The United States Navy, for the first time since the dark days of 1942, is about to lose an important engagement, and the American people will be the victors. The defeat will not be measured in blood spilled or in battleships sunk, but it will deal a serious blow to the Navy’s ability to fulfill its post-war mission. This battle is the effort to induce some thirty thousand Reserve officers to drop the last letter of the U.S.N.R. in their present designations and join the Regular Navy.
Before discussing this pessimistic prophecy further, it is wise to state right now that the author does not intend to succumb to what is supposed to be the burning desire of the civilian in uniform to take the first opportunity to “expose” the service to which he has been attached. On duty with the Navy for more than five years, I have no urge to write on what a “sacrifice” that has involved. My assignments, not so exciting as most but more rewarding than many in countless ways, have left me with a tremendous admiration for the Navy and for the way it has contributed to the defeat of the enemy.
In the various tours of duty I have had, during the period which saw the Navy change from its peacetime leisure to the grim watches of war, I have learned a great deal about the officers and men of the Service and the procedures by which their ability and energy have been translated into operations. I have seen much, in this organization of over three million individuals, that I have admired beyond description, and only relatively little that could be considered susceptible of improvement. It is true that in the administrative establishment ashore there appear to be a few methods and men that a money-making business concern of similar size would not tolerate. But, in the fighting forces afloat, the efficiency and economy of men and material have been incomparable. No, I have no intention of attempting a critical analysis or of compiling the superficial conversations of the few discontents that usually begin with, “Now if I were Secretary of the Navy. . . .” The Navy as a whole, and certainly the forces afloat, have provided no grounds for such criticism by anyone—least of all by a young Reservist. My only theme is that, with a little more thought by an organization that brilliantly planned in detail the long advance from Hawaii to Tokyo, the Navy could have added one more victory to its record, a victory that it and the American people will bitterly regret not having won.
First of all, let us consider the strategy the Navy has employed in tendering its invitation to Reserve officers to transfer to the Regular Navy. It is a common concept in fighting a war or winning an argument that the best defense is a good offense. Yet in every approach to this procurement problem, the Navy has assumed such a defensive attitude that the Reserve officer has reluctantly felt his respect for the Navy considerably decreased. The principal point in this strategy has been that officers who are not graduates of the Naval Academy will be given every opportunity to compete on an equal footing with those who are. Chances for promotion will be the same, and assignments to duty will be made without discrimination. Then, as its trump card, the Navy concludes its selling campaign with the guarantee that Reserve officers who transfer to the Regular Navy and then find they do not want to stay in may resign on January 1, 1947, and that such resignation will automatically be accepted by the President.
Even if the Reservist has not entertained any doubt about applying for transfer to the regular establishment, this attack cannot fail to make him hesitate a bit. The customer who hears the salesman confine his efforts to making negative statements about the product, and then conclude with the promise to refund the purchase price if the merchandise proves unsatisfactory, is not likely to buy. The Reserves in this case have not been “sold” the Navy. They have simply been told that they will be considered “on an equal footing” with all the other customers, and that if they do not like what they have bought—after they themselves have discovered what it is—they may take it back. This is hardly the aggressive sales talk which, as the Navy Department is about to learn, is so vital if the campaign is to succeed. For the Navy to refer to something that does not exist—discrimination against the Reserves— as its opening salvo was a major strategic error. Just what has the Regular-Reserve relationship really been?
It is my contention that ever since the declaration of National Emergency, and right up to the present, the happiest spirit possible has existed between the graduates of the Naval Academy and the ex-lawyers, teachers, businessmen, and other college graduates now wearing the stripes of a naval officer. There has been much discussion about the gap between the two large groups of officers now on duty in the Navy. One of the reasons for the Navy’s promises not to discriminate between them is the fact that the Department has evidently paid more attention to what a few misguided columnists and discontented Reserves have had to say than to the consensus of the majority of these temporary officers themselves. I personally have never been caused any discomfort or embarrassment because of the fact that I do not wear the familiar Annapolis ring. Only once has the fact been brought home to me that there is a fundamental difference, and that occurred in a conversation I was having about economics with a Regular four-striper, an Annapolis man. He threw up his hands at one point and said, “What would I know about it, anyway—my education stopped when. I was sixteen!” In the varied commands in which I have served, ranging from my first before the war had started, in which I was one of only few Reserves, to others in which Regular officers have been extremely scarce, I have never been discriminated against. Nor do I personally know a Reserve officer who has been.
