By Ken Ritter

Akihito and Empress Michiko Shoda

Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako

I am about to start on my third era in Japan marked by a historical event, the first abdication of an Emperor in over 200 years.

I arrived in Iwakuni in 1964, or “Showa” 39 by the Japanese calendar, (the 39th year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign), and I was driving to work at Atsugi in 1989 when the radio announced the death of Emperor Hirohito, ending the “Showa Era”, and the accession to the Throne of Emperor Akihito, starting the “Heisei Era”

For those of you who may not be aware of this, Japan is the only country in the world still using Chinese-style imperial calendars. It might be 2019 in much of the world, but officially, in Japan, it is Heisei 31, or the 31st year of Emperor Akihito’s reign.

Early this evening, Emperor Akihito will enter the imperial palace’s stateroom and, in the presence of the grand chamberlain, the prime minister, and other senior politicians, become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in more than 200 years.

At the end of a ceremony lasting just 10 minutes and steeped in the rituals of Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion, the Heisei era, which began with Akihito’s succession in January 1989, will come to an abrupt end.

Late tomorrow morning, his eldest son, Naruhito, will enter the same room and inherit a sword, a jewel, and a mirror – three “sacred treasures” said to have been bequeathed to the imperial line by the mythical sun goddess Amaterasu, and which serve as proof of his accession to the throne. In keeping with their mythological status, the regalia will remain hidden in boxes even when they are handed to the new emperor.

Shortly after, dressed in multiple layers of silk robes and a black headdress, the 126th occupant of the chrysanthemum throne will read a short statement setting the tone for his reign. The prime minister, Shinzō Abe, will welcome his accession on behalf of the Japanese people.

Naruhito’s reign will be called Reiwa, a term with multiple meanings, including “order and peace,” “auspicious harmony” and “joyful harmony,” according to scholars quoted in the local news media.

Naruhito is slated to become the 126th emperor of the world’s oldest monarchy.

The current imperial era known as Heisei — roughly translated as “achieving peace” — was chosen the day that Akihito’s father, the wartime emperor Hirohito, died.


“Splice The Main Brace”

“Splice The Main Brace”

Like most no-shitters, this isn’t factually true, but believable nonetheless.

USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), as a combat vessel, carried 48,600 gallons of fresh water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. Unlike ships today, she carried no evaporators (i.e. fresh water distillers!).

However, let it be noted that according to her ship’s log, “On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum.”

Her mission: “To destroy and harass English shipping.”

Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum. Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there on 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.

On 18 November, she set sail for England. In the ensuing days, she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchant ships, salvaging only the rum aboard each.

By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, although unarmed she made a night raid upon the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn. Then she headed home.

The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, no rum, no wine, no whiskey, and 38,600 gallons of water.


Cliff’s Edge – Two V Devices

Cliff’s Edge – Two V Devices

Cliff Goldstein

Near some books in my office, in an ornate oval frame around red velvet under glass, my father’s World War II medals are perched. From ribbons, red, green, blue, white, and orange—medallions dangle, including a five-pointed bronze star under a red, white, and blue ribbon set top and center.

Last year, a military man visiting my office, impressed, pointed to something I hadn’t noticed. Attached to the ribbon with the bronze star were two tiny (about piece-of-corn sized) letters, each a capital V. “That’s significant,” he said, explaining that they stood for “valor” and were given only for heroism in combat.

Wow, I thought, my old man practically won that war all by himself.

After being shown the “V Devices” (as they are called), I thought about Admiral Jeremy Boorda. In 1956, at 17-years-old, Boorda dropped out of high school, enlisted in the Navy and became, in 1994, the 25th Chief of Naval Operations, the Supreme Commander of the U.S. Navy. He did so without having graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, a first. Boorda was also the first sailor to ascend from the lowest rank to a four-star admiral, the first Jew at that rank, too.

I know I’m part of the problem, but I don’t know to fix it.

An astonishing career.

So why, in 1996, did Admiral Boorda, supreme commander of the United States Navy, shoot himself in the chest with a .38 caliber pistol in the family garden?

It was because of two V Devices. Likely because of an honest mistake, the admiral has been wearing them on his ribbons without, it seemed, proper authorization. Though he’d removed them, upon hearing that Newsweek was going to investigate, rather than shame himself and the Navy, Admiral Jeremy Boorda committed suicide.

For two pieces of bronze, hawked online for a few bucks each, for what (in any other context) would be nothing but trinkets for the trash bin at Goodwill—for these things a four-star admiral offed himself?

