A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down. — Robert Benchley
Alexandria, VA – Ordinarily in this space I try to waltz with history, do a tongue-in-cheek pass at some of the events and figures that made history, or splash a little fun at the high and mighty. Why? Because they deserve it. But this column will be a departure for me.
The past year has been a real barn burner. Turn on the news or any social media and you are slapped in the face with war, famine, epidemics, hurricanes, floods, pestilence, earthquakes, conflagrations, infidelities, and politics. Today, American politics could actually be defined as all the above.
Immoral politicians, the lustful TV executive, the errant General-grade military officer, a miscreant member of the clergy, a gluttonous corporate executive—they all blame “disloyalty” for their declines. There’s a growing trend in America of throwing the moral compass overboard in pursuit of success, that magical place where the ends justify the means, and it’s all OK if you don’t get caught.
That one word – loyalty – gets tossed around with a complete lack of respect for what it truly means, as if the lessons of Watergate, Nuremburg, Whitewater, Teapot Dome, Henry VIII, and Enron have fallen on deaf ears. Run contrary to the status quo and your loyalty is questioned. As if obsequious and loyal are synonymous and any departure from devout obedience is wrong, unpatriotic, or even treasonous.
Loyalty is a precious commodity. At its best, it’s two-way, possesses a powerful component that connotes love, and defies academic description. Once broken, it is searing. But when maintained by commitment, honesty, and trust, loyalty is a life power in and of itself. In this country of flippant “loyalty,” it is a joy to find a place where the real thing has a firm hold.
Last year we buried one of my Naval Academy classmates. Ty Glasgow, hailing from San Leandro, CA, was among the more noteworthy members of 9th Company. We spent four torturous years together and shared wonderful, challenging, draining, tough, fun, but all-in-all joyful experiences.
We all wanted to keep as much of our hair as we could, to look passable in civilian clothes, so Ty was our subterranean, unofficial barber, an occupation that could be hazardous to one’s graduation.
A late-blooming ladies’ man, he spent many weekends at Mary Washington College and Hood College, trolling for companionship, and he usually fared pretty well. He was a dedicated and focused member of the Navy Varsity Lightweight Crew Team and rowed all four years.
Every weekend he folded his 6’+ gangly frame into his MG, like Alan Shepard into his Mercury capsule, and off he went, adventuring into the metro Washington DC area, with the mile-long, infectious smile beaming as he revved off the Academy grounds.
Graduation came and Ty went into the Submarine Navy where he met his Melissa, or Missy. They had a crew of three terrific children, two daughters and a son in between, and seemed to love every single day of his years roaming the deep, being silent and deadly.
When Ty left the Navy, he began a successful career in software. And when the kids were grown and gone, Ty and Missy settled along the coast of Maine, to retire with his feet in the sand and surf.
Although we all went different ways into the Navy and Marine Corps, this bunch of notorious pirates kept in touch. We all eagerly looked forward to our 40th reunion, a chance to catch up and swap sea stories. That first evening we hoisted a few for God and Country, munched away, and laughed until our sides hurt, with our spouses looking on in bemused understanding. (That’s why they don’t let us out very often).
Toward the end of dinner, Ty’s Academy roommate Lance Tucker made a short announcement. He said that Ty and Missy had been really excited about the 40th but Ty apologized because he was in the hospital. Lance explained that Ty had been dealing with a rare blood disease for years. He didn’t want anyone to worry, but he had stopped treatment and was riding out his illness.
After the shock wore off, all of us determined that we would be there for Ty and Missy and we sent messages and calls of support. Ty passed away barely a month later. At Ty’s funeral, Lance delivered a magnificent tribute that covered, much better than I am doing now, the nature and character of the loving man that we all knew. Lance’s closing line truly captured the beauty of Ty, “But, ohhhhh…that smile.”
Six months later, Missy brought Ty’s cremated remains to Annapolis. The Navy Crew Team that he loved so much took part of his ashes and rowed him out into the Severn River. The remainder was given to a group of us classmates and we sent him off to the deep, singing “Navy Blue and Gold.”
We hugged each other, a bunch of tough, dedicated, former Navy and Marine Officers, holding onto one another for dear life. That hug was our realization that
Ty’s passing was the beginning of the end, that deep, empty space that we would feel again and again in years to come. We didn’t want to let go.
We hugged a fragile Missy and three children that were as much our family as any kin. We vowed to help out any way we could.
Over the next year many notes of encouragement and phone calls were made and shared. Missy was a hurt soul, but she was determined to keep on being there for her brood and the memory of her love. We marveled that she had rallied from the emptiness and was even hiking!
Last week Bridget, Ty and Missy’s #3, wrote a beautiful passage on Facebook. At first glance we thought it was about her dad, whom she dearly loved and missed terribly. Then it hit. She was writing that her mother, Missy, had passed away suddenly on her couch in the living room.
I called Bridget and told her that I would send out a message to the 9th Company guys to let them know. I reassured her that the three kids had all of us to lean on and to help if there was anything we could do. We learned that Missy had endured some heart issues in the year after Ty’s passing, some requiring hospitalization.
But knowing Ty and Missy as we did, we all came to the same conclusion: Her medical condition was simple. She died of a broken heart.
Since that day my email and phone have been busy with condolences and offers to help, fly there, or just to let them know we were there, like a bunch of worried, adopted parents.
It was a sad event. But the bond of friendship that started at the Naval Academy in 1974 stands firm today. And what we share with one another reminds me that there is still a living, breathing example of what loyalty truly is.
And that’s something I know I can count on.
ICYMI: On Watch – Oh, Canada!