Thursday, June 1, 2017

John Eskew inspired more than just a few sailors

by Larry Miller

Regrettably,  this site increasingly has taken on the appearance of a gloomy obituary page from the morning newspaper.  While many of the stories, indeed, chronicle the passing of several individuals, they also conjure up memories of many good friends from over the years – friendships dating back to the 1950's.

Such is the case here.

This time, a belated acknowledgement of a gentleman I first met more than 50 years ago.  In fact, we shared little time together – hardly two years.   His name was John Eskew, and he died nearly 15 years ago, October 27, 2002.  I happened across his obituary while doing some other online research recently, and I must share with you the great impact he had on a young Nebraska sailor.   And how he served as a great role model for a group of Navy guys back in the 1960's.  Eskew was not a broadcaster.  Nor was he a journalist.  But he was a leader, and one heck of a guy.

John Eskew was a 32-year-old Navy pilot when I first met him in 1965 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, anchored in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain. But Lieutenant-Commander Eskew wasn't in flight status.  He was serving as Public Information Officer – probably not his first choice – and I had just reported aboard as a Journalist.  He was my boss, and he was a good one.

My job, as leading Petty Officer, was to supervise the day-to-day operation of the Public Information Office.  It was an easy task, given that we had a seasoned staff already aboard, and Commander Eskew pretty much let us do our jobs with minimal oversight.  We really were blessed with a talented crew, several with considerable experience in broadcast and print journalism, graphics, and other related areas.

Our Public Information Office staff aboard the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) in late 1965. LCDR John Eskew is seated at left.  Others (l-r) are Ensign Ron Cameron, and enlisted staff  Larry Miller, Joe Johns, George Guercio, Mort Fleischner, Ron Schuster, Mike Adams, and Dan O'Sullivan.  We were a pretty diverse group – but we worked well under LCDR John Eskew.
John Eskew was an affable character.  He was bright, articulate, and had a great sense of humor.  He expected productivity from the staff, but he didn't hover over us.  He was our link to the Commanding Officer of the Saratoga, home to some 5,000 or so souls.  Before the ship would anchor near ports of call across the Mediterranean, he would fly ahead to help represent the ship to local officials and business people.  We're sure he had some fun, too, but he always took care of business. Our staff produced "Port Booklets" for sailors going on liberty.  Those publications offered a litany of things to do – and things to avoid.  A few useful foreign phrases were always included, along with a list of sites to see.  A currency exchange table was important, too, so sailors wouldn't end up on the short end of the exchange stick!  

Our PIO crew put out a daily mimeographed newspaper while the ship was at sea, and we also broadcast music over a closed circuit system.  We operated a closed circuit television station, offering daily news reports, and filled most hours with lots of music with still pictures.  Videotape was not yet available aboard ship.  We occasionally had special interviews and programs, including periodic appearances by the Saratoga Commanding Officer.  Our boss, LCDR Eskew, had responsibility for all of our PIO services.

If I ever knew where LCDR Eskew called home, I had long since forgotten it by the time I discovered his obituary last week.  As it turns out, he was a 1950 graduate of Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida.  I still don't know where he went to college, or anything about his early Navy career. 

I left the ship – and the Navy – in 1966, and we lost touch.

A decade later, having completed college and finding a job teaching at Oklahoma State University, I returned to the Navy as a reserve Public Affairs Officer.  It was on a temporary training assignment at the Pentagon in about 1983 that I had the great pleasure of crossing paths with John.  By then, he was a Captain working full-time at the Pentagon, and I was a Lieutenant-Commander.  We dined together and enjoyed re-living some of our "sea stories" from our days aboard the USS Saratoga.

At one point in his career, John Eskew, also a Naval Reservist, became commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Air Station at Glenview, Illinois, just north of Chicago.  According to his obituary, he returned to Tallahassee in 1985.  That's where he died 17 years later.

I never knew his wife, Bessie, or their three children.

Should fate ever lead me to cross paths with any of them, I'd be proud to reaffirm what they likely already know –  John Eskew was an outstanding Navy officer and a real gentleman.  He was a man of great character.  For me, and I believe all who worked for him aboard the USS Saratoga more than half-a-century ago, he was a terrific role model and a real inspiration to all of us.

So long as we remember, he is still with us.

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