amount of technology can completely protect them from the uncounted dangers the sea can inspire. Sometimes, the sea just wins. Too often, we find ourselves having to say farewell to those shipmates. It is one of the hardest things for anyone to have to endure.

I pray this morning for the families of those lost on the USS Fitzgerald who will now face the lifelong reality of being a Gold Star family. No amount of public recognition or condolences for their loss will ever replace the smile of the loved one who will no longer be home for shore leave. That bright smile and carefree youth will be etched in their hearts and memories. Shipmates close to them will be forever changed as well. Years from now, their loss will still bring tears to all who knew and loved them. My only advice is to reach out to each other and get the counseling you will need. Some burdens are handled better when they are shared.

From the Naval Customs book:

“It has ever been customary for all officers and men not on duty to attend the services of a late shipmate. The Chaplain, or in his absence, the Captain, or an officer detailed by the Captain reads the burial service at sea. The ritual ends with the very beautiful and time honored words,

… we therefore commit this body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea shall give up her dead, and the life of the world to come…

I am sad for the families and for the shipmates who are starting the mourning process this day. But I am eternally grateful that there are still men and women who are willing to challenge the sea to help ensure our freedom. I will continue to pray for their safety in all the corners of the world.

For the next few minutes, please join with me in maintaining silence about the decks as we remember our fallen shipmates.

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