PRESERVING A MILITARY LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The following Reflection represents LCDR Curtis Smothers’s legacy of their military service from 1962 to 1986. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.
Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having had the most positive impact on you and why?:
Of the 24 years, 6 months I spent on active duty in the U.S. Navy, the leader who was the most positive influence on me was my commanding officer, Captain Jeremy (“Bear”) Taylor. He skippered the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CV-43) during my time as Administrative Department head (1981-1983).
In early 1983, our ship was preparing for an around-the-world voyage and a home port change from Alameda, California, to Norfolk, Virginia. The Coral Sea was an aging aircraft carrier commissioned just before the Korean War. Taking this ship around the world was like getting a ’57 Chevy ready for a cross-country trip. Our main propulsion and auxiliary plants were stretched to the limit. They had to stay online, support a crew of over 5,000, and launch aircraft in climates that ranged from the frigid northern coast of Alaska to the tropical extremes of the Indian Ocean.
What I remember most about Captain Taylor was that his hero and role model was World War II General George Patton. Just as Patton believed that you fought a war with the men and material you had, Captain Taylor ran his ship in a challenging heavy tempo of operations by inspiring his crew through example and an uncompromising philosophy that to get the job done, he must motivate his men to be problem solvers with a warrior’s spirit.
As a department head, I benefited from Captain Taylor’s management style, which he based on “Patton’s principles.” For example, General Patton wrote, “Always do everything you expect of the men you command.”
Once, when we were in port, a crew member was asphyxiated while working below decks. I was on duty and had to manage the notification of next of kin. The family’s local casualty assistance calls rep told me that the sailor had a brother on a ship alongside us. Since it was likely that the dead crewman’s family had informed the living brother, time was of the essence.
I informed Captain Taylor, who phoned the brother and expressed his sorrow and sympathy for the family’s loss. He could have delegated that to the ship’s chaplain but took it on as a burden of command. I was in the captain’s in-port cabin when he made the call, and I’ll never forget the directness and empathy the skipper showed during a time of stress and grief.
On a happier occasion, it turned out that Captain Taylor was, even after a long career, still a pollywog. He readily submitted to the ship’s shellback initiation the day we crossed the equator. I was in the line of pollywogs that day and enjoyed watching the skipper emerge from the tank of garbage and fog foam proudly proclaiming, “I am a shellback!”
Finally, another of Patton’s principles that Captain Taylor personified was “Keep a line of communication.” He would use the ship’s 1MC (PA system) to broadcast periodic messages to the crew, typically beginning with “Hello, warriors!” I once saw the crew break out in spontaneous cheers when he used that greeting during one ship’s gathering on the flight deck to present recognition, awards, and medals to crew members.
Captain Taylor also used every communication method available before email and social media to keep the crew and their families up to date on ship’s operations and schedule. My most treasured cruise book is the spectacular chronicle of our around-the-world cruise.
The gold-embossed book resembling a treasure chest was designed and personally supervised and approved by the Captain. The inside cover of the cruise book reads, “Dedicated/To the wind that blows,/The ships that goes/And the lass that loves a sailor.”
Captain Taylor ended his career as a flag officer. He is well into his 80s now and still active, and maintains contact with his dedicated coterie of former shipmates and fellow warriors and veterans. In one Veterans Day Message to all of us he wrote:
“You were there when it counted and willingly gave your time, talent and fighting spirit to a task requiring sacrifice, hardship and uncommon commitment to the relentless requirement to be ready, willing and able to fight our old, bold ship as called to do so. You have earned your honored status as a “Veteran.” Stand proud and walk boldly … every day, Shipmate. You are a Coral Sea warrior, adventurer and patriot, forever.”
Read more about Bear Taylor.
Read the Military Memories of our Runner-Ups.