Talk about how we as a species, a society, a culture can slap “value” on next to nothing, or make what’s fleeting and flimsy heavy-laden with “meaning” and permanence. (How else do we explain 27 years of The Simpsons?) We mock the ancient Egyptians for their obsession with cats but don’t mock ourselves for iZombie, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Bridezilla, and Keeping up with the Kardashians (now in its fourteenth season). We’re egged and elbowed through an objective reality that reveals itself to us only with blurred and smudged outlines that we saturate with our culture’s discordant hues and tones, which leak out and spill over the lines like in a coloring book left out in the rain. We know it’s all rot, and though we don’t yet feel the ground shift beneath our feet, it should have, it seems, a long time ago.

In his novel, Utopia, Thomas More (1478-1535) envisioned a society where iron, plentiful and hence useful, was highly coveted, while silver and gold were rare and thus deemed impractical and useless. The Utopians made chamber pots out of silver and gold, and from “the same metals they fashioned the chains and thick fetters with which they confined their slaves.” Criminals and others of ill repute were forced to wear jewelry of the same two metals in order to ensure that “in their country gold and silver are in disgrace.”

I’m writing about how culture warps our values, but am doing so from inside that very culture, so how objective can I be? I know only that there’s a vast disconnect between my culture and my religion. Maybe it’s inevitable. What culture anywhere, much less in a capitalistic liberal democracy, promotes values like this: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35)? Or this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3)? Or this: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matt. 5:39)?

Christianity, ideally, turns things upside down and inside out. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27, 28).

But even Christians are so saturated and shaped and colored by culture that we can barely distinguish between what’s foolish, what’s wise, what’s weak, what’s base, what’s mighty, and what’s despised, at least in God’s eyes. Christians are on every side of every issue, cultural, social, political, moral, which may well reveal more about how we’re led by the nose than how we lead, about how our faith and our values are commandeered by whatever the cause du jour is, as opposed to our faith and values creating the cause du jour.

My acknowledging the problem, of course, no more solves it than acknowledging a herpes diagnosis solves it. I have my Bible, but how do I interpret it apart from that lens that 62 years in my culture has ground out and shaped on my eyes? I know I’m part of the problem, but I don’t know to fix it.

Four-star Admiral Jeremy Boorda killing himself over two V Devices screamed at me about how we subjectively infuse value into what might, in and of themselves, be valueless, and it makes me wonder what we Christians value in contrast to what God does. We laud the cross today, but in its time and culture it was the ultimate symbol of shame and disgrace, one of “the foolish things” that God used to shame the wise.

May God grant me the wisdom to know what matters to Him, what’s important to Him, as opposed to what our culture hails and parades even as I display my dad’s World War II medals and, proudly, the two V Devices on them.


Captain John Paul Jones Reburial‎

Captain John Paul Jones Reburial‎

April 24, 1906 – The Reburial Commemoration Ceremony for Capt. John Paul Jones is held at the Naval Academy. At the ceremony, President Theodore Roosevelt delivers a speech in honor of the legendary Revolutionary War naval captain.

In May 1790 Jones arrived in Paris, to live as a retired Russian rear admiral with a corresponding pension. (Yes, he lived an AMAZING life). He was found dead (aged 45) lying face-down on his bed in his third-floor Paris apartment, No. 19 Rue de Tournon, on July 18, 1792. The cause of death was interstitial nephritis. A small procession of servants, friends and loyal family walked his body the four miles for burial. He was buried in Paris at the Saint Louis Cemetery, which belonged to the French royal family. Four years later, France’s revolutionary government sold the property and the cemetery was forgotten.

In 1905, Jones’s remains were identified by U.S. Ambassador to France Gen. Horace Porter, who had searched for six years to track down the body using faulty copies of Jones’s burial record. After Jones’s death, Frenchman Pierrot Francois Simmoneau donated over 460 francs to mummify the body. It was preserved in alcohol and interred in a lead coffin “in the event that should the United States decide to claim his remains, they might more easily be identified.” Porter knew what to look for in his search. With the aid of an old map of Paris, Porter’s team, which included anthropologist Louis Capitan, identified the site of the former St. Louis Cemetery for Alien Protestants. Sounding probes were used to search for lead coffins and five coffins were ultimately exhumed. The third, unearthed on April 7, 1905, was later identified by a meticulous post-mortem examination by Doctors Capitan and Georges Papillault as being that of Jones. The autopsy confirmed the original listing of the cause of death. The face was later compared to a bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Jones’s body was brought to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn (CA-3), escorted by three other cruisers. On approaching the American coastline, seven U.S. Navy battleships joined the procession escorting Jones’s body back to America. On April 24, 1906, Jones’s coffin was installed in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, following a ceremony in Dahlgren Hall, presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt who gave a speech paying tribute to Jones and holding him up as an example to the officers of the Navy. On January 26, 1913, the Captain’s remains were finally re-interred in a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus underneath the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.

