JACKSON – Eerie? Yes it was. Precisely 70 years ago – give or take a couple of weeks – my World War II career put me at the very same Washington Navy Yard that was the scene of the shooting rampage that killed Navy employees.
For two months in 1943, I was one of some 20 young officers put through a crash training in the latest naval gunnery weapons at the sprawling military base – said to be the nation’s oldest.
Actually I had finished the gunnery school at the end of August, and was headed back to my destroyer, the Stephen Potter undergoing final preparations in San Francisco before joining the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. (Thankfully, there would be a six-week delay before we shipped out – time enough for Gloria, my college sweetheart, to come out to Frisco with her mother for our wedding. She’s the same lady who is still my companion.)
Aside from it being another appalling example of senseless gun violence, the random massacre of 12 civilian employees at the Navy Yard underscores how deeply privatization of governmental and even military functions has invaded the operation of our country. Certainly if some crazed gunman had gone on a shooting spree at the Navy yard back when I was on duty there, more than likely all of his targets would have been military personnel. Of course, I realize under those circumstances I could have been one.
The really scary part of this massacre is Aaron Alexis, merely a part-time employee of a major corporation, could gain easy entry into the military base with security credentials handed him more than a year before. Amazingly we now learn that a private company hired to check Alexis’ background missed all the obvious red flags. Consequently, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus can’t be blamed for the apparent inadequate security system at the huge base.
Washington Navy Yard has a special meaning to me because the Navy Museum is there. A metal plaque detailing the Potter’s WWII combat record – the 10 major naval engagements we fought in and I was a part of – is there.
There was no housing for us during our duty at the gunnery school in 1943 so we had to rent rooms near the Navy Yard.
It’s hard for me to realize that the Stephen Potter’s main weapons were 5 in., 38 cal, anti-aircraft guns, six depth charge launchers and four torpedo tubes – no match for today’s DDs which are much larger and armed with long-range ballistic missile launchers. Notably, in America’s recent face-off with Syria in the poison gas crisis, missile-equipped destroyers on station in the Eastern Mediterranean were our strategic weapon if we had bombed Syria.
The destroyers remain on station, showing once again that for the U.S. to make its presence felt around the globe, the good old Navy must be there to show the flag. And our ships aren’t going to be manned by private contractors.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.