Speech by Adm. James Shannon ’77
Admiral James Shannon ’77 delivered this speech in April 2013 at the annual gathering of the Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan Society shortly before the announcement of the essay contest winners.
Congratulations to all the essay contestants. Whether or not you won, I'd like to remind you what President Theodore Roosevelt said about the man in the arena. "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but the credit belongs to those who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know the taste of victory nor defeat. " All you young men and women here tonight, those words apply to you. And I want to personally thank your parents and teachers who inspired and motivated you; who encouraged you to take the chance to participate in this contest ... You should also thank those teachers and parents again before the end of the night. I also want to recognize Dick Wall, 51 class of 1952, 2012 Christ the King Award recipient. Dick is the inspiration behind the Callaghan Society and the person responsible for getting this initiative across the finish line. Thank you Sir!
It is an honor to be able to speak to you tonight, because I feel a real connection to Admiral Callaghan. While I never knew him personally, I knew of that era in which he served from other retired officers that I have met over the years. But more than that, I still feel there is much in common between he and I while we are at least two generations apart. Both of us share the fact of being American-Irish and Catholic; both San Franciscans; both educated by the Jesuits at S.l., a liberal education that stresses service in God's name; both educated at the Naval Academy, an education rooted in the sciences that stresses service to our nation; both chose to serve the Navy on the high seas on fighting ships; both earned a good reputation in knowledge of gunnery and weapon systems; both commanded at sea, served in Washington D.C., and were personal aides to distinguished political leaders; and both became Flag officers. When Admiral Callaghan met his match on that fateful night in 1942, he was roughly my age. I am not Admiral Dan Callaghan, and would be proud to even claim to be half the man he was. However, I do feel deeply connected to him, and if he was here tonight, I hope he would say what I am going to share with you ...
Washington D.C. has many monuments, and I truly love to stroll among them on hot summer nights when the lights are shining on them, and the city has quieted down. I am particularly fond of going over to the Tidal Basin area where the FDR Memorial is, walking through that monument, reading the quotes, then going over to the Jefferson Memorial, and finally looping around the basin to the Martin Luther King Memorial. It is hard to not be inspired. In fact, the sole purpose of that kind of evening walk is to be inspired, and it never fails. However, there is a simpler monument in D.C., and quite forgettable if you don't run by it like I often did on lunch-time jog when I was stationed in the Pentagon. It is on the western bank of the Potomac near the 14th street Bridge, across from Lady Bird Johnson Park, and it is a memorial to Navy Merchant Marine personnel. I think it is nick-named "Waves and Gulls", and inscribed on it is this quote "Whether in war or peace, science or discovery, commerce or travel, our nation has forged a bond with and dependence upon the sea."
I repeat that quote often; almost like a mantra or prayer for me; because that bond to the sea is very real to me. You don't have to sail the high seas to feel that bond. I think just growing up near the ocean you know what I'm talking about. I felt it as a kid in the middle of the City, in the Noe Valley, where I could see the anchored merchants in the San Francisco Bay from my home on 26th and Douglas Street. I used to wonder where the ships came from and would ask my dad. He always responded with a single word- China- but once he said ... "maybe the Persian Gulf Jimmy" I was like, "where's the Persian Gulf' and that's when my dad gave the other most recited response to my questions, "look it up." The Persian Gulf seemed so romantic .... Images of Ali Babba and the 40 thieves ... little did I know that I'd be patrolling those waters someday dodging mine fields and worrying about Iranian shore missile batteries from their oil rigs that sometimes lit us up with their fire control radar as we transited by ..... nothing romantic about that!
So, how does someone like me, a Noe Valley kid from the City, get swept up into a Naval Career? That same question of course can be asked of Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan. I knew of Dan Callaghan's legacy ever since I was in high school and went out to Lands' End with buddies like Greg Hicks and Louie Cassanego. I knew of the ship- the SAN FRANCISCO- but not the man who once commanded her and its task force. I knew whoever fought in that battle was an amazing man (some here tonight). I didn't know about the connection to SI until just a few years ago when Dennis Murphy called me up about the Callaghan Society. Naturally, I wanted to know alii could about Callaghan after that. Really, I wanted to channel his spirit, because there are no easy days in Washington, and the fighting spirit of Dan Callaghan is something every admiral needs to carry around with him in his hip pocket.
But Dan Callaghan was not just a fighter. I know that, because nobody gets far in this business just by putting up a good fight. Admiral Callaghan was- first and foremost- a leader. He led by example. But what kind of example I wondered. Based on our common experience, I am sure Admiral Callaghan liked standing on the bridge wing with salt spray in his face and ocean winds whipping in from the four quarters of the globe. I am sure he liked sailors, officers and enlisted men from all parts of the land, farms of the Midwest, small towns of New England and the South, from the cities, the mountains and the prairies, from all walks of life. I'm sure they liked him for his courage, honor, and tenacity. For the way he led them at sea and shore. In a word, they had a bond: to the sea and to each other. They were "shipmates"; then and forever, and they knew what it meant to be a shipmate by his leadership and example.
Life at sea is hard and at times dangerous; the constant rolling and pitching at sea can be nauseous; standing watches can be thrilling as you speed to station. The ship is alive with people and systems; fuel, oil, electrical that under extreme pressure and temperature. This all creates tension. It is stressful, and keeps one on the razors' edge of alertness. Then there is the parting from loved ones when you go to sea; always painful, but the companionship of a shipmate is ever present once you get over the horizon. The "all for one and one for all" philosophy constantly reminds one of Service for the greater good. I am certain Admiral Callaghan was inspired by this kind of life and service as I am.