Sources: US Naval History and Heritage Command, Navsource and Wikipedia. Images:

(1) Father of the U.S. Navy, John Paul Jones, is entombed at the U.S. Naval Academy and is guarded by Midshipman 24-hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Jones is forever immortalized by uttering the words, “I have not yet begun to fight”, during the battle between USS Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, off the coast of England in 1779. Jones was buried in a pauper’s grave in Paris. More than a century later, his remains were returned to the United States and placed at the academy as a national shrine. Jones’s marble and bronze sarcophagus at the United States Naval Academy


A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place

By Garland Davis

“We have to lock the gates Sunday night. After a weekend of carousing the Sumbitches think they can get underway Monday morning.” — The Commander of Fiddler’s Green in a press release.

I was about seven years old when I was introduced to the school library. Each student, after being subjected to a lecture on library etiquette by the school librarian, was required to select a book to read during the next week. I don’t know what books interested the girls. Girls didn’t hold any interest for me at the time. All the boys in the class were searching for books with big words and lots of pictures.

I didn’t fit into the class. My grandmother had taught me to read, write and rudimentary arithmetic before I was old enough for school. When my first-grade teacher discovered that I could read and write, she took me to the principal. For a couple of days, I demonstrated my abilities to the Principal, the Superintendent of the school district and a group of teachers. They finally decided that the third grade was more appropriate. Let’s just say I didn’t fit in. I became a loner. I could get an ass kicking for knowing the answer to a question after another of the boys had answered incorrectly.

Anyway, back to the library. I found a book that intrigued me. It had a drawing of a sailing ship on the front cover. It was a biography of John Paul Jones written for the seventh or eighth-grade level. At first, the librarian refused to let me check the book out. I told my teacher I could read it and she talked with the librarian who reluctantly let me check it out. When I returned it the next week, she questioned me about the book. After that, I was granted the run of the library.

That book was the catalyst for my whole life. By the time I finished that book, I had already made up my mind that the sea and the Navy were for me. I read everything I could find about the sea, ships, and the Navy. A long ten years later I was sworn into the Navy on my seventeenth birthday and never looked back.

A very quick thirty years later, I was turned out the door into a world in which I had to learn to function. During the next twenty some years, I succeeded in my new life, but something essential to a person’s wellbeing was missing. I didn’t feel that I belonged. I had lost the feeling of belonging, a “Sense of Place.”

In late 2012 and early 2013, a group of us created the Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association and conceptualized a reunion of members who had served in the Far East, the forward-deployed ships and had made a WestPac cruise. Plans were made and the information promulgated.

In April of that year, we came together at the Clarion Hotel in Branson, Missouri for the first annual Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Reunion.

The first afternoon, in the Jungle Room I saw shipmates whom I had not seen in thirty and forty years. Shipmates who had lived through the same hardships and good times.

On May 15, we will again meet for the seventh year. I daresay that each of us has developed a “Sense of Place” at the reunion and in Branson.


USS Gurke DD-783

USS Gurke DD-783

Gurke was named for United States Marine Corps Private Henry Gurke (1922–1943), who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Gurke was launched 15 February 1945 by the Todd-Pacific Shipyards Inc. Tacoma Wash. sponsored by Mrs. Julius Gurke mother of Private Gurke, and commissioned 12 May 1945 Cmdr. Kenneth Loveland in command.

After shakedown along the West Coast, Gurke sailed for the Western Pacific 27 August 1945 reaching Pearl Harbor 2 September. From there she continued west to participate in the occupation of Japan and former Japanese possessions. Returning to her home port San Diego in February 1946 Gurke participated in training operations until 4 September 1947 when she sailed for another WesPac cruise. Two further WesPac cruises alternating with operations out of San Diego and a cruise to Alaska in 1948 to aid in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Yukon gold rush filled Gurke’s- schedule until the outbreak of the Korean War.

