126 years young

It’s a birthday celebrated by a whole lot of people. Navy people, specifically, and to whom, the shortened form of applicable address, such as “Good Morning, Chief”, “Senior”, “CMC”, etc is heartwarming even to a Chief retired now for nine years. On April 1st, 1893 the United States Navy formally instituted the paygrade of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). How does one become a Chief? To echo a Brother Senior Chief many years ago, posing the question of a “Selectee” (and then answering her bewildered look), “I decided to work and act like a Chief Petty Officer. Then waited for the uniform to catch up.”

Together with rating examination scores, selection eligibility criteria, and a service record review by a board of senior Chief Petty Officers, candidates are selected. And once selected, a process of mentorship, instruction, leadership exercises and camaraderie ensues. This had been, and after a brief adjustment period, was reinstituted: the CPO initiation. Those of us who were selected to the rank of CPO, in whichever specialty rating we served, whether male or female, Active Duty or Retired, are all Brothers and Sisters in a worldwide fellowship, the Chief Petty Officer Mess. And in the grand scheme, the CPO takes care of the enlisted, mentors junior officers, executes the mission, all while leading from the Deckplate level.

For more on the history of the Chief Petty Officer, see this link to the Navy publication All Hands.

Navy Chief, Navy Pride!

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

immigration kon and tiki

One of the major issues in North America and European countries today is immigration. Politics and basic economics drive the debate, regardless of which side one supports. Perhaps it is worth considering – by all parties – for thousands of years, new arrivals brought talent, art, foodstuffs, and skills in navigation, or farming, or just hardiness. There were no aid agencies or politicians, and the adaptable survived. Across vast distances and different continents, it is no wonder that these were first undertaken by sailors, military men, and adventurers.

Long before I became a Sailor, I recall reading the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian zoological researcher and explorer. It was then twenty-five years after an impressive 1947 voyage his team made across the Pacific Ocean. Compared to the modern warships in which I traversed the Pacific Ocean, Heyerdahl – and by experiment, pre-Inca natives, constructed a thirty-foot boat, of reed and balsa-wood. With a banana-leafed thatch cabin and a single-mast, six men departed South America. If modern man, in a post-war world might feel exposed – a hundred miles at sea, no sign of land and no birds in the sky, what were the first explorers possibly thinking. I thought this with experience of riding a ship 530 feet (161m) at the waterline, feeling the speck he was in comparison to the ocean.

Thor Heyerdahl’s point in the mid-Twentieth Century was to test that people might have settled Polynesia not from Asia, but from the east – South America – fifteen hundred years ago. A second settling might then have come from North America- British Columbia – by way of Hawaii, five hundred years later. Through radio-carbon dating, sweet potatoes which originate in Central and South America, were subsequently (1991) found by archaeologists in thousand-year old sites in Polynesia. (Since 2005, scholars debate which group came first – Polynesians to Hawaii or Hawaiians into Polynesia).

If you have not read Thor Heyerdahl’s account, Kon-Tiki, and you have a bit of the ocean-adventuring spirit, I suggest adding this to your list. I intend to revisit his story. Perhaps while eating a sweet potato.

warrior chromosome

One of the hottest political debates regarding military service in the United States during the last thirty years is the role for women. In my previous post, Ask the Chief: veteran is gender-neutral, I explore several issues that need to be raised more often in the national conscience: how does America support the veteran; does society, particularly other women, comprehend their co-workers and peers, (as reservists or on Active Duty) left their families, civilian jobs or school behind, and went to war particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq? In popular culture, the news, movies, cable and television, veteran conjures up both the warrior, and the sometimes addicted, sometimes homeless, conflicted man. Women too, are combat veterans, and have challenges with Government benefits, health and welfare issues no different than many other veterans.

A fascinating book that I began reading, is It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. Editors Jerri Bell and Tray Crow, have compiled a fascinating history, a page-turner, and relevant to today’s armed forces. Women whose recollections, memoirs, and diaries of service during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries are few. Some heroines who did pass their recollections during depositions or speeches, often were edited or marginalized via male authors and editors. Modern research in archives and historical documents subsequently discerns fact from fiction. This book retells some fascinating accounts and implies many other women served as spies, employed in military units, came under fire, and were injured or killed in battles. At the time, and up through the early Twentieth Century, women would masquerade as men, with poor or nonexistent medical screenings for enlistment, and were only detected and discharged – or reassigned – when injured.

