The flag outside the building where I work was at half-mast this past week, in honor of ADM William Crowe, who’d served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff some years ago. I’d actually looked him up on Wikipedia last week because I thought his term as Chairman coincided with Dick Cheney’s tenure as Secretary of Defense (which is why I figured I had liked Cheney as SecDef). Turns out I was wrong, but it gave me a chance to read up on a man I really admired. He died the following day.
I never worked for ADM Crowe, but I was stationed in Naples, Italy when he served as Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces Southern Europe, and I got to see bits and pieces of the type of man he was, and came away with three great “sea” stories.
1. When I first arrived in Naples, I signed up for a scuba diving class. There were a couple of attractive young adults in the class. As we went around and introduced ourselves, they said they were brother & sister, their names were Blake and Bambi, they were in college, but their father had just been stationed in Naples, so they came to spend the summer. I didn’t find out until over a year later, that their last name was Crowe. Not only did they not expect any special treatment as children of the most senior officer in the area, they actually down-played it.
2. The Officers Club (which was just across the parking lot from where I worked—but I’ll save those stories for another time) was nice, but wasn’t quite as lively as it wanted to be, especially when there weren’t any ships in port. So one Friday evening, the club had an event where all the drinks were free until the first person left. Then, that person had to pay for everyone’s drinks up to that point. (This was in the days before drunk driving became an issue; and, besides, this was Italy, where the wine is constantly flowing.) Of course, some of my co-workers & I went to support the club. The bar was packed and ADM Crowe was there. After an hour or so, ADM Crowe left. I didn’t see it, but my co-worker said that a couple of people had tried to leave, but were stopped at the door. One of the club employees let the Admiral know, so that he could be the first to leave and pay the tab. The whole event had been something he had planned with the club to enhance and support the military community.
3. My third story requires a little back-story. The Navy base that supported the U.S military in Naples was laid out along one side of one street. As you drove down the street, the first gate you encountered led to the retail-type stores; the exchange, commissary, bank, the package (aka liquor) store, etc. It was manned by contracted security personnel. The second gate was near the Public Works facilities. It was open only during business hours on weekdays, and it too was manned by the contractors. The third gate, however, protected the “operational” portion of the base, including a couple of fleet commands. This gate was manned by Marines.
After Blake Crowe graduated from college, he entered the Marine Corps and became an officer. (Supposedly, he had met one of the colorful Marine officers on his father’s staff, and was enticed by the mystique the Corps.)
The story goes that ADM Crowe’s official car came with a driver and Italian license plates. He wanted to stop at the exchange one day, but the car was stopped at the gate by the contracted guard. Since the guard was following standard security procedures, the Admiral didn’t mind. He got out of the car, but when he tried to enter on foot, he realized he didn’t have his ID, and once again was denied access. A lesser man of his stature might have raised a fit and expected special treatment, but ADM Crowe knew the guard was simply doing his job.
The incident was discussed at the Admiral’s morning update the following day. The colorful Marine officer then told ADM Crowe, “Sir, you should have just gone to the third gate and told the Marines on duty that you’re 2ndLt Crowe’s father. I’m sure they would have let you in.”
The highest praise I can give him from a personal level is that ADM Crowe was one of only 2 officers I would have followed into harm’s way, even if I disagreed with the order; for I knew that he had weighed all the options, and his decision was the best and right one. Many people of far greater stature than me have said ADM Crowe will be sorely missed. And for me, although I never knew him, the world will be a little less bright.