Christ, our Light

CQOD Special Archive

I Recruited Wally Wakefield

by Robert MacColl Adams

I Recruited Wally Wakefield

       I started out as a recruit myself, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve always been grateful to the man who recruited me into the Navy, and all my life in the Navy I’ve kept an eye on the recruits, worked with them and worked for them.
        In twenty years with the Fleet at sea, I saw the generations of Navy recruits come into the Navy, learn the Navy, and presently become the Navy. Why, the Navy wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the recruits. And so, because I’ve been all Navy since the day I was recruited—the 17th of June, 1932, it was, in the Old Federal Building in Sarasota, Georgia—I jumped at the chance to go into recruiting duty when my time at sea was finished. With twenty years in, I could have retired, of course. I wasn’t too old to go back to my home town (you don’t know Dahlonega, Georgia, I reckon, but it’s a nice place—I used to visit there on leave when I was with the Atlantic Fleet), and get myself a good job and maybe a nice plump widow for a wife, and wind up as county commissioner or something. I made Chief during the War, so my retirement pay... But, as I said, I stayed on in the Recruiting Service. I felt that the Navy needed my experience, if it was ever going to get the recruits it needed. I felt I owed it to the Navy, if you see what I mean, and to the recruits I would meet, too.
        Well, they sent me out here to central Texas, which isn’t very salty but is good Navy country just the same. I had to do some hunting, but I never failed to send in my quota—and I never sent a man to the Fleet who wasn’t sold on the Navy. Sure, they passed their tests. But they passed my test, too. They knew what the Navy demanded of a man, and they were willing to give it. Some of these boys never smelled low tide until they were recruited, but they were Navy inside. I made sure of that.
        I was making my regular pitch to a bunch of high-school seniors one afternoon when I noticed this boy in the front row. He was a big, good-looking kid, but what 1 noticed was his eyes. I could see that he had the Navy message before I was half-started, and that he’d heard the Navy’s call for dedicated men. After my speech I got the interested ones together in a side room. I talked some more with some of them, but when I came to him I just handed him an “interest” card. He grinned at me and I grinned back. We both knew he was sold. But when he filled his card in and brought it to me, I wouldn’t take it. I read his name, Wally Wakefield, and I said, “Wally, I don’t have to ask you how you feel about going Navy. But I won’t high-pressure anybody into my outfit. We don’t need that kind of recruits. You just keep that card for a week. I’ll be back out here to Crockett High next Thursday. You come and see me then if you really mean it.” He said, “Okay, Chief,” and stuck the card in his pocket and went on out with the rest of the boys.
        I thought about him often during that next week. I wondered what sort of ship he’d get for his first cruise, and what rate he’d strike for, and whether he wouldn’t probably make Chief quicker than I did, even with no war to help him along. I even wondered what sort of girl he’d be leaving behind. Mine had been freckle-faced and long-legged, and could whistle through her teeth like a boy. She was just sixteen when I enlisted in the Navy, and she said she’d wait. But we both knew there was nothing to wait for. She married a cousin of mine, a mechanic at the John Deere agency, before I came home on leave after ray first hitch. I hear he’s the shop foreman now... Well, as I was saying, I wondered about everything except one thing. I didn’t wonder if I’d see Wally Wakefield the next Thursday.
        He was waiting when I came up the walk. He had a real serious look on his face and he said, “Chief, didn’t want to keep you waiting. This Navy thing’s for real with me.” I said, “Wally, let the other boys wait a while. I’ll sign you up right now.” I tell you, I was mighty proud of that recruit. I felt I’d done a good year’s work for the Navy if I didn’t open my mouth again till next Veterans’ Day. I never saw the spirit in any recruit that Wally Wakefield had.
        Being in high school, Wally couldn’t go on active duty then, of course. He entered the local reserve unit and did very well, He qualified for Apprentice in the minimum time, and led his class in the qualifying examination. And I’ve never seen a smarter sailor in his appearance. You’d think he’d been in the Navy for years, the way he wore his uniform and saluted and all.
        When Wally graduated from high school he could have gone to the Fleet, but he decided to take a year’s educational deferment and try the state university. As he said, the Navy needed the best-trained men it could get, and it was a pity not to take some of the math and science courses up at the “Big Corral” right there in his hometown. In his freshman year he stayed in the Naval Reserve unit and qualified for Seaman—in the minimum lime once more, and with a better examination grade than before. He wasn’t a “brain,” you know. He was just an average good student—but he took to Navy things like a duck to water. He did well at State, too, and so he decided to stay on for one more year.
