Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy 85th - CWO4 Wallace Louis Exum

Navigating Life - Steering One's True Course

Happy 85th Birthday
CWO4 Exum !!

Born on 10 May 1927, today at 85 years young, Wallace Louis Exum remains the embodiment of true Navy leadership.
He is a man who lives his life richly in our Navy’s history, has performed bravely in battle, written lovingly about our Navy’s past and has prepared so many young men and women to lead our Navy’s future.

The Navy brought onto its rolls an improbable leader and a truly remarkable individual in an underaged 16 year old Seaman Recruit named Wallace Louis Exum in September 1943. Born in Akron, Ohio and raised mostly in the Los Angeles, California area by his two very loving parents, “Wally” Exum knew he had to perform his patriotic duty and join his young friends fighting the war in the Pacific.

Seaman Exum had not been in the Navy long before he strayed from his true course. More than once, he ran afoul of the Navy’s rules and regulations. Somewhere early-on he earned the nickname “Bigtime” for his easy-going manner, his extra thick Navy mattress and his home-of-record -- Los Angeles. More than once he had some difficulty in finding his way back to his ship on time. But, he never did anything seriously wrong and NEVER ONCE did he ever do anything with malice against anyone.

17 February 1945 marked one of the many milestones in his life when he was wounded in battle as his Landing Craft Infantry (LCI-457) came under fire during the battle for Iwo Jima. On 17 February 1945, Landing Craft Infantry vessels supported underwater demolition teams (UDT), which conducted beach and surf condition surveillance and neutralized underwater obstacles. Japanese coastal batteries heavily damaged 12 of the vessels, resulting in 38 killed and 132 wounded. At 18 years old, Wally was among those many young men wounded who earned the Purple Heart Medal. The skipper of his LCI, a Lieutenant, won the Navy Cross.

Having won the war on both sides of the world, the military released many young men from the service. Wally Exum was among those men. But, somehow, he always found his way back to the Navy. He served in the Navy during the Korean War, Vietnam and throughout the Cold War.

Over his career he found himself at sea for 18 years and gave the Navy and the nation 42 years of selfless service. His service took him around the world. He continues to serve the Navy in retirement today as a “Goodwill Ambassador”; his wonderful books tell the Navy’s story – and a wonderful story it is.

In 1981 at 55 years old, he was the first (and only) Chief Warrant Officer assigned as an instructor to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, Rhode Island. Somehow, the Chief of Naval Personnel, VADM Lando W. Zech had a personal hand in assigning CWO3 Exum to OCS. As a Celestial Navigation instructor, he would prepare hundreds of young men and women for successful careers as Naval officers – showing them all how to “navigate life – steering one’s true course”.

VADM Zech was certain that CWO3 Exum was the right man to develop these young men and women into professional Naval officers. VADM Zech sent exactly the right man. By all reports CWO3 Exum was an excellent navigation instructor.

With few (if any) exceptions, the officer candidates loved their instructor. Frequently he would spend many extra hours in the evenings with the officer candidates, teaching them the finer points of using a sextant to “shoot the stars” – absolutely essential to celestial navigation.

His evening lectures always ended with the same admonition to the young people trusted to his care. “Remember, ladies and gentlemen”, he would always say, “you can shoot the stars but we never shoot the moon.” The groans from the officer candidates would follow him all the way back to the parking lot where he parked a beautiful convertible Cadillac that his “even more beautiful” Joyce (one of the two loves in his life – the other being his daughter Marilyn) had given to him.

Without their realizing it at the time, Warrant Officer Exum was teaching these young people how to navigate their lives – not just celestial navigation. He taught them good manners, courtesy, honesty, patience, teamwork, integrity and so much more. He taught hundreds of young men and women to be good Naval officers. Those officers went on to lead thousands of Chief Petty Officers and Sailors in our great Navy. It is reasonable to say that CWO Exum impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Sailors through his good work and leadership in Newport, Rhode Island. He helped produce countless Navy Captains and certainly a few Admirals for the Navy. Not too bad for a 55 year old Chief Warrant Officer who was originally uncertain about his ability to get the job done for his friend and mentor, Vice Admiral Zech.

Following duty as an instructor and Company Officer at Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, CWO4 Exum was assigned as the Security Officer at the Fleet Activity Sasebo, Japan. Once again, he was challenged to put Sailors on their true course. He had no idea that he would be providing course corrections for his Commanding Officer. But, it didn’t matter. The CO was off course and it was CWO4 Exum’s duty to bring him back to the right course. Turns out the CO was violating Navy Regulations by allowing bulk sales of alcohol to Sailors during all hours of the day and was not attentive to many security issues confronting Fleet Activities Sasebo. Besides being against Navy Regulations, these bulk alcohol sales were creating all kinds of discipline problems among the Sailors in Sasebo – a lot of Sailors and a lot of alcohol are not a good mix. CWO4 Exum tactfully and discretely let the CO know that the bulk alcohol sales were prohibited by Navy Regs and were causing some discipline problems among the Sailors, as well as some black- market issues with the Japanese. CWO4 Exum also informed the CO about a number of security issues the base faced. The CO wouldn’t hear any of it. CWO4 Exum knew he had to get the CO on course to protect the CO from himself and to protect the Sailors. He told the CO he would take it up the chain of command. Anyone who knows anything about the Navy understands this put CWO4 Exum in a really tough spot. No one enjoys telling their CO that he’s wrong. And the CO sure doesn’t enjoying hearing it. But CWO4 Exum had long ago committed himself to “steering a true course”. CWO4 Exum filed his report and the CO promptly sent the Chief Warrant Officer to the psychiatric ward at the Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan. It was readily apparent to the doctors examining CWO4 Exum exactly what the CO had in mind. They kept CWO4 Exum aboard for a short period and released him back to Sasebo “fit for full duty.” Somehow the bulk alcohol sales ended soon thereafter and CWO4 Exum got the attention of the right people in the chain of command to the correct the many security deficiencies aboard Sasebo. Once again, this part of the Navy was back on its “one true course.”

