Category Archives: Leadership

Pretty Much the Coolest Thing Ever

By lex, on January 24th, 2012

When Son Number One got his wings in Pensacola these last months past, I took the opportunity to go down with hizzoner and his sainted ma, for to see the Naval Aviation Museum there. That being one of my cultural touchstones, for ours is a proud history with many fine and honorable heroes who preceded us, to serve as examples.

Eugene Ely it was who first put an airplane down upon a carrier deck, just a little over a hundred years ago. Butch O’Hare shot down three Betty bombers – and damaged two others – who were targeting USS Lexington on the unopposed side, saving the ship and thousands of his shipmates, while earning our first ever Medal of Honor. He was trained by Jimmy Thach, who turned a performance disadvantage into a winning tactic, setting the example for generations of innovators. His soul has gone on to meet its reward, but his spirit is with us still.

Pappy Boyington taught the young kids how to fight in the Solomons, and later paid his rent as a guest of Imperial Japan. Joe Foss got his kills at Guadalcanal, and helped protect the grunts from adding to the butcher’s bill.

Jessie Brown broke the color line to serve a country that didn’t yet deserve him in the Korean War, and paid for it with his life. Thomas Hudner crashed his airplane alongside him, behind enemy lines, trying to save his life. He also earned the MoH.  John Koelsch gave his life so that another might live. Clyde Lassen learned his example a decade or so later.

Jim Stockdale earned his ribbon refusing to submit to the North Vietnamese. Mike Estocin understood the concept of being on “government time” over Haiphong. He went missing because of it, his fate known to God alone.

It’s a lot to live up to.

But they all came from somewhere. Ely came from Davenport, Iowa. O’Hare from Saint Louis. Thach from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Pappy from Coeur D’Alene. Foss from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jessie Brown from the hard hate of Hattiesburg, MS. Hudner from Fall River, Mass. Jack Koelsch from London, England. Lassen from Fort Myers, FL. Admiral Stockdale from Abingdon, IL. Estocin from Turtle Creek, PA.

Flyover country, mostly.  Not the kinds of places that send kids to Harvard or Yale. Apart from Koelsch. Who came from the old country for reasons of his own, and gave his life for one of his adopted brothers.

Where do we grow the next crop? How do we reach them?

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A Fair Cop

By lex, on January 8th, 2011

Diana West has an interesting take on the issue of Enterprise‘s CO:

As one retired vice admiral put it to the Post, “What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior set a standard that allowed for sexual innuendo.”

Funny. What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior didn’t set any standard at all.

This should come as little surprise. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the Left in the last 25 years has been the junking of military standards regarding the sexes, a set of traditional attitudes that was slow to dismantle itself in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. Indeed, the military could be, and was, seen as a bulwark against the social changes wrought by a metastasizing feminism in the civilian world that would go on to kill, among other things, such concepts as “mixed company” and its prohibitions on “bad language” and other social shields. These had allowed for the existence of now-lost refuges such as reticence and discretion, which, in turn, provided shelter for a kind of privacy and intimacy that is all but unimaginable in our over-exposed world of TMI (too much information).

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Small Talk

By lex, on May 10th, 2009

SNO brought two of his old school chums over last night, both Marine 2LTs, the first just back from a 7-month tour in Iraq as an LAV platoon commander and recently reunited with his bride, the other an infantry officer leaving for Afghanistan in two weeks, and himself off to flight school this fall. His friends have been household guests for the last four years off and on, and greeted me as “captain” at the door, a formality I’d never requested of them as midshipmen. To my lifted eyebrow, the former explained that he had gained a new found respect for seniority, in the Corps.

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The Sailor’s Creed – a Controversy

By lex, on Thu – May 5, 2005

This may well sound like inside-Hollywood to those outside the service, but there’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot brewing in the naval ranks these days.

Turns out that a certain relatively senior officer (more senior than me, so I’m being a bit circumspect here) thought it would be a splendid idea if each and every day folks under his (distributed) command spoke the Sailor’s Creed aloud.

