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Captain Edward L. Beach Jr.: 'His Work Will Live On'


 
 
Captain Edward L. Beach Jr.: 'His Work Will Live On'

Proceedings, January 2003

To most, he was larger than life. To a fortunate few, he was role model, colleague, and friend. Sadly, he passed away on 1 December 2002 at age 84. Following are a few thoughts about the author of the novel, Run Silent, Run Deep, skipper of the Triton (SSN-586), the first submarine to circumnavigate the earth, and naval aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

One of the most enjoyable tasks I had while working for the U.S. Naval Institute was being the acquisitions editor for Captain Edward L. Beach's memoir, Salt and Steel: Reflections of a Submariner (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999).

I eagerly looked forward to this project, because I had had many discussions with Captain Beach on the history of the Navy. A man of firm and always well-researched opinions, he was unfailingly gracious, even when we differed.

 

(U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE)

The experience was all I hoped it would be—and more. I was granted many revealing glimpses into the life and times of one of the nation's most fascinating Navy officers and his family and, thus, into the life and times of the institution to which Captain Beach was so passionately devoted: the U.S. Navy.

Captain Beach's life was one of complete dedication to the Navy, its officers, and its sailors—and the nation they defended. He was proud of the Navy's history and traditions, but his pride never blinded him to the need for change. He respected authority, yet he was never afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. Save the many thoughts for the wife and family he so obviously loved, he was unshakably focused on how the Navy could be improved to better defend the United States.

Indeed, if any young officers of today's Navy wonder if it is possible for anyone to realize John Paul Jones's famous definition of the ideal Navy officer, I urge them to look no further than the example of Captain Edward L. Beach.

Scott E. Belliveau
Director of Communications, Virginia Military Institute Foundation


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It was late October 1996, and Ned Beach had come by the old Naval Institute offices in Preble Hall. By chance we ran into each other in the reception area, and I mentioned I was entered in the Marine Corps Marathon the following Sunday. "I'll be in town this weekend," he said. "Why don't I meet you at the finish line? Then you can come back to our home to shower and rest."

I finished somewhere in the middle of the 19,000 other competitors that day and, after snatching a bottle of water from a postrace refreshment station, went hunting for Ned Beach. The search took a few minutes, as several thousand other finishers moved about the area. Finally I spied him, standing stoically amidst the swirl of human activity. I walked toward him and shouted, "Captain Beach!" When he spotted me coming out of the crowd, a broad smile crossed his face.

At their home, he showed me to an upstairs bedroom and bathroom. "After you clean up, you'll probably want to lie down," he advised, nodding toward the bed. Instead, after my shower, I returned downstairs to find Ned sitting at the kitchen table. I joined him there.

For the next several hours, we talked. Rather, I listened. Ned told stories from his own past, entertained me with tales from our Navy's history, and discussed his present book project (which became Salt and Steel: Reflections of a Submariner). Much of the detail of what he said is gone, but the image of the two of us sitting together in his kitchen on a cool autumn day remains vivid in my mind. I sensed then and realized later what a singular experience it was.

A bowl of apples, pears, and bananas sat in the middle of the table, and as the afternoon passed we each began sampling pieces of the fruit. At one point we each held an apple in our hands. Soon mine was down to its core, and I laid it aside. Ned, however, continued eating right into the core. Finally, holding the stem, he turned to me.

"The seed of life," he said.

Brian Walker
Exhibits Manager, Naval Institute Press


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I witnessed the love Captain Ned Beach's fans had for him in the years we shared the book-signing table at U.S. Naval Institute seminars. They would queue up with cherished, sometimes tattered copies of one or more of his works, even gripping weathered framed photos of him, relating tales of how he had affected their lives. Ned accepted each anecdote with gracious humility.

I always enjoyed Ned's company. He was a product of his era, unashamedly so, but he had an open mind about current social and military trends. When speaking to him, I had the sense that he was really listening. Ned sought the truth but never represented that he was the source of it, in spite of the fact that he was a sage the likes of which this country has seldom seen. And not only was he a writer and naval figure of mythological proportions, he was a raconteur without peer.

Being a golfer, I asked him if he had ever joined President Dwight D. Eisenhower on one of his many golf outings to Augusta. Captain Beach quipped that he had little use for the sport, but allowed that he had been with the President on the links once; not as a playing partner, however. After desperately scouring one of the Washington-area courses on foot to deliver an urgent message, Ned finally caught up with President Eisenhower on the tee box of a hole on the back nine. Out of breath, he broke Ike out of his preshot routine and handed him a note that read: "Korean War is over." The President glanced at the note, said thanks, and then played on. Ned figured Eisenhower was confident that the political situation could do without his help for the next couple of hours or that the Commander-in-Chief was just a hopeless golf addict.