The Admiral who said modestly, “We Regulars only keep the guns clean between wars,” when a young Ensign had apologized with “But I am only a Reserve,” was being very gracious, but he was not telling the whole truth. The rare Reserve officer who means it when he subscribes to the popular joke, “We won the war, didn’t we?” is not being accurate, either. It is not fitting for the Navy to dignify such an obvious distortion of the facts by making an issue of that distortion. The Reserves have done a magnificent job in this war, but without the planning and direction and leadership—and the clean guns-—of the professionals, our mighty armadas would have been just so many regattas. For all his jibes about “The Trade School on the Severn,” the Reserve is not concerned about his lack of a diploma signed by the Secretary of the Navy. Why should the Navy be worried about his concern? It is no inducement, and far from complimentary, to tell the graduate of the University of Chicago that his education will not be held against him if he joins the Navy.
The graduates of the Naval Academy are a closely knit unit, and nobody can or should deny it. Not only are they the only men qualified for the top command billets, but there is another reason that is usually overlooked. If the undergraduates at any other college, Dartmouth for example, were required to live as close to each other and to the campus as the Annapolis midshipmen have to do; if as alumni their only business and social contacts were other Dartmouth men; and if they had to spend two or three years on a vessel or at a lonely outpost with Dartmouth men only, would not they too comprise a closed corporation?
The epitome of Annapolis “exclusiveness” has been the remark of a dignified four- striped graduate who was rejoicing that he had been able to agree with Captain Smith at a conference just concluded: “Not only is he a classmate of mine, but, dammit, he’s right!” This attitude is a natural result of the circumstances and not a deliberate attempt to be snobbish. The Reserve does not object to it. Why make such an issue of it?
The first promise made to us was that we should be considered on an equal footing when promotions are to be made. It is true that opportunities for advancement are of interest to the applicant for any new job, whether it be selling shoes or sailing ships. But why must the Navy place the emphasis on it in terms of Reserve discrimination? Ever since January 6, 1942, when the first mass promotions were announced, Reserve and Regular officers have been advanced side by side up to the rank of Commander. Not only has the Reserve not been discriminated against, but he has been given a better break than he has in the main deserved. The Reserve Ensign who has been on active duty for a certain number of months, and this has varied from about twelve to eighteen, has been automatically promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade). That promotion doctrine has made it possible for a perfume salesman to take an abbreviated three-months’ course, or none at all, and then become a junior grade Lieutenant only fifteen months after he has left civilian life. The Annapolis Ensign has had to serve the same year in grade before he was promoted, but he had spent four hard years of comprehensive training just to catch up with the perfumer.
Lieutenants and Lieutenant Commanders, by and large, were made on the same basis— regardless of their background or performance of duty. In addition to this advantage, many Reserve officers were commissioned originally, not as Ensigns, but they were handed one and a half, or two, or even the two and a half stripes of a Lieutenant Commander. It was not easy for the Annapolis- graduated Lieutenant (junior grade) who had spent six years in training and on active duty to see a schoolteacher or a businessman straight from civilian life suddenly appointed his superior officer. No, the junior Reserve officer can have little cause for complaint or suspicion on the matter of promotion. The promotions effected since the outbreak of the war have given him every reason to know that in the past any discrimination shown has been in his favor, and he has no basis for suspicion as far as the future is concerned.
The more senior Reserve officer, to be sure, has not been promoted so rapidly as his Annapolis-trained shipmate of equal rank. The Reserve Commander or Captain, however, need not concern us now, for he is probably not affected by the program. The Navy has had to establish the requirement that Reserves transferring to the Regular Navy must be able to give a minimum of 25 years before reaching the retirement age of 64. So it would seem that the eligible Reserves should not be worried about their chances for promotion subsequent to becoming Regular naval officers. Why does the Department sow seeds of suspicion by strenuously asserting that they have nothing to fear? The dentist need not seek to allay the fears of his patient until those fears have been aroused, and he would be foolish indeed to borrow trouble.
