Remark to the U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting
Editor’s Note: Captain Beach was the honored speaker at the Institute ‘s Banquet on the occasion of its 1998 Annual Meeting. The Institution has announced that their new headquaners, in the old Naval Academy Hospital building will be named Beach Hall in honor of Ned Beach and his father.
Good evening. And after that introduction, probably the smartest thing I could do is to just put my papers down and go home. After all, I don’t believe a word of it either. But, Tom, thanks a lot.
You know, I did prepare some remarks. They begin: distinguished guests, friends, and most especially my extraordinary and very good fried, Jack Shipp, sitting right here. How did they let you in Jack? Last, but not least, my wife of 54 years. She married me one week before she graduated high school. She didn’t get her diploma for more than 20 years; they’d given it to a friend of hers who forgot to deliver it.
Things were different during the war. It did a lot of things to many people, but one thing it did was to bring the most happy, possible partner into my life who’s been with me all these years in the form of a beautiful girl who was then a very precocious eighteen year old. There she is. Now she’s my private camerawoman.
Well, you’ll see where my thoughts are going in a minute. One of the traditional stories of my family concerns my mother who was a young French woman living in Haiti having recently been orphaned and had been taken in by a Norwegian family. In those days there were still a number of foreigners living in Haiti, mostly in the import/export business. And at that particular time, which was in July 1915, there was not only a revolution (they had revolutions every six months) but this was a very special revolution in which the president of the country decided he wanted to stay in office, not just take the treasury and go to Paris with it, but stay in office. So he put all his political opponents in jail and then when he thought things were getting a little hot he had them alt murdered in jail with the result that there was a real revolution. The chief of police led it, I might add. And they finally got him and they actually tore him up in the streets of Port-au-Prince, resulting in a terrific riot. Everybody was shooting everybody else, mainly they were just shooting in the air, but bullets were flying all over the place and all the foreigners and foreign families were scared to death, including the Norwegian family with whom my mother was living. So, they all got down in the cellar, which is apparently the safest place to be in that particular situation. And according to the stories that I’ve heard, I’ve got no proof of this, but some bullets actually did hit the house. Anyway, at some point my mother, I think being somewhat of a venturesome young woman, decided she would go and see what was going on-maybe things had died down a bit. So she went up to the top of the house, the third floor, and had a pair of binoculars with her and looked all around.
Why was everything quiet. In the distance was a cloud of smoke and an of a sudden appeared the bow of a big warship. Water boiling off the bow, smoke streaming out of the stacks, coming into Port-au- Prince. She ran down below and screamed, “We’re saved, the American Navy has arrived.” She didn’t see any flags; she just knew it had to be the U.S. Navy, and indeed it was. The rest of the story which shows that little things bring more things and large things sometimes can bring personal things. The skipper of that ship, whom she hadn’t yet met, became my father. So, that’s one reason why he was born about 50 years before I was and I graduated from the Naval Academy 51 years after he did.
Well, my father became the ideal that I tried to Jive up to. I made his life kind of unpleasant at times. As a boy of four, my favorite bedtime story was not Dick and Jane, or it wasn’t some of these stories that you give the kids. I would say, “Dad, tell me about the wreck of MEMPHIS”. Well, MEMPHIS was a big tragedy in his life-the cruiser TENNESSEE later changed to MEMPHls destroyed in a tsunami, tidal wave it was then called, in Santo Domingo Harbor in 1916. So the ship was kind of a big thing for father and I made him tell me about it everyday. And I got the story down pretty good. So, that’s why I finally wrote the book The Wreck of the Memphis. And I might add, my father was court martialed because he was captain of the ship. There were three Medals of Honor handed out, to his engineer and to two other people in the engine room, one of whom died in the process. Father did not even get any credit for doing what he could. He was, of course, the last man off the ship and he was convicted of not being ready to get underway immediately. The Navy did its thing. Two years later, the Secretary of the Navy wrote a letter to my father and said, We have investigated this a little more fully; it was not a hurricane despite what the court martial said. It was a tidal wave that could not have been predicted, and your punishment is hereby rescinded.” So in effect, it was an exoneration.
Sometimes I thought that that sequence of events was what led me into thinking about Admiral Kimmel and saying the same thing ought to be done for him and I’ll just leave that with you.
WelI, I’m proud of my father. I’m proud as I can be. And I’m proud of the fact that somehow I think he would be proud of me.
So, this is the 124th annual meeting of the Naval Institute and it’s the 125th year of its existence. And here we are, and everybody that founded it is gone and we have to wonder, at least I wonder, what is the Institute about, why are we here and what’s it doing? And I think my answer is not the pragmatic, practical, useful one that you would expect from a person who spent his life dealing with the Navy and making ships go and all that. My answer’s entirely an emotional one. What is the Navy? What is the unspoken basic reason for our Navy to exist? Well, one thing the Navy existed for and happened to do was it gave me life itself. Right? It also gave my brother and sister life. And these things are kind of important. Even though I don’t remember how it came about, I know that it happened.
