In Obtuse Memory and Honor of John Paul Jones: a letter to Naval Academy classmates

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Disclaimer: contains references to time and jargon long past.

We just elected our board of directors for the local alumni chapter with representation ranging from the classes of 1974 to 2010 (I can hear the the clacking footsteps of the Grim Reaper chopping down the passageway near the mate’s desk) including grads from 80, 81, 87, 93, 08. Such a gathering divides the brigade into interesting demographics such as all-male Academy or the University of Navy; summer cruise destinations; mile run or not; steam vs gas turbine; Isherwood and Melville Halls; June Week or Commissioning Week.

Do you recall that as President Richard Nixon delivered our diplomas on that stage in the stadium and that the custom at the time was for each acknowledged company to offer a worthy collective comment. I remember that one company threw cassette tapes into the air. When 23rd was announced, only soon to be Ensign David Sharpe arose and clapped insincerely.

Related to 1971 graduation, I remember the stern warning issued to the Brigade by Admiral Coogan, Commandant, that ‘if you did not like the cut of a man’s jib, then you are obligated to tell him so in person.’ He referred to the standing-boo that Rolio Golez, 23rd company, received from the Brigade at his graduation in June 1970. Mr. Golez, Brigade Boxing Champion for 4 years, heads the PI Alumni Association Chapter. From the self-promotion at his Wikipedia site, I’m trusting the wisdom of the Brigade.

As our alumni chapter alums relayed vague memories of the final days on Severn River, I mentioned the good deal / red ass of completing exams then heading home for leave…then heading back for June Week. The collective response was, “we didn’t have leave after exams, we had Dead Week.” D E A D W E E K !!!! I exclaimed. I had not thought of or heard of that term in ding ding ding 46 years. Hell on the Hudson! D E A D W E E K !!!! Then the untagged valve of related memories, which hadn’t seen a PMS check in 4.5+ decades, unwound and out drained recollections of Drag Houses, June Week rentals, girls from Hood College, ladies from New Jersey, Wagon Wheel Restaurant, a locker somewhere in some wing of Bancroft Hall where we were supposed to stow our gear for the summer, the smell of starched TWLs, the eyeball liberty in T-Court of the drags dressed for spring near the cannons behind the Brigade Staff at formation, the p-rades for the tax-payers, the Ring Dance and the incremental, nearly contrary to every theory of relativity, the seemingly reverse passage of time. June Week was like the First Circle of Hell. Get me out of here. D E A D W E E K !!!!

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BTW, Yorke Warden, at the end of Youngster Year, tried to fake-out the ‘stow your gear for summer movement order’ and sent all of his clothing and uniforms to the laundry & TSP on the final day in the halls. This is not an HO. His laundry bag occupied nearly the entire two man desk. Clever was he until the return of the Brigade in September, his gear was nowhere to be found nor delivered. He had to submit a long, lost laundry chit where he was invited to the laundry facility outside of the Yard where he was able to introduce himself to the OiC at the Laundry who wanted to meet this wise-ass. Yorke got all of his gear back.

I’m still talking about D E A D W E E K: Mary Nadolski set me up with Betsy Walters of Hood College during this June Week just before second class summer. She was great and we had a great time at some drag house on the other side of town, Eastport or such, which was like a set of islands that one only heard about but never actually saw because the only transportation we had was on foot and usually up and down West Street.

Unfortunately, town libs ended at midnight for Youngsters and we were on the other side of town at about 11:45. Making muster looked highly improbable. Plus, we were drunk. I also recall that Bob Fretz was one of my running mates for this escapade which is odd because Bob and I never hung-out. We got to the center of town near the sailboats and before that market was built, realizing that All Head 2/3 was insufficient and that more steam was needed. We still weren’t going to make it back to the third wing in time. A green, Oldsmobile 442 pulled up with an upperclass mid at the helm offering our crew a ride back to the halls. Piling into his car, he navigated around State Circle, down Maryland Avenue to King George’s Street. As we turned right on King George’s Street, the road was a sea of red tail-lights making little headway. We’re were definitely not going to make it back to the Halls in time. Editor’s note: I had just been fried 50 and served my 10 tours for returning late from DC one Saturday evening. ’50 more’ I thought and suddenly dear Betsy didn’t seem as attractive as she did about 3 beers ago.