        I was glad that Wally would have his calculus and a-c circuit theory before going to the Fleet. He dropped out of the Reserve unit, but signed up for the regular college course in Naval Tactics and Strategy, and a Navy correspondence course in Seamanship, so I knew he wasn’t cooling off. He was still all Navy. I met a lot of prospective recruits that year who’d gotten the word on the Navy from Wally Wakefield. He was well known on campus, and when he ran for president of his class that spring, he won it hands down.
        The next fall I heard he’d changed his major and was taking Banking and Finance. One evening, as soon as I had time. I went up to his room. He was living on campus instead of at home—to have more time for his studies, his mother told me. So I went up to Daingerfield Dorm and got his room number. But I could have just walked down the hall and picked it out. I never saw a more perfect Navy-man’s room, at sea or anywhere else. He had big pictures of the Constitution and the battle between the Monitor and the Virginia, and my old ship, the Enterprise—“Big E”—on the walls, and a bust of John Paul Jones and a six-inch model of a brass saluting cannon on the bookcase. The old Bluejacket’s Manual that I’d given him when I recruited him was on his desk.
        I quit worrying about Wally then and there. As he explained it to me, the Navy needs men with all sorts of talents, and so he felt that a solid course in Banking would just top off his mathematics and make him more useful than ever when he went on active duty. He wouldn’t be able to take any Navy courses that year, because he had some courses to make up on account of changing his major. But he was going on with his correspondence course in Seamanship. And he didn’t have to tell me that his heart hadn’t changed any. He was still “Salty” Wakefield—his roommates called him that to his face, and he just grinned and said, “When a man gives his loyalty to something big enough, he just doesn’t care who knows it.” I was mighty proud of that boy.
        Wally had a hard time that year. As I said, he was no brain. He had to drop his Seamanship course, but he passed everything else, and as soon as the semester was over, he signed up for the Navy correspondence course in Navigation and Piloting. He brought problems to me several times that summer, but I had to admit they were beyond me. A hairy-eared Bos’n’s Mate doesn’t keep up with the fine points of fathometer lag and corrections to the Ephemeris, even if he is a Chief. But Wally ate that stuff up.
        He ate up his senior year, too. He not only finished his correspondence course with high marks but did very well in his other courses too. In fact, he was elected to the Banking & Finance honor society in the fall and was president the following semester.
        His father died very suddenly, right after Wally got this last honor, and so he had to change his plans again and ask for another year’s deferment so that he could stay with his mother and help settle his father’s estate. I got a call from an old C.O. of mine in the Bureau asking about Wally’s request told CDR Rawlings that he would make no mistake in “banking” on Wally Wakefield, any time. I don’t know whether that did it or not, but Wally got the deferment. It was lucky he did, too, because he got an offer, right after that, that he could never have accepted otherwise. It was a fine opening in the Liberty National Bank in Sweetwater, out in West Texas. He stepped into a job as assistant cashier only three weeks after he graduated. I don’t suppose there was a man in his class who did better than Wally. Everybody said so.
        I didn’t hear from Wally that year, but I got an announcement of his marriage the following May. She was the daughter of the president of his bank, and she looked like a real nice girl from the pictures in the papers. I understood that Wally got a year’s postponement of his active duty on account of his marriage, and I couldn’t quarrel with that. Being at sea is no duty for a newly married man. The following spring, I got an announcement from the proud parents of Cindy Ann Wakefield, 6-1/4 pounds and all that, with a note from Wally saying that he had just finished his correspondence course in Naval Gunnery, and would be going on active duty as soon as Cindy was a little bigger.
        The next fall I got a Navy Day card from Wally, a really beautiful card. It had a big silver anchor embossed on the outside, and inside it had a picture of Admiral Schley’s flagship charging into the harbor of Santiago de Cuba with all guns blazing, and a wonderfully sincere Navy poem opposite the picture. Wally wrote a note on the back saying that he had hoped to be home for Navy Day but couldn’t get away from the bank “on account of his new responsibilities” and he hoped I’d drop in and see him when I had a chance.