Those who had received military pensions, honors, and military burials from past conflicts paved the way for our female warriors and veterans today. And during the last ten years, attitudes and policies on the sexual orientation of service members and recruits has also changed. But the dialogue that inflames so many military members, veterans, policy wonks and Generation Y activists, distracts from the real stories and real problems: women have been serving in the defense of the nation since the Revolutionary War. And both their contributions and sacrifice has more often than not, been minimized, glamorized, or forgotten in history. And just as has been the case for decades, the mental and physical care of injured veterans, promised by the US Government over the centuries has been slower to respond to the female veteran.

In the next chapters yet to be read, the authors, veterans of the Marines, and Army, tell the stories of women in combat from the First World War through the War in Afghanistan.

just Coexist they say


Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. We will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God. Franklin D. Roosevelt


https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/franklin_d_roosevelt_101223?src=t_infamy

Every generation has those who believe morally (spiritually) or  intellectually in  “world peace”. That coexistence of disparate ideologies are obtainable goals for mankind.  Others believe that economic interdependence among nations is the key.  Redistribution of wealth -generally that of political and social opponents – to those who have much less – by a paternalistic governing authority is a popular theme.  And still others believe that superior military firepower will thwart aggression.    In the last decades of the Twentieth Century and through the first two of the new Millennium, people have thought that accommodation, neutral stances and open-mindedness on everything from language to social services, gender and religion would bring about “coexistence”.   

It doesn’t matter what the topic is, but what is disturbing to someone raised in the last years of the American post-WWII  “Baby Boomer” generation,  that discernment, wisdom, dialogue, and critical thinking have been tossed away.  Feelings and hypersensitivity to the possibility that people may encounter ideas and attitudes that run counter to what they have been taught, have resulted in redefining “free speech”.   And in an age where the leader of our country is hypersensitive to criticism, narcissistic and uses social media to incessantly comment on his political adversaries,  we have other elected representatives refusing to obey legal statute, convention or address public safety concerns.  These highly insulated folks pander to an audience who are not citizens of the nation.   Judges do not rule on the merits of a statute based on the founding documents of the nation, but on interpretation and personal feelings.   In Government, universities, public education (K – 12), and almost all information and entertainment mediums,  the end goals of the broadcaster are fixed and unwaverable – with supporting data, “expert opinion”, and “statistics” found and scrubbed to present support for the “conclusion” reached.  Dissent is met with ridicule and occasional violence.

The latest examples of how improbable it is to coexist, except on the bumpers of socially conscious Western Europeans and North Americans vehicles, is the perpetual state of violence: against Jews, Kurds, Ukrainians, Syrians,  people in the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, and the Central and South America.  With warlords, drug cartels, extremists, zealots, and criminal gangsters,  there has been only violence, sex trafficking, child slavery, murder and anarchy, but no  peaceful coexistence.   International groups bring relief to hurting or starving refugees, risk being kidnapped, murdered, raped, or at best, had their aid looted and mission closed.   There are nation-states like Iran, North Korea,  Saudi Arabia, and Russia, who support groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, or the now-splintered Al Qaeda and ISIS. 

Sixty years after the world went to war over geopolitical ideology, and rallied to oppose and end genocide in the process,,  an ideology that has in its core tenets, an open hostility and warfare with Jews, Christians and – infidels,  executes a malevolent plan against the United States, resulting in the deaths of nearly three thousand people. Whether the barbarism of a faction or yet another example of how people cannot coexist with differing ideologies, this was only the last of several attacks prior to September 11th which killed numerous military members and civilians of many nations, carried out under the banner of “fundamentalists”.  And even as recently as today, more funerals, more anguish and more antagonism between rivals indicate that peaceful coexistence is as difficult to obtain unless one side is being buried and the other,  performing the eulogy.

I think, in the wake of Sept. 11, it’s important for the American public to understand that to the extent that there are individuals within the United States who would undertake terrorist attacks, that we are doing something to address that. Robert Mueller


https://www.brainyquote.com/search_results?q=quotes+on+Sept+11th

Armistice Day, 11 November

In many countries,  the eleventh of November is remembered as Veterans’ Day, the day honoring military veterans of all conflicts. However, many hold it as a day of remembrance and not a public holiday.  A century ago, this was the day the Allies and Germany signed the armistice ending World War I.  The Armistice went into effect during the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 formally ended hostilities.  

