Remarks by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwaldt, Jr., USN
Chief of Naval Operations
Launching of the USS Brewton (DE 1086)
10:30am Saturday, July 24, 1971
As Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy, it is always a source of pleasure and satisfaction to me to witness the addition of a new warship to our Naval forces.
Today, however, I am also an active participant in this ceremony whereby the sleek and beautiful example of the art of the designer and skill of the ship builder is introduced for the first time to the waters - waters which will carry her from this day forward to make her mark in history as a unit of the United States Navy.
This alone is privilege and satisfaction enough for any man.
But in addition, I am favored today with two further sources of pride and honor.
First, my own wife, Mouza, is to christen this ship - giving it a name it will bear on and over the wide seas for decades into the future - perhaps into the next century, the beginning of a new millennia.
Secondly, the name this ship is to carry is one which has a unique place in my own heart and memory.
Lieutenant John C. Brewton, United States Naval Reserve, served under my command in Vietnam. He died on 11 January 1970 of wounds received from the enemy in action six weeks earlier while serving as Assistant Platoon Commander of a Navy Seal Team Detachment.
For his heroism in that final action, Lieutenant Brewton was posthumously awarded the Silver Star - our nation's third highest combat decoration.
His Task Force Commander, Captain J. R. Faulk, USN, is present in the audience today, as is his Task Group Commander, Commander C. J. Wages, USN, now serving as my personal aide.
To us who knew him, nothing could be more fitting than to place John Brewton's name on a warship designed for anti-submarine warfare.
In tracking down and sinking a hostile submarine, the qualities so evident in John Brewton, the man, will be equally essential to USS BREWTON, the ship. Anti-submarine warfare demands:
- perseverance in the goals of the mission despite adversity or setbacks.
- technical skill and proficiency to steady with confidence and certainty those led into battle and to lend security to those to be protected from danger.
- endurance to stay in the contest until the issue is decided through victory or defeat.
- determination to win through, whatever the odds, however long it may take.
- most of all, courage to face death without flinching, even when the chill of its shadow is felt on the wind.
John Brewton displayed these qualities in full measure. Yes, Lieutenant Brewton was a very special young man to us - but he also was a very ordinary young American among those Navymen who served in Vietnam.
In 1945, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, when speaking of the Iwo Jima campaign, said that it was a time when "Uncommon valor was a common virtue".
So it also was for our Navymen in the jungles and on the rivers of Vietnam.
Our young sailors and officers there had willingly chosen the road of danger and personal challenge in defense of freedom.
They did so because of their faith in America and their belief that freedom is indivisible - that it must be defended on far away shores if we are to avoid defending it on American soil.
The heroism in battle and courage in adversity or death shown by our Navymen in Vietnam serves as a constant inspiration to those who share this uniform - both in the U.S. Navy and that of our brothers-in-arms of the Vietnamese Navy.
We know that only so long as our Navy and our Nation can produce men of such caliber, such quality, and such devotion will America be secure against those who may in the future seek again to challenge our commitment to the cause of freedom.
Although all Americans wish it could be otherwise, our Naval forces, with those of our allies, must continue to stand ready to demonstrate that commitment in coming decades. This means that young Americans like John Brewton must continue to stand ready to pay, possibly with their "last full measure of devotion", the price of freedom.
But men of courage and spirit are not enough. They must have the tools with which to do the job. This ship we see before us today is one of the many tools our men must have if our country is to remain free. It is a warship, capable of dealing death and destruction when called for - but it is also a "Peace-Ship" which, by its existence in conjunction with the other necessary instruments of military power, can prevent war - and this is its primary reason for being.
But, men and weapons together are still not enough to ensure peace.
Our Armed Forces must also have the physical and moral support of their fellow countrymen if American courage, devotion and technology are to be fruitful.
There are trends in our society today which have tended to undermine and erode public confidence in our Armed Forces - indeed, in our nation's entire way of life.
America was once widely thought of as a land of affluence and plenty, with opportunity to succeed for all who wish to excel.
In recent years we have more searchingly turned our gaze inward, and now see with greater clarity the deficiencies of our society.
There is poverty - there is crime - there is inequality of opportunity - and we are rightly moving forward to bring the reality of America in line with the image we have long held of it.
