God Speed, Captain

I put-off typing this post. I put if off because I wasn’t sure I wanted to write it — I wasn’t sure it was any of my business, just as I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to what has already been written.

In the end, however, the subject is a nexus of two of my interests.  The subject is someone too important to me to ignore: John McCain.

It’s worth the time, I finally decided, to write a few hundred words…especially when the immature and petulant partisans on both sides have come out of the woodwork to add their acid, hateful comments to every story and eulogy about Senator McCain.

It is especially worth it when the current occupant of the White House is the most petulant and immature of all. He hated McCain, I get it…but, Mr Trump, maybe it’s time to grow the hell up and at least try to act like someone worthy of respect.

Enough of that. I don’t want to dip any deeper into the sleaze of our current politics, I want to honor a man I respect…a better man than I could ever be.

I do, however, have to start with politics.  Politics were not just important to the Senator, they pretty much defined the last 40ish years of his life. So, from the start, let me say this: More often than not, Senator McCain gave me a headache…a big, splitting, miserable, political headache.

But…

character-war-soldiers-character-military-demotivational-posters-1313084604ButCAPTAIN McCain earned the right to give me that headache. Captain John S. McCain, as a matter of fact, earned the right to do whatever the hell he wanted.

If ever you want to question his dedication and courage, if ever you want to question the heart and soul of Captain McCain, just go back and read the words of his fellow “guests” in the Hanoi Hilton. Even the commandant of the camp — the man who tortured the prisoners, lest you forget — commented after the war on McCain’s courage and commitment.

The North Vietnamese knew what they had in John McCain — they had not a prisoner of war, they had not a pilot, they had propaganda gold. The commander of US forces in the Pacific happened to be, erm, close to John McCain. It was, after all, not every newly promoted Lieutenant Commander who received a congratulatory note from a four-star admiral signed “Love, Dad.”

That was the gold, that was what the North Vietnamese wanted to use: the son of the commander-in-chief of all US Pacific forces.

Special treatment, McCain was offered. Release after just a year in the Hanoi Hilton, he was offered. All to embarrass his father, and to discomfit and demoralize the US Navy.

McCain refused.

When others were using every excuse in the book to dodge the draft, from “student deferments” to “bone spurs”, McCain answered his captors with one simple word: No.

After that one word, he suffered four-and-a-half more years of torture in that camp.

How many of us would do the same?

How many of us would have the courage, or the commitment?

How many of us would be willing to pay that kind of price for honor and loyalty?

The US Navy teaches its sailors and officers many things, but it all starts with a simple phrase, a mantra really: ship, shipmate, self. Those are your loyalties, in that order. You focus on saving your ship first, then you focus on saving others, and only after that do you think about saving yourself.

Captain John Sidney McCain lived that credo. Every single minute of his life after that one simple “No” was the very essence of that credo.

McCain’s father and grandfather were heroes in their own right. They were men who paid the price in blood and service for the rank and honors that were theirs. But it was Captain McCain who was the true hero of the family.

C9C7B5E7-9108-4CB5-80AB-9CEE9ABAFDA2So, as often as Senator McCain gave me a headache, to Captain McCain I can only say: fair winds and following seas, sailor.

A Bit of History

I’ve mentioned before that I do naval history on the side. I do some professional work within the area, yes, and more volunteer stuff, but mostly it is a personal passion of mine. Now, I may have mentioned that before, but I’ve never really written a post on anything naval (other than the Memorial Day post, which was inspired by one of my heroes: Earnest Evans — read that post here).

This is — technically — a writing(ish) blog, rather than a history or navy blog, but for me those things are completely and totally intertwined. Just as philosophy and literature and personal experience are wound inextricably through everything I create, so too is history.

The sci-fi universe I currently write within owes a great deal to the British empire…and even more to Britain’s East India Company — and all of the colonialism and shit that goes with that — but there are also echoes of many events and dynamics from the last two centuries. The fantasy stories fluttering around inside my head have even more history at their heart. From English nobles to Japanese samurai to Chinese bureaucrats, all come into play…

But I’m not a plot guy, I’m a character guy. Even more important to my writing is the inspiration that comes from the exceptional people history throws at you. Folks like William Marshall, or Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Tokugawa Ieyasu…the list goes on and on.

Okay, so why did I put together that (long) intro? Because two of the core elements of my “world” came together this morning when I was thinking about what to post: naval history, and the characters who can be (and are) inspired from it.

BD6E7E7C-24CD-4A16-AB0E-0396A8D878A3I’m not going to talk about the characters, however. No, I want to talk about, and celebrate, one of those extraordinary inspirations: Rear Admiral Alene Duerk.

The headline has already been written with Admiral Duerk’s position as the US Navy’s first female flag officer (here is the article that got me thinking). But as so often happens, that headline hides so much more…

Admiral Duerk started her professional life as a young nurse in WWII, including a long stint forward deployed in the Pacific. From sailors and Marines wounded on Okinawa, to US prisoners repatriated after the end of the war, she spent a great deal of time and strength and emotion amidst the chaos and suffering that comes from any war…and especially from the Pacific campaign of WWII.

But she wasn’t done.  No, she went on to train and teach others to do the same, to care for the wounded and dying of the Korean War.

And she kept serving.

Now, for some folks, that last line may mean little, but for me it means everything. Alene Duerk was a strong and capable woman who spent a lifetime in service to her patients, and to her country. To those who still resent the presence of women in the US armed forces, and especially in the navy (whether ashore or afloat), I have this to say: Admiral Duerk was not a woman “allowed into” the Navy. No, she was a talented and smart officer who earned every step of her journey.  Admiral Duerk was one of those quiet heroes most folks never get to hear about.

IMG_0720Fair winds and following seas, Admiral. There’s a drink on the bar for you…