That scene sums up Captain Ned Beach, the archetype of the 20th-century warrior/poet: He had the unique ability both to be part of history and to capture history for the rest of us. The blow of his passing is softened only by the fact his work will live on.

Ward Carroll
Novelist, retired naval officer


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One is fortunate in life to come under the enlarging influence of a great man or woman. I can readily identify five such persons from whose intellectual stature, principled behavior, and moral energy I was privileged to draw. Standing straight and center on that list is Edward L. "Ned" Beach.

We first met only a comparatively few years ago, in 1990, though I had come to know his fineness and fitness of spirit through his writings many years before that. Very quickly I came under the wholesome spell of that Navy Cross veteran of the Pacific war, that new Magellan in the Triton, and that indefatigable advocate of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. It was in writing or criticism of submarine books and in the argumentation of the Kimmel case that I came to know him best.

Ned's love for the naval service was without boundary. But it was tough love. He was never reluctant to point out a wrong or to right it if he could. To him there was no higher civic or military virtue than honor, and when he found instances of dishonorable conduct, particularly by superiors, he was relentless in correcting the record.

As examples, one thinks straight away of his effective defense in 1953 of Third Lieutenant William Cox, unfairly blamed for the loss of the Chesapeake to the British Shannon in 1813; and of his published defense of the 1941 Pearl Harbor commanders in Scapegoats (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995).

It is hard to say goodbye to Ned Beach. Safe port!

Michael Gannon
Distinguished Service History Professor University of Florida and highly acclaimed author


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In October 1972 American Heritage ran a splendid painting by the marine artist Fred Pansing, showing U.S. warships steaming up the Hudson in triumph, fresh from their victory over Spain. In our caption, we confidently misidentified the two ships in the foreground. This was embarrassing, but it proved a fortunate error for us, because it elicited a letter from Edward L. Beach that initiated a warm relationship between him and the magazine that lasted 30 years. The letter was a perfect reflection of the man: generous-spirited, lively, and deeply knowledgeable ("the fourth ship has got to be the cruiser Brooklyn, famous for her three extraordinarily high stacks, which were 100 feet from furnace to cap . . .").

Emboldened by the good nature of the correction, we asked Captain Beach if he would care to write an article for us, and he obliged with one that I think was as engrossing as his best sea writing—which of course is about as good as writing gets. Called "Damn the Torpedoes," it was about the disgracefully poor weaponry we sent to sea in our submarines early in World War II and how we finally solved the problem.

Over the years, Ned contributed stories that reflected the formidable breadth of his knowledge, from the naval arcana of long ago to that lofty sphere where modern technology intersects with global strategic concerns. Ned's articles brought both authority and excitement to our pages, and we remain in his debt.

Lord Nelson once said he thought that next to doing great things, the best thing would be to write about them. In his extraordinary career, Ned Beach was able to do both.

Richard Snow
Editor, American Heritage magazine


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My dad always told me a firm handshake is a good gauge of character. After greeting Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. on innumerable occasions, I knew exactly what he meant. When you shook hands with Captain Beach, it went all the way from the shoulder, down the elbow, to a grip-to-the-finish crescendo.

He could have invented the cliché, "ramrod straight," both literally and figuratively. Agree with him or not, you always knew where Captain Beach stood on an issue, and you knew where you stood with him. On one particular occasion, he left no one questioning how he felt about his Naval Institute.

It was my first U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting in spring 1990. I had heard of the exploits of this Captain Beach, war hero, daredevil naval explorer, and acclaimed author. But I had no idea he was in our midst that day. In the actual "meeting" segment of that year's gathering, a distinguished-looking, white-haired man rose from his seat with some new business. The organization was off course, he said loudly. Its editors were "editing too much."

At first with trepidation, I later had occasion to edit Captain Beach's work myself, most notably his impassioned pleas for exoneration of the Pearl Harbor commanders, Husband Kimmel and Walter Short, and his remarkable evaluation of Admiral William Sampson's performance during the Spanish-American War. After several editorial volleys of give-and-take, in every instance I eventually won the respect of Captain Beach. But each battle was hard-fought.

Last November, I had the honor and privilege of conducting what turned out to be his last public interview. When I checked the next week with his wife, Ingrid, to take down any changes he wanted made to the edited transcript, she said, "Ned is fine with it. He has no changes." That is when I knew our friend was slipping away.

Fred Schultz
Editor-in-Chief, Naval History magazine



© 2003 U.S. Naval Institute. All rights reserved.

 



 



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