The special affection I hold for this classic story goes back 60 years—to the summer of 1954, when I first saw the movie that made its debut in June of that year. My recollection is that I saw it while sitting on an aisle step in the balcony because the theater was so crowded. (That may not be the way it happened, but that’s the way I remember it.) At that time, nine years before my first sea duty, I didn’t appreciate a lot of the naval practices, but I understood the drama and the basics of the plot. It was a parable of leadership and loyalty amid a wartime setting.
In brief, Ensign Willie Keith, a fictional alter ego for author Herman Wouk, was commissioned as a 90-day wonder reserve officer. He traveled to Pearl Harbor in 1943 to join the crew of the USS Caine , a destroyer converted to perform high-speed minesweeping and other support operations. Keith’s first skipper, Lieutenant Commander William H. De Vriess, struck him as too lax, so the ensign rejoiced when a new commanding officer came aboard—Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg. Queeg’s name has entered the lexicon as an insecure martinet with badly misplaced priorities. Such things as sailors’ flapping shirttails were more important than operational capability.