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History and Heritage

To be Worthy of Our Heritage

Filling the shoes of those who came before

It's an old photo. It's one of those postcard portraits - the kind shot at any Midwestern Woolworths in the sepia-toned era of America's first year of World War II.

Two brothers sit smiling - smirking, actually. The younger brother, Eddie, looks as if he's just stepped off the label of a Crackerjack box. His dress white uniform is crisp - neckerchief squared at the front, cover cocked to the side - a Sailor ready for the adventure ahead.

However, It's the older brother, Elmer, that has the story. In an era when civilians became Chief Petty Officers based on highly-sought skill sets, recruited into service to bolster the ranks in preparation for the war ahead, Elmer King already had 12 years of service under his belt. This was no "slick-sleeve" Chief.

Chief King was a Chief Ship Fitter, forerunner to the modern rate of Hull Technician. He served as a repair party leader aboard the legendary USS Hornet (CV 8). He was there as Jimmy Doolittle's "Raiders" took the first meaningful swing. He was there below decks as Torpedo Squadron EIGHT caught the Japanese empire completely off guard in the history-altering epic in the waters off Midway Island. When the full might of the Japanese bombers was directed to eliminate once and for all the Hornet, the ship that held the line, in the Battle for the Santa Cruz Islands, Chief King was there.

He was there with his fire party one fateful day in October 1942. The carrier, repeatedly hit by wave after wave of enemy dive bombers, refused to succumb to the damage inflicted. The final blast occurred just forward of the mess decks. Chief King and his fire party, fighting to the bitter end, were gone in an instant. The Hornet slipped beneath the waves soon after.

An old captain of mine once said a phrase that has stuck with me: "... to be worthy of our heritage."

I was a young petty officer when I first heard it, and like many in the Navy today, had heard the old family stories about past relatives who answered the nation's call during "the War." I never really gave much thought to my family's military service until one day I was handed a small envelope. I was just pinned with the coveted anchors of Chief and felt 10 feet tall. Inside the envelope was a small, faded, sepia-toned postcard.

It really hit home during a deployment to the Pacific aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). I was running a repair locker as we sailed west. I was a proud Chief Petty Officer and even more proud of the Sailors - we were rocking the general quarters drill set for the day. A buddy of mine, a Navy history buff, pointed out that we were near the waters of the Santa Cruz Islands. Then it struck me: Here I was leading a repair party aboard an aircraft carrier as a Chief ... the first in these waters from my family since Elmer in 1942. Humbling.

Each of us in uniform is required to memorize the Sailor's Creed. A part of me gets a little choked up when I hit the third line: "I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy, and those who have gone before me ..."

Some of us are continuing the family tradition of naval service - some are the first generation to wear the uniform. All of us will someday be the "those who have gone before."