During his 30 year Naval career Mike Clarity of Punta Gorda, Fla. was the skipper of a guided missile destroyer and the Port Commander at Pearl Harbor by the time he retired from the service.
His love for the sea began years earlier growing up on Broad Channel, an island in Jamaica Bay off New York City. His uncle was a tugboat captain and young Clarity was a member of his crew. After high school, Clarity gained admission to the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY where he graduated in 1958.
“I activated my Naval commission right after graduation and went aboard the Destroyer Escort USS Mills (DER-383) out of Newport, R.I. We were part of the Atlantic Dew-Line that tracked all aircraft with our radar that were flying the Atlantic toward the United States.
“Because I had more naval experience than any other of the junior officers on the Mills the captain recommended me to be executive officer of a small ship. I became the exec on the USS Somersworth (EPCER-849),” Clarity recalled more than half a century later. “Our main job was to go down off the coast of Bermuda and check out the Navy’s underwater listening equipment.
“Then we took the Somersworth to Norway to do the same kind of testing off its shores. Russian ships followed us around and watched everything we did. After we finished the job off Norway they gave us a week’s leave in Northern Ireland.
“On our return trip to New London, our home port, our little 180-foot-long ship ran into a big Atlantic storm. Our little ship was bouncing around. The captain and I got the ship back to home port,” he said.
“When I got back to New London I learned I was going to be doing an entirely different job. I was going back to Norway to be an aide to an American admiral in charge of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.
“I was given a crash course in Norwegian in three weeks before shipping over. I spent three weeks speaking only Norwegian day and night with a beautiful Norwegian girl who was my teacher. At the end of the three weeks I could speak a little Norwegian, but I was better at understanding what was being said.
“When I met the admiral at the airport in Norway the first thing he asked me: ‘Can you speak Norwegian?’
“I told him I could speak a little, but I understood what people were talking about in Norwegian.”
“I don’t want anyone in Norway to know you can speak Norwegian,” he told me.
Clarity and his new wife toured Norway and most of Europe during the next three years working for Adm. Joshua Cooper. Their job was to attend cocktail parties and official state dinners and find out what the Norwegians at these gathering were discussing among themselves and report their conversations back to the admiral.
“After working for Adm. Cooper for three years, he asked me where I would like to go on my next assignment. I told him I’d like to be the operations officer on a guided missile destroyer. I became the operations officers on the USS Sellers (DDG-11) based in Charleston, S.C. This put me right in the middle of the main fleet.
“The Sellers was part of the carrier group for the USS America. We spent a lot of time doing missile shoots off Guantanamo, Cuba between 1965 and ’67,” he said. “The Secretary of the Navy wanted to get more funding for the Polaris Missile Program.
So he invited a group of Congressman from Washington to view a Polaris firing off Cape Canaveral.
“The secretary got everyone on board the Sellers on deck for the firing. A submerged atomic sub that was 100 yards away from our destroyer fired a missile. When it broke the water the engine fired. It was a real experience to be that close to a Polaris Missile when it blasted off.
“I guess the secretary got the funding he was after for his missile program,” Clarity said.
It was during a cruise to the Mediterranean with the USS America battle group that the crew of the Sellers became involved in the closest thing to a major disaster the U.S. Air Force averted. Several nuclear bombs were accidentally dropped from a Strategic Air Command bomber during maneuvers along the coast of Spain. Divers were sent to the bomb drop site and the “nukes” were retrieved without further incident. Eventually the incident blew over.
After serving aboard the Sellers, Clarity spent time taking post-graduate courses at Navy schools in Monterey and San Francisco, Calif. Then he was sent to Vietnam. By this time he had served 10 years in the Navy and was a lieutenant commander.
“I became commander of all the Navy’s merchant ships at the port of Qui Nhon.
It was halfway up the coast between Saigon and Da Nang,” he explained. “One night our ships were attacked by an enemy mortar crew. I took command of a merchant cargo ship moored at dockside and moved it into the bay way from the enemy fire. The Army gave me a medal for what I did to save the ship.”
Because of his good work at the port of Qui Nhon Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, commander of all Naval forces in Vietnam, took note. A while later Clarity was promoted to the commander of the Naval installation at Cam Ranh Bay, one of the largest military bases in the country. When it came time to wrap up his tour in Vietnam the admiral asked what he would like to do on his next assignment. Clarity told him he would like to be the executive officer on a guided missile destroyer.
Two weeks later his orders came through and he was to be the exec on the USS Somers (DDG-34). He and the Somers returned to Vietnam where they provided the Marines with tactical fire power on enemy positions along the coast. When his tour was up he went back to the States where he spent the next three years working for the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C.
“At the end of this tour I requested command of the guided missile destroyer: USS Cochrane (DDG-21) based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,” he said. “I got the command and went to work every day with a big smile on my face.
“My family was moved to Pearl. We got housing right on the water. The Cochrane was part of the carrier USS Midway’s battle group. We sailed all over the Pacific with the Midway, including sailing around three typhoons.
“I was expecting to go to the Pentagon on my next assignment. But I got word, while I was waiting for my next assignment, they were looking for a former destroyer captain to be executive officer for the Naval Station at Pearl. I took the job and served for two years.
“Then I was promoted to the operations officer of CINC Pac Fleet headquartered at Pearl. I scheduled all the ships in the fleet where they were going. I was right in the middle of everything happening in the fleet. Some of the assignments were so secret I can’t talk about them.
“After working there three years, I got a call from the admiral I had worked for at the Bureau of Personnel at the Naval War College in Newport. He told me, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you are screened for a major command.’
“I was hoping to be given command of a battleship,” Clarity recalled.
“‘The bad news is you’re going to be given a shore command,’ the admiral informed me.
“They made me commanding officer at Pearl Harbor for two years. It was my last two years in the Navy. I retired a captain in 1984.”
Before he retired Clarity was told if he stayed in the service he would make admiral. Because his first wife, Mary Alice, was seriously ill he decided it was a good time to retire.
Two years after Mary Alice died he married Mary, his second wife, in 1992. They moved to Punta Gorda in 1998. Clarity has three daughters: Alice, Michelle and Margie.
‘Old Salt’ is a biography of Capt. Mike Clarity’s 30 year-naval career
The prologue to Mary Clarity’s new book: “Old Salt” explains she wrote the biography in three sections to cover her husband, Capt. Mike Clarity’s 30 year career in the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marines during the “Cold War.”
The first section is about growing up on Broad Channel Island in Jamaica Bay off New York City. Part two covers his four years at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. The final section includes his 26 year career in the Navy stretching from Korea to Vietnam.
The book is available on Amazon, Copper Fish Book Store in Punta Gorda or Sandman Book Store on Burnt Store Road.
Name: Michael Gerard Clarity
D.O.B: 1 May 1936
Hometown: Broad Channel Island, NY
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1954
Unit: USS Cochrane (DDG-21), Port Commander Pearl Harbor
Commendations: Navy Commendation Medal w/Combat V with Gold Star, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal (8th Award), Vietnam Campaign Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Meritorious Service Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wed., Nov. 13, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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