The Rockaway Beat
Admiral William (Bull) Halsey was one of the most productive leaders during World War II, winning many of the decisive sea battles of the era.
Without him we might well have lost at Coral Sea and Midway and those on the west coast of America might well be speaking Japanese 65 years after the end of the war.
Despite his importance, Halsey would not have lasted 20 minutes these days.
He was much too blunt and outspoken – some might say truthful.
After his big win at Midway Island, Halsey was brought back to the United States to speak to a large gathering of what were then called “industrialists.”
What is your major goal for the coming offensive, he was asked.
“I have three,” Halsey answered. “Kill Japs, Kill Japs and Kill more Japs.”
He was cheered and revered by the millionaires.
He added a few other notable quotes about the enemy he faced.
“Before we’re done, the Japanese language will be spoken only in Hell,” he added.
Can you imaging him saying something like that today after coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq?
Can you imagine what the political correct would say if he said, “I have three goals, kill Muslims, kill Muslims and kill more Muslims,” or, “Before we’re done, Arabic will be spoken only in Hell.”
He’d be vilified on television and by our politically-correct thought police and fired immediately, to the detriment of the war effort.
Remember the recent incident where of our top and most-respected generals, a fighting man in the Halsey image who had the temerity to tell his version of the truth to a magazine writer was summarily recalled and forced to retire.
Now, we are further mired in the area and the truths he told are becoming self-evident even to his detractors.
Any of you who have read this space for some time know that I spent some of my formative years after college on an aircraft carrier, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. In my day, 1963-1965, there were no women on the ship and things were consequently different than they are today, but I served on an eleven-month Mediterranean cruise the year that the war in Vietnam was officially begun by the Tonkin Gulf Incident.
And, if you don’t believe that the incident really happened, talk to some of the radio operators on the USS Turner Joy, a tin can that was there and later became one of our escort vessels.
But, I digress.
A cruise on a Navy ship is nothing like a cruise on a civilian cruise ship, even in relative peacetime conditions.
The hours are long and the work is hard, even for a court reporter, which is what I served as on the ship. No matter what job you had, you also had a General Quarters billet, and when GQ was called, you became not a court reporter, but a telephone talker, a damage control man or a firefighter – or, all three at once.
We had no television or computers, so each night we had a movie in the hanger bay – a huge space below the flight deck where planes were stored when they were not flying.
I was lucky. One of the A-4 Sky-warrior plane captains was also from Rockaway and he let me sit on a wing to watch the movies, so I did not have to carry a chair from the 02 level to the hanger bay each night.
Each night, prior to the movie, the ship executive officer, the XO would come on the closed circuit television system and raise our morale with some kind of joke or skit. Sometimes real information was passed, but the time was generally for shtick, not always for a general audience.
Last week, a commanding officer, who had been the carrier’s XO, was relieved of his command for carrying those evening chats to an extreme that the politically correct say was “inappropriate.”
I say, pick up a weapon and stand a post. Do what those sailors do each day and see then if you think that those evening programs were inappropriate, or if you otherwise believe that they raised your morale and kept you sane for another night.
Navy personnel have always been inappropriate from a civilian perspective because of what they do.
I remember a time when three F-4 Phantom pilots called a barber to come up to their third floor room in an Italian hotel in Messina, Sicily, where I was on hardhat shore patrol.
After the barber shaved them and cut their hair, he asked for more money than what he had agreed to in the first place.
The pilots hung him by his ankles from the third floor window until he agreed to take less. When he did, they told him that it was too late and dropped him on his head.
That was considered slightly inappropriate by their commanding officer.
I had a job in the ship’s legal office that I considered inappropriate.
My job was to get men accused of homosexuality to agree to a undesirable discharge instead of a court-martial.
I would get a call at 0300 to come to the office and process two men who had been drunk and were caught fondling each other on a dark sponson deck, one of the many weather decks outside the ship’s superstructure. When the ship was in port, those outof the-way sponson decks were often used for nefarious purposes.
My job was to explain the options the men faced and get them to sign papers agreeing to the UD.
“You can sign these papers and be out of the Navy tomorrow, or go to the brig awaiting a special court martial,” I told them. At that court martial, they would face a sentence of six years confinement at hard labor and a dishonorable discharge. They all signed.
After I got out, I wrote a letter to Robert Kennedy, who was then our Senator, complaining about the process. I got a nice answer in return that my son still has framed on his wall.
Nothing was ever done.
Homosexuality was considered by all to be inimical to military discipline.
Today, however, it is not politically correct to ask or tell, even though the great majority of combat leaders will tell that that homosexuality causes problems in a combat unit.
I wonder what Bull Halsey would have said about the issue.
It probably would have gotten him fired.