Thank you for the honor of being your speaker at this first annual Veteran’s Day celebration!
And not to worry about the length of my remarks – per advice from higher authority, I am assuming the role of the deceased at an Irish wake – you’re just needed to get the party started, after that you don’t have to say a lot!!
It’s amazing for me to realize that I spent more than forty years in the United States Navy since I raised my hand for the first time in the Naval Academy’s Dahlgren Hall and retired in its Memorial Hall.
In full disclosure, you should know that these halls are only four hundred yards apart. So, one could say that I moved relatively slowly – ten yards per year – however there are those that might argue - for me, such a pace is hyperdrive.
But as you all realize, in life there have been some fairly significant detours, wrong starts and a good number of lessons learned. The journey has certainly been more than four hundred yards!
Mention of a journey reminds me of the young fellow stopping his car by an old Irishman sitting next to the road and asking, "Is this the road to Dublin?" The old man nodded quietly and said, "Aye, it is." As the enthusiastic young fellow drove off quickly in a cloud of dust, the old fellow shook his head sadly and muttered, "But you’re headed the wrong way."
I am thankful for the many people in the law and the military who pointed me in the right direction. But there are always questions!
Some ask — why didn’t I transfer to the JAG Corps.
Well, in the quiet of this room and confidentially, I will admit that I did request a transfer to the JAG Corps. After all, I was partner in a New York law firm and doing some pretty serious legal work. But to my shock, the response was that there were no slots for transfers at that time. And, in any event, with my spotty record, the chances of my being able to transfer to JAG were slim to none! I was crushed!
Only with the advent of the TV program JAG did I finally realize that I probably couldn’t measure up. As most of you know, on JAG, the lawyers fly fighters, operate with the special warfare forces, con submarines, maneuver destroyers and try court martials on limited preparation with beautiful Marines! Those JAG lawyers are awesome!!!
I am sure we need only ask the JAGS present here today if this is really true?
Another question – why did a Bronx Irishman depart the cultural and intellectual oasis of the east and join the Navy?
The answer is simple. The U.S. Navy is really another Irish organization. To serve in the U.S. Navy is to continue the Irish tradition. After all, the father of the American Navy is none other than John Barry of County Wexford.
Incidentally, as best as I can research, Commodore Barry was one of the first members of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of the City of New York founded in 1784.
Now I know that some of you here today may dispute this thesis. However, there is documentary evidence to support my contention. As the former historian of the aforementioned Friendly Sons, I discovered a number of documents supporting this proposition in the Friendly Sons archives.
I had hoped to bring these documents today but, unlike our National Archives, the society does not permit the removal of any documents or notes – in any manner or by any conveyance. Even by national security advisors!
So I will simply point out that the leadership of the Navy at the time I retired had interesting names: Chief of Naval Operations – Clark; Commander, Fleet Forces Command – Fallon; Commander, Pacific Fleet- Doran and Vice Chief of Naval Operations - Mullen, among others.
Lastly — how does a Jesuit educated, Naval Academy graduate and trial lawyer to boot (a rather interesting combo) survive and perhaps thrive in the United States Navy - what most folks would perceive as a giant, monolithic bureaucracy?
Let’s take the facts one at a time.
The Jesuits – if one understands the Jesuits, a Jesuit high school education and the tradition, one can understand that diversity under the same roof is commonplace and thought provoking.
Think of Father Dan Berrigan, the star of the 60’s antiwar movement and compare him with Father Al McConigal, an Army chaplain who served in Vietnam and whose name one can find chiseled on that dark wall to which a great many of us relate. Indeed, think of Father John Laboon, Naval Academy graduate, submariner, Silver Star winner, Jesuit, Navy and Naval Academy chaplain.
Reflect too on the Jesuits’ motto ad majoriam dei gloriam, translated as - for the greater glory of God - and realize that Jesuits take little satisfaction in acting for the mere glory of God. It’s got to be His greater glory.
Take this education and add the Naval Academy and its motto, ex scientia tridens - from knowledge, seapower! – a challenge to Midshipmen and its graduates not to be satisfied but to pursue knowledge at all times in any and all forums.
Take the Jesuits, the Naval Academy and Fordham Law School and its motto in service to others, and then think of the trial attorney who advocates his client’s position before the court. While some would argue rightfully that certain attorneys push the boundaries of propriety in advocating their cause, the vast majority seeks the truth – and they are unsatisfied until they find it!
Combine the traits and some would argue that these traits make me dissatisfied, contrary and at times - down right outrageous. Pushy New Yorker!!!
But let me suggest to you that beneath this dissatisfaction lies a dream of perfection that is profoundly American and a dream that is alive in every member of the United States Navy and the bars of the United States.
I served in, and continue to keep in contact with, a United States Navy filled with shipmates, both old and young, who are always enthusiastic, responsive, and inventive - people from all backgrounds and walks of life – an absolute joy with whom to work.
From their first day in boot camp, officer candidate school or plebe summer at the Academy, they are challenged to seek the high road of integrity - to pursue and develop the traits of honor, courage and commitment - to not waiver in the face of challenges and to not be satisfied with just average results.
How many times can I point to the results of those young men and women who have embraced these characteristics and succeeded?
- Succeeded not because they were not yes men or women but because they embraced the intense passion to be the best.
- Succeeded because they sought the knowledge that would win the day in any setting.
- And how many times can I point to robust discussions in which I have been involved with my fellow flag officers and produced the best for this country?
Simply, I have thrived in this environment as many of you have, which embraces internal diversity and robust discussion – contrary to public opinion.
But you should know that the greatest honor and privilege that I have been accorded in this career is not only to serve in uniform with the finest the United States has to offer -
But to have represented our navy in the civilian community as a reservist and bear witness daily to the work of our Navy
- To bear witness to the fact that our senior military leaders understand the military’s role in our society
- To bear witness that our military leaders continue to reflect on the MacArthur’s comments "…the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." …. "The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training - sacrifice."
Simply, our military leadership understands that these sacrifices cannot be in vain - an understanding that is most crucial today with our soldiers and sailors serving in the Middle East.
Most importantly I am privileged to bear witness to the beliefs of the United States Navy that can be gleaned from the words of the late John Cardinal O’Connor, a former Rear Admiral and Chief of Chaplains.
At the christening of the Navy guided missile destroyer Lagoon, named for the same Father John Lagoon S.J. I mentioned earlier, Cardinal O’Connor stated:
"I know the commander and crew of this ship, if ever forced to do battle, will never let themselves rejoice in death and destruction. They will do their noble duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, so help me God. And if God forbid this ever requires them to fire a shot or launch a missile, except in routine exercises… they will do so with a sadness of heart, that yet another aggressor is threatening the peace of the world and must be resisted."
God bless you, the United States of America and the Armed Forces of the United States!