Retired Vice Adm. Al Konetzni Jr. will deliver the Memorial Day address on May 29 at Taps at Twilight.
The Rotary Club of St. Simons Island sponsors the popular annual event at the Casino bandstand overlooking Neptune Park and St. Simons Sound.
Konetzni was a squadron commander at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in the mid-to-late 80s, and he and his wife now live on the Crooked River off Harrietts Bluff.
He has spoken previously at Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day celebrations, and also at a ceremony commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he said it will be his first in Glynn County.
“I was very, very honored to have been asked. I hope I can do well, and I think it’s a wonderful way to honor those who died in the service of our country,” he said.
He said that remembering those who gave their lives or part of their lives in service is powerful.
A native of Pleasantville, N.Y., Konetzni graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with merit and was commissioned as an ensign in June 1966. A career submariner, Konetzni commanded the Navy’s submarines in the Pacific from 1998 until 2001. When he took command, the Navy was losing a third of its young sailors from their first commands and soon after completing costly training.
In response to what he considered a tragic loss of talented manpower, Konetzni engineered and instituted a retention plan that ultimately reduced personnel attrition from 25% to 7%. The program was so successful, the Navy incorporated it as a model.
He was given the nickname “Big Al, the sailor’s pal,” for his height and his empathy for Navy personnel in the enlisted and commissioned ranks.
Of his nickname, Konetzni said, “It’s an honorific term, but I really like it. It’s kind of like being Clarabelle the Cow or Howdy Doody.” The two characters were popular in children’s programming.
“How are you going to fire Clarabelle or Howdy Doody?” he joked.
Konetzni said he was fortunate during his career to recognize “that every human being regardless of color, creed or nationality, every one has a mom and everyone has a dream.’’
Today, we tend to polarize things as black and white or simply right or wrong when people don’t succeed, he said.
“Maybe that young person is in the wrong profession and maybe I need to open another door for them,” he said.
Also during his command in the Pacific, he initiated a study that resulted in the Navy’s return of submarines to Guam in the Mariana Islands. That establishment of a squadron of three fast attack submarines saved billions of dollars and ensured proper maritime defense.
In April 2019, the commander of Squadron 15 dedicated Konetzni Hall, the headquarters building in Guam.
From May 2001 through 2004, Konetzni was deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He was responsible for the readiness and performance of 160 ships, nearly 1,200 aircraft and 50 bases and other facilities that were manned by more than 133,000 personnel.
Taps at Twilight will begin at 5:45 p.m. with music by the Golden Isles Community Concert Band. After a welcome from Janice Lamattina, president elect of the Rotary Club of St. Simons, Jim Broussard will sing the National Anthem.
The Glynn Academy U.S. Marine Corps Junior ROTC will post the colors and, led by piper Scott Townley, retired Army veteran Dick James and retired National Guard veteran John Gibson will place a wreath in remembrance of those who died in the service of their country.
After Konetzni’s address, Steve Bristol will lead “God Bless America” and the Junior ROTC cadets will retire the colors. Ann Marie Stire Walt will play “Taps” to close the program.