Fathers' Day on Eternal Patrol
USS BonefishJune 18th, this Sunday is Fathers’ Day. It is also the day of loss of the USS Bonefish in 1945. This date is acknowledged each year by our household — for the men lost — the Dads; the sons.
A few years ago Your Business Blogger was honored to be invited to the Submarine Veterans Chapter in North Carolina and share a few words. The podium was on the ocean front. Grizzled vets and wives sat in the sun. Hot. Uncomplaining.
Afterwards, a plane flew overhead and dropped a wreath on the water a few hundred yards out. An honor guard fired a three-round volley. The Dude scampered for the shell casings. I have them in a desk drawer. To remember.
Submariners’ Memorial Service, Saturday May 13, 2000, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Debt of Honor
It is an honor to join you here today and remember the submariners “still on patrol.” And to remember our debt of honor due. I’ve asked my son, John, to join us today — a day I expect him to remember and take to his grave.
During World War II, my dad, a teenager from New Jersey, left high school, went to submarine school and was assigned to the USS Bonefish.
Courtesy Tom McMahonWhen John saw previews of the blockbuster movie U-571, he asked if it was about his grandfather. The movie is a story about honor, courage, strength, character, what being a man, a warrior really is. Yes John, your grandfather was in the movie, and so were each of the submariners here today.
But in the movie the men came home. We are here today for the men who didn’t.
My father was re-assigned and walked off the gangplank and another man walked on the Bonefish. The Bonefish was lost in combat on June 18, 1945 with all hands.
My dad eventually went back to high school and married my mother. The other man is on the bottom of the Sea of Japan.
My father, after a half-century later after fighting in and surviving two wars, is buried in Arlington Cemetery. He had the chance to raise a family and devote 30 years to the Navy and pin Second Lieutenant bars on my shoulders.
Like many veterans, he didn’t talk much about being in harm’s way. Still, I imagine, in some Navy Valhalla, my dad and this other sailor linked up and asked the Creator, “Why?”
Why was my father spared? Why each of you? Why was the other man, why did the other men not come home? War forces these questions on us, and they echo for generations — my father had me, and now I have a 5-year old son, John, who carries his grandfather’s name and his love of battle and discipline.
John, like all children, often asks, “Why?” Like all fathers, I struggle to answer. But there are some questions we cannot fathom on this side of eternity. Why was my father not on that submarine that fateful day?
And the answer does not come. Only that John now lives — with a purpose and a destiny and lessons to learn and a debt of honor.
The submarine and her crew is the truest example of a military unit and military cohesion and military mission. And this is what I want my son to see. He saw it in the movie U-571, and in each of you today. But more important, I want him to understand the sacrifice of the men remembered today.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, someone asked her, “What is your greatest fear?” She answered that it was losing her husband; she feared the possibility of facing the awesome responsibility of motherhood alone.
But now, several children later, as I reflect on that same question, my fear is not losing her, or even one of our daughters. I fear losing my son. In my masculine pride, I believe I can protect my wife and girls, but in my heart, just below the surface, is the dread possibility that I must one day send my son to war.
Just as your fathers sent each of you. And by God’s grace, you and my father came back.
My boy loves my cavalry saber and my dad’s medals. Wearing a military uniform and military service runs deep in our family. My son’s blood line is traced through the Civil War and the Revolutionary War to William Penn to Charlemagne of ninth century France. His great-grandfather helped build the Virginia Military Institute.
I pray the time never comes, but if it does, I expect that he will fight for God and country like his fathers before him. And like you, warriors gathered today, and like the warriors still on “eternal patrol” we honor today.
I have in my office the Norman Rockwell print of the “Homecoming GI” showing a young man coming home from war being greeting by the neighborhood. His back is toward us, his face is each of you and my father. We remember today the boys who didn’t come home, lost at sea — the only thing left was a gold star and a Purple Heart and our eternal gratitude.
Buried at sea, there are no headstones, I cannot mark the grave of the man who took my father’s place. But shortly we will honor that man and each of the 3,505 men lost on 52 boats with a wreath. It is fitting that, as some boats were lost to aerial bombs, that we remember those lost heroes with an aerial wreath dropped over the sea.
There will always be wars and rumors of war, the Bible teaches. When I think of future wars I pray that a lost heroic high-tech Bonefish will not carry my John. The fear of this nearly unendurable loss humbles me. That young submariner who walked — requested permission to board — the Bonefish to take my father’s place was another man’s son. Another father’s dreams lost at sea. War turns civilization on its head: In peace sons bury fathers. In war fathers bury sons.
Today we remember the men buried in the sea. It is a weighty debt. A debt of honor due. This is why I have my boy, the grandson of a submariner, here today to honor those men with you. I expect to instill in him a sense of history, of true sacrifice, of his mission in life. That his body is not his own, that he has a higher calling and that he will honor and obey. That he has a high calling.
I hope that I can teach him the lessons of his forefathers, and the lessons of the men we remember today and each of you — a great cloud of witnesses. The Greatest Generation.
It is my prayer that instilling this sense of mission will drive out the distractions, temptations and destructions of his growing generation. That he will see the hand of Divine Providence moving in his life. That he will know that he has so much to be thankful for. Like his fathers before him. That, as Scripture teaches, greater love has no man than to give his life for another.
I pray that he will be grateful, like his grandfather, and me, to the man and the men who died for us. It is my charge to tell my son that another young man took his grandfather’s place.
My son has the duty, and like us all, to that man and those men. My son has the duty to live with a sense of respect and purpose and awe. To live with a sense of reverence to the tomb, the crushed hull, of that other submariner.
Today we salute and honor the man and the men who died for me and for us all. I want my son to know his debt of honor. And Lord willing, my son will bury me.
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Thank you (foot)notes:
Debt of Honor; USS Bonefish Lost was originally published by The Virginian Pilot and other print outlets.
Be Excellent has Father’s Day Advice.
Basil has a picnic.