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Hobson’s Choice


By lex, May 8, 2004

As set forth in U. S. Navy Regulations, the Commanding Officer is charged with the absolute responsibility for the safety, well-being, and efficiency of his command, except when and to the extent he may be relieved therefrom by competent authority.

The duties and responsibilities of the Commanding Officer are established by U. S. Navy Regulations, general orders, customs, and tradition. The authority of the Commanding Officer is commensurate with his responsibility, subject to the limitations prescribed by constitutional, statutory, international, and regulatory law including U. S. Navy Regulations.

– US Navy Regulations

Any officer in command of a ship, submarine or squadron is by courtesy called “the Captain,” regardless of rank (although in the less formal aviation Navy, the commanding officer is more often called “the Skipper”).

There is a distinction between a naval rank, and a position – you can reach the rank of commander, without ever receiving the position of command. Successful commander command is a prerequisite for promotion to the rank (as opposed to the position) of captain. Since so very few officers will ever achieve the rank of admiral, making the rank of captain defines a successful career. There are places in the country (San Diego is not one of them) where a captain with 30 years of service will receive retirement pay sufficient to ensure that he never has to work again. But retirement pay is not the objective – it is merely the least reward, for the opportunity to lead. For the chance to be responsible. For command.

Command at sea is the pinnacle of achievement in the career of a line officer. It is the culmination of years of service, professional growth, demonstrated leadership and technical expertise in his or her war fighting specialty. Having climbed through the ranks by selection for promotion by statutory boards, and careful screening by administrative boards, an officer will finally put the US Navy Command Pin on his uniform. It is for many of us the height of our ambition, and a treasured symbol of success.

Recently it seems as though those pins are being attached with explosive bolts . As prestigious as it is to achieve command at sea, to be “relieved for cause” is more than equally disgraceful. The March issue of the Navy Times reports that 22 commanding officers had been relieved for cause in the preceding 13 months. Another three have been relieved this calendar year, bringing the total for 2004 up to nine. These numbers are unprecedented, and disturbing.


The commander’s responsibility is absolute – his authority is commensurate with his responsibility. We are taught those words from the earliest days of our apprenticeship as officers of the line, that is to say, officers qualified to command at sea.

Hyman Rickover, the father of our nuclear Navy, had this to say about responsibility:

“Responsibility is a unique concept.  It can only reside and inhere in a single individual.  You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished.  You may delegate it, but it is still with you.  You may disclaim it, but you cannot divest yourself of it.  Even if you do not recognize it or admit its presence, you cannot escape it.  If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion or ignorance or passing the blame can pass the burden to someone else.  Unless you can point your finger at the man responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”

An early case study that midshipmen still read was entitled “Hobson’s Choice.” The etymology of this expression escaped me until today: According to the Word Origins website,

Tobias Hobson (c. 1544-1631) was a Cambridge stable manager who let horses. He insisted customers take the horse in the stall closest to the door (the next one up) or take none at all. Hence, a Hobson’s choice is no choice at all. He was made famous by Milton. The phrase dates to 1660.

I had always presumed it to come from the name of a destroyer named the Hobson, which collided with the aircraft carrier Wasp in 1952, based on an eponymously named Wall Street Journal editorial.

The CO of the Hobson had been asleep when his watch team on the bridge allowed his vessel to approach, and eventually collide with Wasp, turning into the wind to launch and recover aircraft on a dark, foul night. He was awoken, assumed the conn, issued some dubious orders and died in the collision, one of 176 to die that night.

The lesson we were to take from this was one of accountability – A CO who allowed his ship to become hazarded, even if he was asleep in his stateroom, was still accountable to the Navy, and to his crew. As brand-new mids, some among us at first thought this somewhat unfair – I mean, the CO could not be in all places at all times. But we were instructed again about authority, responsibility, and accountability. The CO qualifies the watch standers – he had delegates to them his authority for the safety of the ship and crew. But the responsibility is always his, and he is always accountable.

The dreaded words on official correspondence relieving a CO will often read of the superior commander’s “loss of confidence” in the CO’s ability to command. This loss of confidence can stem from several reasons, although there is usually a straw that breaks’ the camel’s (commander’s) back. Some wryly attribute such actions to a violation of the “three kisses” rule.