The second point in the Navy’s program stresses the fact that ex-Reserves will have an equal chance at desirable billets. This, too, is an unnecessary emphasis. The Reserves in this war have held every kind of billet except major commands, and have performed their assignments well. They have commanded large establishments ashore and units afloat up to and including the older destroyers, and they have been assigned to vital staff jobs. What more have they wanted, or what more have they been qualified for? Surely no civilian in uniform, no matter how able an administrator or wealthy a banker, is fitted to lead a major task force against the enemy. The Reserves are not concerned about their future assignments if they stay in.
The third “inducement” the Navy has offered Reserve officers to apply for the transfer is the solemn promise that they may resign. That is interesting advertising! Of course we shall want to know, before we definitely sign “in,” whether we shall be able at some later date to change our minds, but that possibility of resignation should not have been stressed so soon—even before we are given any basis upon which to make this important decision.
It is frightening to speculate just how the Navy would have continued its recruiting drive, and how much longer it would have been a question of too little and too late, had not Admiral Halsey, evidently realizing the seriousness of the situation, done everything in his power to try to persuade his own officers, at least, to consider the transfer. Although he was up to his neck in the details of the end of the war with Japan, he still took time away from these pressing duties to address the Reserve officers of the Third Fleet as follows:
.. . Don’t be skeptical or prejudiced; just think a moment—the Navy must expand its permanent officer complement—it must have the best—and anyone can see that it must make an offer that will attract enough of the best. . . .
. . . Would you like the Navy as a permanent career? I am not going to bother you with a glowing picture; but I have asked my flag officers and Captains, and others who have spent varying numbers of years in this man’s Navy, to talk frankly with you and tell you what this Navy life is like—for the officer, for his wife, and for his youngsters; what sort of quarters we can afford— what a change of station means to wives and children—what sort of people we meet and play with—where our kids go to school—what the Navy does about paying the cost of moving families and furniture—what the chances are of marital and domestic happiness—what Navy wives think about the Navy—what the risks and reasons for selection are—what your chances are of fitting into the long-established Navy pattern and making a go of it for yourself, for your wife, and for your children—sea duty and shore duty—the kinds of shore jobs. Those, and matters like those, you should know about. . . .
If you see a picture that looks good to you—and if the Department offers you a sporting chance to make a go of this Navy life, I hope you will compete for one of those Regular Navy berths and join what I believe from the bottom of my heart to be the finest profession in the world. It will be no more of a sinecure and push-over than that job in civil life, but the rewards in this Navy are well worth the effort. . . .
This letter, seen for the first time by Reserve officers throughout the Navy more than two months after the defeat of Japan, is exactly what was needed as a basis for the Navy’s coming campaign. But this campaign should have started many months ago. By now one Reserve in ten has been released to civilian clothes and civilian thinking, and the rush by the others is well along. We have six months after our release in which to make up our minds to apply for transfer, but the time when we are most susceptible to being sold is before we are released, not half a year later. By that time it will be more difficult to approach us with literature and personal interviews. We shall probably be lost forever.
If the Navy’s attempts at inducement, as just outlined, were all that it had done to appeal to the Reserve officer, there still might be an outside chance to fill the 30,000 officer vacancies in the post-war Navy. Unfortunately, however, other mistakes have been committed by the frantic Department that have resulted only in the alienation of personnel who might otherwise have considered the transfer. These tactics have been obvious in the flood of recent messages sent in the name of the Secretary of the Navy— AlNavs, the Service calls them. In these there has been evident a wooing tone on the part of the same Navy which the Reserve has hitherto respected, if not cherished. Just as soon as the Reserves were told how they could get off active duty, they were told that those who promised to stay on for six months more could be given a special promotion, no matter how long they had served in their present rank. In other words, the young officer in wartime had to wait until he had served in his current rank for a certain length of time before he could expect a promotion. It made no difference how well he performed his duty or what that duty was; he just had to avoid a General Court- Martial for the required period. With the end of the war, however, and after the point system had been announced, all he had to do was agree to work for his skipper a little longer, and he could wear another half stripe.
