You have heard tales of the unsung heroes – the men and women who perform great deeds in life with little fanfare or recognition. The white-hot lights of celebrity will quickly pass them by, and while others are recognized for their own accomplishments, the unsung heroes are left to bask in the satisfying warmth of accomplishment virtually alone. Only a few – the privileged ones who were there to witness their feats – will ever know what they did. It is up to them to remember the heroes’ greatness, to preserve their legacies and tell their tales.
I knew such a man.
He didn’t look like a hero. When I met him I didn’t know how to take him. He was rough, and loud, and unafraid to share his opinions with whomever would listen. His job was to train a green crew and form them into a cohesive and effective team while their ship was being built around them. He was the Leading Petty Officer and our success depended almost completely on how well he did his job.
I was inexperienced too, beginning a new career as a meteorologist with no experience in Naval aviation or carrier ops. He had to train me as well.
And he did. Through humor, technical savvy, experience and just pure leadership he built us up, brick by brick. And before long the division began to mature. By the time the ship was commissioned the weather team had grown into an effective and well-disciplined unit, all a reflection of the dedication shown by one man.
He was the manifestation of what a leader should be. His men admired him for his knowledge, and respected him for his discipline. They knew he would protect them from outsiders; they also knew he would set them straight if they strayed. His promotion to Chief Petty Officer was a mere formality, because in our eyes he had always been a Chief.
After I left, the professional relationship between him and me grew into a genuine friendship. I was honored to re-enlist him over his father’s grave at Arlington. I was doubly honored to speak at his retirement ceremony.
But even after he took off the uniform he continued to teach. He taught me what it means to be a family man. What it means to love your wife and children so deeply that it becomes your own trademark. And he taught me what true friendship really is.
He died last week, a man too young to leave us so soon. Only the few, privileged ones who were there to witness his feats will ever know what he did. But those of us touched by his greatness – and there are many of us – will forever be better for having known him.
But he taught us well, and we can stand on our own feet now. Our actions, our character, and our accomplishments are all a continuing reflection of what he instilled in us so many years ago.
And that is a legacy worth remembering.