It’s tough under the sea

Watching the failure of BP’s attempts to close off the Deepwater Horizon spill underscores how difficult the underwater environment is for humans to navigate.
It puts in perspective, on this Memorial Day weekend, how much more dangerous it must have been for my father, Clarence M. Templeton Jr., to serve on submarines during World War II, when the submersible was first used in a widespread way.
If we don’t know how people and machines operate in 2010, imagine what it was like in 1943, when the Japanese Navy had made the Pacific Ocean a big free-fire zone.
I hadn’t even been thought of, but had my Dad and his shipmates not prevailed, my own history would not exist.
Seeing the photos of his time in service was pretty exciting as kids, burnishing our image of Dad as capable of any feat — from running a restaurant to plumbing, electrical and construction exploits adding to our house.
One thing I did pick up was not to hide behind difficulties, or any other excuses.
It’s something we can pick up from the almost 2 million African-Americans who have served in the U.S. military. As I write in my new novel, Cakewalk, the armed services have been the precursor for the civil rights gains of each century of American history.
Just like my Dad sailing from Mare Island, units of Buffalo Soldiers took advantage of their assignments in relatively free California to raise their expectations.
Crispus Attucks shed the first blood for this country; five thousand blacks followed him in the American Revolution; 225,000 fought for the Union in the Civil War, taking direct action to end slavery; and hundreds of thousands like my father took on the Axis powers for a country that still discriminated against them.
Each episode of service made it more difficult to hold back their aspirations. It was not until much later that I learned that my Dad joined a Navy that would not allow blacks to enlist at the beginning of World War II.
But when a megaconglomerate continually reminds us how difficult it is to close the well at depths of a mile, it puts in perspective the danger of fighting the Double V campaign under the sea.
Although my Dad passed in 1983, I’d like to think that dedication survives in his children and grandchildren. And we have to spread it to the great-grands who never had a chance to meet him.

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