I am also certain Admiral Callaghan was inspired to serve in the Navy by his experience as a student at St. Ignatius as he learned the Jesuit ways ... He probably had to put A-M-D-G -"Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (for the Greater Glory of God)" on the top some his homework like I did in some classes. I am sure he learned the prayer of St. Ignatius by some great priest like Father Growney as I did; and when you recite those words "teach me to serve you as you deserve to be served" you cannot fail to be inspired to want to do something for someone else. That is at the heart of the vocation both Dan Callaghan and I chose. And we know that all service; all vocation; is rooted in love. It was St. Theresa who taught us that "love comprises all vocations, that love is everything, that it embraces all times and places; in a word, that it is eternal." This little girl, St. Therese wanted to do great things for Jesus. She wants to be a warrior, a priest, a doctor, a martyr, and each of these to the infinite degree. Her vocation was to be a Saint.
Not many have the vocation to be a Saint. Nevertheless, I am sure Dan Callaghan learned all about vocations here at SI, and like me, he may have sat up straighter when he heard that quote that being a warrior could be a vocation; but how to be a warrior in the name of Jesus? I loved the lesson about vocations from Fr. Drendel, S.J., in my sophomore theology class. That was a tough class. Fr. Drendel made us understand the essence of the bible; recorded history, passed down through the ages. He made us understand it. He also made us understand vocations. His lesson on vocations was not exactly an inspiring class. Most of us wanted to be stars in the NFL or NBA (unlikely). Drendel warned us that we may pursue a career and almost get there, but then fail, because it wasn't our vocation. I remember my good friend, Claudio Cipolla, declaring in front of the whole class at that point "guess I'm not going to be a dentist ... why even try if it isn't my vocation!" and we all busted out laughing at the honest truth of that logic.
I didn't know what I was going to be. I was a Son of an Irish cop ... a man who possessed strong Catholic Faith, and he inspired me. I was inspired by local sports heroes, especially SI grads like Mike Ryan and Dan Fouts, but also Willie Mays, Nate Thurmond, and John Brodie (my favorite pro athletes). I revered my coaches then: Gil Haskell, Bill Laveroni, Terry Ward and others. These coaches demanded a lot from us; in most cases more than we could deliver. But it was through them that we learned the power of teamwork. So while I didn't know my vocation when I was an SI student ... based on what I described ... I knew this much ...... I wanted to live a life of consequence with service that matters and leadership that inspires. The Navy was soon to be my calling.
I have no doubt Daniel Callaghan felt the same when his senior year began at SI in 1906. But the next trapping of a young person, besides determining what his or her future will hold in the form of a vocation; is whether or not he or she will be successful; whatever success really means.
I caution you about success or the pursuit of success. If you pursue success, you will be disappointed. It will be elusive. So many good friends of mine defined their success in the navy best on whether or not they got com man~ at sea, or a particular rank, or a particular job. Inevitably, they were all disappointed, because they didn't get that one thing; whatever that brass ring for them was. Instead, pursue service. Whether you are a teacher, a police officer, or work in the private sector, pursue the faithful execution of your duty ... your duty as a professional, your duty as a skilled laborer, your duty as a parent, your duty as an American citizen ...
Speaking of duty let me share part of a personal letter I received from a young officer currently serving in Afghanistan. It reads in part, " ... The leadership challenge apparent amongst my team is to maintain morale and a sense of purpose when immersed as we are in the civil affairs aspect of transition; all the while we still have brothers losing their lives in kinetic operations in other areas .... No one at home seems too concerned with this ongoing sacrifice. However, I am not complaining. I love being with the sailors I lead and enjoy serving them and performing our mission. I have talked at length with my LPO about the fact that I feel it is necessary for us all to come out of this as better men than when we entered. Regardless of our "stats" at the close of deployment, we will embrace the challenges of this deployment and take pride in the fact that we are executing our nation's foreign policy in a hostile land. I remind some that the most rewarding aspect of my last deployment was the experience shared amongst my team that left us with a bond we will share for the rest of our lives. "
You see, this young officer, all of 26 years old, speaks to the greater good and that bond! It really comes down to being responsible and answering that unique call from life to each one of us individually. By answering that call you will find happiness. Don't think about it. Like the Nike ad, "just do it."
So, how happy was Callaghan in his final moments of his life? That is an impossible question to answer .... When people die in war, I wonder if they are happy or sad. We salute an honor the fallen dead precisely because we do not know the answer to that question, and because we are clearly sad they are gone! We honor them for their service! We respect them for their deed! We love them for their selfless acts! We miss them because we need more like them with us every day! How do we carry on without them? We carry on by taking their legacy forward; reminding ourselves of a higher calling; never failing to remember that there is a greater good in the service of God, whatever our vocation might be, whether it is as a warrior, a priest, a doctor, a martyr, an artist, a teacher ... or a mom or a dad .... We all have a duty to surrender ourselves to that greater good; to show courage; to stand-up to the challenges of our day. That's what Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan believed. He surrendered to that greater good; he made the courageous decision; and I am certain he was happy he did. AND I AM PRETTY CONFIDENT THAT IS WHAT HE WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU TONIGHT!