But despite its flaws, our nation yet stands as the finest example of human organization and accomplishment in the history of man.
Our rise to pre-eminence among the nations of the world has not been without cost.
It can be said of America, as it was of Ancient Athens, that its "Grandeur was acquired by brave and valiant men, by men who knew their duty, who did not think it dishonorable for their country to need anything their valor could do for it, and so made it the most glorious present" - their lives.
And, as it was true of Athens, it is also true that those men and women who have died to make America the "last, best hope of earth" were not all in the uniformed service of the country.
The pioneers who pushed our boundaries westward across this continent and the seamen who extended our trading limits around the Horn to Asia and the Indies all shared in a dream of a greater America in the future - and they found no dishonor in courage, heroism or death in pursuit of that dream.
Or martyred Presidents, from Lincoln to John Kennedy also held in their hearts and frequently spoke of such a dream.
But there are voices abroad in America today which imply that this dream is dead - interred with the remains of those thousands of young Americans who, out of patriotism and love, made this country a present of their lives in Southeast Asia.
For three decades now, brutality, destruction and death have been pressed on our society and its people to a degree unprecedented in the last hundred years of our history. It is not a surprise to find our people growing weary and the voices of defeat rising in the wings. To some Americans, the "Generation of Peace" our President so fervently seeks seems beyond our grasp - the burden of that "long twilight struggle" foreseen by John Kennedy only a decade ago already seems to them to be intolerable - many of our institutions and symbols of authority are being questioned or undermined - it is advocated that we turn our back on the world beyond our shores - that we leave our partners to their fate, and turn our energy to a life of isolation, ease and physical comfort.
The suggestion is that we should turn our resources and attention to problems closer to home, even at the expense of our defensive military capability.
The debate rages now ever-louder, and some predict that this is the course our people will choose to follow - that those same Americans who so swiftly responded to the call of greatness in the past have had enough of struggle and tension and will be persuaded to take the road of easy decision.
I do not believe it; nor would any man who knew John Brewton and thousands of young Americans just like him.
To turn our backs on the heritage of freedom and greatness handed down to this generation by those who for two centuries struggled and died to build it would imply an American poverty of spirit far in excess of any poverty of pocket book known in history.
If such a poverty exists, I have seen none of it reflected by those young Navymen who served so courageously in the rivers and jungles of Vietnam, nor do I see any of it now as our Navymen and women steadfastly go about their daily tasks on sea and shore around the globe.
Certainly, these young Americans have not abandoned their heritage, and I do not believe that their parents will be swayed to do so - however tiresome the burden may be. For, of all generations of Americans, we know that we live in an imperfect world - we are now inseparably a part of it, and there can be no going back to earlier and less difficult days.
We also know that no thug ever attacked a well-armed man, while history is replete with the examples of the price ultimately paid by weakness.
The frontiers of our national interest are now spread across the seas - pressed outward by ancestors of energy, imagination, courage and venturesome spirit. Our way of life, our very existence as a nation, is now inextricably bound to the economic and security prospects of dozens of other nations.
We are tied to those remote lands by sea lines of communication - and the ability of our Navy to control these sea lines of communication in support of outposts increasingly to be manned by allies and partners is crucial to the future survival of America as we know it.
Let us abolish poverty - let us overcome crime in the streets - let us break down the barriers to equal opportunity - but let us always remember that we cannot do so in a vacuum.
The voices of defeatism and dissent are loud and powerful. But I am certain that the spirits of those thousands of Americans who have died for freedom in the last two hundred years join us in our prayer that this nation will see the shoals ahead and put about before it is too late.
The course ahead is shrouded in the mists of complexity, and there are no wise men who can perceive or would advocate simple answers to the difficulties we face.
But at least one thing is clear - USS BREWTON and the officers and men who will man her in coming decades will make their just contribution to the security of this land and all it represents - they will bear the burdens needed to perpetuate our heritage - and the challenges they will face together will be increasingly more difficult than those we all face today.
Finally, in readying themselves to meet the tests ahead, I can assure them that they could have no higher goal to pursue than to match the example of honor, courage and patriotism set for them by their ship's namesake.
May God bless them in their journey to the next century.
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