Friday, November 28, 2008

Chevy Chase and Miles Browning

Occasionally, I come across a bit of history that makes my jaw drop. I've read enough WWII history that I'd heard the name Miles Browning before. He was one of the US Navy's first naval aviators. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1918, served as a test pilot, and by 1941, he was a Commander serving as Admiral William Halsey's Chief of Staff. He served under Halsey from the day of Pearl Harbor through the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, and when Halsey was hospitalized in late May of '42, Davenport served as Admiral Spruance's chief of staff during Midway. I've read one account that Spruance originally wanted to wait until the American aircraft carriers got within 100 miles of the Japanese fleet to launch an attack. Browning, however, urged an immediate strike that proved to be a spectacular success- the Japanese lost 4 aircraft carriers at Midway, and most of their best aviators.

In October '42, when Halsey took command at Guadacanal, he asked to have Browning again assigned as his chief of staff.The following months made Halsey a legend in the US Navy. In that first year of the war, the Japanese had inflicted so many shocking defeats on the Allies- Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma- that they seemed invincable. Churchill once said of his own leadership during WWII that the English people had had the lion's heart-and that he, Churchill, had had the good luck to be asked to sound the roar. That was often Halsey's role in the Pacific. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Halsey commented (for publication) 'When we get done out here, the only place Japanese will be spoken will be in hell' A sign over the front door to his headquarters in the South Pacific read, 'Kill Japs, Kill Japs, Kill More Japs!' (Halsey never lost the common touch. In one battle his flagship took a near-miss that knocked Halsey off his feet. As he struggled to regain his footing, his legs were shaking, and he noticed a sailor suppressing a laugh at his discomfiture. Halsey demanded to know what the sailor's rate was, and upon learning that it was Quartermaster Second Class, Halsey replied, 'Not anymore- now it's Quartermaster FIRST class! Any man brave enough to be laughing while my knees are knocking together deserves a promotion!' It may have been that same day when Halsey overheard a young sailor comment, 'I'd go through hell for that old bastard' to which, legend has it, Halsey replied, 'Son, I'm not *that* old!' Unfortunately, Browning had *none* of his bosses charm. He was a hard drinker who was quite unpleasant (at least that's what his first three wives would report) and caused a scandal when he had an affair with the wife of a fellow officer. (She later became his 4th, and last wife) Browning managed to get on the bad side of both Chief of Naval Operations Frank King, as well as the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox- so, eventually he got transfered off of Halsey's staff- over Halsey's objections. Sad to say, while Halsey never lost his flair for morale boosting, he made some grievious operational mistakes in the last year of the war that certainly gotten a less popular figure relieved. If he'd had the benefit of Browning's counsel- who knows?

Browning served as the Captain of the aircraft carrier "Hornet" until Spring of '44, when he was relieved after a crewman died in a noncombat accident, then got sent back to shore duty for the rest of the war. He retired and got a "tombstone promotion" to Rear Admiral. He died from lupus in 1955, at the age of 57.

Browning had one child, a daughter, who married a guy named Chase, and they had a son named Cornelius, who very early on picked up the nickname "Chevy", and who achieved considerable success as as a comic and actor (In past 15 years or so- well, not so much) Chevy Chase got to attend all the best prep schools, (his brother went Harvard) and when it came time to go before his local draft board, Chevy, clever lad that he was, convinced them that he was a homosexual. So some kid from Appalachia, or from the barrio, or from the ghetto, went to Vietnam in his place. I once read that Chevy Chase now claims that his mother abused him. (In my opinion, NOT NEARLY ENOUGH) It's sad that a great hero like Miles Browning died so young, but at least he was spared the ignominy of learning what a liar and a coward his grandson turned out to be.

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