José Ferrer paid tribute to the long-serving regulars—“…you can’t be good in the Army or Navy unless you’re goddamn good,”—and then tossed a drink in Fred MacMurray’s face in the film version of Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. Forty-one years later at another dinner, the Naval Institute’s 121st Annual Meeting and Seminar at Annapolis, Herman Wouk packed the house—and brought it down repeatedly. The World War II naval officer and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, who went on to write The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance, held his audience spellbound. That night’s spontaneous applause and laughter may be missing from what follows, but the insights of a great writer who also is an eloquent speaker shine forth in these extemporaneous remarks.
I was signing books today at the Naval Institute’s book store, something I haven’t done in 30 or 40 years, but the Navy is different. I must have signed about 100 copies of the Naval Institute’s special edition of The Caine Mutiny, and I was thinking to myself, well, after all, here is sure immortality for a work of fiction. But then I remembered the other side of the picture.