Navigating Life - Steering One's True Course
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.