It always amazes me how events of today, bring back very fond memories of my past. I have written about this tough old Gunner's Mate before, Master Chief James Smith. Jim was a tough, robust, professional Navy man. He was with Admiral Buckley when they shut the water supply off from Castro's Cuba going to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He did two in country tours in Viet Nam running the rivers on PBR's and Zippo boats. Read back in my earlier postings to refresh your memories about this extraordinary individual. This remembrance comes from later in his career.
Jim was a Senior Chief when he had his first of three documented heart attacks. That lead to his first bypass operation. It was a quad bypass. This was in the early 1980's and bypass surgery was still relatively new. Now doctors do it almost in a nonchalant manner. In any case, Jim had over 24 years in the Navy, and his cardiologist got it in his little mind that it was time for Jim to retire. He was even brave enough to tell Jim that, foolish fellow that he was. This was about 3 months after Jim's surgery. Jim told the doctor that he was going back to sea duty!! The naive doctor told Jim, if you can find a ship that will take you, I will release you to full duty! Jim had been on the USS Waddell (DDG 24) when he had his heart attack and the Captain loved him. So, Jim marches down to the ship and meets with the Executive Officer, one of my old bosses at BUPERS, LCDR Phil Marco. He was an exceptional officer and I respect him to this day. He gladly accepted Jim's proposition and called the cardiologist immediately to tell him the "Warship Waddell" would be glad to have Senior Chief Smith back. The doctor was amazed, but he kept his word and released Jim to full duty. The Waddell and Jim deployed to WESTPAC one month later. That's 4 months after an emergency quadruple bypass!! Now that is a Tough Old Salt!!
Jim completed 33 years in the Navy, and just before he retired, he had another heart attack. That one lead to a sextuplet bypass. He survived that, retired, drove city bus for North County Transit in San Diego County for five years before his luck ran out. He died of a massive heart attack in his den, after a full days work.
Jim never gave in to his fears, pain, or a challenge. He showed everyone who knew him how to lead, set the example, and how to live. He had his plans, goals, standards, and principles, and they were ALL set at a higher level than that of the ships he served on, the Navy's, or the world's. Yes, he was a tough old salt and I am convinced there are not many more left.