In the dead of the night on an evening in 1972, with various U.S. Marine Corps units embarked upon an amphibious ship headed toward Vietnam, the alarm was sounded for “man overboard.” The ship immediately executed a Williamson Turn – a figure eight maneuver seeking to get the vessel back to the approximate location where the person fell overboard – to initiate a search. Automatically, unit commanders mustered their Marines to identify the missing man and to collect details on how he fell overboard.
In less than 30 minutes, we knew the Marine’s name and how he fell overboard. Stoned on drugs, he tragically had gone aft to the ship’s fantail where he suddenly jumped overboard. The act was observed by a sailor on watch who then sounded the alarm. Trained for such events, the ship’s crew and the Marine attachments onboard immediately sprang into action knowing what had to be done in hopes of recovering the Marine.
That was more than half a century ago, yet today, although he was in another unit, I still remember the Marine’s name. The ship spent the next 24 hours searching desperately for him but, sadly, failed to find him. Most likely, he died instantly as jumping off where he did would have resulted in him being sucked into the ship’s giant churning screws, limiting his suffering to mere seconds.
As a band of brothers, the loss of one Marine is a loss for all. Steps were quickly taken to search for any other drugs in the ship’s living quarters, to educate our Marines not only about drugs endangering one’s personal safety but the safety of others depending upon him ashore and to keep them actively informed on the search status. While there was obviously one Marine we could no longer help, others hopefully benefited from our immediate actions in consoling those in grief and helping them get past this incident to take a positive attitude toward the uncertain future that still awaited them.
This incident, and immediate actions in its wake, came to mind in the aftermath of the Feb. 3 East Palestine, Ohio, train wreck, releasing chemicals into the environment and devastating the local community. While the actions of all during the 1972 man-overboard incident were methodical, allowing for an immediate assessment by senior decision-makers, that same sense of acting quickly and responsibly – this time by U.S. government and train company decision-makers – seemed totally lacking.
No single official represented this absence of responsibility more so than Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg who remained silent about the disaster for days afterward. He has demonstrated he suffers an important leadership flaw as he is a leader in name only.
During the 2021 supply chain crisis, Buttigieg was taking paternity leave. Thus, as ships were backed up in our ports, he was nowhere to be found. When the East Palestine train wreck occurred, Buttigieg was again missing in action having taken personal time off. It took him 10 days to even mention the incident and three weeks to visit the site. Meanwhile, his effort to blame the wreck on President Trump was refuted by the NTSB. Buttigieg totally ignored the fact that when one assumes a high government office, doing so comes with a responsibility to quickly react to crises as victims facing an uncertain future want answers.
Democrats have sought to place a younger generation of leaders, such as Buttigieg, in positions as stepping stones to higher office. So far, that effort has failed miserably for our do-nothing Vice President Kamala Harris. As Buttigieg has again failed to do the right thing, he follows suit, also establishing himself in times of crisis as a Democrat of inaction.
As 2024 approaches, Democrats need to query, “Where have all our leaders gone?”
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