And that is what his life is all about. You’ll find him teaching celestial navigation in the middle and high schools in Washington State from time to time. I am sure those students haven’t figured it out yet but ‘ol mister Exum is teaching them how to navigate life. Those kids are still getting lessons in courtesy, teamwork, honesty and so much more. Count on CWO4 Exum to make sure all the charts are current, we’re steering by the stars, we’re taking the whole crew and everyone is steering “one true course”.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a lesson in manliness.

This short piece won the "2010 LESSONS IN MANLINESS" contest sponsored by THE ART OF MANLINESS blog.


CWO4 Brian L. Ashpole, USN-Retired said...

I could only hope that I left a positive legacy upon my retirement from Naval Service.

Men like CWO4 Exum are rare.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those Officer Candidates fortunate enough to have been instructed (he was not a teacher, he was an instructor) by Warrant Officer Exum. I had him for Piloting as well as Celestial. Sixteen weeks of Wally Exum! He is an extraordinary man and a naval officer to be emulated. I still recall his many sea stories, humerous for sure, but an important lesson in each one of them.
While most OCS instructors wiped our names from their memories the day we commissioned, CWO Exum continued to check on us while we were at Surface Warfare Officer School, he even came to a classmates wedding. Sitting up front and crying through the whole thing.
He was concerned that our class was not being properly trained in how to be a member of a ship wardroom, (since our company officer had never served at sea). So, he came over to our company one night a week and provided us instruction on how to succeed on a USN ship. It was priceless.
He never gave us anything in class, he dogged us and even badgered us for answers, looking over the top of those reading glasses and with that booming voice, "I'm not leaving you behind, Mister! Think!" And when the officer candidate produced the correct answer Mr. Exum would give them his greatest compliment, "I'd go to sea with you anytime!"
I met a lot a wonderful people in my 26 years of naval service. Wally Exum stands alone at the top. He surely is Bigtime.
Lee Cardwell
Captain USN (ret)

Curtis said...

swos grad 1983, newport.

told my barbs the next time the f****** idiot does what the F******* CWO4 told him to do with something of mine that makes normal noises/sounds you just go ahead and push this rusty ole screwdriver deep into his kidneys. I'll just slip over and do the same that 4 star jackass Bosun CWO4 at the same time.

Nautical twilight has a very set timeframe and nobody lurks for hours at it. Take the star/limb to the horizon while both are visible and move on to HOMOTO or whatnot.

I thought this was about the BB sailor at Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941.

The very bane of my existence were warrant deck types. Warrant engineers were a most deep and appreciated bunch of real pros. see now if I can mangle some words as badly as you do to post.

Anonymous said...

Great Man. Great American.

Anonymous said...

Captain Lambert,

Just a few hours ago it was Mothers Day and I distinctly recall my Mother saying years ago, if you cannot speak well of someone you would be better off not saying anything at all. Some folks have never been exposed to that lesson evidently, or chose to ignore it.

You graciously sent me a book written by CWO4 Exum, The Golden Ring, and it was well written by a person who served the Navy with pride, in my opinion, and in the 485 pages of this book I do not believe he used any F words in his description of even those folks he had no appreciation for. Some folks really could use those words as an example of how to express themselves. The wish asked for by respondent of May 11, 2012 12:05 AM was granted as he mangled the English Language and all that it entails.

Very Respectfully,

Paul Connors said...

I was at Navy OCS in 1982 and had Mr. Exum for both piloting and Celestial Nav. I was your classic liberal arts grad but with a poor math background. In my senior semester at OCS, I had trouble with Celestial Nav and Naval Engineering and had to do retakes of both subject area's Charlie exams. I passed Engineering but failed Celestial and knew I would be boarded out as I was already a rollback from Oscar Co. Class 82004 to Oscar 82005.

Mr. Exum knew how heartbroken I was and took me aside and told me that this would be another challenge I would have to face, namely the huge disappointment of not being commissioned. He told me my next big challenge would be to go out in the world and to make something of myself in the business world. Within 3 months of my discharge, I had a responsible position with an aerospace company and that launched me on my future career in procurement where I work to this day.

I was a prior service Army paratrooper and later returned to the National Guard, from where I retired in 2009 at the same age (55) Mr. Exum was when he was my Navigation Instructor at OCS. He was an exceptional example of the value that Warrant Officers have in the military and I never forgot him, even after I returned to the enlisted ranks. When I became a Warrant Officer in the USAR, I tried to remember all of the non-navigation lessons he taught and then applied them to the situations I faced.

Mr. Exum's value to the officer candidates was not so much in what he taught in the way of Celestial Nav and Piloting; his real value is what he taught them about being leaders, good officers and yes, in being ladies and gentlemen and thus, better people.

Wally was a diamond in the rough and I was sad to hear of his passing. He will be missed, especially by this retired USAR CWO.

Mike Lambert said...

Paul Conner

Please send me your email address to


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