What do you hold as the most valuable “thing” in your life?  More to the point, what is worth risking the exchange of your life or health:  Ideas?  Reputation?  Property?  Human rights and dignity?  The lives of your loved ones?   Man has been fighting and dying for millennia over territory, religion, and to fight for, or to prevent someone else’s desire for power and conquest. In the last century, the world went to war to prevent genocide, to oppose totalitarian rule, and to secure ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – ideals enshrined in America.   When a continent is plunged into war as Europe was, in 1914, by the war machine of the Kaiser,  or in 1939, when Hitler’s Germany annexed its neighbors and started to systematically enslave and exterminate people,  alliances called up armies.   For the last eighteen years, the premeditated attack upon civilians against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fear generated by using commercial aircraft and hostage passengers as weapons motivated several nations to rise against them.  Sadly, military men and women, ours and the nationals being trained still bleed and die in ‘suicide bombings’ by agents secreted among them in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  For a century and more, the attack upon civilians, whether the sinking of passenger liners by Germany in the First War, or civilian and military targets at Pearl Harbor in 1941 or on 9/11 propelled our nation to defend our citizens and the right to freely travel and trade abroad.

On Veterans’ Day, we remember those who sacrificed their future for ours.   Many of those who recognize and remember loved ones particularly on this day have stories to tell.   And as far as I have learned about my forebears, in almost every generation I have so far traced,  a young man – or in the last half-century, woman relative – has served as a soldier, sailor, or marine.  A hundred and some years ago,  the War to End all Wars,  World War I, was raging in Europe.  And one of my distant relatives,  a young man in his late teens, gave his life in a bloody battlefield in Belgium.

Edwin Blow Kertland,  was the nephew of his namesake, one of the Blow family in what is now Northern Ireland. The Blow family whom I trace one branch of my maternal ancestry, for nearly three hundred years had been merchants and businessmen.  In Britain, for hundreds of years, the gentry passed property down from eldest son to eldest son. The younger sons were apprenticed to learn a trade and make their fortunes, some went into ministry, and others into the army or went to sea as crewmen on merchant ships.

Edwin Kertland went into military school and earned a commission in the second decade of the Twentieth Century.  An assassination and political alliances plunged the world into war the resulting scale of carnage – in toll of lives – still sets a painful bar.  Nearly seventeen million people,  ten million military and seven million civilians died, and another twenty million were gravely injured as a result of the conflict.  The war pitted men serving the Kaiser and their allies against other Europeans, the British Empire and Americans. Poison gas, mechanized artillery (tanks), aerial bombardment (aircraft), trench warfare, and other weapons technology changed the efficacy with which men can harm each other.  Along with millions of youthful Britons, Frenchmen.  Americans, Russians, Germans and their allies, the horror of war killed him.  He was nineteen.

To the cynic there is no solution to the periodic hatreds that flare between people, and prudently,  they prepare, train, and arm themselves to protect home and homeland.  And there will be those who are willing to put on the uniform of their nation to defend against tyranny, or more personally, to defend their comrades fighting alongside them in the trenches.

The U.S. Navy turns 243

The United States Navy turns 243 on October 13th.   And one of the nation’s most cherished – and still active – icons of naval  heritage, the frigate USS CONSTITUTION is a little more than 220 years old.

To mark this occasion, as well as the other services on their annual birthday,  my employer honors  veterans in our workforce.   This year,  as a result of some unexpected events, I was offered the role of the “emcee” for the after-work celebration.   Cake, some “refreshments”,  sea stories, and naval lore and trivia for employees in attendance who had not served in the Navy.

And I entertained our friends with a little monologue and trivia.

