"In my inaugural address, I said that each citizen should be concerned not with what his country can do for him, but what he can do for his country. What you have chosen to do . . . is the greatest contribution that any man could make. " -- John F. Kennedy, in an address to the midshipmen of Annapolis, June 7, 1961
It was quite a long way from Vietnam to the world of game show host Wink Martindale, but Judd Halenza figured he could go the distance, retain some semblance of honor and sanity and somehow make a success of himself.
The year was 1971 and Halenza was a fighter pilot who was tired of dodging surface-to-air missiles over Indochina. He was also pretty certain he wanted to leave the Navy, after seeing men he respected, the admirals aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, take orders from the president and the secretary of state about how to fight the war.
To contemplate their future, Halenza and his wife went on a vacation at the finish of his first tour of war duty, and on the return flight the plane's pilot, an exfighter jock himself -- a true-blue member of the brotherhood -- gave Halenza and his wife seats in the first-class compartment where they met a well-to-do gentleman from Hollywood.
Now, at the time, Halenza was looking toward the future with a bit of fear and trembling because it had been 10 full years since he first left the civilian world to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a career patriot, and he wasn't entirely sure what or where his place might be in the outside world. Then he began talking to the stranger next to him on the plane, and suddenly things didn't look too bleak.
The man owned a financial management firm whose clients included many Hollywood stars. Halenza was impressed by the man's tales from behind the scenes in the movie and television industries, but was even more surprised that the man was interested in him, his schooling at the academy, his graduate school education in statistics, and the war stories he told. By the time the plane landed, the businessman, impressed by the pilot's credentials and "drive," urged Halenza to get in touch with him if ever he left the Navy, and a job at the Hollywood firm would be his for the asking.
A year later, Halenza put away his flight jacket for good after 308 combat missions in Indochina, resigned from Navy Air and put in a phone call from the Philippines to the man from Hollywood. Sure enough, a few weeks afterward, Halenza was in Hollywood, working for the management firm, handling the personal finances of game-show hosts Wink Martindale and Tom Kennedy, and rubbing shoulders at Beverly Hills social soirees with the likes of Johnny Carson.
"It was," he said, "one of the most surreal experiences of my life, coming out of the war and all. But the strangest part was, here I was really wet behind the ears, but all these rich and famous people were consistently awed by the fact that I had fought in Vietnam, been shot at in an airplane, and gone twice the speed of sound."
So Halenza, realized he had it made, that he wasn't necessarily just another face in the crowd, and that all the peculiar ingredients that make up a life ensrouded in a military mystique could be parlayed into something of value in the world outside.
Today, after working for five years for a real estate firm in San Diego -- a job he was given by anotehr true-blue fighter jock who worked there -- Halenza is more or less an admiral in his own right, hunting profit now instead of battle glory, a self-employed real estate entrepreneur who, still wearing his trusty gold-rim dark-tinted aviator glasses, flies past the palm trees and million-dollar homes of La Jolla in a golden Marcedes.
The lesson is that old U.S. Naval Academy graduates and retired naval officers don't have to fade away, if they decide to turn in their uniforms for more common pursuits. If they look hard enough, as 34 of the class of 1965's top 50 gradates have done, they will likely find a spot for themselves -- perhaps a bit less noble, but a spot in any case -- in the civilian world.
The transition was akin to popping the lid off a vacuum. Suddenly they were refugees from a military womb that had provided for their every need, for shelter to identify, all their adult lives. The adjustment was not always easy and occasionally was quite painful.
With defense budgets shrinking, most of them got out in the 1970s when the getting was good, and they found themselves highly marketable. Employers, after all, appreciate disciplined workers, and there was nothing quite like the military provide some backbone to life. Plus, they had skills like aviation and nuclear engineering.
So the jobs came easily enough. Pilot Bill Williams hooked one with Delta Airlines and is now flying domestic carriers out of Atlanta, and John Allen is working at a shipyard on Puget Sound. Several, including Wayne (Monk) Warnken and Gary Granai, went on the become lawyers, with Warnken thinking of pursuing a career in politics in New York state.
