Three Stars and a Crow
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Three Stars and a Crow by Robert J. Walker, MCPON 3
“Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Robert J. Walker devoted his life to building coalitions, trying new ideas and working tirelessly for an institution that he loves, the United States Navy. Three Stars and a Crow tells the story of a great Virginian who brought about positive changes within the United States Navy by doing what is right. MCPON Walker, thank you for your life of public service to this nation, which is well documented in this book.”
The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell, Governor of Virginia
“It has been an honor and privilege to get to know Master Chief Walker and I’m very proud to call him my friend. He has served his Navy and his nation with extraordinary dedication and serves as the shining example for all our Chief Petty Officers to follow.”
Admiral J.C. Harvey, Jr., USN
Three Stars and a Crow is the story of Bob Walker, a man who loved the U.S. Navy from the moment he met it, and who set out to become the best by devoting himself to serving his country and the men and women who serve.
From a typical American childhood raised on a farm, Bob’s character was instilled by his parents. He played quarterback in high school and won a nationwide speaking contest that helped him and others realize he was destined to lead.
After joining the Navy at 19, Walker rocketed through the enlisted ranks to achieve chief in just eight years. His was the Navy of spit and polish, chain of command, and an absolute dedication to quality and performance.
In this book, Walker lays out the principles that led him to go toe to toe with all who threatened his Navy. Read about the courage it took to speak the truth and demand changes to a system that had lost the polish of the past. Find out why his family managed to love him and believe in him in spite of the separation and demands he placed on them.
Filled with typical no-bull Walker language and humor, Three Stars is sure to become a classic guide for enlisted who want to rise fast and make a difference. This book describes how Walker did it, and why so many Sailors have such respect for the man who brought respect back to the Navy, the man who loved them beyond reason, and who became a living legend in the United States Navy.
For excerpts, testimonials and more information, please visit the website at www.mcpon3.com
“Many were “passing the buck” and blaming “Z grams” for “usurping their authority” and generally not taking ownership of personal shortcomings and failings. Along came Bob Walker, a hard nosed, pragmatic, no nonsense, get it done kind of leader. He was exactly what the Navy needed and he gave the job a 100% effort.”
Retired MCPON John Hagan, USN (Mar 92 – Mar 98)
“MCPON Bob Walker has been my leader, my mentor, and my friend. He has exemplified those traits most desired and admired by virtually all with whom he has come in contact. His contributions have dramatically altered the very course of the United States Navy. Demonstrating imagination, persistence and integrity, his resume includes initiatives that stand the tests of time.”
Retired Force Master Chief William Slingerland, USN
“MCPON Bob Walker was not only my MCPON when I made Chief, he was a mentor, friend and exalted advisor when I served as the 7th MCPON.”
Retired MCPON Duane Bushey, USN (1988 – 1992)
“My sincere hope is that your book is read by all of the young men and women who want to make the Navy a career. You will have depicted a person who is smart, savvy, and with a great sense of humor who made a significant difference for so many. Thank you for your service!”
Maryellen Baldwin, Exec. Director of the Navy League of the United States
Someone once told me that when you recognize something the first time you see it, it’s because it was already yours. I owned the U.S. Navy from the first time I saw myself in a Sailor uniform. That feeling changed with my first taste of leadership. Suddenly ownership without leadership felt profoundly inadequate. While it could be debated whether I personally owned the Navy or it owned me, there’s no doubt that pride of ownership, combined with a hunger to lead, makes a damn good Sailor…no matter what my father said when I enlisted. What he literally said was that I wouldn’t “make a pimple on a Sailor’s ass” because I chose radar as my career field.
My total infatuation with the U.S. Navy has endured for six decades now. I am no longer naïve enough to think I own it, but my sense of responsibility has never faltered. The Navy made me a leader and in return I made a lifetime commitment. Today when Sailors talk about the “old Navy” they are talking about my Navy, not my dad’s Navy. If Dad were still around to share sea stories, he probably wouldn’t have anything good to say about what his Navy has become. When he was a chief and later, when I became a chief, it never occurred to either of us that petty officers would ever be in a position to affect Navywide policies.