        Well, the next spring I finished my thirty years, and thought about retiring. I was promoted to Senior Chief last year, so my retirement pay would be pretty good. But it seemed as if the Fleet couldn’t spare a really capable man to replace me, so I said I’d stay on for a while. But I did take some of my accumulated leave and went traveling. And on a warm Tuesday morning in July, I strolled into Liberty Bank of Sweetwater and asked for Mr. Wakefield. The girl pointed to a door that said, “W. L. Wakefield, Second Vice-President,” so I knew what Wally’s “new responsibilities” were. I tell you, there never was a Navy recruit in all my experience with what that boy had, in spirit and drive and promise.
        When I walked into his office, he gave me a greeting that made the weather outside seem relatively cool. He was the same Wally, I could see at a glance, and still all Navy. His window curtains were blue and gold, and he had an eagle-and-anchor plaque on one wall, and a picture of Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie on another, and there was a tattered Bluejacket’s Manual on his desk. He saw me look at it and said, “Yes, Chief, that’s the same one. I read it every day. It’s about to come apart, but I’m going to get it rebound. I wouldn’t take anything for my notes from recruit training.”
        He showed me pictures of his wife and baby and his new home in Sweetwater Heights, and then he looked at his watch and said, “Chief, it’s the luckiest thing in the world, you coming in here this morning. This is the day of our Navy Club luncheon, and I was supposed to give a talk. But it would be a real treat if you’d come and give us a speech, instead.”
        “Wally,” I said, “you know I’ve only got one speech, and you heard it the day I recruited you.”
        “Well, Chief,” he said, “I haven’t ever forgotten that speech, and I know it wouldn’t do any of us any harm to hear it again.”
        “What is this Navy Club, anyhow?”
        “Why, it’s just a bunch of fellows who’ve been recruited into the Navy but haven’t gone to active duty yet. We meet together every month, the first Tuesday, for lunch and a talk about the Navy or maybe a film.”
        “Well,” I said, “I’d love to come, because there’s nothing I like better than being with Navy men. But I’d like mighty well to hear your speech.”
        So we went out to the Saddle and Sagebrush Club, and they had a private room set aside for us, and there were ten or a dozen young fellows there, all about Wally’s age. He introduced them to me. They were lawyers and accountants, insurance agents and realtors, a pharmacist, geologist, newspaper man and so on. All of them were wearing gold-anchor lapel pins, and all of them had qualified as Seamen through the Naval Reserve. They told sea stories during lunch. They were mighty sea-going. I don’t think I ever heard any more seagoing stories than those boys told.
        We had a good lunch—seafood cocktail, oyster soup, choice of fried fish or shrimp, and a big plate of Navy beans at every man’s place. After the lunch a waiter brought us coffee in big blue-and-white cups, and a tray of regulation sailor’s white hats. All the boys put on hats and then Wally (he was president, of course) gave the word, “Coffee up!” and everybody took a big drink of the coffee. Black, of course, real Navy style.
        Then Wally explained that he couldn’t persuade me to give the speech for the meeting, even though I had more Navy experience than all of them put together. It was nice of him to put it that way, though it really wasn’t true. I only have in thirty years and a few months, and all of these boys must have been recruited lots more than three years ago. Anyhow, Wally said he’d go ahead with his speech as planned. He said:
        “I don’t have to tell any of you that the Navy is the first line of defense of our beloved country, and upholds our national honor and our way of life wherever salt water flows. Its glorious history goes back to the very beginning of our Republic, and undergirds all our precious freedoms. But the Navy is more than a national asset, a national treasure. It is a way of life for those who are called to it. Where is there fiercer joy than that of the sailor when his stout ship smashes into the gray Atlantic combers and the spray hisses and rattles on the bridge windshields like hail? Where is there deeper dedication than that of the sailor who sticks to his post far below decks, in turret or magazine or boiler room, never flinching though the thunder of battle engulfs him? Where is there finer companionship than that of sailors, their work done and their fight won, visiting the many points of interest in some foreign port or capital? And where is welcome better earned than when the gallant ship, bunting flying in the breeze, steams into its home port and the crew looks forward to enjoying the homes they have saved, the liberties they have defended, the beauty they have delivered from the cruel clutch of war?...”
        There was a lot more like that, and I leaned back with my coffee cup in my hand and enjoyed every word of it. I never heard a better Navy speech in all my life. I tell you, I was fit to burst with pride over being the man who’d recruited Wally Wakefield.

        published in HIS Magazine, January, 1963, v. 23, n. 4, p. 2-5
        Used with permission, HIS 1963, © InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA


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Last updated: 05/16/13