John Lang (21) Address to the 25th Reunion Memorial Service about his roommate, Rick Dempsey

Good afternoon,

I wish I could tell you about each one of the men and women this memorial service honors, but I can’t.  Although I was an acquaintance of them and remember them, I can’t speak intimately about them–and to try to bluff my way through that would be a huge insult to those who really knew and loved them. 

However, I was offered the opportunity to talk about one of our fallen classmates that I did know well, my roommate and friend, Rick Dempsey.

Although Rick and I attended the same high school and went to NAPS and his father even swore us both into the Navy, it wasn’t until we were both assigned to 21st Company that we became friends.  I should explain that we were never really close in high school because, while we were in high school, Rick was in the band, he was active in a number of clubs and traveled in circles of kids who were by all measure, wholesome and nice and had bright futures ahead of them.  I, evidently—according to Rick—was a “hoodlum.”  Years later Rick explained, when I was wondering aloud one night why one of the nice girls we went to school with would never go out with me;  He said: “She was afraid of you—you were a hoodlum.”  I only mention that so you can understand that we were kind of The Odd Couple—he was a nice well mannered guy—I…well…was not. 

Trying to describe someone you were close to is always very difficult.  You always end up with meaningless generalizations. …. Like trying to describe the ocean by saying it is “big” and “wet.” 

But I would like to try to describe the Rick Dempsey I knew. 

The thing that I have usually said over the years when I was trying to describe Rick to people was that he was, “One of the truly GOOD people I have known.”  By GOOD, I mean the word in the deepest sense.

But the most distinctive aspect of Richard Eugene Dempsey Jr. was that he was a guy who had his priorities straight.  He knew what was important in life and generally laughed off the rest. 

Family was the most important thing to him. 

He and his father had a relationship that would be the envy of any father and son.  You could see it the way they looked at each other.  Rick worshipped his father and it was clear that Gene Dempsey was in awe of his son, who had turned out to be such a fine man.

-In those rare instances when Rick found himself faced with a serious problem in his life, I could tell because he would sit there and kind of brood and it would be a bit unnerving because he would be kind of be serious—which was unusual for him.  Eventually he would say, “I’m going to go call my pop” and get up and head to the phone room.  He would come back in an hour—or two later with his sense of humor back and a solution to his problem.   His father and him were a team.

Rick’s mother’s influence was evident in the way her son respected women.   

While most of us immature young men treated dating as if it were some type of contact sport, Rick was always the gentleman.  His chivalrous treatment of girls often earned him a generous portion of ribbing from the rest of us who fancied ourselves real he-men.  He wasn’t interested in Cheap Thrills—he wanted to find a nice girl like his father had found and have a family.  Although he indulged our Sunday morning war stories, I think deep down he thought they were a bit pathetic.  He wanted more from a woman—he wanted love.  And eventually he found the love of his life and had made a family with her. — Again, he knew what was important.

Friends were important to him and he often sought out people who needed a friend.  And if you were his friend it seemed like you got the better end of the deal, because he was great at being a friend and he knew how to be a friend better than most people did.  He knew that people needed friends the most when they were they were hurting and when they could hardly look at themselves in the mirror.  Rick Dempsey was my friend when I know it must have been hard work for him.  I am sure I am a better person because he chose to be my friend.  I am sure that he was a better friend to me than I was to him—but that’s the kind of friend he was.

Rick came to the Naval Academy for one reason: he wanted to serve this country as a naval officer. 

He had a lot of fun here because he knew what to take seriously and he knew what was silly. 

He didn’t take rank seriously—much to the annoyance of some stuffy upperclassmen—but he took being a good leader very seriously and worked really hard to be the type of man that his sailors could trust with their lives.  The secret to his leadership success was that he genuinely liked people. 

-One of our high school classmates, who I talked to last week, said that Rick could see the good part in a person and then always managed to bring that out. 

-After he was killed, his mother got a phone call from one of the Chief Petty officers who had served under Rick when he was a brand new ensign on the USS Wilson.  The chief had tracked down Shirley Dempsey to tell her that her son had literally saved his life.  He told Rick’s mom that he was on the brink of losing his career and his family because he was an alcoholic and Rick was the only one who had managed to get through to him and had literally caused him to turn his life around.  As everyone here knows, for a new ensign to have that kind of impact on a Chief Petty Officer twice his age is a phenomenal accomplishment.

He took the mission of this institution seriously—to create combat leaders to serve this country in time of strife–while he paid only cursory respect to some of the rather silly rules—and found himself standing inspection in the Rotunda on more that one weekend because of it.

And—he was one of the genuinely funniest guys I ever knew and loved practical jokes.  I would relate some those stories here—but we are in a chapel and that is probably not the right place to get into all of that. 

That last time I talked to Rick was in late 1988.  As soon as I got him on the phone, I could tell he was a changed man.  I could hear in his voice that he was content.  He had the quiet calm of a man who finally had everything he wanted in life.  It wasn’t his professional accomplishments that made him so happy—it was his two baby girls—Ashley and Katelyn.  He talked about being a father like it was if he had found the secret to life.  At least he had found the secret to his life.  Being a father was the fulfillment of his heart’s deepest desire.  Although Ashley couldn’t make it here today, Katelyn is right here. 

I know for a fact that if Rick Dempsey were here to day, he would be one of our class’s newly minted admirals because he was that dedicated and that smart.  But I can also tell you, without a doubt, that he would tell you the most important thing he did in his life was to become a husband and a father. 

Because…Like I said, he was a guy who always had his priorities straight. 

Thank you for allowing me some time to talk about my friend and comrade, Rick Dempsey.



Recent Posts