Former U.S. Senator John C. Stennis served with eight presidents, beginning with Harry Truman in 1947 and ending with Ronald Reagan in 1988.
The senior Senator from Mississippi, he was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate for the 100th Congress. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1969 to 1980, Senator Stennis consistently supported a strong U.S. military and gained the honorary title of "the father of America's modern Navy."
Born August 3, 1901, eight miles south of DeKalb, Mississippi, Senator Stennis was an 18-year-old farm boy when he entered Mississippi A & M (now Mississippi State University). He graduated in 1923.
Senator Stennis took his seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1928, the same year he received a law degree from the University of Virginia. It was in Virginia that his namesake ship was built by Newport News Shipbuilding.
The following year he married Miss Coy Hines; they moved to DeKalb and had two children, Margaret and John.
In 1932, John C. Stennis was elected district prosecuting attorney and five years later he became a circuit judge.
John C. Stennis was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1947. Courage, integrity, dignity, honesty and an unwavering commitment to public service characterized his 41 years in the U.S. Senate.Senator Stennis retired from the Senate in 1988 and returned home to Mississippi. He passed away on April 23, 1995 and was buried near his place of birth in DeKalb, Mississippi.
"There’s a saying that eagles don’t flock. You find them one at a time. John Stennis was an eagle."
USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) is named after one of our nation’s most respected Senators. But because Senator Stennis was such a modest and unassuming man, many JCS crew members don’t fully understand the place in history John C. Stennis holds when they receive orders to the ship that proudly bears his name.
Recently, JCS hosted a former colleague of Sen. Stennis, and now many more JCS crew members have a far greater appreciation of what it means to serve aboard a ship named John C. Stennis.
Mr. Nicholas Glakas, senior vice president for government affairs for ITT Corp., served as General Counsel for the Senate Appropriations Committee from 1986-1988, when Sen. Stennis was Chairman. He was aboard JCS to visit the ship and to share with the crew some of his memories of their namesake.
During a question and answer session with crew members, he was asked what Sen. Stennis would think if he’d had the opportunity to visit the ship at sea. “He would have been so proud,” said Mr. Glakas. “Not that the ship was named after him. But that so many Sailors could serve aboard the nation’s aircraft carriers just as he had envisioned - with strength, honor and conviction.”
“We live in a cynical, violent and self-centered world, but we know we can step out of this madness by following the footsteps and example of John Stennis.”
Strength, honor and conviction are words that are frequently used to describe Sen. Stennis, according to Mr. Glakas. He offered several examples of how Sen. Stennis lived up to his reputation as the “conscience of the Senate,” and how he embodied the very qualities that served as an inspiration for the rest of the Senate body.
“Senator Stennis set an example for public service. He walked in his own integrity, with unwavering purpose and commitment. Straight and narrow works. It’s a lesson that the politics of the 90’s sorely needs.”
“Nothing defeated him. Nothing held him down for long. He always got up again and went on. He struggled, but he prevailed and endured. And he did it all with a quiet, unassuming dignity.”
"I remember after he lost a leg to cancer, Sen. Stennis practiced pulling himself up on one leg at his desk in the Senate,” related a misty-eyed Mr. Glakas. “He wouldn’t let losing a leg keep him from offering the proper respect to people in the Senate. When you address people in the Senate, you do it standing up, not sitting down. He was going to keep on doing just that, because it was the right thing to do.” Mr. Glakas added he never once heard Sen. Stennis express any feelings of self-pity over losing a leg or losing his wife.
Mr. Glakas spoke of Sen. Stennis’ undying devotion to his country and to the people of his native Mississippi. He said Sen. Stennis had memorized the entire U.S. Constitution out of a sense of duty and, when questioned on portions of the document, could recite them verbatim as if he’d just read it. He also spoke of the importance Sen. Stennis placed on our country’s history. “Sen. Stennis believed the lessons of history are the ones we should rely on to guide us through the problems of the future.”
"I do believe the most important thing I can do now is to help young people understand the past and prepare for the future.”
Of his years spent with Senator Stennis, Mr. Glakas called himself a “privileged listener to the oral history of our country. When he wondered out loud one day why Sen. Stennis had not, with so many lessons to teach, written any books, Sen. Stennis replied, “I have no lessons to teach.” While silently disagreeing with the Senator, Mr. Glakas realized that he didn’t need to write about history - he had lived it, and was an inspiration to the Senate body.
"In his 40 years in the United States Senate, John Stennis was the center of, or a vital part in, some of the most momentous efforts in modern American history.”
"You couldn’t give me a finer compliment than just to say ‘He did his best.’”
When asked how JCS Sailors can live up to Sen. Stennis’ legacy, Mr. Glakas smiled and said, “Just do your best.” He explained that every day of his life, Sen. Stennis did the best job he could do. If petty officers and chief petty officers do the their best every day, and inspire others to do their best, Sen. Stennis would be proud. After witnessing a frocking ceremony for first class petty officers, Mr. Glakas added that Sen. Stennis would have considered that ceremony the single most important event in the last 24 hours. “Nothing made him happier than seeing people doing their best, and being recognized and rewarded for doing their best.
"The humble man who came to Washington from a small town in Mississippi has made an impression on American government that is difficult to measure and hard to fully describe. He has demonstrated for all of us that one man, committed to God and country, willing to work hard and sacrifice personal gain and comfort, can make a difference.”
This is a true story about Sen. John C. Stennis, circa 1984, submitted by Stuart P. Vance of Starkville, Mississippi. The Senator had been in the Senate 37 years and had served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. At the time, the Senator was relegated to a wheel chair due to the loss of a leg from cancer.
The sun’s early rays were just beginning to reach the Capitol dome. Washington was still. A severe winter storm had just cleared the morning sky.
It was a bitter cold eight degrees and there was four inches of snow covering the ground. The streets were covered with a thin slippery sheet of ice. Schools were closed. Washington National Airport was shut down. Visitors from all over the world were stranded.
Just east of the Capitol, Eph Cresswell, administrative assistant to Senator Stennis and close associate for more than 30 years was waking up. "No way this government will open for business today," he said to himself as he looked across the grounds from his living room. Then, he suddenly came to his senses. "Except for John Stennis," he thought. "And I had better get over there" (to the Russell Senate Office Building).
As Cresswell buttoned his coat, and turned his collar up against the raw cold, he stepped across the street-from where he lived (nearby Sen. Stennis' home)- he could see wheelchair tracks in the snow leading towards the office building.
When young Judge Stennis ran for the U.S. Senate in 1947, he promised the voters, "If you vote for me, I will go to Washington and plow a straight furrow right down to the end of the row." He kept his promise - for on that bitter cold morning in 1984, "he plowed a straight furrow" with a wheelchair in the snow.
Godspeed to the men and women of USS John C. Stennis from the people of Mississippi.