The Stars Were Poised and Aligned

For three and one-half years during the 1960s I was the principal assistant for shipbuilding matters to the U.S. Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding for the 13th Naval District. My office, then located on Seattle’s Harbor Island, was responsible for engineering, inspection, and progress reporting matters for three types of hydrofoils, for a number of different types of riverine boats that were immediately shipped to Viet Nam, and for virtually every type of naval surface ship except aircraft carriers. Those were the days when correspondence with the Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C. and with our various ship and boat builders located along a 250-mile stretch from the Canadian border to Portland, Oregon, was via telephone, snail mail, and messages sent via the Navy’s radio-communication system.

Mine was a busy place when late during a Thursday afternoon one of my officers, a Resident Inspector in a nearby shipyard, entered unexpectedly. I’ll refer to him as Mick Sr. who was at least a decade older than me. One glance was all that was needed to ascertain that Mick Sr. was distraught; I immediately suspected a personal matter. I was at first concerned because I didn’t think that I was qualified to give the advice that he was likely to need. But as subsequent events proved, due to a number of fortuitous circumstances I was one of the few individuals, if not the only one in the Pacific Northwest, who could render effective assistance. Emotionally his heart was breaking as he unfolded a very unusual tale.

Mick Sr. was a mustang, that is, a former enlisted man who had earned a commission. He was justifiably proud of that, but he was more proud of his oldest son who was a midshipman in the U.S. Naval Academy. The young man was maintaining above average grades and was active in extracurricular activities. Mick Jr. shared one of those activities with another midshipman who one day untruthfully advised that he had permission for both of them to make a weekend visit away from Annapolis in order to attend a special event that was related to their mutual interest.

When the deceit was discovered an investigation disclosed that Mick Jr. was innocent; the other Midshipman was expelled. Afterwards when the latter committed suicide Mick Jr. was devastated. His emotion-wracked mind unreasonably concluded that he did not want to be in an institution that put a breech of discipline ahead of someone’s life. He began to purposely fail examinations in order to become expelled. He had already been warned by the officer serving as the Academy’s academic dean.

Mick Sr. said to me, “It would hurt if my son left the Academy. I could live with that, but what he is doing is dishonorable!”

Then Mick Sr. requested a seventy two, that is, a three-day leave during which he would fly to the East Coast at his own expense just to try to talk some sense into his emotionally overcome son. I immediately recognized that I could do more than that and while reaching for the phone I said, “Hold fast! I am scheduled to attend a shipbuilding progress conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday. You go in my place! I have time to brief you. I am sure our Captain will agree. We’ll cut your orders now. Leave tomorrow morning and spend Saturday and Sunday with your son in Annapolis.”

Simultaneously I was dialing the number of my close friend, former shipmate, and fellow U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduate, Commander Harold R. Tall, U.S. Navy. Hal was then serving as the Comptroller at the Naval Academy. I solicited his advice. Hal told me that he was going to phone the Captain who was in charge of such matters in order to arrange for him to meet with Mick Sr. Within twenty minutes Hal returned my call and advised, “The Captain did not know that the midshipman who was suddenly getting poor grades was the same individual who was involved in the case of the middy who had killed himself. The Captain is sympathetic and has extended an invitation for Mick Sr. to meet with him in his quarters on the Academy grounds anytime during the weekend.” Then gracious Hal added, “Mary Jane and I would like Mick Sr. to stay at our quarters.”

Mick Sr. was overwhelmed and later during the weekend in Annapolis he was overjoyed when his son said to him, “I do not understand why it is so important to so many people for me to stay at the Academy, but if it is that important to them I will stay.”

Mick Jr. overcame the trauma of the suicide and two-years afterwards graduated from the Naval Academy with honors.

Before or since, I never encountered another situation wherein so many stars were poised and aligned so as to solve a seemingly insolvable problem.