Navy Trivia

Important dates in history

  • OCT 13 1775   Continental Congress authorizes construction of a Naval force.
  • April 1798    creation of the Department of the Navy
  • 1797   USS Constitution launched
  • 1803 -1805   Barbary war
  • 1812 -1815   War of 1812    “Old Ironsides” defeated 3 British warships

Nautical and Naval lore

  1. Which of the following are true?
    1. The ditty bag used to be called a “ditto bag” because there were two of everything in it.
    2. The flaps on crackerjacks were designed to keep hair grease off the back of the uniform.
    3. Navy logs are named for the timber from which the paper was created.
    4. Boatswain’s Pipes originated in ancient galleys. One whistle meant “row.”
    5. “Chits” are named after Hindu slips of paper used in lieu of silver and gold.
    6. Uniform stars have “two points up”, instead of one (like you see in the flag) to symbolize the Navy’s defense of both coasts.
    7. Broadside is a large sheet of paper.
    8. “Cup of Joe” (coffee) comes from “the cup of Jonas.”
    9. A tattoo of a pig on one leg of a sailor and a rooster on the other is a charm against drowning.
    10. The term “sick bay” originated in ancient times, when hospital ships (called “immunes”) would accompany Caeser’s legions and were kept far from battle, normally in the calm waters of a bay.
    11. The only time 12 bells is sounded is at midnight on the Navy’s Birthday and on New Year’s Eve.
    12. S.O.S. stands for “Save Our Ship.”
    13. The P in P-Coat stands for Pilot.

Answers

  1. True
  2. 2. True
  3. False
  4. True
  5. True (“citthi”)
  6. False (the custom has no known origin)
  7. True
  8. False (named after Josephus Daniels – he’s the Secretary of the Navy who abolished alcohol on Navy ships in 1913.)
  9. True
  10. False (early hospital ships were called “immunes”, but the term “bay” comes from the round shape of ship sterns, resembling a bay.)
  11. False (only on New Year’s Eve)
  12. False (it doesn’t stand for anything)
  13. True (Pilot cloth or P-cloth was the fabric from which they were made.)

This was compiled from the NavyTimes Broadsides blog (Jeff Bacon), from The Goat Locker, the Naval Historical Center, GlobalSecurity.org, and Wikipedia.

Fun facts:  (USO.org)

  •  David Farragut, was the first admiral in the United States Navy.  He coined, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
  • Bravo Zulu means “well done”
  • Through World War II, sailors who did well were told “Tare Victor George,” which was code for “well done.” After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed and it standardized communications. NATO created a system of B-flags for administrative communication. The last B-flag was BZ. The Allied Naval Signal Book created the phonetics for each letter and BZ became Bravo Zulu.
  • The Chief Petty Officer rank was established on 1 APRIL 1893
  • Depiction of fouled anchors,  in decoration, in the Chief Petty Officer insignia and in body art:

 If an anchor is fouled, it means the line or chain is wrapped around the shank and fluke arms. This indicates the anchor is no longer suitable for use. These retired anchors are usually displayed for decorative purposes on base or in Navy communities. The symbol is also part of the Chief Petty Officer rank insignia.  When used in body art, the fouled anchor represents a tour across the Atlantic Ocean.

Before everyone today under the age of fifty started getting tattoos,  the history of tattoos and the symbolism had a long nautical tradition. An article describes  significant tattoos, along with what each item means.

  • Swallows:Home (each denotes 5,000 miles at sea)
  • Compass/Nautical Star:Never losing one’s way (each denotes 10,000 miles at sea)
  • Trident:Special warfare
  • Rose:A significant other left at home
  • Twin screws or props on one’s backside:Propels one forward through life
  • Rope:Deckhand
  • Octopus:Navy diver
  • Dolphin:Wards off sharks
  • Sharks:Rescue swimmer
  • Polar bear:Sailed the Arctic Circle
  • Dragon:Sailed the Pacific
  • Fouled anchor:Sailed the Atlantic
  • Turtle:Crossed the equator
  • Gold dragon:Crossed the International Dateline
  • Gold turtle:Crossed the International Dateline and the Equator where they intersect
  • Emerald fouled anchor:Crossed the Prime Meridian
  • Emerald turtle:Crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator where they intersect
  • Full-rigged ship:Sailed around Cape Horn
  • Helm:Quartermaster
  • Pin-up girls:Company at sea/port call
  • Hula girls:Sailed to or ported in Hawaii
  • Dagger through a swallow:Signifies a lost comrade
  • Pig and chicken:Superstition to keep from drowning
  • The words “HOLD FAST”:Signifies a deckhand’s tight grip on the lines