Both my mother and my father were strong individuals who believed that it's better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. To them, nothing was more important than ideals, integrity, and action. I remember my father telling me once that "Everything in life is an experiment, and the more experimenting you do, the better."
This was good advice. As a young man, it led me to many an adventure. Often these involved the high-spirited but benign high jinks typical of young men in those days. I graduated from Lehigh University in 1938 with a degree in civil engineering and several years of ROTC under my belt. I would eventually return to Huntington to take over the company my grandfather founded early in the last century. Today Thomas Co. Inc. is one of the three oldest engineering firms in the state of West Virginia.
When the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I was among the 16 million or so men and women who joined the Armed Forces to serve our country. I became a Navy man.
After a short time spent stateside, I shipped out for the Solomon Islands on the USS Henderson (AP-1) - the Queen of the Navy transport fleet. As most people of my generation will remember, some of the most intense fighting of World War II took place in the Solomons. This was especially true in the years 1941-1943, when the United States took some devastating blows. In the Floridas, on Tulagi, and on Red Beach on Guadalcanal, there were times when the outcome of the fighting seemed far from certain.
I was privileged to be assigned to Construction Battalion Detachment 1008, part of the 68th NCB. The 1008 was formed to escort a medical team of 100 doctors, surgeons, and nurses to Tulagi, where we built housing and a hospital. Despite the difficult and sometimes horrifying circumstances, our spirits rarely flagged. We were united in a common purpose. The sense that what we were doing mattered was immensely important.
The Navy and all it stands for remain an important part of my life. I have been a Life Member of the Naval Institute for 40 years. Supporting the USNI mission, financially and in other ways, is something I care about deeply. And thinking now of the Institute's rich and varied programs and publications—all of which mean so much to Sea Service professionals—I guess I've come full circle to the role that learning has played in my life.
These days I may not have the physical stamina to pursue all I would like to do. But I am still excited by this great experiment we call life. And I still try to take advantage of every chance I get to share what I have learned with others. This is not entirely altruistic. Like the American scholar and teacher William Arthur Ward, I believe that when we seek the best in others, we bring out the best in ourselves.
When I talk to young people who are considering joining the Navy today, I tell them that in no field of human endeavor will you have a greater opportunity to learn and to exercise individual initiative than in the U.S. Navy. You will grow up. You will learn to think. You will have opportunities every day to make decisions that affect your nation and the world you live in. You will expand your emotional and intellectual abilities.
And if you are very lucky, you will grow old one day and discover—as I have—the great miracle that one never gets too old to bring fresh vision to established ideas. To paraphrase the French novelist Marcel Proust, the voyage does not always lie in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.