Letters: The Navy Was ‘Conceding Defeat to an Overbearing President’

Members of the American military weigh in on the USS John S. McCain scandal.

Ahmad Masood / Reuters

A Stain on the Honor of the Navy

When President Donald Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan last month, sailors were reportedly ordered by the White House to hang a tarp on the USS John S. McCain, covering the ship’s name. All sailors on board were also given the day off. (President Trump had previously taken swipes at the late senator, though he tweeted a denial that he had known about the orders to cover his name.) Some of the service members who were present during the president’s visit wore “Make Aircrew Great Again” ​​​​​​patches, with something that resembled Trump’s profile on them.

The incident, Eliot A. Cohen wrote, brought dishonor not only to McCain but also to the Navy itself:

“What this episode shows is that the black fungus of fear, and ambition, and servility is more pervasive than might have been imagined. It stains uniforms even as it has stained business suits. The president has merely brought it to the surface.”

I was a sailor aboard the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)—the same class as the USS John S. McCain ship—during the Clinton presidency and the early part of George W. Bush’s presidency. We entertained foreign dignitaries, state and federal leaders, and various groups regularly, often painting and polishing all visible areas to show pride in our ship and our service to country. I cannot imagine a time where we would have felt ashamed or embarrassed by the namesake of our ship. I am appalled to hear that the Navy would even entertain the request of hiding the late Senator John S. McCain’s name. The fact that our president did not serve at all and that McCain was a naval aviator, prisoner of war, and civil servant should have given the Navy even more incentive to “politely disregard” this request. By covering the name of the ship, a portion of our military is conceding defeat to an overbearing president.

Honor, courage, commitment—these were the core values of my time in service—use it or lose it!

Kenton Cain
Virginia Beach, Va.

As a naval officer, I was disappointed to hear of the reports that the Navy ceded to orders from the White House to hide the name and sailors of the USS John S. McCain. I have since heard conflicting reports about what actually happened with regard to the ship’s name being hidden or ultimately not hidden, and where the orders originated from. However, I do agree with Mr. Cohen’s assertion that senior civilians and officers should not have gone along with such orders.

But I have an issue with Cohen’s using the “Make Aircrew Great Again” patches as additional support for his position. Patches are often designed and worn with a sense of irreverent humor. I don’t know the service members who wore the patches, so I can’t say for sure what their intended message was; however, based on my knowledge of naval culture, I perceived these patches to be no more a statement in support of MAGA culture than they are a rebuke of it. While I do think that any reference to political statements on the uniform is not a good idea, I don’t agree with Cohen’s statement that “maybe [petty officers] no longer understand that public displays of partisan attachment are anathema to good order and discipline.”

Lieutenant Chris Murray
Seattle, Wash.

Even if the order was directed as reported, I disagree with Cohen regarding the honor of the Navy in carrying it out. When the military refuses to obey the legal orders of elected officials, you have what is called a coup. When the military refuses to obey legal orders of higher officers, you have what is called a mutiny. When the military carries out legal—even frivolous—orders it shows its honor in not acting politically, its courage in not acting emotionally, and its commitment to the orders its members swore to uphold and the Constitution that they swore to defend. Navy leadership does have moral and legal issues within its ranks that it needs to address. This, however, is not one of them.

James Ferguson
United States Navy Veteran
San Francisco, Calif.

I am a retired Navy chief petty officer. Mr. Cohen misses the boat on his evaluation of events. The secretary of defense and the Navy could have discussed and disagreed with an order assumed to be from their commander in chief, but that would not, could not, and should not happen any further down the chain under any circumstances. Can you imagine the utter chaos that would follow if an order was open to debate or even discussion?

We follow orders from our superiors, and perhaps debate—or more likely discuss—the wisdom later.

Curtis Joseph Robinette
Zachary, La.