DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR

Death before dishonor is an ancient English phrase no longer used, nor even understood, today. Unfortunately, a good man and the Navy's CNO, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, remembered it and forced himself to obey its dictates. We are all the poorer for his loss.

The Office of the Secretary of the Navy will research its files and eventually issue an opinion that states Admiral Boorda either was or was not entitled to wear a "V" for valor on two ribbons. He had earned the ribbons for combat operations aboard warships that steamed off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnamese War. The issue at question is whether or not his ships came under enemy fire. If they had, the ribbons could be worn with the "V" on them. A certifying sentence from the Secretary of the Navy provides necessary and sufficient authority to add the "V"s. That sentence had not been in his service jacket, and technically, at least, the "V"s should not have been worn. It may have been nothing more than an administrative omission or a misunderstanding. In the Admiral's words, it was an "Honest mistake."

There is little more to add, and all future conjecture is meaningless. The man is dead.

What is worth pointing out is how many rich, powerful, respected, and still-living men never had to agonize whether or not they merited a "V" in ribbons earned by serving our country's military. Certainly, Patrick Buchanan did not, nor did Senator Phil Gramm, nor Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, nor former Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. As a matter of fact, neither did our President, Bill Clinton. They were taking advanced degrees, or received family deferments, or in the case of Mr. Buchanan, had a knee problem, that kept all of them from serving during the Vietnam War. But Mike Boorda did, starting out as a seventeen year old enlisted man in 1956, earning a commision along the way, and continuing a distinguished career all the way to admiral and the Chief of Naval Operations.

And if the premise is that of inability to live with unbearable shame, it seems fair to point out other rich, powerful, respected, still-living men who have managed that burden. At risk of singling out the few and omitting the many, I cite Senator Edward Kennedy for an unreported accident in which a young girl was left underwater in a car for twelve hours, Senator Joseph Biden for a plagiarized speech, Washington D.C.'s Mayor Barry who was videotaped and convicted of using cocaine during a party in a motel, Heisman Trophy winner and football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson, guilty of spouse abuse, and former President Richard Nixon who participated in the coverup of the Watergate burglary. Since those events, they have enjoyed or are still enjoying the best that life had to offer. Nixon is now dead, but received a pension commensurate with his long service to the United States.

Top jobs sometimes place the holder under tremendous pressure. The Navy has taken horrible public relations punishment from its misdeeds of the past decade, beginning with Tail Hook and carrying through sexual harassment and the recent scandals at the Naval Academy. As a former line officer and naval frogman, I can state, though others won't, that Tail Hook was an embarrassment about some naval aviators and their drunken, adolescent, college fraternity behavior. Remember, the name of that convention wasn't Anchors Away. Pilots have always considered themselves unique, and often acted that way.

But the things that went on at Tailhook were wrong, aviators are a part of the Navy, and there was no excuse whatever for their conduct. As happens in medicine, banking, industry, government, the military, or in academia, an old-boy net joined together to make prosecution of individual members difficult. In the investigation that followed, a number of high-ranking officers with aviation backgrounds consequently lost their billets, failed selection, and took early retirement.

I have my own slant on the matter. Without in any way condoning the irresponsibility of what happened in Tailhook, my own experience is that sailors who run the ships, the blackshoe Navy, don't function that way. They certainly don't hold an annual drunken convention in Las Vegas to discuss shiphandling and entering and leaving port. None of that was part of Admiral Boorda's life. Nor did he raise the children who violated our Naval Academy's honor code by cheating, or those who set up a stolen car ring. Indirectly, though, he took the rap for all of them.

Honor meant something else to Admiral Boorda. America's media don't even understand the concept of it. Two things are certain. First, he didn't intend to be the center of another Naval scandal. Second, no-one was going to take a rap for him. There would be no personal dishonor before death on Mike Boorda's watch. And there wasn't.


Sam Orr                                 
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)