The reason for such lavish, and undeserved, reward was in part the fact that if the Navy released all the officers eligible under the point system, there would not be enough left to fill essential billets. The taxpayers’ money and the Reserves’ respect for the Navy might have been spared if the Department had figured out ahead of time how many officers it could release, and then set the point score accordingly. The Lieutenant who has been landing Marines on invasion beaches for two years as a Lieutenant does not admire the system which promotes the brand new j.g. simply because the latter agrees to go on checking out jeeps at the Daytona Beach Naval Air Station for six months longer.
Another example of this pleading policy was the AlNav which announced that certain higher promotions would now be given automatically after a specified time in grade, although formerly that rank was attained only by selection. These promotions, obviously intended to make all hands realize how easy it is to rise in the Navy, did nothing to increase the Reserve’s respect for it. The Reserve promoted felt a little sheepish about his new stripe—and salary—and the officer not promoted felt a little bitter. It made little sense to us to adopt one promotion system when we were at war and needed officers badly, and then, with demobilization in sight, to reduce the requirements. This AlNav said, in effect, “We could not trust you lads with two and a half stripes when there was a possibility of your having to exercise the authority they grant you, but now the war is over. Go play Lieutenant Commander for a while, preferably on your way home.”
Before we leave the subject of promotion, we must look at what was probably the most startling innovation, and worst propaganda, of all. Recently a number of Reserve officers of the line were elevated to flag rank, and made either Commodores or Rear Admirals. There must be, of course, high-ranking officers to direct the Navy’s many “civilian” pursuits such as construction, supply, and medicine. The line officer of the Navy, however, is given that designation because he presumably is capable of taking his place in the line of command. A flag officer commands, not a single battleship, cruiser, or carrier, but a task force or a division. The Reserves who were promoted to flag rank wear the star of the line officer. Would the reader desire to serve in a task force about to engage the enemy, knowing that the officer in tactical command had spent most of his life in the laboratory, the market place, or on the speaker’s platform? To be sure, there are usually two flag billets ashore in an administrative organization for every Commodore or Admiral afloat, but was even a single one of these new appointees qualified for command at sea?
The graduate of an ordinary college who now transfers to the Regular Navy will, after twenty years of duty and training, undoubtedly be suited to assume flag responsibilities. But he will know, twenty years ahead of time, that some day he may be in chief command, and he, like the Annapolis man, can train for it. The new Reserve Rear Admiral has not had the benefit of that outlook; he has not had the necessary command experience. As a popular and able Reservist exclaimed recently, upon unexpectedly receiving his fourth stripe, “Now I am Cap’n to my friends and Cap’n to my family, but am I Cap’n to the Cap’ns?” I am wondering whether these new Reserve Rear Admirals will be Admirals to the other Admirals, or to the Annapolis-trained Captains who have fought long and hard in this war and yet are still wearing their same four stripes because “We have enough flag rank in the Navy at the moment.” Was not this last promotion largely a gesture to show the young Reserve officer that he, too, may be an Admiral some day, even though his name has never appeared in the Annapolis yearbook, the Lucky Bag? The Reservist has evaluated this strategy for what it is, and although he certainly does not resent the advancement of the officers so promoted, he is disgusted with the philosophy that prompted it.
The Navy must realize that the Reserve officer at present is not convinced that the Navy holds out to him a career that he wants. It is going to take an aggressive and intelligent campaign to sell him. This campaign may well take the form of answering the questions raised by the alert and understanding Admiral Halsey. If it does, it will doubtless attract some of the officers so necessary to fill the officer complement of the Navy. It is hoped that too much emphasis will not, however, be placed on the security that a naval career affords—the assured salary and pension, the medical care, the quarters allowance, income tax deductions, and other material considerations. These must be described, of course, but they should not be over-stressed; we do not want a Navy manned by officers who are thinking of dollars and cents only. We do not want just any 30,000 more officers; we want the 30,000 best qualified. We cannot get the best if we appeal only to the second best. To persuade the best fitted Reserve officers to join the regular Navy, I believe that an immediate two-point program is essential.