– You may not kiss another ship (collision at sea – navigational buoys count too)

– You may not kiss the beach (run her aground)

– You may not kiss a shipmate (a relatively new phenomenon)

There seems to be no common thread linking all these CO’s getting the ax – and I think that’s what most disturbs naval leadership. The Navy gets pretty small at the top, and I know a number of these folks – almost all of them exceptional individuals, carefully screened for their responsibilities. But now their careers are ruined, and that’s just the way it goes. Because while I truly believe we are not a “zero defect” organization, I also know, as do my peers, that you absolutely must get the big things right. You must safeguard your ship and crew – that’s Hobson’s choice. In other words, no choice at all.

I’ve been in the Navy man and boy for 26 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. This at least, has not changed.

From that WSJ editorial:

“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability. …for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do. And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”     

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Hizzoner’s Last Flight


There’s something that you’ll want to go read over at I don’t know; ask the skipper:

It wasn’t necessarily his last flight evah. It was his last flight in that particular tour of duty, in that squadron, on that boat. Then again, there was certainly no guarantee of another sea-based sortie. This fella – if I remember the callsign correctly – we will refer to as Tex from this point forward. His call sign sounded similar. It might have even rhymed.

Go read the rest.

Make sure to add the blog to you daily read too. Lots of great stuff there.

What a great way to hang up the spurs.


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Edward “Butch” O’Hare


Butch O’Hare and his F4F-3 Wildcat. Stud.

Most of you will recognize the namesake of one of Chicago’s international airports. What you probably may not know is that today in 1942, the USS Lexington came under attack by Japanese G4M “Betty” bombers while in the Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland.


A flight of 9 Bettys approached the Lexington from an undefended side, and Lt. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare and his wingman were the only aircraft available to intercept the formation. At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the 9 incoming bombers and attacks. During the engagement his wingman’s (LT. Marion Dufilho) guns failed, so O’Hare had to fight on alone. He is credited with shooting down five Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth and probably saving lives aboard the Lexington (although she was scuttled at the Battle of Coral Sea in May that year).

VF-3: Front row, second from right: Lt. Edward Butch O'Hare.

VF-3: Front row, second from right: Lt. Edward Butch O’Hare.

As a result of this engagement O’Hare was promoted to LtCDR and received a Medal Of Honor. The citation reads as follows:


Medal of Honor – Navy
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Born: 13 March 1914, St. Louis, Mo.
Entered service at: St. Louis, Mo.
Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 gold star.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as section leader and pilot of Fighting Squadron 3 on 20 February 1942. Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lt. O’Hare interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of 9 attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machinegun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lt. O’Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down 5 enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action–one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation–he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.


Butch O’Hare receives the Medal Of Honor from FDR (with wife Rita at his side)

There’s a bit of fable involved in the tale of Butch’s entry into the US Navy. It makes for a great story but it’s just a fable indeed. Butch’s dad was Edward “Easy Eddie” O’Hare who was a tax accountant for the infamous Al Capone. O’Hare played a key role in Capone’s prosecution for tax evasion and as a result of working with the Feds, the rumor was that Butch received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in return. A great story indeed.

Easy Eddie was later assassinated (from Wikipedia):

O’Hare was shot and killed on Wednesday, November 8, 1939, while driving in his car. He was 46. That afternoon he reportedly left his office at Sportsman’s Park in Cicero with a cleaned and oiled Spanish-made .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol, something unusual for him. O’Hare got into his black 1939 Lincoln Zephyr coupe, and drove away from the track. As he approached the intersection of Ogden and Rockwell, a dark sedan rolled up beside him and two shotgun-wielding henchmen opened up on him with a volley of big-gameslugs. Edward Joseph O’Hare was killed instantly. As his Lincoln crashed into a post at the side of the roadway, the killers continued east on Ogden, where they soon became lost in other traffic.

Butch himself was later killed-in-action on 26 November 1943 while leading the first-ever night time fighter attack to be launched from a carrier.

If your ever at O’Hare airport and in terminal 2 go see the F4F-3 recovered from Lake Michigan:











In the finest tradition of the Naval service, Chicago’s very own.


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