From the days of sail to the creation of the office of MCPON, petty officers were powerful but silent partners in decision making that affected the Navy. After 1967, I saw that change. Senior petty officers throughout the Navy were expected to be advisors at the command, force and fleet levels. Giving advice or making recommendations might not be considered decision making but at least the enlisted voice was heard. While my dad and his predecessors may not have benefited, it was most certainly the result of the legacy they created and left behind.
The vote of confidence given by the 1958 Amendment to the Career Compensation Act of 1949 creating senior and master chief petty officer billets was a huge step forward for petty officer leadership. In 1967, the creation of a senior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP) and the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) was the hard-earned nod from the officer corps to the petty officers that their time had come. Since then, petty officers have been challenged to present and be part of solutions to the problems they could only bitch about in the past.
Stay in or around the Navy long enough and you learn that history tends to repeat itself. From my dad’s day to now, the enlisted community has come a long way. We have earned higher prestige, responsibility, and quality of life, but one thing has not changed. Chief petty officers, by necessity and tradition, are still expected to lead from the front.
Back in 1975 when I became the third MCPON, I pushed, prodded and kicked butts to get that same wheel moving. Too many chiefs, reacting to what they considered an undermining of their authority during the Zumwalt years, were basically sitting around holding their coffee cups. During my visits to the fleet, there were chiefs who wanted things to go back to the way they were before Zumwalt or they were going to leave. I would tell that individual to give his name and all necessary information to the command master chief hosting the meeting. I promised him that within a month I would have him in a fleet reserve status or on the retired list depending on their length of service. I was not bluffing because the Navy needed chief petty officers not pay grades. I never had an individual take me up on my offer.
I believed then, as I believe now, that leadership is learned. I never took a class on leadership during my Navy career because nothing formal was ever offered. Instead I learned by example and doing. The first formal leadership classes for petty officers started in the late 1970s. The Senior Enlisted Academy opened its doors 26 years ago. Today the Navy has a seemingly endless number of classes, courses, symposiums and conferences that all stress leadership.
The subject of leadership intrigues me even now, 30 years after serving as the highest enlisted officer in the Navy. The difference is today I look behind and no one is following me! That’s a problem, but every now and then I get invited to talk to people about leadership so that makes me feel better. I still read about leadership, but not the new corporate-funded stuff. I read material that’s been around for awhile and stood the test of time like the old Bluejackets’ Manuals or books written for the armed forces in time of war. Psychology for the Fighting Man, printed in 1943 and researched by a host of people with scientific titles after their names is a good one. On the subject of leadership it begins, “You can’t even boss a dog unless the dog has been trained to obey and has formed habits of responding to commands.” I like that.
I hope that my time in the Navy, from my first day as a seaman apprentice until my last as MCPON, is a testament to the leaders I learned from. It was a privilege to serve and lead in the best Navy in the world.
The world was racing into a new era while I was growing up in Oxford. The hydrogen bomb was developed, Nikita Khrushchev became the leader of the Soviet Union, and Sir Edmund Hillery conquered Mount Everest, but you wouldn’t have known any of that if you visited Oxford. Time seemed to have almost stood still there. Fran and I both went to school in a tiny one-room schoolhouse that sat at the bottom of our hill. I walked the dirt path from my house to the school for the first time at the age of six when I began first grade. In cold weather, if you got to school early you had to help the teacher by lighting a fire to keep the room warm. There were students of all different grades and you sat in rows according to your grade. First grade sat in the first row, second grade sat in the second row, etc. Looking back, it is pretty incredible to think how our teacher managed the classroom so well.
When I was entering sixth grade the state of New York centralized the public school system and eliminated all one-room schoolhouses. I was really sad when our one-room schoolhouse closed. I went from a room of 8-10 kids to Oxford Academy, a modern-looking school building filled with 600 students. That was a bit of an adjustment to say the least! I wasn’t used to switching classrooms and teachers, or fumbling with a locker. I had a hell of a time trying to figure out the combination on my lock and almost missed the bus more than a few times!
I decided I was going to ask Fran to marry me, so I got my CO’s permission and bought my ticket back East. However, when I returned to Oxford I ran into two pretty big surprises. The first was that Fran wasn’t there! She was on her senior trip to Washington, D.C. The next surprise was that she already had a steady boyfriend.