First of all, as Admiral Halsey suggests, tell the Reserves about the Navy. That may sound superfluous: the Reserve has been in the Navy for two, three, or four years already; what can you tell him about it? Plenty! The young man in uniform has been standing watches on the bridge or in the engine-room of a vessel in the South Pacific, four hours on, with perhaps four hours sleep in twenty-four, and maybe five. He has seen the States once or twice—in four years. He has worked himself hard for long intervals with no sleep at all. But that wartime experience of his is not the whole Navy. Another officer has had the responsibility for the quarters and subsistence of hundreds of enlisted men at a large base in an overcrowded city on the Pacific coast. Not only has he never fired a shot in anger, but he knows nothing of navigation, damage control, or assuming charge for a four-hour period of the safety and efficiency of a $100,- 000,000 man-of-war and the lives of her 3,000 men. But that is not all there is to the Navy, either.
Whatever his assignments have been, it is safe to say that in most cases the Reservist has been ordered to duties that have varied only little. If he was classified, and perhaps trained, as a communications officer when he came into the Navy, he probably has had only communications duties since then. Yet there certainly is more to a career in the Navy than carrying the mail. The fact is that the Reserve officer, unless he has been extremely lucky, has viewed the Navy from a narrow aspect indeed. He has been bored and he has been scared, he has been stationed at 90 Church Street or in Fly Two, but he has not seen the Navy. He has little basis on which to say that he does or does not want to make it his career. What he has seen he has viewed under tension, and the picture has been distorted. But the Reservist is not unique, for this distortion has affected the lives of all service personnel during this war. Admiral King, behind a desk in Washington for over four years, Admiral Halsey himself, at sea for more than eight in a row, and countless other Navy men have not been leading normal Navy lives. This fact should be brought home to the Reserves.
They must be told that the life of their past four years has not been a normal one for any naval officer. In addition, they should know, as Admiral Halsey suggests, what life in the Navy is like. Not only the material advantages, but the intangibles as well, must be pointed out. The bus driver today makes as much money as an Ensign, yet the latter certainly leads a more satisfying existence. Perhaps it is the travel that makes it so, the welcome that is always waiting in all the corners of the world for officers of the United States Navy. Perhaps it is the knowledge each may have that he is part of the two oldest traditions in the world: that of arms and chivalry, and that of following the sea. Perhaps it is the inner satisfaction that can be derived only from devotion to a cause higher than one’s self and beyond the personal, limited horizon:
“Faith, courage, service true
With honor over, honor over all.”
Perhaps it is exemplified in the lives of men like John Paul Jones, Decatur and Dewey, Nimitz, and King. How about Admiral Halsey himself? Why not paint a “glowing picture”? These men, at one time or other, all had charge of an officers’ mess, or spent their working hours passing on requests for special liberty. They, too, have burned the lamp after everyone else had secured, correcting enlisted men’s examinations for advancement from Coxswain to Boatswain’s Mate Second Class. But that was not their whole life; that is not what a career in the Navy means. And yet many a Reserve officer thinks of it that way.
The second feature in a drive to fill the vacancies in the Regular Navy must be to speed up the procedure by which an applicant can submit his request and then be informed what action has been taken on it. Those Reserves who have decided to take the step have written their letters of application and then have had to wait and wait and wait. In the meantime their friends who have been demobilized are taking the best positions in the business and professional worlds, while they themselves are still waiting for the Navy to say its mind. Competition is brisk these days, and the Navy must move just that much more briskly if it is to win its own phase of that competition.
It is true that the end of the war came sooner than expected. It is true that the Navy is handicapped in its planning by not knowing what our Legislators are going to allow the Navy to spend. It is also true, however, that in 1941 and 1942 the Navy did not know how many ships and planes and bases and men it was to need in the years to come, but it made its plans anyway; and it obviously was not far off in those estimates. Now the Navy should realize that no matter how many ships it will keep in commission, no matter how many bases it will maintain, it still will require more personnel to man these stations than there are at present in the Regular Navy. The best source from which to make up this deficit is the Naval Reserve.
It is to be hoped that the Navy Department will make a renewed effort to recruit the officers and the men it needs, and that the American people will support the Navy in this campaign as it has done so well in other, more spectacular instances.
But it had better be soon.