Monday, January 01, 2007

American Heroes

On 29 December, while leaving Plymouth England, the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN-708) took a wave over her topside deck and 4 sailors were washed overboard. Two sustained minor injuries. Two, Senior Chief Thomas E. Higgins, and Petty Officer Second Class Michael J. Holtz, were killed in the accident.

A good friend of mine recently reported aboard as the Executive Officer (XO) of this ship. This was his first underway. XO's are either directing traffic in the control room of the sub, providing mentoring and oversight to ensure the ship safely pilots out of the harbor, or they are topside, supervising linehandling and ensuring that dangerous evolution is conducted safely. Naturally I was concerned that he might be one of the men who died. Thankfully he wasn't.

The sea is a harsh taskmaster. Those of us who work on or near the sea know you learn how to do things right the first time. Disregard the lessons you are taught at your own peril. Sometimes you can do everything right and still find yourself in a death struggle with the unforgiving ocean. In a battle against King Neptune, he usually wins. Only the very lucky (or truly foolish) survive and get a second chance.

The Navy is conducting an investigation into what happened. I will not speculate on what mistakes were made last Friday. I will not speculate on who is at fault. And I will not disparage the memory of the two men who died by implying they made a mistake.

I will say, however, that I am appalled at the virtual lack of interest this tragedy received in our open press. Both and dutifully reported the accident, but neither bothered to follow up their initial stories with the names of these men once released. I went to the Chief of Naval Information website to find out - I wanted to know if my friend was alright, and I wanted to see if I knew either of the two men who died. You see, I too am a member of this fraternity, having earned my Dolphins aboard USS Puffer (SSN-652) in 1994.

They didn't die in Iraq, but they did die in the service of our country. And they deserve to be known to their countrymen, for they have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our nation free. They were forward deployed on their ship, standing watch, mentoring young crewmembers, constantly striving to improve their knowledge of their ship so to better fight it when the need came (be it either battle or casualty). They were separated from their families and loved ones, sleeping in a 75" by 40" rack with a locker under their mattress and, if they were lucky, another locker in their berthing area somewhere they could store personal items. Prisoners in this country have better amenities than our servicemen on ships (this is the nature of the warship - its designed to fight, not for creature comfort, but warrants mentioning).

Darrent Williams died this morning, and we will hear/see numerous stories in the coming days on how good a man he was, and what a tragedy his death is. Senior Chief Higgins and PO2 Holtz died doing something infinitely more difficult than playing cornerback for the Denver Broncos, and nothing more will be said about them. They will be forgotten, unless you live in Paducah KY or Cleveland OH. Maybe.

But I won't forget.

Gentlemen: my thanks to you for your service. My heart goes out to your families. I pray my Navy learns enough from this event to prevent its recurrence in the future.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Empty Stocking

Today I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and gifts.

But especially with gifts.

You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled...

all, that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up.

The stocking for the Child born in a manger.

It's His birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most and then let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched-out hand of tolerance.

All the shining gifts that make peace on Earth.

- Re-printed w/o permission from the movie "The Bishop's Wife" (1947)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

To Support and Defend the Constitution...

Virgil Goode Jr (R-Va) is an idiot.

Unfortunately he does raise an interesting question. How to conduct the swearing in of new Congressmen. Is is more important to follow the established norms for this ceremony (i.e., swear on a Bible) or honor the faith tradition of the nubile Congressman?

So I pose the question: How was Joe Liebermann (Senator, I-CT) sworn in? Joe is Jewish. Did he swear on a Torah or a Bible? Or more importantly, did he ask? Did he care?

If he asked to be sworn in using a Torah, and was told no, then Rep. Ellison shall be sworn in using a Bible. That would only be fair.

If he didn't care, and he feels the instrument used to swear someone in is immaterial to the actual oath, then by all means allow Rep. Ellison to use the Koran for his ceremony.

Is this being done as a political statement? Only Rep. Ellison knows. I hope his motivation is his devout belief in the teachings of Islam, not a chance to see his name in the national spotlight.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

From National Review, 6 Nov 2006, page 16:

"Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, a 25-year-old Navy SEAL, saved the lives of three comrades by throwing himself on a grenade in the Iraqi town of Ramadi. The grenade had hit Monsoor's chest and fallen to the floor of the sniper hideout the SEALs occupied. 'He never took his eye off the grenade,' said one of the survivors, 'his only movement was down toward it.....We owe him.'"

Clearly he never studied hard or finished school, because if he had he would have known that falling on a live grenade is usually fatal. Actually if he had good grades he probably would not have had to join the military at all. Right, Mr. Kerry?

Mr. Kerry: how a man of your integrity was ever allowed to have command of anything is beyond my powers of comprehension. You, sir, forfeited your right to make any political capital from your military service when you accused American servicemen of atrocities in Vietnam they did not commit (and for which you were taken to task over 30 years ago) and separately threw your decorations over the fence in protest. You do not speak for me as an active duty officer. You do not represent me as an American. And, sir, as long as your prestige and opinions hold sway in the Democratic party I will never support the Democrats at a national level. The jackass is an appropriate symbol for you.

I don't know which political party PO2 Mansoor supported, and I don't care. We lost a brave, courageous man when he died. His teammates owe him, and so do all of us who are free.

Requiescant In Pace.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

So... let's begin by recounting a story from my distant childhood.

I attended a moderately famous institution of higher learning in PA - you know, the author of the last sports championship the city of Philadephia celebrated? Anyway, as a good (?) Catholic youth attending a Catholic university (any clearer now?), I would attend mass on Sunday. Occasionally. When I wasn't too hung over.

This one particular Sunday, a kid - who happened to play water polo for the school (and BTW, water polo is the toughest sport to play of them all. Period. All the passing demands of basketball, the speed of soccer, and oh yes, the added joy of your defender trying to drown you as a method of denying you the ball. Let's see D-Wade make that jumper while coughing up a lung-full of chlorinated water. Wimp) - appeared in the communion line wearing a 'STUDY NAKED' t-shirt.

Very Funny.

But, for some of the uber-conservative LL Bean wearing crowd (who had filled in the pews around me. Thanks, guys) this was an Affront to God, and required the frowining of a lifetime (Oh, look at him, that's disgusting).

Why do I mention this? Because today I appeared at church clad in my finest softball regalia. Right from the diamond. (we won 12-10, I went 2-3, thanks, thanks for asking). And was greeted with some of the same looks I remember were presented to that kid with the 'STUDY NAKED' shirt.

Believers are asked to keep holy the sabbath day. For all God has given me, I don't think spending an hour in church is too much to give back.

Do you really think GOD CARES what I wear to church?

I'm quite sure, should I get to the pearly gates, St. Peter isn't going to say, "well, you lived a reasonably good life, but you wore those smelly gym clothes to church, OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!"

Focus on what's being said. Pray for an end to the suffering rampant in the world. Concentrate on that, not my smelly Samarzdija jersey.