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History and Heritage

The Road to Anchors

Advice from a World War II-era chief

Retired Chief Photographer's Mate Joe Renteria has lived an extraordinary life, a life that began in 1917 and saw him rise up and forge his grit, leadership and determination in the throes of the Second World War. At 100 years-old, he still walks with the confidence and gait of a much younger man.


Surrounded by an assortment of cameras, both antique and new, he recently spoke to All Hands Magazine about his life and career: From being orphaned at a young age, to finding love and acceptance at a boys home, his short stint in the Army in the mid-1930s to his enlistment in the Navy and his path to becoming a chief petty officer, Renteria has seen and done it all, and has the sea stories to prove it. He's a living piece of history, but mostly, he's just proud of the men he led and served with.

Renteria enlisted prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and earned his anchors during a time of war, in a time of battles on land and sea. He dodged enemy fire on Guadalcanal and took reconnaissance photos from the air over the high seas of the Pacific. He said his time spent in the Pacific islands was some of the most hazardous: You never knew where the enemy may be lurking. It was nerve-wracking, from seamen to petty officers, Renteria's number one goal was to keep his men alive.

"As you work up to be a chief ... there's certain obligations that you have to perform yourself, certain steps, certain duties," said Renteria. "The most important one is dependability; that's the main thing. When you become a chief, that's the first thing that you think of: That man is qualified."
photo collage


Renteria explained that the job of a chief is to ensure his or her Sailors can depend on their leadership, not just for orders. They should know their chief will lead them to whatever objective they may have.

"You have to maintain a good relationship with your personnel," said Renteria. "Always be honest, trustworthy and dependable. You're looked upon that you have a lot of wisdom and so forth. You have to be able to exercise some authority to be able to lead, and the only way that you do that is to realize it's just not about giving them orders."

The chief rank was formally established on April 1, 1893. For 124 years, Navy chiefs have prided themselves on bridging the gap between officers and enlisted crew members, keeping warships running and fighting effectively. They have been celebrated throughout the Navy over the years, not only for their rating expertise, but their administrative abilities as well. In fact, according to "The Role of the Chief Petty Officer in the Modern Navy" by Don A. Kelso, their knowledge of daily operations of the ship and their uncanny ability to coordinate with various departments have given chiefs unique abilities that can rival even the most senior of naval officers. Hence the mantra any Sailor will recognize: "Ask the chief."

September 15 saw more than 4,300 first class petty officers advance to chief around the globe, a huge milestone in their careers, one that is deep in tradition and history.

"A chief should be as a buddy, a teacher, a leader," Renteria explained. "You'll find, that if he sees that you're interested enough to pay attention to what you're doing to learn, he's going to do it; he's going to help you to try and learn your job and do a good job."

Editor's Note: To learn more about Joe Renteria's life click here.