Fair Winds and Following Seas: Reflections on the Navy Career of a Teenage Ensign
Reviewed by Daryn Watson for Reader Views (8/13)
The memoir “Fair Winds and Following Seas” by Ronald Vail describes the twenty-five-year naval career of a young man who grew up in the small rural town of Anchor, Illinois, located 120 miles south of Chicago.
His family, like many others, was hit hard by the Great Depression in 1929. Ronald’s family relocated to Anchor and was given a local restaurant to operate and make a living with. The family lived in a small apartment with no electricity or running water. The conditions were not ideal but it kept them from being homeless.
As Ronald became a teenager, the United States was drawn into WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon afterwards, Ronald decided to join the Navy and followed in the field of communications. He was dedicated to his career, although he was not the smartest, with hints that he was possibly slightly dyslexic by today’s academic standards.
He describes his career and his personal life as being very fulfilling. He married a woman named Kris, a nurse, and they had six children together. Each time the family was reassigned they were forced to move locations, either across the country or across the Pacific Ocean to Guam. Kris kept the family functioning.
During one of their cross-country drives for reassignment to California, President Kennedy was assassinated. Ronald was unsure whether to continue to his reassignment or return to his previous post in Washington, DC. Eventually that fateful day led him to keep going on to his new assignment.
I found “Fair Winds and Following Seas” to be a very good flowing and descriptive read. The author does a great job describing the situations he was faced with while being a career naval officer and eventually a Commander. He gives the sense of what life was like to the readers including some of the trials and challenges he faced, whether they were weather related, a threat to national security (the Cuban Missile Crisis), or simply him trying to appease civilian members of several communities with building a new road.
He also describes, with detail, the great competitiveness between other naval officers and himself, although he did not see them as a threat to his career advancement. Men he had considered personal friends as well as colleagues who attempted to inhibit his career with a negative review of his physical abilities to maintain his duties opened his eyes (and mine) to how cut-throat being in the armed forces can be.
I would recommend “Fair Winds and Following Seas” by Ronald Vail to anyone who enjoys stories of the armed forces or history. The stories are not glorified as other historical books of soldiers who were on the front lines during times of war, but it does give a good perspective on what everyday life and situations of those who were not on the front lines. This is a very refreshing perspective on the war that I don’t think we hear of enough.