I have written often of how my ship Captain, Al Blanks, affected my life. I learned so much from him. Unfortunately, I learned that he died Tuesday evening.
I don’t know his exact age, but he was in his mid to upper 90s.
He was an enlisted man in the Navy during World War II. After earning his commission, he served in both the Korean War and Vietnam War.
UPDATE: Here’s a very recent picture. The cap he’s wearing says WWII-Korean-Vietnam Veteran. Not many people can wear that cap…
He was my Captain during most of my service about the USS WILLIAM H. STANDLEY (DLG-32).
When he came on board the STANDLEY as Captain, I think he was a little dismayed to find out his Navigator was an Ensign as the position was normally for a more experienced Lieutenant. Yet, he trusted and challenged me to grow as a Navigator and I did. (Prior to becoming Navigator I was the Gunnery Officer.)
My first real navigation challenge was when we headed to Vietnam for our second tour there. We were supposed to stop in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to refuel. He wanted to be there the night before so we could enter early the next morning. I think he always liked to be early.
Working with my quartermaster team, we recommended a course and speed and said we would see the island of Maui at sunset. He smiled and bet me a six-pack of beer it wouldn’t happen.
As the sun began to set we all had our binoculars scanning the horizon for any sign of Maui. Just as the sun set. There it was. He looked over at me and just smiled. I don’t think I ever got that six pack.
When we were in Vietnam, he trained us to do things as if we were in combat as that could happen any time. I’m sure that attitude came from his time at sea during WWII.
An example was the procedure to come alongside another ship to refuel and/or replenish. The proscribed procedure was to steadily come up behind the other ship about 600 yards back and slowly approach. He said all that would do was make us an easy, predictable target.
He trained us to come directly toward the other ship from the side at a high speed and slide our ship into position as quickly as possible. You should have seen the looks of the sailors and officers on the other ship when we did that. It was always funny, but we always did it.
He was quietly firm, clear in his orders and quick to offer a word of praise. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint him in any way.
The comforting news is he was a brother in Christ so I know where he is now and I can look forward to seeing him again.
My life is a little more empty today than it was a few days ago.