Walter Bayless went to Texas and made a good deal of money in real estate, then wrote a book called "You Can Win the Real Estate Game," which was published a few years ago by Prentice Hall. Nowadays he and his wife are writing novels and running a workshop on human behavior and "holistic approaches to life management" in California. Bill Fries also made money buying and selling apartment houses in Miami, then became a born-again Christian who lives on a farm on the Florida coast where newspapers are not read and television is rarely watched, "because the news is generally negative."
After a tour of duty in Vietnam, David Walter Robinson, the problem plebe, came back, said he thought about the biblical commendment "Thou shalt not kill," became a charismatic Catholic, and works now for a financial consulting firm in Durham, N.C.
There are two physicians as well: Dennis Moritz, who left the Navy to go to medical school and is now entering the Army and preparing to intern in pediatric surgery at Walter Reed Hospital, and Ted Harada who, after joining the civil engineering corps and repairing roads and bridges in Vietnam, decided to become a doctor because, as he put it, "It seemed, after the war, to make more sense to try to put bodies back together."
The most illustrious member of this class, Roger Staubach, who graduated 488th out of 801 midshipmen, went from a tour of duty in Vietnam to professional football glory as a quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys.
After their minimum five-year commitment to the Navy was finished, most of the men in the top 50 joined scientific and engineering firms: Westinghouse, Florida Power and Light, Dow Chemical and an array of corporations specializing in nuclear technology, avionics and weapons science. They are spread out across the country from Old Mystic, Conn., to San Diego and most, picking up values of life in the private sector, have marched to success along the measuring rod by which civilians judge themselves. They live in suburban homes, make enough money to stay ahead of mortgage payments, are raising children, and are upstanding members of local church and civic organizations.
"In the Navy," Warnken said, "you measure yourself by how you rank in the wardroom. Outside the service, you measure yourself against your neighbor, how well the lawn is tended, how much money you make, how well behaved your children are."
It seemed simple, but their new world proved much more complex than that for many of them, especially compared with the vacuum from which they sprang. In the 1970s, the period most of them entered "Civ-lan" -- the military jargon they had always used for land-based civilians -- the spirit of the times was self-absorption and quick gratification, the kind of inward searches that produced mass fads and sure-fire remedies for existential discontent, everything from est to religious evangelism to disco-dancing.
It was a decade of self-worship, so it was fitting that these men chose to enter the world when they did. They were, after all, concerned with better themselves. But unlike most people, they also came equipped with a burden of regret for having left a commitment and service to something other than themselves. As President Kennedy warned them, in his address at Annapolis in 1961, "It will be hard at times to face the personal sacrifice and the family inconvenience, to maintain the high resolve, to place the needs of your country above all else."
"I would be dishonest," said John Markowicz, who works now as a sonar analyst for a Groton, Conn., firm "if I said I didn't leave with a trace of guilt."
But the most difficult part of the transition was the military personae the men brought with them to the world outside. As the warrior's aura worked to Halenza's benefit, George Sudikatus found it frustrating and out of place.
Sudikatus, whose marriage had already been shot to pieces by the military even before he got out, said he felt the world was passing him by while he toiled and toiled beneath the sea in the nuclear navy.
"I was concerned about my maturity," he said. "I was spending my life in a submarine while the world seemed to be going through some tremendous changes. The '60s, the antiwar movement -- people's ideas were changing about life. I wanted to see what was going on."
So he resigned, found work as an engineering supervisor at a Folger's Coffee plant in San Francisco, and rapidly discovered how much he had to learn about the world and its inhabitants ashore.
"Psychologically I wasn't in tune with anymore," he said. "From the time I went to Annapolis, I was trained to encourage and inspire people whose loyalities were the same as mine . . .
The civilian world was completely different because it seemed everyone else's loyalties were different.
"I approached the Folger's job with the same kind of commitment I had in the military and I assumed everyone would have the same dedication as me . . .," he said. "Deep inside I still saw myself as an officer. I gave orders and expected them to be carried out . . . instead people looked at me like I was crazy.
"One day," he said, "I ordered a shift worker to clean up a piece of equipment.It would have taken an hour and he said he didn't want to clean it. He said he was sick and told me to leave the job to the next shift. I was shocked. The man refused to obey my order. I suspended him and tried to get him fired, but the union took the case to arbitration and, sure enough, they guy got his job back.
"Well," Sudikatus said, "I found out the Navy had limited my maturity. It was a big world out there and I wasn't an officer anymore."
