The late World War II submariner great, Rear Admiral Frederick (Fearless Freddie) Warder served his twilight tour as Commandant of the Eighth Naval District headquartered at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1959-1962. An old diesel boat axiom went; give a job to the officer least qualified to do it. He has the greatest need, and what better training than on the job? Thus the admiral selected his aide, an unlikely Lieutenant from a New London based submarine.
Though the hapless Lieutenant’s new job involved no decision-making authority beyond scheduling the admiral’s haircuts (usually overruled), the new aide was given insight to naval, social and political life that exceeded his wildest dreams.
The white tie and tailed de rigueur New Orleans social set embellished each of its continual social events with the admiral’s presence, the aide tagging along in his newly purchased formal uniform and dress aiguillettes not unlike those worn by doormen standing before posh downtown hotels. Mardi Gras, most prominent among these soirees, the two submariners found themselves heavily involved. They later agreed from the inside, these were fraught with tones of mid-nineteenth century antebellum convention leaving the impression the Civil War had really been won by the South.
At the Admiral’s quarters on Naval Base, New Orleans, the aide once took a phone call from the local congressman’s Washington DC based staff and found himself squarely between a rock and a hard place. The staff member at one end had no wish to come to New Orleans, but insisted this sentiment not be shared with the Congressman. The reluctant legislator sitting nearby stated he did not want the staffy to come to the Big Easy, but he too did not want this known. And so the aide got baptized in on-the-job juggling training.
The aide accompanied his admiral in 1960 for an office call on the late Arkansas Governor Orval Eugene Faubus, best known for his 1957 stand against the desegregation of public schools during the Little Rock Crisis. He defied a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court by ordering the Arkansas National Guard to stop African American students from attending Little Rock Central High School. Faubus had mellowed considerably by the time of the admiral’s call. Despite his initial staunch segregationist stance, the governor moderated his position substantially, later endorsing the Reverend Jesse Jackson in the 1984 Democratic presidential primaries. The aide heeded advice by Abraham Lincoln; Beller to remai11 silent a11d thought a fool than to speak out a11d remove all doubt. He accordingly sat quietly and listened. The governor attempted to return the call a day later at Admiral Warder’ s motel room only to find the old sailor had gone bass fishing on nearby Lake Ouachita. Faubus opted for second best and closed the loop by visiting a surprised aide who received the governor in his own room in boxer shorts and T-shirt.
The ceremony celebrating Texas’s own, the Honorable John B. Connally’ s ascendancy to Secretary of the Navy for the newly elected Kennedy administration, found Admiral Warder among the distinguished guests. Organizers of the event opted for a stag head table that included Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Admiral Warder with other notables. An apprehensive aide drew the duty of being escort to Mrs. ldanell Brill Connally, wife of the new secretary. The gracious lady put the young man quickly at ease. “Call me Nellie,” she told him through a smile he’d remember the rest of his life.
Mrs. Connally is known for personal grace and deep commitment to public service, however the distinguished alumnus of the University of Texas credits her high profile to her marriage to the late Texas Governor John B. Connally. Actually, Nellie was a celebrity in her own right, working tirelessly and effectively for numerous worthy causes over several decades. She rode in the Presidential limousine on the day President Kennedy was assassinated and her husband seriously wounded.
All the aide will say about his most exciting naval involvement of those days is, “If I told ya, I’d have to kill ya,” so leave it at that.
With all his newly amassed experience, the aide acquired an unwarranted sense of self-confidence and mistakenly assumed the time had come to make decisions on his own. He later would concede this idea to be the worst of his naval career if not his entire life.
The French Navy, represented by the cruiser JEAN BART, came to town, and back-to-back partying commenced, most till the wee small hours, hosted alternately by the Mayor of New Orleans, the French Consul, officers of JEAN BART, and Admiral Warder.
Following the final round of parties, the French aide approached our aide and extended a gesture of respite to the partied out Americans. He offered not to invite them to an early morning event; a wreath laying at historic Jackson Square across the street from St. Louis Cathedral. Our aide accepted, believing his admiral would be pleased with prospects of a Sunday morning sleep in. Big mistake! After proudly announcing his decision, he received a spirited homily on the true role of Flag Lieutenant decision-making and other miscellaneous customs of the service ramifications. The French planned to land an armed honor guard and Navy protocol stipulated this could be done only if the local senior U.S. naval officer was present.
The dust settled, Warder devised a plan to carry out the Navy stipulation while not unduly embarrassing New Orleans’ distinguished and popular guests. A mass had been scheduled at St. Louis cathedral immediately prior to the event. The admiral reasoned, What could possibly be wrong with attending mass with his aide and the aide ‘s precocious five-year-old daughter? Tlre11 aftenvards, walk across the street to watch the ceremony just like everyone else?
VThe plan was carried out. Prior to the wreath laying, the admiral, his aide, both in dress blue uniforms and the aide’s nicely turned out daughter emerged from the cathedral and stood where they could be easily seen by the French officer in charge of the ceremony. Warder looked on happily, the protocol having been satisfied. The officer approached, saluted Warder and invited him to inspect the honor guard. The aide, believing his daughter’s role had been played out, moved to lead her away. No! Warder had other plans. Hand in hand the admiral and his young friend trooped Jes lignes de matelots francais (the Jines of French sailors), the little girl inspecting each man from head to toe in the manner of an accomplished drill sergeant.
The anxious aide wrung his hands, knowing his offspring would at any moment fall into one or more antics among her plethora of little girl diversions, skipping, jumping, squealing, even an occasional cartwheel. Miraculously, this did not happen. Apparently Admiral Warder numbered pied piper among his many talents. Daughter of the regiment, as he would later call her, stole the show. Following the ceremony, the daughter conducted herself admirably, socializing with the admiral, senior French officers, and the consul himself as though it were a perfunctory event in her daily life. The day had been saved and in grand style. The aide would live to serve a bit longer.
The aide’s daughter and the admiral shared an unlikely common passion: raw oysters. The ceremony concluded with no serious damage done, Admiral Warder treated his aide and new accomplice to a freshly shelled serving of the tasty bivalves at a curbside table in the heart of New Orleans’ vieux carre (old square). Three beer steins sat before them, but passers-by could not discern the daughter of the regiment’s contained only root beer.