A Short Speech on the Retirement of A Sailor
I was a boy and I became a man.
I marched and drilled and cleaned and cried. I scrubbed clothes by hand and hung them to dry in subzero temperatures-tying each article of clothing onto a wire with a military spec length of string, called a clothes stop, in a uniform seaman’s knot.
I met other men, from the bowels of large cities, who had lived their young lives at great risk using their fists or guns or knives to make their point and I knew I had as much to learn from them as they did from the Navy.
I was a janitor and I took pride in making floors shine and mirrors spotless.
I was a typist when I could not type, I spent my first day on a submarine painting the control room when I had never touched a spray gun in my life.
I was a mess-cook, a cook and a steward, sometimes by choice and others by necessity; my last assignment as a cook was a tribute and a Christmas present from a thankful Commanding Officer to a great crew on a great ship deep in the middle of Indian Country.
I was a compartment cleaner and a garbage hauler and, at the same time, a lookout and a planes-man-showing great pride in being selected as the battle stations helmsman. I could carry five steaming cups of coffee from the mess decks to the bridge on a pitching and rolling Guppy class submarine and I never spilled a drop.
I have scrubbed decks, bulkheads and heads and cleaned up the mistakes of others after they opened the flapper valve with 100 pounds of air in the tank.
I was a welder, a mechanic, an oiler and an engineman-1 breathed, bathed and ate hydraulic oil and diesel fuel; I stood watches on the sonar and the radar during a long picket patrol in the North Pacific snorkeling for 40 days in state 6 seas.
I learned that being deathly seasick and doing your job were not mutually exclusive; cleaning fuel oil filters while on your back in the bilge with a bucket by your side was a way o. handicap.
I learned how to take onshore power, not from ‘ maneuvering, but by hauling heavy and oily black cables rickety brow.
I found out that a leading seaman cannot spray paint the new service dress khaki uniform devron black while the uniform is resting on the hulk of a very large Chief of the Boat and get away with it even if it was an accident!
I discovered that Hotel Street was an ugly place and not lined with hotels and that celebrating New Years Eve in a bar brawl was not my cup of tea.
I took the Buddha off USS REMORA twice in a month and I shared the rush of fear when two submarine crews seriously battled for possession of that Buddha at 0200. I learned that submariners worked very hard and dedicated their lives to their shipmates and they played just as hard in competition.
I have loaded, cleaned and fired torpedoes, thankfully never in anger.
I was machinist mate by heart, an electrician by necessity and an electronics technician by training; I was also a friend and father to my fellow crew members;
I discovered that with only average measured intelligence an application of very hard work, total self-discipline and dedication I could produce significant academic achievements.
I was the benefactor of the greatest of sacrifices, from a growing family led by a strong wife and mother, every time I went to sea.
Ever naive I always believed that my ID card was green and that the detailer never lied-even after my fourth shipyard over-haul.
I learned to never buy your dream house while on active duty. I flunked moving 101 and always relied upon superwoman to get it done.
I found command at sea to be an awesome, but never overwhelming responsibility. I was always supported by the best sailors in the world. The words integrity, trust, respect and honor always provided the basis for self-measurement. I believed through experience that these traits and others like quality and professionalism or the lack of those necessities were not tied to race, religion or gender, but to individual human capabilities and frailties.
Teaming became my middle name. Getting others to believe became my greatest challenge. I learned that Rice Bowls were not utensils for food and that not invented here was not a Government Patent Office logo.
When things were bad I relied on the old saw “it’s not how bad you fall, but how well you get up that matters”.
I served with great people and great leaders and unfortunately with insensitive and incompetent shipmates. I learned from both and that lesson is the most important of all.
Lastly, I found a great friend and lifetime companion-my partner. As we depart we do so with many more warm thoughts than sacrifice and certainly no regrets.
from the 2002 DIRECTORY:
CAPT James T. High, Jr., USN(Ret.)
P .O . Box 221
Burke, VA 22015