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.