We tacked down King George Street only fast enough to maintain headway. We were going to be fried. Without encouragement or question, our upperclass helmsman/OOD, executed a sudden left rudder, right rudder maneuver that put the Oldsmobile 442 in the opposite lane of traffic, heading down the up lane or driving on the side of the road that would have seemed familiar to every British driver. Then he punched it i.e. all ahead full; the four barrels of the 400 jumped on-line and we began to pass the other vehicles in their stationery queue. We could not believe his audacity; we were thrilled; we were wide-eyed as we arrived at the head of the line. The Jimmy Legs waved us in; we motored to the entrance near the Mid-Store and scrambled up the ladders to the company area in time for John Goodrich or George Fessler or other naval hero to mark us present for muster. I don’t know how Betsy got home, although we did continue to date so she didn’t run-off with the knight in the 442.

To this day, when I think of bold action, taking a risk, the foolish courage of youth and He Who Will Not Risk, Shall Not Win, I smile in the fondest recollection of that unknown, unmasked man flying down King George Street.

Best for Memorial Day. Let’s remember all of those who’ve gone before us who, in little and large ways, helped us get to where we all needed to be.

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Hilarious US Naval Academy spoof of Gangnam Style

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

https://itunes.apple.com/us/music-video/gangnam-style/id564322420 the original video in iTunes.

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.”

Formerly President of the United States Naval Academy’s Alumni Association’s North Carolina Research Triangle Park Chapter

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Not exactly MacArthur’s address to Congress and I, too, was honored to have served and to have helped to improve our Chapter’s sense of self. By complete coincidence, I published this reference to Admiral Alan Shepard on the 50th anniversary of his walk in space, May 5, 2011.

Shipmates and Friends of the Chapter,

A final reminder re our guest speaker tomorrow, LtCol Mike Franzak, author of A Nightmare’s Prayer. Registration: http://usnamayluncheon.eventbrite.com/ We may even get to share a few thoughts on the Pakistan OBL operation by our comrades in Spec Ops.

And tomorrow will be our annual meeting for the purpose of electing the 2011-12 Chapter Board of Directors. This evolution will not take long as the Chapter has effectively decided on its officers and directors. And this brings me to my story about Alan Shepard, astronaut and admiral. One pleasant spring afternoon circa 1973, Admiral Shepard visited our Academy for lunch and our beloved Wednesday P-rade on Worden Field. After Brigade Seats, Admiral Shepard was invited by the Supt. to say a few words to the mids in the mess hall- that’s what it was called in those days. Of all the P-rades and March-Ons and Monday practices that I enjoyed (which admittedly were few), I’ll never forget this one because Astronaut Shepard turned to the seated Supt. and suggested that since he never liked marching in P-rades as a mid that he would appreciate and respectfully requests that today’s 1530 P-rade, where he is the slated guest of honor, be cancelled and the mids given town libs. As Salty Sam would say, “I kid you not.” The mess hall exploded in cheers; the Supt. complied with Admiral Shepard’s request.

Regaling you with this sea story is my own way of informing you that this is my final correspondence as Chapter President. Thank you for this honor. Hope to see you at lunch tomorrow. And for the information of all hands, there will be no parade for tomorrow’s change of command of the Board of Directors.

That is all. Go Navy.

Christopher Perrien
President
NC Triangle Chapter, USNA Alumni Association
http://sites.google.com/site/usnatriangle/

RTP Alumni Chapter welcoming USNA Superintendent

Friday, October 15th, 2010

The United States Naval Academy Alumni Association, RTP Chapter, requests your presence for cocktails and dinner in order to welcome the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Vice Admiral Michael Miller, USN. Vice Admiral Miller’s bio may be found here: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/bios/navybio.asp?bioID=215

Distinguished guests accompanying Vice Admiral Miller will be Chet Gladchuk, Athletic Director, and Byron Marchant, USNA Alumni Association President.

