07 December 2008

THE START OF A JOURNEY

It was December 7, 1957. For my folks, it was the 16th anniversary of a day that turned their world—and that of their generation—upside down: that date that would live in infamy.

Starting in third grade, I had read books about our Navy in World War II. My boyhood heroes were Mush Morton, Donc Donaho, Red Ramage,and Gene Fluckey. I knew the records of Tang and Wahoo and Trigger, and I had cried at the heroism of Howard Gilmore whose dying words on the shattered bridge of USS Growler still echo down the halls of American naval history: “Take her down!”

I was inspired by three legendary Wildcat commanders, Jimmy Thach, creator with Medal of Honor recipient Butch O’Hare, of the “Thach Weave”, the maneuver, named by Jimmy Flatley, that kept the old F4F Wildcat alive against the Japanese Zero. I had made a model of Jimmy Flatley’s F6F Hellcat. Oh, yeah, Flatley, “Reaper Leader” of Fighting Ten, the Grim Reapers, was a hero in my book.

And there was my number one hero, my Dad, former Chief Pharmacists Mate John James McCarty. I secretly suspected that he won the war all by himself, not that he talked much about it. Five opposed landings and they were bad ones—Tarawa, Kwajalien, Saipan, Tinian and Pelelieu.

Navy blue and gold were my favorite colors.

So on that gray December day, after seeing the “Pearl Harbor” episode of Victory at Sea on TV, I decided that I wanted to follow my Dad’s footsteps and become a squared away North American bluejacket. My Mom suggested that if I wanted to be in the Navy, I ought to attend the Naval Academy. To get there required a Congressional appointment.

That evening, I sat down at the kitchen table with a ballpoint pen and a piece of lined school paper and wrote the first of what would be many letters to Representative Melvin Price, our Congressman. Only a few days later, I received a letter from Mr. Price, sending me a copy of the Midshipman Handbook, asking that I keep him informed of my progress through school.

(Later, while my Mom was vice-president of her American Federation of Teachers local, she met Mr. Price. “Oh,” he said, “your son is the boy that wants to go to Annapolis.” They don’t make them like that any more.)

In early 1964, I was appointed to the Naval Academy class of 1968. When I took my physical at Scott Air Force Base, I was declared to be NPQ, “not physically qualified” due to poor eyesight. Coming on the heels of the deaths of my Dad and my Grand-dad, it could have been a crushing blow. By then, however, I had discovered another branch of the Naval Service—the United States Marine Corps. We had read parts of John Thomason's World War I classic, Fix Bayonets!, in English class and I felt as if I had served alongside Robert Leckie (Helmet For My Pillow) and that Richard Tregaskis (Guadalcanal Diary) was a close friend. And of course, I had read Robert Sherrod’s Tarawa: The Story Of A Battle until the pages fell apart.

So, today marks for me the 51st anniversary of the start of a journey that really took off 40 years ago next week. Stay tuned!

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Red_Cleric said...

Congratulations and thanks for your service.

Alan