Noble Death Song

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

At a certain age, the eyes weaken and, yet, we are able to see more clearly. The conjunctions of my life, at present, are met by the May graduation of our elder son; the bleak news from around the world even though events on our 1/2 acre in Durham seem only remotely affected (visions of Downton Abbey abound); the sight on the horizon of my sixtieth birthday (in 2020! not really; doesn’t bother me.. and I just wish that the others of my circle and demographic would set a different example for me, like, quit dying) so that I am attracted to those who knew what they were doing early and often and able to find others like themselves.

Two Navy friends recommended Act of Valor. Couldn’t believe it as the trailer for the film looked so typical of ‘the best parts of a bad movie.’ They persuaded me that the film was made with SEAL cooperation with the hopes that the film would contribute to their increased recruiting requirements. Actual SEALs performed all of the terrific stunts and some of the weak acting. Happily, they did well at what they are paid to do. I wonder if we can really respond so effectively, and expensively, to dilute the malicious intent of so many cheaply armed bandits and thugs?! And can the SEALs truly carry enough ammunition for such firefights?! Anyway, watch the Behind the Scenes clip at the site.

Our audience of forty left the theatre in a quiet mood even though the film’s action scenes were exhilarating.

I admire the well-conceived obituaries in The Economist if only for the broad and interesting range of its selection. Lyn Lusi’s obit saddened me because of her achievements in face of daunting circumstances in a dangerous place (Republic of Congo). Courage may be manifested in many ways.

Photo courtesy of The Economist 31 March 2012

Tecumseh figurehead; US Naval Academy.

This poem of Tecumseh was central to the plot of Act of Valor. I walked or marched passed this figurehead thousands of times over a four year period, never investigating the purpose and meaning of its presence.

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

Can’t be a Navy SEAL; can behave like 1

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Good things come in threes even for Special Operations or Spec Ops types such as our Navy SEALS. Coincidentally or not, on the Saturday after the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden (1), Bath Iron Works launched the USS Michael Murphy, christened for the SEAL Medal of Honor recipient to commemorate his sacrifice in Afghanistan as well-described in the Lone Survivor. By the way, eighteen SEALS and Rangers perished in the related rescue attempt. On Monday May 9, the New York Times reviewed two recent books describing the SEAL life (3).

USS Michael Murphy, DDG-112, launched at Bath Iron Works on Murphy’s 35th Birthday

I’ve met a few SEALs and even helped a UNC graduate find his way into the program. One of my own cocktail stories is the November evening in 1974 when I took the physical exam required to apply for SEAL training. I travelled across the bridge from the Naval Base in San Diego to Coronado to meet my test instructor. He arrived at the pool with his German Shepard; both looked fit, serious and non-threatening. The gate to the pool was locked. Surprised was I when the instructor asked if I had the key; more surprised was I when having replied, ‘no, I don’t’, he looked up at the ten foot fence, commanded the Shepard to lie and scaled the fence commenting that we had to be finished by 1700 (5pm), 45 minutes from now. I followed him up the fencing, over the wire and into the pool area. I was nervous and now winded. He walked to one end of the pool, took out his stop-watch and suggested that I get into the water. I yanked off my boots and shirt and dove in. I forget how many laps that I had to swim or how much time elapsed, but I recall that 30 minutes was the maximum permitted. I dragged myself out of the pool and was informed that I failed – without prejudice or malice of forethought. He turned toward the fence. In a rush of panic, I asked if I could complete the remainder of the test. He stared, replying, “Affirmative.” Push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups later, he marked my results on his clipboard. For swimming, noted the maximum time of thirty minutes. “You may not be the best swimmer, but I like your attitude for wanting to complete the test.” Up and over the fence, he jogged with the Shepard to his vehicle.

My career with the SEALs never got off the ground – or into the water. I applied and was denied permission until I finished my tour at sea, the reason that I was transferred to San Diego in the first place. I’ve known all these years later that becoming a Navy SEAL was a highly improbable achievement because I am not a strong swimmer or even a good floater and that cold conditions, both water and weather, deplete my energy in a hurry. Maybe it’s the New Orleans roots. At any rate, I run across these unique warriors from time to time. We all do and you just don’t know it from their demeanor. Here are a ways that we can be like them even if we could only barely pass the qualification physical:

1. Get in shape: physically, mentally, morally. Morally means accurate compass on what we stand for.
2. Let our actions speak for themselves. To the best of our abilities, lead and not manage.
3. Be respectful; be honest; don’t back down from the BS.
4. Expect a lot; trust a lot.
5. Take care of your people. They are termed SEAL teams for a purpose.
6. Commit to the mission.
7. Plan, cross-train, have a reasoned back-up plan.