In partnership with the Prestonwood Country Club, our evening program will consist of a cocktail hour, Coastal Carolina buffet and a discussion with the Superintendent. On Saturday 6 November, we’ll join the Superintendent in Greenville, NC for the Navy vs ECU football game (tickets available separately).

DATE: Friday, 5 November 2010
LOCATION: Prestonwood Country Club • Cary, NC
TIME: Form-up at 1830 for cash-bar cocktail hour; seats at 1930
DRESS: Semi-formal (jacket for gentlemen)

Please register as soon as convenient as seating must be limited to 100.
For additional information, please contact Chapter President, Christopher Perrien, ibmchris@mac.com

40 Years and a Wake-Up Call. 61st Superintendent inducted at US Naval Academy

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Gish and Door attended the change of command at our Naval Academy last week. Here is a compilation of their observations.

Shipmates,

Port visit on 2 August to Annapolis for the relief of Admiral Fowler by Admiral Mike Miller. For starters, if the traffic up I-95 gets any worse or any more aggravating, sea-borne conveyance along the coast may be revived. Took good ‘ol 301 home; stopped in Bowling Green, Va for lunch (BG remains renown as the ultimate landing place of John Wilkes Booth in April 1865. He ‘landed’ after failing to dodge a fusillade of mini-balls from the highly irate Union soldiers in pursuit of the assassin of A. Lincoln). Delicious open face roast beef at the cafe’ on Main Street.

Annapolis, as we never knew while wearing WUBA, is a lovely town with a pleasant breeze – except if you lived on 6-3 in starched white works – and plenty of good chow and rum vendors. Quarters at the State Circle Inn, a kind of an upscale drag house. I tried to persuade my one&only after we returned home from dinner to make-out in the parlor for old times sake, but she suggested we return to our room- mainly to watch cable tv.

Alas, the Maryland Inn is no more and, incredibly shocking is that Johnson’s, on the corner of Maryland Avenue and State Circle, is empty except for a suggestion to visit their web site to buy all of those fuddy duddy, now funky clothes that only retired admirals seemed to wear. Is everybody wearing cargo shorts now?!

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The Yard is as before with the variety of monuments that I never seemed to get straight except that I forever find something special and moving about JPJ’s crypt. JPJ made more of a difference and was less appreciated in his lifetime than even the many of those who tried also to keep the country on course despite the chaos of their economic, political and intellectual seas. There were plenty of fourth class mids about: young, tall and healthy looking as any class before. Whiteworks remain standard issue except that every plebe has to carry a canteen affixed to his/her/its bayonet belt or a plastic bottle in hand if sporting gym wear. Stunning is the sight of the nametag, Gish ’14. Figure it out: our graduating class of 1974 is getting to be equidistant to 14 in both directions, 1914 and 2014. Note to self: accelerate plans for next Ho-Jos (rent room at Howard Johnson’s; chill beer in bath tub evolution) party as time, indeed, waits for no man.

The Change of Command or the meat (maybe crabcake) of my epistle
Remember when Admiral Zumwalt became CNO on 1 July 1970 in T-Court? Now these sorts of occasions are conducted in Alumni Hall, the basketball gym, where a stage is set at one end so that the audience looks down on the occasion. I prefer a staging of looking up to the occasion. Notable was the near complete absence of midshipmen ( I saw one) and the invitation-only nature of the occasion. Are not towns people, aka townies, welcomed? Is this a by-product of 911 security requirements?

I’m sure that our WWII vintage dads would recognize the ceremony, especially the part where the E3 could not master the bell welcoming and off-boarding rank. Bells inside are incongruous in my opinion. After all, the Navy is an all weather entity, is it not?! The PA system is the one used at most such occasions. You know, the model where it cuts in and out in opposition to the adjustments of the dials. The charming young lady singing the National Anthem was either on mute or supremely ‘knocking them together’ if you know what I mean (being heard at Fort McHenry).