But the most arduous transition was faced by Alan Siebe, whose naval career was much like the fabled Little Engine That Could. Every obstacle that seemed insurmountable, this second son of a Cincinnati foundryman managed to overcome.
His folks didn't have enough money to send him to college, so he gritted his teeth, got straight A's in high school, became an all-city quarterback and was accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy.
He wanted to quarterback the Navy football team, but during plebe tryouts he played catch with another first-year hopeful named Roger Staubach, who zipped the football so fast and accurately that Siebe was quickly disabused of that ambition. He wanted to excel in something athletic, though, so he decided to branch out into a sport he hadn't tried before, gymnastics, specifically the parallel bars, which he worked and worked at, and became so adept at that in his last year at the academy he was an all-state selection.
He also finished in the top 50 of his class, and like the Little Engine, went on to the next uphill grade. He entered the nuclear navy, which was headed by Adm. Hyman Rickover, a man of preseverance whom Siebe had always admired. In California, Siebe finished first at nuclear power school. In Connecticut, he finished first in nuclear prototype school and submarine school.
He was, in short, on a very fast track to command, and life was great. He had married a high school sweetheart in the academy chapel the day after graduation, and together they went to Guam, where he was given prestige assignments in navigating and engineering billets.
It was about this time that Siebe started running out of steam. It was bad enough that he had to go on endless underwater patrols to God knows where, but, even worse than that, when he returned he and his wife found themselves arguing all the time, she accusing him of being a workaholic and incommunicative, he replying that that was just the way he was.
She became more independent, meanwhile, a little too independent in Siebe's mind, and one time they agreed to divorce, but then reconciled on the steps of the courthouse in Honolulu. Then a child was born, and Siebe's wife persuaded him to quit the Navy in order to bring some trace of normality to the family life.
Siebe's old academy roommate, Bill Fries, got him a job at Florida Power and Light in Miami, and for a while things were going well. But then his wife got cancer and underwent a long period of treatment, after which she abruptly proclaimed that she wanted more out of life, divorced him, and married an Air Force enlisted man whom she had met overseas while Siebe was on one of his patrols.
That was when Siebe's world crashed down on him. "I'd worked all my life to get ahead, to make something of myself, to be respected," he said one night, wearing a bright flowered shirt and sipping scotch in a Miami bar, "but none of it mattered." At Florida Power and Light, where he was steadily working his way up to a managerial level, the former warrior and leader of men went into a panic as his life disintegrated. "I'm usually a very controlled, quiet type guy," he said, "but when my wife left and took the baby, I found myself spilling my guts to total strangers, anybody who'd walk into the office."
Now Siebe had always admired Rickover, a man who was not respectful of the profession of psychiatry. Psychiatrists, Rickover once said, were only good for making people see problems they never knew they had. Well, despite his high regard for the admiral and what he stood for, Siebe knew he had problems, so he turned to a psychiatrist for help.
"If I were still in the military," he said, "getting emotional or mental help was something I never would have done."
He was put into group therapy with several other male divorcees, where "I learned to express myself, and not be ashamed of it.
"From the time I went to Annapolis, I had always contained my feelings, but now, it's like I've got a whole new start in life . . . I'm not afraid. A few months ago I got up the nerve to admit to people at work that I had been getting help. The best part of it is knowing that, for the most part, there's no stigma attached to it, as there would be in the military."
So it took a while, but Siebe, Sudikatus, Halenza and everybody else who dropped the boyhood dreams and responsibilities of careers in the military have adjusted to the spirit of the times ashore. Much of life is composed of trade-offs, knowing when and what to trade, and for the most part they have managed well.
Still having on to memories of those moments in their lives when Navy was all, they refuse to separate what they are now from what they once were. John General, who works for an engineering firm in Palo Alto, Calif., keeps in his office a large flag bearing the motto, "Don't Tread on Me."
Halenza's office in La Jolla is decorated by stunning color photographs of him flying alone in his jet fighter over the Pacific at sunset.
What remains in all of them is the feeling that one day, perhaps, they will be called upon again, or as Allan Foy put it, "I vividly remember the bell that used to wake us up at 6:15 every morning at the academy. I still have this distinct feeling that, whenever there's a crisis somewhere in the world, I'll hear that bell and go down to the sea with all the guys to man the ships again."