We buried another veteran today—a good friend of mine—in the American Cemetery on the former Clark Air Base.
Jim did his military years, about 25 of them, in the United States Navy. By the time I met him late in 2002, he was already in his late 70s and in a physical downward spiral. The poor health he suffered through during his last years can mostly be attributed to his days in Vietnam. Exposure to Agent Orange led to his diabetes, and that led to some pretty unkind cardiovascular conditions, which finally toppled him last week.
Like a lot of us vets, Jim never stopped being “in.” I was helping him with a disability claim against the ever-pissy VA, and I was struck by his fervor for an idea he had concerning his beloved U.S. Navy. He told me about an officer he had worked with during his last years on active duty. It seems that this “0” was somewhat ahead of his time when it came to management style. Jim raved about this man, and how he actually LISTENED to his men, no matter their rank, before issuing orders. He went on about how high the morale was, and how effective it worked, especially when everyone felt that their opinions were valued.
I nodded knowingly as Jim spoke glowingly of this “renaissance officer,” under whom he had served so enthusiastically in the late 1960s. Much of what Jim described, I had already been taught in all of my professional military schools—in ’83 at the Yokota AB Leadership School, again in ’85 at the Kadena AB NCO Academy, and once and for all in ’97 at the Senior NCO Academy at Gunter AFB, Alabama.
Jim wanted to share the wonderful experiences he had had while working with this enlightened officer, and he wanted me put them in the format of an open letter to the “brass,” so that the entire United States Navy could benefit from what he had learned during that cherished time. I had to carefully explain to him that writing his letter was no longer necessary, since most of the services already operated as he described, at least theoretically, to some degree.
Remember, Jim had served proudly in the “brown shoe navy” during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. By the time I met him, he was already retired for well over 30 years. Yet in his mind, he was still IN! He still wanted to contribute; he was still worried about HIS Navy, and wanted the best for it. I get emotional now thinking about it. I have no doubt that HIS United States Navy was immeasurably better because of his service. Anchors Aweigh and God speed Jim!