Living with History – Captain Cecil B. Hawkins, Jr. USN (Ret)

May 16th, 2005 by xformed

He was my second Commanding Officer. An aviator on a “deep-draft” vessel, the stepping stone to command of an aircraft carrier. Getting this far, you knew people in these positions would be wearing flag rank one day.

Capt Cecil B. Hawkins, Jr. At 6’4″, half Cherokee Indian he was now in the Combat Logistics Force (CLF) on a replenishment oiler. He was the kind of CO that was all over the ship, but only for the reason was he was interested in what made the ship tick. When you found him looking over your shoulder, and he asked “What are you doing?” he wanted to know the details.

Prior to being my CO, he had been the CO of the largest aviation squadron at the time. If I remember correctly, it was an A-7 training squadron in Texas, with about 1000 people assigned. Quite a responsibility.

Sometime in 1978, we had pulled into Port Canaveral for a few days, I can’t remember the reason, but, as usual, the Commanding Officer was given a car, but the rest of us had to hoof it if we wanted to go somewhere. Several of us were sitting in the Wardroom, it must have been a Saturday, and Capt Hawkins came in the door from the weather deck and asked “Does anyone want to go to Cape Kennedy?” The 1st Lieutenant, LCDR Mike Pivonka, and I said we would like to come along. We changed and met him on the pier. Capt Hawkins had been the CO for a while at this point, but as we drove to the Cape, he began to tell us about being part of the initial set of men being trained as Mercury astronauts, that he had not mentioned. As we walked about the Cape, he told us stories of the original Mercury 7 astronauts selected. One put his house up for sale as “A Future Astronaut.” One of the others had the reputation of doing anything it took to make sure he was one of the astronauts selected. Over the years, his stories have squared with other historical accounts, such as “The Right Stuff” and “From the Earth to the Moon.”

I did a little searching and found that there were 32 men who were not only passed the selection process, but also volunteered to enter the training program. Capt Hawkins told us he went almost all the way through the program, but was “cut” when the final design of the Mercury capsule was completed. The tallest you could be was 5’8″ and still fit inside the capsule. At 6’4”, he wasn’t going to get to fly.

Capt Hawkins had another story he told, and if any of you out there who have been in Naval Aviation, or worked with some of the aviators, see if you can confirm this:

For the filming of “Tora, Tora, Tora!,” a large group of Naval Aviators were recruited to take leave and fly as stunt me in the movie. With scenes of Japanese planes launching from their aircraft carriers, where else do you get people who can actually do that while the camera rolls? Anyhow, Capt Hawkins was one of those, and told of the film producers paying their stunt actor guild fees, and how there were really big parties every night. His next claim is one I’m not sure is all real, as I ran across someone else, who had a CO who made the same claim. He told us that the one plane in the carrier launch scene that leaves the deck, then sinks out of sight, only to reappear a few breath taking seconds later was piloted by himself!

He never made a big deal of all of this, but just presented it as the story of his life, just a slice of history. I learned many things from Capt Hawkins, as a very junior officer on a CLF ship.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 16th, 2005 at 2:05 pm and is filed under History, Military, Military History, Navy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 responses about “Living with History – Captain Cecil B. Hawkins, Jr. USN (Ret)”

  1. Shawn Sherel said:

    I would not doubt a thing that Capt. Hawkins said, in that aspect… I have the fortune of having him as an ROTC Instructor for three years. He told us about the Tora, Tora, Tora story, as well… Amazing things coming from an amazing man….

  2. Shawn Bowen said:

    Hawk is a personal friend of mine, I assure you, if he told it, it happened. The man exudes integrity.
    He also has some really great stories about the time he spent as an aide to Alexander Haig in the Reagan administration.

  3. xformed said:

    I never heard those stories. Now, time to beg him to write them, so we can all get more of that inside history.

  4. Mike Asbra said:

    Mr. Cecil came into my life when I was a young boy. The Hawkins family lived across the street from me in Jacksonville, Fl. My father was a Naval man as well, stationed at Cecil Field. I cannot recall ever having a man such as Mr. Cecil, or his giving wife and daughters, make a greater impact on my life. What a role model Mr. Cecil was for me, even though the times I spent with him were brief. I spent the balance of my younger years sitting on the end of naval runways, such as Fallon, Nevada in the late 60’s, dreaming of the day to become a Naval pilot.

    The Hawkins family were givers, and I recall the terrible day my dog died. Mrs. Sandy Hawkins hugged me, told me not to worry. The Hawkins family offered me a gift, that has been a rock for me over the course of time. A puppy from their “Blue”. The most beautiful import German Shepherd that I had ever seen, and true to the Hawkins integrity, they placed that puppy in my care.

    I never became a pilot, but I have had a life long love for the German Shepherd line, and continue to have them and promote their breed today. As I grew older, I noticed how much Mr. Cecil and my German Shepherds had in common. Fearless, Noble, Courageous, Intelligent, Strong Judgment and a Stable Demeanor. Mr. Cecil and a German Shepherd would give their life for another human being.

    I am very grateful for Mr. Cecil and his family.

    Kind Regards,

    Mike Asbra

  5. Rob Archey said:

    Cecil B. Hawkins was my first commanding officer. I was honored to serve under him on the USS MILWAUKEE, a replenishment oiler. I remember his commanding presence. I mean Captain Hawkins was a jet fighter pilot, and he exuded every bit of that “cool” factor. I was every bit of a 19 year old enlisted man, and he made a huge positive impact on my life. I’ll relate just one story. I aspirated to be a pastor. So, I conducted the protestant Sunday services aboard ship when we were underway, without the services of a chaplain. One Sunday morning none other thanthe captain of the ship, Cecil B. Hawkins, came to hear me give the sermon. After the service, Captain Hawkins walked up to me and heartily said, “Damn good preaching, Archey!” Since then, I’ve spoken and given sermons many times, and realize that what the Captain heard that Sunday morning was rudimentary and not at all good preaching. But, that’s the kind of leader he is; the captain of a United States Naval vessel, that still cared enough to check in on and encourage an E-3. Captain Hawkins, I hope you read this. I was assigned on the bridge during UNREP and general quarters. Thank you for your extensive naval service, and for being an indelible influence on my life. Rob Archey.

  6. Ed Mayberry said:

    I consider Captain Hawkins to have been my “first CO”. He was my NJROTC instructor in high school and had the singular biggest impact on my life personally and professionally. He was the epitome of Officer and Gentleman. He was confident without ever being arrogant. He was engaging and had a sense of humor that was infectious. His example was the one I always referred to in judging my own decisions while in the Marine Corps. I heard some of his Haig stories while home on leave one Christmas. I had recently been assigned to Camp David as Security during the Reagan administration. His insight helped me a great deal as I progressed through my duty and leadership positions there. I heard the “Tora, Tora, Tora” stories and a few others (such as his flying under the Golden Gate bridge without permission and getting in trouble). I think what amazed me most was the realization that his stories always served a purpose. He never shared anything without there being a reason why. He was always actively teaching and developing those he was responsible for. An incredible man and incredible leader. I have been blessed to have had his influence on my life.

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