But the sentimental thought is specifically foreign to a military organization in which people train to be pragmatic. However, the driving force to me has always been to recognize and act on the thing that has always been most significant to me personally. And if you look at it, that’s what everybody does. You train and you practice and you do it right, but you really do what’s most important to you personally. That’s what you’ve got to do and that’s what you grow up doing. And the whole purpose of the Naval Academy and the naval service is so that these things are built into you so that when you suddenly are faced with the biggest question of your life; you react the way you were trained to instead of the way you might have suddenly thought up at the last minute. This is important-it’s what’s basic to the Navy. But nevertheless, it’s a very sentimental, important thing that you are doing.
And what is it that we in the Navy worship most of all? Well, you can start down from the Constitution of the United States and so forth. But, taking the immediate, more practical thing-the Navy, its ships, its machinery, the Naval Academy, the Naval Institute-all these things wind up meaning the same thing. And to the sailor the most important thing in his life is his ship and his shipmates, and that ship is not a ship, it’s his arms and legs extended; the periscope of a submarine or the telescope of a warship are your eyes; your heart is pumping that propeller; your arms and your legs are reaching out doing what you are supposed to be doing. I never thought of myself as being confined inside the small hulI of a submarine. My mind was out there doing what was needed to be done. And I never felt confined. Quite the contrary, I was like an octopus with tentacles going all around. And I’m not saying anything that people here don’t know in their own minds. This is true. This is the way you feel about it, so this is why a Navy is different from any other military organization. Of course we’re military, but we’re more than that. We worship the ship and we worship the sea because the sea supports the ship and in the case of the submarine, the sea surrounds the submarine and protects it too. I’ve had people say they hate the sea. They really don’t. They know how to deal with it. They can say what they want to but really they Jive in it and it’s part of their lives and they wouldn’t want it any other way.
So, sailors love their ships, they personify them, they give them a personality, they’ll say this is a great ship and that wasn’t a very good one. They’ll say that this ship always did everything well, this other one somehow didn’t. The personality of the ship, which is a combination of the personality of the crew, nevertheless it becomes a personality and I’ve known cases when in order to convert a ship from something that wasn’t very good they didn’t just detach the captain, they took everybody off and put a whole new crew on board. And they made a new ship out of her. And that, sometimes is the only way to do it. But what you get is the synergism, the combination of the soul of everybody who lives on board that ship and is a part of it. And, essentially, that’s what we’re talking about tonight and that is my message to you. It’s the idea, ifs not the inanimate steel. To the naval officer this ship is me, it is me.
So to all of us here, one way or another, the ship in which we serve psychologically represents our bodies, our Jives, and our purpose. The relationship is inescapable. And if more of us recognized it, more of us would somehow understand why we are here and in the largest sense would understand what we are doing. And it will also explain certain things, as for example, happened to me. Why I was so terribly disappointed with one of the ships I commanded. She was named after my wartime submarine that I really worshiped, it was a great ship, she was lost in the war. We built another one, named her after the first, she was a fiasco. Now what do you do as captain of a ship that was named for something for which you had every possible respect and the ship is no damned good. The engines didn’t run, the torpedo tubes didn’t work, the periscope was no good, the water distiHing apparatus was not good. I have only once in my life had to bathe and shave and brush my teeth in half a glass of water. And I did it just to prove it could be done. And I did it aboard the Navy’s newest, most modem, fantastic, no-good submarine. And that was all right. My mistake was I let it be known positively by official report. And guess what happened. The Bureau of Ships that built the ship did not catch hell, I caught hell for saying so. But it had to be said and rm dag-gone glad I did. Because they did do some repairs. So sometimes you have to not just bite the bullet, you grab it as it goes by and you do what you have to do and you don’t count the consequences. You do what you need to do, and in this case it was to write an official report saying that this shp was unfit for war service and if war were to come I would ask immediately to be relieved and given back my previous ship. Well, that was strong language, it got attention, and that’s all I can really say.
So what has the Navy meant to me? It’s meant adventure, it’s meant travel, it’s meant friendships, it’s meant shipmates, it’s meant speaking up when you had to, it’s meant facing what you had to face. Sometimes it was the enemy, sometimes, I have to admit, it was the Air Force, but sometimes it was higher ranking officers in the U.S. Navy that just didn’t see things your way and you, by god, had to show them. And you do it, if you’re any good, you do it. However, you also realize that you have become an intimate part of a mechanism that transcends everything else. It’s a source of service to something greater than yourself, you wind up an extension of your own personal being, and most important I think the Navy has become to me at least, an inexpressible source of suzerainty. Suzerainty is the word I carefully figured out, suzerainty over the whole world. For one, on an individual basis the world is only what you can see and feel and touch and the Navy has given me the capability of controlling that part of the world. And you do it and you know you can, and you do it because you’ve got this ship, you’ve got this crew, and you can do anything. You can do anything, I mean this literally, you can do anything, of course that’s within the framework. So on top of that of course we realize we serve the flag, we serve the President, we have sworn an allegiance. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what I can do with my ship and with my Navy when I need to. And that’s the bottom line of the whole thing.
So, this is what I’m part of. The Navy gave me life, it gave me everything that I own, everything I hold dear. It gave me my wife, it gave me my mother, it gave me life itself. It’s had its ups and downs, but mainly it’s given me everything that I hold dear and I am grateful.
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