Navy Cmdr. Maurice "Mo" Kaprow was stunned to watch then-Cmdr. Holly Graf in action. He saw her for the first time after arriving aboard her ship, the destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, in Italy just before the Iraq war began in 2003. A Jewish rabbi and a Navy chaplain, he'd been sent to the Churchill on temporary assignment as the vessel readied for war. Usually pulling out of port is a methodical and precise process. "But I never in my life saw such chaos as there was on that bridge — Holly Graf began yelling and screaming rudder orders, engine orders, insulting people," Kaprow recalled Friday. "I'd never seen anything like this."
It got more bizarre as the ship pulled out of Sicily's Augusta harbor. "Just after clearing the breakwater the ship began to rumble and shake — now she's screaming even louder because nobody knows what's happening," Kaprow recalls. "I begin to hear young sailors' voices from the fantail and they're singing, `Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.'" Kaprow remembers being perplexed at the sudden song. "Then someone came up to me and said, `We've ran aground. She's finished" — assuming the accident would mean the end of their commander's career. "They were jumping for joy and singing on the fantail." Actually, one of the ship's props had broken, but the crew's reaction still amazes Kaprow. "I was flabbergasted." (See the top 10 crime stories of 2009.)
Kaprow left the Navy last month after a 20-year career and visits to some 200 ships. Morale aboard the Churchill was the worst he says he ever saw — even on the eve of war with Saddam Hussein, where the Churchill launched Tomahawk missiles from the eastern Mediterranean toward Iraq. "I think the lady is mentally unbalanced," Kaprow says. "I don't believe she ever should have had command." (See more about the rise and fall of Holly Graf.)
The Navy removed Graf from command of the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens in January for "cruelty and maltreatment" of her crew. But Kaprow's account makes clear that such conduct also occurred on the first ship Graf commanded. His tale is noteworthy because, unlike most others who witnessed Graf in command, Kaprow was an independent Navy outsider not subject to Graf's orders. Questions continue to swirl about how Graf not only retained her command, but kept getting promoted despite reports from eyewitnesses like Kaprow. Graf has declined interview requests, and there has been scant support offered for Graf by Navy colleagues on naval blogs or elsewhere. One admiral expressed concern Friday over what he called a "lynch mob" mentality about the case, as even conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh weighed in: "This woman sounds like a real Cruella de Vil."
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