A Grateful Nation

America is a grateful nation.  We’re so grateful, we actually created a national holiday for the sole purpose of expressing our gratitude to God for the bounty which He has bestowed upon us.

Not only are we a grateful nation, we’re also modest and humble.  Greet any veteran of our military as a hero and they’ll tell you the real heroes are buried in the graveyard.  Compliment any firefighter or police officer on their courage and they’ll tell you it was all in the line of duty, that they were just doing their jobs.

There was nothing modest or humble about the union cheerleaders at Obama’s speech on Friday.  When he mentioned those teachers in your life, a huge cheer went up. Considering that our current crop of teachers are teaching our children false science and a tyrannical version of politics, at a pay rate that’s bankrupting most communities and states, I’m not sure what there is to cheer about.

They don’t want recognition (believe me); they want money.  That’s what you get when you hire government workers.  I earned every penny of my previous salary; getting real workers to acknowledge their own achievements was tough work, even when I reminded them that the article could be placed into their file and help them later on during the employee review.

You had to be an employee in good standing for me to interview you.  There was a whole vetting process before your name could get into print.  That was a job in itself.  Once an employee was vetted, then I could contact them.

Before I could interview them, though, there was yet another process through which we had to muddle, tougher even than the vetting process:  convincing the employee that they were a “company hero.”  After years of these interviews, I got the drill down pretty well.  I knew exactly what they were going to say:

“But I didn’t do anything!”

“That’s not what the customer says,” I’d reply.

“Well, I was just doing my job.”

“Not according to the customer.”

“But we do these kinds of claims all day long.”

“The customer doesn’t know that.”

“Anyone could have gotten a thank you letter.”

“No, not really.  Some do, but they don’t get into print.  I had to get your supervisor’s permission and her supervisor’s permission first.”

“You talked to my supervisor?”

“Had to.”

“And she said it’s okay?”

“Yup.  She has the letter.”

“She does?  I didn’t see it.”

“Well, I have it right here.  It says, “Dear Mr. CEO, I want to thank [employee’s name] for their outstanding and professional customer service.  My elderly mother’s house sustained roof damage.  She didn’t understand the claim process.  Not only did Ms. Jones explain it patiently but she brought the claim check to my mother’s house personally.  Et cetera, et cetera.”

“You went out of your way to deliver the check?” I asked.

“Well, it was on my way home. It was a little bit out of my way, but I didn’t mind.”

“That’s why you got the letter,” I explained.  “Now about your photo.  We don’t have your photo on file so I’ll need you to go come up to the photo studio to…”

“Oh, no!  I don’t want my photo taken!”

We’d then spend the next 20 minutes going over that process – no photo, no story.  The issue was usually resolved with an e-mail to the supervisor to gain the employee’s cooperation.

Most claims involved more than one employee. Our company was definitely team-oriented.  That didn’t matter to me.  Sometimes one employee had information another did not and it made the story more interesting, if longer.

That’s what frosts my cake about Obama’s patronizing speech.  No one in my former company needed to be reminded about how important teamwork. We didn’t need his insulting, “spread-the-wealth” lecture.

Some employees would have preferred to dispense with the public relations’recognition, not recognizing that an article on the website or even better, in the magazine, provided them with printed proof of their worth.  That’s why not everyone got into the magazine, even if they did something singularly well.  You had to have an excellent work record behind you as well.

Grandpa would have gotten more recognition for his radar plotter – which was extremely innovative for its time – but he had a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense teacher.  (However, he made it into Life magazine twice).   He didn’t suffer fools gladly and regularly cursed at his less adept pupils and once even put his fist through a chalkboard.  On the other hand, he had a genius for inventing Rube Goldberg devices to help his students understand the theories of electrical currents. He’d stay up late into the night helping a cadet who was failing and would battle administrators who were wrongly punishing a midshipman.  The administration and faculty regarded him as intractable, oppugnant, and insubordinate. When they complained about his cursing in the classroom, he thundered, “What the hell do you think they’re going to hear on the ships?”

And, not only did he invent the thing, but he wrote the first training manual on radar plotting (using my mother has his test subject) in order to teach the cadets how to use it.  That’s how new the employment of radar in shipping and war was.  I don’t believe he owed anything to anyone on that score, except perhaps his daughter, whose intelligence he frequently underestimated, though she inherited it from him.


The midshipmen at the academy were being trained as ship’s officers, but they’d still have to climb the ladder.  What’s more, they were being sent out into war to bring supplies to England.  Hundreds of merchant supply ships were sunk and hundreds, maybe thousands of lives lost. My grandfather had six months to teach them four years of engineering.  You’re godddamned right he swore at them.

Grandpa earned a bad reputation among the administrators and faculty at Kings Point.  But he earned the undying respect of the midshipmen he sent to sea, on ships barely armed or equipped for emergencies.  I met some of his former pupils when I was in college (they called him “Cap”).  We met more of his pupils at a service Kings Point held for him after his death in 1985. Even the young midshipmen, looking at the memorial plaques, acknowledged how many shipmates died and how many more lives were saved thanks to the training they received at my grandfather’s rough, but knowledgeable hands.

Kings Point’s midshipmen, at least at the time of his death, knew what they owed my grandfather, in spite of his faults and his bad temper.  Ship’s captains in the Fifties and the Sixties knew what they owed to his invention. Certainly, his World War II students knew what they owed him.  They don’t need any lectures from you, “Professor”Obama, thank you very much!

Published in: on July 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm  Comments (1)  

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