Shipmate of the Week – The Norris Chiefs
Posted by LT Stephanie Young, Friday, December 14, 2012
Written by retired Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth L. Norris Sr.
The bay was calm as my father, Enginemen 1st Class Harry L. Norris Sr., answered the call to set the special sea detail in May 1961. His newly constructed Coast Guard Point-class patrol boat trailed behind two other patrol boats as they neared the majestic Cape Charles lighthouse. An 8,000-mile, 45-day journey lay ahead for as the crew as they began their journey to the west, via the Panama Canal.
He had been challenged before. He had manned the engine room of cutter Avoyel ; stood the watch for days on end on a Coast Guard light ship; and conducted law enforcement operations in the Caribbean aboard cutter Ariadne during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He knew how to focus. He knew what was expected of him. He met those challenges despite the exhaustive days and lonely nights his voyage to the west coast would require. All the while, my father grew to respect the chief’s anchor as a sign of authority, dedication and tradition and wanted to join the ranks of the Coast Guard’s senior enlisted.
Weeks later, off the coast of Mexico, the lieutenant aboard the lead patrol boat piped on the ship’s radio, “Norris…you made it man, you made it!” Norris struggled to read through diesel-smoked eyes the advancement report. He advanced to chief petty officer on July 1, 1961. Little did he know, he was about to initiate more than half a century of devotion to that most honorable “anchor.”
The legacy continues
Fast forward more than a decade later, on March 17, 1975, my father stood proudly next to me as I enlisted in the Coast Guard. The ceremony took place in a quaint little office in Tampa, Fla., and he listened to an all-too-familiar oath I nervously stumbled through. I was about to embark on a 30-year voyage within the very organization my father loved so dearly. A voyage that would carry me to chief petty officer and beyond.
My father’s respect for his service encouraged me to volunteer for the Coast Guard Honor Guard. His sense of honor helped me endure hours of standing at a position of attention for President Gerald Ford and other dignitaries. His devotion to duty helped me graduated first in my class, with honors, from aviation electrician’s mate school and go on to achieve further aviation qualifications.
Fourteen years later, on March 1, 1990, after flying more than 5,000 hours as an HC-130 Hercules flight engineer while operating in 47 different countries around the world, my father pinned the very anchors he himself had worn on my collar. They were the same anchors of courage and strength that had been forged on a lone engineman’s watch many years before. They lacked the luster of a new pair, yet were as radiant a device as could be found in any uniform shop.
A new generation
My son, Kenneth L. Norris Jr., joined the Coast Guard in 1994. At age 18 he tackled the trials and challenges Cape May had to offer. My dad and I told him the secret of our success: lead by example. Set the standard and others will follow.
He set out to do just that. Stationed on cutter Manitou in Miami, Norris Jr. soon came to understand he was more like his father than his grandfather; he yearned to fly. Fifteen months later Norris was on his way to learn the aviation mechanic’s trade in Elizabeth City, N. C.
This month, more than 50 years after my father earned his anchors, my son donned the salty anchors of his grandfather and father. The chain of the Norris’ fouled anchor is symbolic of our flexibility and strength. Our chain of life, like so many other Coast Guard men and women, is forged day-by-day, link-by link in showing character and virtue in the fires of adversity.
Although times are different, the torch has been passed. There is no more to be said but to record in the ships log the story of three generations of Norris and their beloved outfit that gave them an opportunity to serve the country they love.