Undeterred, I asked Mr. Mumbulo for permission to marry his pretty daughter. He said he would love to have me as a son-in-law. I had already spent a paycheck on the ring which I bought at jewelry store in Oxford. So without Fran’s knowledge, her Dad and I cooked up a plan that would give me an opportunity to pop the question as soon as she got home from D.C.
Mr. Mumbulo and I took his pickup and drove about 35 miles to meet Fran’s train in Binghamton. She was an exhausted young lady and if she was surprised to see me it wasn’t enough of a shock to keep her awake on the ride home! Somewhere along the way, her father pulled into a roadside establishment and announced that he was going in to have a drink. I watched him go in and then nudged Fran into a semi-conscious state. She woke up to me professing my love for her and then let me slip the ring on her finger. When I asked her if she would marry me, she mumbled something that sounded like yes so I slipped my arm around her, kissed her, and she immediately went back to sleep.
“I was numb,” Fran recalled. “I certainly didn’t expect Bob Walker to be waiting for me at the train station. I think I was in shock. I didn’t really know him at all and we had never been out on a date – even after we became engaged because he had to leave to be back on the ship and there was no time for a date before he asked me to marry him! It was obvious our parents had arranged everything without my knowledge.”
I only had a few days of leave so we weren’t able to plan a wedding. Instead, Fran and I set a wedding date for June and I went back to California. Fran had to go back to school the next day to a lot of surprised friends…and one very surprised boyfriend!
“I called my boyfriend the next day and said that I needed to see him. He said that he was busy and maybe we could see each other later that evening and catch a movie. I said ‘no, I REALLY need to see you now.’ He came over and I just stuck out my hand and showed him the ring on my finger. He was stunned! I told him that Bob had asked me to marry him and I said yes. I don’t know who was more surprised or confused – him or me! Obviously that was the end of our relationship,” laughed Fran.
“My friends at school were as shocked as I was when they saw the ring,” said Fran. “They couldn’t believe that Bob Walker – THE Bob Walker – had proposed to me. I got a lot of dirty looks and rumors spread like wildfire! I told them that I had no clue that he was thinking about marrying me either.”
Fran had been looking into work as a secretary after graduation but obviously my proposal changed things for her. “Suddenly I had to think about planning a wedding, becoming a bride, and moving to California to start life as a Navy wife. It made the last few days at school before graduation very interesting!”
After returning to San Diego, Bob discovered his ship would be going out to sea for several months. He called me with the news that we wouldn’t be able to get married until December when his ship was scheduled to return to port. So we changed the date to December 23. He arrived in Oxford on Friday, December 22 and we were married on the 23rd and never did have our first date…and to think some said it would never last!”
Fran and I were married on December 23, 1951. After spending Christmas with our families, our honeymoon began with the drive back to San Diego, doing some sightseeing along the way. There was no interstate system at that time and that made driving a little tricky at times.
“We got so lost,” Fran recalled. “Bob wouldn’t ask for directions and we didn’t have a map. All the roads went right through the big cities back then and it wasn’t easy finding the main road out of places like Chicago and St. Louis.”
For the most part, we kept our Sailors too busy to get into serious trouble. Sometimes you had to deal with problems that should have never existed to begin with, like McNamara’s Project 100,000. We were forced to take these jerks off the street and then expected to make something out of them. If we beat the shit out of them every day, starting with their first day in the Navy, we might have been able to do something with them, but you couldn’t do that.
We got a group of these so-called “new standards” men on the Kennedy and not one of them lasted. How could we be expected to do anything with those scumbags when our hands were tied? We should have had them scrubbing anchor chains submerged but instead we dumped them off because they were a bunch of goddamn misfits. Truth is they should have been in a chain gang on Devil Island, away from humanity because they were scumbags!
McNamara’s Project 100,000 was a highly controversial plan to enlist much-needed additional troops during the Vietnam War. The plan was named for its creator, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, former Lieutenant Colonel and Ford Motor Company CEO. When tapped by President John F. Kennedy for the Defense Secretary position McNamara applied his business background to reorganizing vital aspects of the military and its escalation. Project 100,000 began in 1966 and promised to give men from disadvantaged backgrounds training to succeed in both the military and later in civilian life. Under the project men who would not otherwise be able to pass the military’s aptitude or physical tests were signed up as “new standards” men.
