Salute to a Shipmate

Sail On Sailor. RIP.

Play this Beach Boys’ classic from 1973 – while you read the post and/or the graphic.

Sail On Dennis McCain

Sail On Sailor.

Dennis and I served together on the USS Okinawa 1973-1974. On my first Westpac. Western Pacific Cruise. But not like one of your holiday cruises. Not at all.

We worked together, serving a ship of 600 Sailors and 2400 Marines with an after dinner diet of mindless TV from 1800 to 0200. The XO  Executive Officer – had demanded that it be light fare. No Masterpiece Theater. No 12 month old college football games. All in the Family. Cartoons. Classic movies.

Dennis worked tirelessly to insure that all 75 TVs in our CCTV System got great reception each night we were at sea. And we entertained the compartment cleaning crews with popular music – across a few musical genres – all day long as we “tested” each of the 75 TVs in our daily grin, er, routine. That was Dennis’ job. He was the Techie. I was the Journalist. It was a great collaboration.

He taught me a bunch of songs on the guitar. Convinced me to buy a motorcycle. Rode the hills west of Long Beach and later San Diego on the weekends with me. Spent many a weekend together – and almost every day for 18 months.

He got out almost a year before I did, early in fact, just as we were about to redeploy back to my second Westpac. The one involving the evacuations of Phnom Penh and Saigon, in April 1975. On the 1st Westpac we had steamed off the coast of Cambodia for months and months without any action. We rotated back to the states and our homeport – and recharged – and then returned to Subic Bay, our home port away from home port for my 2nd Westpac.

I missed Dennis on that 2nd cruise. He kept our CCTV System working 100% all of the time. The other techs before him and after him did not score as high with me. In fact, he first worked in his spare time fixing what the first tech couldn’t or wouldn’t.

I had begged the XO to assign Dennis McCain – who was happy with where we had gotten the system to, in only a few weeks after I had returned from my A School, catching up to the ship in The Philippines in October 1973.

I had boarded in the middle of the night, walking up the gangway to the quarterdeck, saluting the flag and then the officer who greeted me with, “Are you Wallace, and when are you going to get the CCTV system squared away!?!”

Yeah. Welcome aboard. Get ready to be keel hauled.

They found a rack for me to sleep in that night, and in the morning I checked in with Personnel after grabbing some chow on the Mess Decks. There I had been confronted with more, “When are you going to get the damn CCTV system up and running!?!” Then more of the same in the Personnel office once they realized who I was. The entire ship it seemed was waiting for me. Damn.

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It seems that on the 23 day cruise from Long Beach to Subic Bay the TV system started showing programming at 1800 – only to be shut down for mysterious reasons – right in the middle of whatever they were showing. Every. Damn. Evening.

I spent that first day with the assigned tech in our CCTV studio, trying to diagnose the issues. They were all technical. Beyond me.

When a knock came on the CCTV compartment’s door after everyone else knocked off work, I answered it.

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It was Dennis McCain and his buddy Gerry Robinson, who both to know if they could look around. I said I was busy. But Dennis told me that he worked with his father’s TV repair shop and thought he might be able to lend a hand. My techie was gone, so I invited them in.

Dennis popped open the side of one of the cameras in the work space, and then went to the wall of binders. Something my techie hadn’t done all day.

Dennis grabbed a built in tool and after quickly scanning the technical document – think circuitry blueprint – he made an adjustment. Instantly the color on the monitors looked normal.

After then he was there every evening, when he didn’t have some watch to stand, fixing what didn’t get fixed during the day.

The original tech wasn’t driven, like Dennis. And both he and I wanted to do better than just a good job.

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To do our jobs was to keep everyone otherwise occupied with TV programming after work hours. Providing some relief to the Marines and Sailors from the boredom of a cruise, and after training for war every day, knocking off to go eat with the other branch of the service – which often led to “rumbles” on the Mess Decks – and then later elsewhere on the ship. and issues for the ship’s Morale Officer – the XO – who owned my and Dennis’ CCTV – the Closed Circuit TV system.

An interesting story about one of my XOs is here.

After the Navy

We saw a lot of each other afterwards, after our time in the Navy, considering he lived in various places across Texas. and I in various places across the Chicagoland area.

He and I both worked for Motorola – overlapping our time there just a bit. We were often in each other’s hometowns on business, even after that. And so we had a lot of dinners together. We kept up. In Houston he took me to some “real” blues clubs.

We lost touch about 10 years ago, and then reconnected, in person, in a hospital, where he was being taken by ambulance to the local VA Hospital, just as I pull up to his house, after my long drive from Charlotte NC to the suburbs of Dallas, back in September 2011.

He wasn’t being given long to live then. But he was a fighter.  We talked on the phone about once a month since reconnecting.

Monday I got the sad news.

Here we are below – Mike Corman, Dennis McCain and Guy Wallace – in Hong Kong 1974.

I believe we were walking the streets of Kowloon while visiting Hong Kong in the early spring of 1974.

I am sure that next we were off to Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, where the British businessmen would send several pitchers of free beer over to our table every time we walked in the door.

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Last Stand

My shipmate and friend, Dennis McCain, 60, passed away this past Monday, October 15.

Dennis was born January 25, 1952.

Dennis loved playing his guitar, riding his motorcycle, his son, and life in general.

He was a Texan.

Lung cancer got him. From a life of smoking cigarettes. He was at peace with himself the last few years, when he knew his time was limited.

I will miss our banter about everything, which we took up after our absence as if it had been 10 weeks instead of 10 years. Shipmates swore we hated each other – as we were in constant dialogue, arguing all sides of the issues of the day. We were at sea on a Naval Warship … and the war continued despite that war ending in the press and with the politicians. We debated each other. Only close friends saw/heard us switch back and forth on the sides of various issues. Then they saw it as a game. To keep us sharp I guess. Life at sea can be DULL.

Today, Friday, I attend his funeral as a pallbearer.

And I will reflect on our time together in the Navy and afterwards.

Rest In Peace Dennis.

Sail on shipmate.

Sail on. Sail on sailor.

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2 comments on “Salute to a Shipmate

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Shipmates and Leadership and Employee Engagement | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. Pingback: A Salute To All Veterans – Veterans Day 2012 in the USA | EPPIC – Pursuing Performance

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