We sat in our respective cheering sections: Admiral Miller’s class of 1974 to his side and Admiral Fowler’s class of 1978 opposed. 74 outnumbered 78 and out-cheered them when encouraged to do so by the guest speaker, Vice CNO Grenert. Former commandants were present as was Mrs. Rickover and the first African American mid and a handful of WWII vets, selected congressmen, federal officials, family, friends, every constituency, demographic and voting block – except for mids.

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The remarks of the guest speaker, VCNO, were notable on two points: how nearly everyone in the audience was acknowledged in some way and the persistent lighthearted humor. Admiral Fowler specifically acknowledged all those that the Vice CNO might have overlooked with an emphasis on Team Fowler to include his wife and children. The inbound Supt smiled, nearly beamed the whole time as the other two spoke. His punchline paragraph combined leadership, trust, ethics and innovation. And these remarks address what really bothers our alumni more than the slush fund buzz. Multiple Honor Offenses are given a pass (used to be one and out for same); oops, that was a joint? Marines from USNA cheating on Quantico exams; and simply the sense that the general decorum of the Naval Academy has diluted much of what made it special as it strives to look like America with its heavy emphasis on football success. The goal of the season needs to be well educated, hard working, self reliant, willing and able to help others with an understanding that unfunded debt, insincere legislation and polarized politics is pretty much the antithesis of why this country was founded in the first place.

We visited the recently renovated Yard Museum which offers a vibrant history of US seapower. Who needs the Potter book, History of Seapower!? As we meandered about the cemetery, observing the grave sites of Admirals Kidd and Holloway, enlisted marines, ancient mariners and the touching children’s section, turned a corner into the recently sodden plot of Admiral James Calvert identified only with its name, date and submarine emblem. No mention of his Skate and the North Pole; no indication of his own tour as Supt. A well lived life is impossible to capsulate on a grave marker. I believe that it is best if our deeds and even our misdeeds live in the memories of those we truly leave behind.

The Mrs. commented that the ceremony surprised her for its absence of gravity and celebration of the occasion. Maybe this is the way that submariners want it; maybe this is what the Navy insisted be afforded the outgoing Supt under the shadow of the slush fund fubar. She felt that a recent, local NROTC graduation offered the appropriate ceremony as she envisions such military occasions.

The Naval Academy’s advantage is that each midshipman should be able to readily understand his or her purpose. In short, able to answer the question, what does it mean to be a midshipman? This is not true of nearly the rest of our national institutions. What does it mean to be a graduate of Princeton? or Harvard? or to be an employee of Wells Fargo? The innovation that Mike Miller referred to his brief remarks doesn’t need to be better sub reactors or flight controls or sonar systems. The innovation that our country needs, and desperately so, is leadership founded upon unyielding principle that the right thing must be done for no other reason than it is the right thing.

V/R
P.T.McGiffin

USMA-USNA Leadership Discussion Series 16 Oct 09

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

John Moellering, Chairman of USAA and former commandant of West Point, spoke to us about USAA’s impressive achievements over the past 50 years and more. 13,000 of USAA’s 21,000 employees engage the USAA membership. They are trained, educated and motivated to solve the member’s problem. They are not measured to get a caller off the phone as fast as possible. Member service is the mission of USAA.

Although the average insurance company lost 38% of the value of its assets in 2008, USAA gained 1%. The average USAA employee receives an average of 100 hours of training per year; even the Board of Directors are trained in their roles for the company.

And USAA continues to expand its markets. On November 11, 2009, membership eligibility will be expanded to all who have served honorably in US Armed Forces.

General Moellering discussed changes to the Board of USAA. The Board of Directors have the explicit mission to set strategy for the company and to assist & to ensure that senior management is able to execute this strategy. No longer – and many global corporations are coming to the same conclusion – is the USAA Board headed by the CEO and expected to serve as an approval mechanism for the CEO’s vision. Corporate Operations and the Board have unique missions which are best executed in support of and separate from one another. If only the former fiefdoms in the financial sector had instituted such a principle.

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