The project was abandoned 5 years later after McNamara resigned and Congress stopped requiring aptitude test scores to meet military quotas. The project drew heavy criticism for being racist because nearly half of all men enlisted under the program were African-American and nearly three-quarters of them ended up in combat with the Marines, a much higher percentage than non-African American soldiers.
Kathy & Linda Walker on their father:
“What a magnificent man our father is. We are so very proud of him and all his accomplishments and even prouder that we can call him OUR dad. He always had, and still has, loving warmth about him.
In our teenage years it was tough for Dad to figure all his kids out. With six children all our needs were different but Dad always knew how to give us each the special attention we needed. He persevered through all the trials and tribulations of having a large family and always showed us the love we needed and disciplined us when necessary. When it came to discipline, all of us kids used to call him Sergeant Carter. He would go into Drill Sergeant Mode and when he spoke, we moved! Our discipline usually consisted of “swabbing the decks” and making sure everything was “spic and span.” We all laugh about it to this day. He would do anything for us and we all knew it. He always showed us so much love and we never wanted to disappoint him. Mom was the true disciplinarian in the family – she is the one we all feared!
We have so many good memories of growing up – snow ball fights, dodge ball and races to building the best igloo in the neighborhood and counting the days until Dad would be home so we could finally celebrate Christmas together. Those memories I will keep in my heart forever.
Several years ago a Veterans Memorial was built at City Hall in Chesapeake, Virginia and citizens were encouraged to purchase pavers in honor or remembrance of our soldiers. I had a paver done for Dad as a gift with his name, title, and years of service. A former Navy man who worked in the mayor’s office asked me if Dad would be a guest speaker at the memorial. Of course, Dad agreed and gave such a wonderful speech. He talked about all our service members and then he said that there were other people that you rarely heard about – the wives who stayed home and took care of the families while their men were fighting to keep us safe. Many wives and veterans came up to him afterwards and said that no one ever mentions those that are left behind and how pleased they were that he made sure they were recognized.
Anyone that truly knows my father knows he would never waiver from what he believes in. Dad has many beliefs but the most important and the ones that show his character (second to none) are his integrity, honesty, love of country, work ethic and most of all, love of his family. During the memorial ceremony they played Lee Greenwood’s song, God Bless the USA. During the lyric, “So I’ll gladly stand up next to her and defend her still this day…” well Dad stood up tall and the rest of the audience followed. That’s our dad! He loves his country and would fight for it until the bitter end. I am in awe of his strength of character and his devotion to his family and country.
Our dad had the special honor of not only having numerous libraries named after him but also a building – Robert J. Walker Hall on Dam Neck base in Virginia Beach. This is something not usually done while the namesake is alive. During the dedication speech he reminded everyone to make sure they “wiped their feet” before entering. That’s our dad!
If those honors weren’t enough, he was inducted into the Naval Hall of Fame in 2009. All of us kids surprised Dad and traveled to Washington to attend the ceremony. There are not enough words to convey how proud we are of our father. He is the foundation that continues to make our family solid. All that he has achieved in life gives all of us something to strive for. Hopefully we can pass this on to our own children and grandchildren. We have mighty big shoes to fill and a legacy to live up to.”
Robert J. Walker was the third Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON). He was born in Baldwin, New York, attended grammar and high school in Oxford, New York, and enlisted in the Navy in 1948.
After just eight years of active service, he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, later promoted to Master Chief in 1963. Walker was sworn in as the third MCPON on September 26, 1975.
Walker was a staunch defender of enlisted personnel and also a strong advocate of re-establishing the esprit de corp of the Navy.
His awards and decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal (2 awards), United Nations Korea Medal, Presidential Unit Citation (Korea), and 7 Service Stripes.
Walker retired September 28, 1979, and has been active following his retirement, serving as President of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association. In 1990, Robert J. Walker Hall, the home of Operations Specialist “A” School at Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic, Dam Neck, Virginia was named for him.
Robert Walker is married to Fran Walker; they have six children, Kathy, Linda, Robert, Jr., Teri, Michael and Michelle; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. MCPON Walker lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia near the Chesapeake Bay.