Apr 3, 2009

Reflections on 2 Men (Part 1)

In 1965 the Navy sent me to teach at the NROTC unit at the University of Oklahoma. I arrived there at the end of August. One of my first surprises was to be advised that the commanding officer, a naval aviator, Captain Marcus L. Lowe, Jr., did not permit his officers to take any college classes while at this duty station (Among the staff, it was generally believed that the reason for the Captain's policy was that he had done poorly in a class after his arrival at Oklahoma and did not want to be outshone by his subordinates.). This came as a great disappointment, since I had stated in my request for this duty that I intended to begin taking the courses needed for an engineering degree. I wanted to become what was known as an Engineering Duty Officer (EDO), a special class of officers who only serve in engineering assignments.

Within a week of my arrival, the captain returned from his summer duty assignment in Corpus Christi, Texas. I approached him shortly thereafter to see if he could make an exception in my case and permit me to take courses at the university. I explained that as a bachelor I could pursue classes at night school, that they wouldn't interfere with my teaching assignments, and that he would never be aware of any adverse effect on my performance.

His response was totally unexpected and, in my opinion, unprofessional -- "Mr. Mead, if you've got so God damned much time on your hands, then I'll strangle you with collateral duties." And he proceeded to do so. I was soon notified that I would be the Coach of the Midshipman Rifle and Pistol Team, the Drum and Bugle Corps, the Drill Team, publisher of a Midshipman newsletter, in charge of the Trident Society (a Midshipmen social group aimed at professional development), the coordinator of a yearbook for the unit, and sponsor of the annual Navy Ball. Captain Lowe was clearly both stubborn and a man of his word. The effect on me was simple. I decided to resign my commission and leave the navy as soon as my obligated service was over.

More than a year had passed when one of the strangest incidents of my naval career occurred. I was approached by Captain Lowe and asked if we had a speaker planned yet for the March 1967 meeting of the Trident Society. I informed him that we did not yet have a speaker committed and he then informed me that he would be the featured speaker, and further, that his topic would be "Marcus L. Lowe, Jr., the Story of a Naval Career." We held the March meeting with average attendance, about 60% of the battalion. The Captain spoke proudly of his career from flight school through World War II duty in a PBY squadron, through various staff and flying assignments, to his arrival at OU several years before. I thought it was a fairly successful event.
The next morning Captain Lowe called me and the rest of his staff, with the exception of the Executive Officer, into his office. He closed the door. We were standing in a row in front of his desk wondering what the nature of the meeting might be. He looked away from us, looking out toward the campus (He sometimes had a problem looking people in the eye.) and spoke, "I guess you all know why you're here." We didn't have a clue. He continued, "Last night was one of the greatest displays of disloyalty I have ever witnessed since I joined the Navy!" We still didn't have a clue. He explained that he had expected every midshipman in the battalion to be present for his speech and was mortified that there was not 100% attendance.

We were at a loss. Lieutenant Colonel Tullis J. Woodham, Jr.,, USMC, the Marine Officer Instructor, spoke up, "Captain, clearly you didn't expect my Marine candidates. They're not even members of the Trident Society." (The Marines had their own chapter of the Semper Fi organization.)

The Captain blew up, "Tullis, I don't want to hear it! They're disloyal! They should have been there!" We all tried to reason with him (still staring out the window, not facing us) to no avail. We explained that at no time had he indicated to anyone that this was a so-called "Command Performance," that some Midshipmen had exams to study for, that membership in the Trident Society was voluntary, etc., etc. It all fell on deaf ears. And then he made his pronouncement: "Every Midshipman who was not in attendance last night is required to write a 5,000 word essay on loyalty to be submitted by April 20th. And I (Captain Lowe) will review them all."

We were stunned and had no idea what the result would be. He dismissed us. We naturally got together to discuss how we would proceed. Some of the staff said they wouldn't even pass on the request because it was so absurd. I chose to go a different way.

I informed my classes the next day of the assignment. I stated it absolutely without attribution, not stating that it had come from the Captain, but the Midshipmen already knew about it. I said that I expected inputs by the due date. There was much grumbling. I did not even pretend to sympathize.

The due date arrived and the result was much as I expected -- some essays were brilliant, some were terrible, and about half of the people who had not been in attendance had ignored the assignment. I still remember the essay of one Midshipman, Buddy Munkres, who wrote that no one had the right to question his family's nor his loyalty, and traced his family's history of defending this country for more than a century. I had expected some non-respondents and that's exactly what I needed to take the next step.

I wrote an official Navy letter addressed to the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS, in Navy lingo) recommending that those Midshipmen who had not submitted an essay be dishonorably discharged from the Navy for failing to follow a lawful order. I really didn't want them disenrolled, nor did I believe that the order was lawful, but I wanted the bureau to become aware of the shenanigans of the Captain.

The Executive Officer called me into his office as soon as I submitted the letter (It had to go up the chain of command for endorsements enroute to its ultimate addressee.). "We can't submit this," he said.  I asked, "Why not, Commander. These people don't deserve to be commissioned if they can't follow a simple order." I held my ground. The letter went on up the chain, with endorsements "Not recommending approval."

A few weeks later, the Bureau of Naval Personnel initiated an investigation into the administration of our NROTC unit.  A team from BUPERS convened in Norman to determine first hand what had gone on.  More than one staff member had resigned their commission, citing as part of their reason the fact that Captain Lowe had prevented them from taking courses at the university.  One of these officers was a naval aviator with over 10 years of service, and this was at a time when aviators were needed in Viet Nam.  And the great loyalty essay fiasco also was looked into.  There were no disenrollments, nor should there have been.  But the Navy changed its policy with regard to officers assigned to NROTC duty.  After that time, if a Professor of Naval Science wanted to prevent a member of his staff from taking classes, he had to justify the reason in writing.  And not long after that, the NROTC Unit at Oklahoma got a new commanding officer. I'll discuss that in Part 2 of this series...

1 comment:

catmandennis said...

If whoever wrote this post or anyone knowing the whereabouts of the sailor Buddy Munkres spoken about in this article I would love to hear from you. I was in the Navy ROTC with Buddy in 1963 and still have a letter he wrote me in 1966 from Ames, Oklahoma.

He and I both took several professional writing courses at OU and he was a gifted writer. I would love to know what has happened to him over all these years. I can be reached at: catmandennis@sbcglobal.net

I am so glad to hear something about Buddy after all these years. I have written to him several time at Ames, Ok but have never heard from him. Please help me in my search.

I would love to hear from Buddy sometime. I still live in Tulsa so he could look me up here. Thanks,

Dennis R. Scott