During my short four year hitch in the Coast Guard I served directly under two commanding officers. I can't remember the name of the first one, but I'll never forget the second. Of course, by the time I met him he had risen to the rank of Captain.
I am proud to say that I served under Capt. James Hector Macdonald aboard the USCGC Morgenthau as a Sonarman 2nd Class and an original plank owner. I came to respect him, not just because of his rank and his position of authority, but for his leadership qualities, and his style and sense of camaraderie with all members of his crew down to the lowest seaman. That plank owner crew was special in large measure due to the captain's leadership, which subsequently filtered on down through every level of rank and authority, creating a unique relationship and bond between all members of that first crew, a bond that exists to this day...and measurable by the success of our numerous reunions over the years.
After mustering out of the Coast Guard I spent 30 years in the service of my community as a deputy sheriff. Never in all that time would I ever again encounter the unity of purpose and cohesiveness of command experienced aboard the Morg. Police service, like military service, often 'spends' whatever talents and skills one may bring to the organization, with thankless expectations, considering the time and talents that individual officers and men may have contributed while acquiring those unique and specific skills. Service soon, and all too often, becomes expected rather than appreciated, with those skills and talents reaping no real benefits for their possessor other than knowing that he volunteered his services to country or community with fidelity, all the while under the scrutiny of supervisors who have expectations of flawless results. Competition for a pay raise, a promotion or appointment to a special team can be intense and fierce, and often the means to self-serving ends. I don't mean to lament my service to my community, for I have enjoyed much of it. But when you render service without the pressure, without the stress, without the competition, it feels soooo much better, as was the case with the Morgenthau pre-com and plank owner crew. Those who have served know what I mean. Those who have never served should do so.
Captain Mac's leadership brought all this to the table and spoke directly to the success of the Morgenthau's performance in the shakedown trials at Gitmo, wherein the Morg garnered a record number of 'Block E citations and the respect and admiration of the Navy. To this day I'll never forget the indelible image, still scoured in my memory...as if it were yesterday, of that particular moment of our departing Gitmo, wherein the captain was carried prone aboard the Morg to the refrain of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," and to the triplicate, staccato blast of the ship's horn. Such a departure has not been seen since and probably never will. One thing became obvious. We loved our captain. Our crew functioned as a cohesive organism, focused on a singular purpose, sublimating self for the purposes of the group, under the unity of command and leadership of the best commander I've ever known. How else can you explain such success in light of the facts; a brand new ship, with the bugs and quirks yet to be worked out of her, and manned by a crew of rookies in their respective ranks and rates, dispatching all comers and competitors in fine fashion as if we had been doing it all our lives.
As a young, impressionable non-com, I was somewhat ill at ease on the several occasions I had in personally addressing Captain Mac face-to-face, due in large part to my respect for his status and position. But he was always approachable and affable non-the-less. Years later, at our plank owner reunion in New Hampshire, I was more at ease due to the passage of time and maturity, and really got to know him on a more personal level. He was ever the gentleman and a delight to engage in conversation. Meeting his wife, Nancy, for the first time helped to round out my image of the man. She is a class act, too. We kept in touch, corresponding on occasion via email, and I was saddened to learn of his fight with Alzheimer's. There was always the hope that we'd have one more reunion in which the captain would be able to attend, but our last attempt fell by the wayside. He passed away February 14, 2012. God bless you Captain Mac, until we meet again.