Gurke departed San Diego 5 August 1950 and arrived at Yokosuka 19 August to screen fast carrier task forces off the west coast of Korea 25 August 6 September. She shared with five other destroyers the award of the Navy Unit Commendation to Task Element 90.62 for extraordinary heroism in support of the landing at Inchon 13 15 September 1950. Steaming up Flying Fish (So Sudo) Channel at flood tide the first day Gurke bombarded Wolmi Do and the Inchon waterfront. Communist fire concentrated on three of the “sitting duck” destroyers Gurke taking three hits that caused no casualties and only minor damage. The destroyer’s 5-inch batteries opened in a prelanding shore bombardment 15 September 1900 until the first assault wave of Marines crossed the line of departure for Wolmi Do which was secured by high noon. Wolmi Do was no longer a dominating threat over approaches into Inchon by landing assault craft that would be borne in on the incoming afternoon tide. After this initial landing General of the Army Douglas MacArthur made visual signal: “The Navy and Marines have never shone more brightly than this morning.”

After the Inchon landings, Gurke screened fast attack carriers launching powerful strikes against enemy positions and supply lines. She also patrolled the narrow Formosa Straits to prevent the Chinese Communist invasion of Formosa and to ensure that Formosa was not used as a base for military operations against the Chinese mainland. During the first year of the war, Gurke frequently served as flagship of Vice Admiral Struble and the 7th Fleet’s Carrier Task Force 77.

Two interludes in the States for repairs and training interrupted Gurke’s Korean conflict service. But she continued when deployed with the Seventh Fleet to screen attack carriers and bombard enemy coastal supply routes and installations once destroying a Communist train through accurate gunnery. She again drew fire from Communist shore batteries 25 June 1953 but escaped without serious damage from two direct hits and the shrapnel of five air bursts.

When the shooting stopped in Korea in August 1963 Gurke continued patrols in the Far East to help keep the peace. Six to eight-month deployments to the Western Pacific were alternated with stateside overhauls and training in a full peacetime routine. During 17-18 June 1960, she was a unit of the escort for cruiser St. Paul carrying President Eisenhower on a fast Manila-Taiwan cruise. She also participated in nose-cone recovery work as America’s space effort rolled into high gear facilitated by seapower.

In June 1962 Gurke participated in a series of nuclear tests off Christmas Island. She entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard 11 July 1963 for modernization overhaul emerging 1 May 1964 with new equipment ranging from antisubmarine rocket launchers to the latest in air search radar and electronic detection devices. She arrived in her new home port of San Diego 15 May for fleet operations along the western seaboard until 21 October When she again sailed for the Far East. She arrived in Yokosuka and Joined the 7th Fleet 16 November 1964 to begin her duties as a unit of Fast Carrier Task Force 77.

The first day of 1965 found Gurke with Task Group 77.7 in the South China Sea. Long hours were spent on station plane-guarding for attack carriers Ranger (CVA 61) and Hancock (CVA-19). As the Vietnam conflict became “hot” in late January she served as one of the escorts for an amphibious task group in the vicinity of Da Nang South Vietnam. Long stretches at sea with fast carriers were punctuated by liberty calls at Subic Bay and Hong Kong. On 20 April 1966, the destroyer sailed in company with Ranger (CVA-61) for return to San Diego 7 May 1966. The remainder of the year was filled with a rapid succession of coastwise training exercises ranging north to Seattle which continued until she sailed for the western Pacific 12 May 1966. After visiting Hawaii Japan and the Philippines Gurke was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin late in June for search and rescue duty. On 1 July three North Vietnamese PT boats were detected 11 miles away from Gurke and three sister destroyers and closing at high speed. Fighter aircraft from Constellation intercepted the raiders and sank all three within minutes. The destroyers picked up 19 survivors for questioning.

While in the Gulf of Tonkin Gulf refueled helicopters by a new in-flight refueling process enabling them to rescue American pilots downed in hostile territory.

After a brief respite in Hong Kong, Formosa, and the Philippines during August Gurke resumed duty in the Gulf of Tonkin in September and set a record in completing 113 in-flight refuelings. On this assignment, she bombarded Viet Cong positions in the Mekong and Saigon River delta. After being relieved early in the fall the destroyer returned home via Okinawa and Japan arriving San Diego 16 November. In 1967 she operated along the West Coast and prepared for future action.

Gurke received seven battle stars for service in the Korean conflict.

[Note: The above USS GURKE (DD-783) history may or may not contain text provided by crew members of the USS GURKE (DD-783) or by other non-crew members and text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships]

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Gurke (DD-783) underway in February 1963.