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)