My friend, retired Navy Commander Mike Francis, died on Sunday at the age of 58 after a battle with a fast-moving cancer. His life, from what I experienced, met the true measure of a man – not his station, not what he gained, but what he gave.
Few people who read this blog knew Mike – but I’m going to celebrate one slice of his life as an example of comradeship and giving that touched souls.
I first met Mike on a reporting trip to Guam in 1997, where he served as the assistant chief of staff for communications for the Commander Naval Forces Marianas and also as the field representative for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in the Western Pacific.
Mike’s sidekick in Guam was Lt. Cmdr. Will Anderson, commander of the Defense Information Systems Agency on the island, and I asked the two of them to assist me in a mission of the heart, which led to us dubbing ourselves “Three Musketeers,” the subject line on the last email I received from Mike.
Before I left for that trip to Guam, another Navy friend asked me to locate the grave of his infant son, buried there in 1975, and bring him back photos. I asked Mike and Will – who is the cousin of my best Vietnam veteran buddy, Niel Hancock – how difficult it would be to locate the grave.
They pointed out that the 30-mile-long, 12-mile-wide island had literally hundreds of cemeteries, and then said they would aid me in my quest. They picked me up at my hotel on a Saturday morning armed with trowels and a small broom to clean the headstone and a box camera to take pictures – if we found the grave.
The grave quest turned out to be a poignant history lesson – as we made our way down through cemeteries scattered along the Guam shoreline, the headstones and dates evoking days of peace and then increasingly, World War II.
We finally ended up at a cemetery with many headstones containing Vietnamese names – refugees who fled to Guam in 1975 after the collapse of the South only to die after arriving in Guam – and Mike had a hunch we had finally found the right one, due to the dates on the markers.
After going through row after row, we found the grave of my friend’s son. Mike took out his trowel and brush and carefully cleaned the grave. Will snapped a roll of film, which I had developed and gave to my friend when I returned home.
That was a priceless gift, thanks to the fact that Mike (and Will) met The Measure of a Man:
“Not - How did he die? But - How did he live?
Not - What did he gain? But - What did he give?
These are the things that measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.
Not - What was his station? But - had he a heart?
And - How did he play his God-given part?”