Opinion: Chattanooga known for Moon Pies, the Choo-Choo and now admirals

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Vance Fry at his home in Harrison on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Chattanooga has a well-known reputation for a few things.

There's the Choo-Choo. And Moon Pies, of course. And our outdoor scene, the Tennessee Aquarium and a rich legacy in Coca-Cola bottling.

And, well, apparently, a riverboat full of retired Navy admirals with roots several leagues under this Scenic City.

There's Adm. Vance Fry - a proud former Mr. Central High School - who was part of our veterans package this year.

And late last week, retired four-star Adm. Frank "Skip" Bowman and retired three-star Adm. Ron Eytchison were honored with Distinguished Submariner Awards for Lifetime Achievement from the Naval Submarine League.

Bowman, a 1962 City High School graduate, once worked for Eytchison, who moved to Signal Mountain in 1992, a year after retiring from the Navy. Bowman said he also knew Fry and was "just sorry he went to the wrong school" in Bowman's view on the old-school City-Central rivalry.

For most of us, the names of side-winding relief pitchers like Gene Gerber, Dan Quisenberry and Kent Tekulve come to mind as top submariners. But for those sailors who staffed, and in Bowman's and Eytchison's cases, led submarines, Thursday night's honors capped careers of accomplishment.

"It's a big deal for me. This one is way up there," said Eytchison, who has won almost as many awards as the cast of "The Sopranos."

Eytchison was honored this year, along with the 2021 honorees, because last year's event was canceled due to COVID-19. He sounded somewhat pleased that "at least I didn't have to give a speech."

For Bowman, the chance to give his speech - which centered on the importance community support plays in success, be it of submarines or school systems - echoed a lifetime of effective leadership.

photo Frank "Skip" Bowman / Photo courtesy of Linda Bowman

"I think the biggest lesson I learned was that you are never as smart as you probably think you are," Bowman said.

His words take on even more meaning when you learn he has a mathematics and probability degree from Duke University, as well as two master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including one in nuclear engineering.

"You have to remind yourself, 'You never really have all the answers, admiral,' because there are always more data points you can consider. If you don't encourage and develop those around you to have the strength and the gall to be able to tell you, 'Hey boss, you didn't put your pants on this morning,' then who knows what could happen?"

And he's not talking about an embarrassing trip outside in your skivvies, either.

"I don't like the word afraid," Bowman said, and not in a braggadocio manner. "I think you become aware, and you certainly can become tense, and there were too many times to list when I was extremely tense and acutely aware on a submarine."

As an example, Bowman references a time when he was in charge of the USS Corpus Christi and gathering data during a special operations mission in Soviet waters during the Cold War. He said he could not offer details because the information remains classified.

Both retired admirals have played significant roles in the Navy's preparedness. In 1988, Eytchison was named director of strategic target planning, responsible for targeting all strategic nuclear weapons and advising the secretary of defense on strategic force levels.

Bowman, a former chief of Naval personnel and director of Naval nuclear propulsion before retiring in 2004, said there will always be threats to our way of life.

"Assuming we remain strong - I hope we never yield to the temptation to rob Peter to pay Paul as it were - because it's a fine line and every public entity needs money," Bowman said. "But I dare say the most important war we ever faced was the one we didn't fight in the Cold War, and that was because there was strength in deterrence, and a large part of that was the Navy nuclear force.

"Do the new players - like China and our new enemies - even care? Does the destruction of their country and people matter to them as much as they did to the players in the Cold War? I can't answer that.

"So if you are asking me if we are ready [in case of nuclear conflict], my answer to that is that the world is never ready for something that horrifying. We just have to make sure we are strong enough to make sure it never gets to that point."

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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