In honor of the 4th yartzheit of my father, Gerald Bemel, may he be remembered for blessing, I am sharing a story from his navy days.
Vivid stories of my father’s navy service help me keep his memory alive. One of my favorites is particularly appropriate to the topics of personal development and entrepreneurship.
Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps afforded my father the opportunity to go to college. So in 1954, his degree complete and newly married, off my dad went to his first ship ported in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon thereafter he headed to the Mediterranean Sea on his first cruise.
Growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my father swam, sailed, and lifeguarded his summers away. Comfortable in and on the water, he was at home on the ocean. One day, while off duty, he was lounging on deck when he noticed the ship in imminent danger of running down a buoy.
In those days, France was particular about her buoys (not to mention her gulls, wouldn’t you be?) and knowing this my father sprang into action. Grabbing a couple of sailors they launched one of the ship’s boats intending to remedy the crisis. Motor churning the sea at top speed, boat hook at the ready to move the buoy out of the ship’s course, Ensign Bemel had the situation well in hand.
And then it happened.
Misjudging the distance, dad slammed into the buoy before the boat slowed sufficiently. But the French had little about which to complain. The buoy was undamaged. The boat was not so fortunate. The term my father used was stove in, meaning a gaping hole in its side.
Ignominiously, dad, crew, and disabled boat were rescued. Word was passed. The captain wanted to see Ensign Bemel.
Standing at attention in the passageway outside the captain’s cabin, me father contemplated his fate. His commanding officer was a mustang, an enlisted sailor who became an officer, in this case for meritorious action during combat operations of World War II. Old salt did not begin to describe his captain. He was harder than 19th century ship’s biscuit, the kind that broke teeth.
The door opened. The Executive Officer ordered my father in, then left, closing the door behind him.
Standing at rigid attention in front of his CO’s deck, my dad presented himself: “Ensign Bemel reporting as ordered, SIR!”
Captain: “Very good Mr. Bemel, have a seat.”
Dad, flummoxed: “Have a seat sir??”
Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, there in that chair.”
Tentatively, my father sat down.
Captain: “Now Mr. Bemel, tell me what happened.”
My father recounted the incident. Then he and the Captain discussed how he might handle a similar situation in the future.
About 30 minutes later the Captain told my father he thought that about covered it and to carry on with his duties.
Flabbergasted, my dad could not refrain from asking: “That’s all Captain??”
Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, carry on.”
Dad: “But Captain, I stove in a boat, damaged navy property, embarrassed the ship. What is my punishment?”
Captain: “Mr. Bemel, I’ve just spent a considerable sum training you. I need you to put that training to work right away. Besides, you have demonstrated the one thing I cannot teach. Initiative. You saw a problem and you acted. You could have done so more effectively, but you acted. I need that quality in my officers.”
No one breaks a habit through inaction. No business ever started spontaneously. You might stave in your boat, but you will learn valuable lessons. As important, you will show yourself and others, you have what it takes to succeed.
What keeps you from taking the first step?
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