Monday, November 1, 2010
Best Boss Ever
(Above: Admiral Clark in his dress uniform.)
A good boss is worth his/her weight in gold.
And the best boss I've ever heard of was Admiral J.J. Clark, who commanded Task Force 58 in the South Pacific during World War II. His flagship was the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which is now a floating museum docked at Alameda Point.
He was the ideal leader, a guy you would follow anywhere, and he was a second father to every man on the ship.
He didn't stand on ceremony. Everyone down to the lowliest sailor called him by his nickname, "Jocko." And they adored him.
"There was nothing we wouldn't do for the Old Man," said Frank MacDonald of Oakland, "because there was nothing he wouldn't do for us."
There are so many classic Jocko stories, I hardly know where to begin. Like the time a young sailor swung open a door that Jocko was standing behind and knocked the admiral flat on his kiester. A lieutenant commander grabbed the kid and started screaming at him.
"The next thing I saw was a gigantic hand as it reached over and placed itself on the shoulder of the still shouting lieutenant commander," the sailor recalled. "In a loud voice, I heard Admiral Clark say, 'Go back to your work station and leave this boy alone! I was just standing in the wrong place!'"
Or the time another young sailor fell asleep while on watch - a hanging offense in wartime - only to be awakened by a gentle tugging on his arm. Standing over him was Jocko, murmuring, "Boy, boy, boy. You know you're not supposed to sleep on watch."
The kid spent the next few days in abject terror, expecting to be arrested at any moment. But nothing happened. Jocko hadn't even put him on report.
But my favorite Jocko story is the time a typhoon caved in the Hornet's bow, making it impossible to launch planes the normal way, off the front. Jocko simply turned the shop around and sailed backwards at full speed, launching the planes from the rear.
"The guys on the other ships must have thought the Old Man had finally lost his marbles," said MacDonald.
Jocko was unique in so many ways. He overcame prejudice to become the first Native American to graduate from Annapolis. And, since many of his battles were fought at night, he slept on a cot on the bridge so he could spring into action at a moment's notice.
It was a common sight to see him directing the battle wearing his polka-dot pajamas and fuzzy slippers - but with his admiral's hat firmly clamped on his head.
Next Friday would have been Jocko's 117th birthday. He died in 1971 and was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
But his real monument is the Hornet itself. Stepping onto the ship is like stepping back into history. So many things - the radar room, where they tracked incoming enemy planes; the ready room, where the pilots got their final briefings before battle; the mess hall; the living quarters - are in perfect working order. This isn't an amusement park ride. This is the real deal.
If you're looking for a good way to observe Veterans Day next week, I can't think of a better place to do it.