Reviews

Reviews of ¡El Capitán! (ORDER NOW)

“This is a remarkable and very personal account of a first-generation American who, through hard work, perseverance and courage became an extremely successful naval officer who excelled in command at sea and ashore. The Navy’s core values are honor, courage and commitment. Frank Gamboa epitomizes these values. I commend this book to young and old alike who seek inspiration from old time American values of hard work, sacrifice, dedication, perseverance and leadership.”

—Admiral Charles R. Larson, USN (Ret.)


“A well written, detailed story of the trials, tribulations, challenges, delights, exaltations and accomplishments of a U.S. Navy line officer as he navigates from U.S. Naval Academy plebe to his twilight tour of duty in the Pentagon as a Navy Captain; a story of success and how it was achieved that adds another chapter to our Navy’s illustrious history.”

Lieutenant General Matthew T. Cooper, USMC (Ret.)


“A heart-warming American story of a boy of Mexican descent from humble beginnings and his struggle to be admitted to the Naval Academy on through a successful career in the Navy.  ¡El Capitán! opens a door and invites all those who read it, regardless of background, to enter a profession of adventure and service to America unsurpassed in any other endeavor.  A vivid story of the growth of a boy to young man to an outstanding naval officer.”

—Rear Admiral Benjamin F. Montoya, CEC, USN (Ret.)


“This is about persistence, pluck and hard work. Frank Gamboa entered the Naval Academy when the Navy and the country were changing—for the better—moving away from almost an all-white composition to a broader-based ethnicity and culture. Written with uncommon candor, we feel his self-doubt and inner resolve in revealing and riveting detail, a study in leadership and performance that should serve as a “how-to” reference for future naval officers. His patriotism and dedication shine through it all.”

—Rear Admiral Richard F. Pittenger, USN (Ret.)


“¡El Capitán! is a “must read” for several audiences—United States Senators and Congressmen, naval officers and enlisted personnel, high school principals, counselors, teachers and coaches. But most importantly, high school students with the raw talent to enter and succeed at the United States Naval Academy should read this compelling American success story. Our Nation’s national security and prosperity will depend on the service academies’ recruiting “young Frank Gamboa prototypes” from the inexorable demographic expansion of candidates in the coming decades.”

—Charles Cervantes, Esquire


“As an Army Colonel and a Hispanic who was commissioned through ROTC, I was struck by the unrelenting and fierce stick-to-itive-ness, demonstrated by Frank Gamboa in his effort to receive his appointment to the Naval Academy. Through shear pluck and perseverance he spent three years taking the necessary math and science courses in junior college to qualify for admission to the Academy, that is after first raising the money for tuition, and then after initially flunking his physical exam. Young Frank Gamboa wanted to be admitted to the Naval Academy in the worst way. By the time he arrived at the Academy as a plebe, he had even had some service in the Army!

The obstacles didn’t end there. That’s because it is safe to say that of the three major military services in the United States, the U.S. Navy is far and away the most tradition-bound. The ultimate goal of any Unrestricted Line Officer is command of a ship at sea. The higher in rank you go, the more time you have spent at sea, away from the day-to-day changes in American society at large. Consequently, in very general terms, I think this more insular, isolated Navy career path, may make you a little bit less receptive to life styles and people different than your own. This can make for a difficult adjustment for a plebe from a lower income home where the first language of the parents was not English and where his darker complexion made him stand apart from most of his classmates. Nonetheless, one of the things that helped Gamboa to withstand the trials and tribulations of his Academy years was the complete and total love and support he received from his family members, especially from his mother, with whom he was particularly close.

I was struck by the great detail and specificity that Gamboa showed in recounting his naval assignments, especially his time at sea. In a private conversation he shared with me that he kept a journal while at sea, hence the photographic memory-type recounting of events. An ironic twist of events that struck me was that after spending the better part of his career as a team player who blended in seamlessly with his colleagues, his last major assignment was working in Equal Opportunity in DoD, trying to increase the representation of Hispanics and other minorities and women in the armed forces.

On multiple occasions, Gamboa points out how invaluable his wife Linda was in his success as a Naval Officer. With more unaccompanied tours of duty required in the Navy than in our other military services, a supportive spouse is absolutely critical and essential for a successful naval officer. The other theme that resonates throughout this wonderful book is the absolutely complete and thorough love of country that Gamboa has for the United States. Viva la roja, blanco, y azul!

As an Army guy I was absolutely fascinated by ¡El Capitán! and its description of Navy life and traditions. Why someone would be willing to spend many months on the confines of a ship is beyond my comprehension. ¡El Capitán!is a must-read for someone who wishes to understand the Navy and who wants to read and experience a wonderful, true tale of the Great (Hispanic) American Success Story.”

—Colonel Jim Carr, Colonel, USA (Ret.)


“¡El Capitán! is a great read about a remarkable career in the Navy. It gives a clear picture of what everyday life at sea is like, but is so much more than that. It is an inspiration to anyone who has encountered seemingly overwhelming obstacles along the way—through grit and determination; Frank Gamboa made a success of not only his career but his family, too. While some might consider Frank’s early years in the Owens Valley of California underprivileged, when one looks deeper, his was a life of extraordinary support and encouragement by both family and community. This support enabled Frank to endure long separations from his warm and loving family while in the Navy. His wife Linda was the ideal partner and together they turned many challenging situations in to rewarding experiences.”

—Dr. Franz Wiedemann


“¡El Capitán!is a great story of a Mexican-American kid from the small Owens’ Valley town of Lone Pine, California, who through sheer grit and determination made it to the US Naval Academy, the first of his family to go to college. The faith of his devoted family and his supportive teachers who recognized his leadership and industry as a young man was fully realized as he graduated from a tough engineering curriculum at USNA and went on to ably serve his country as a surface line officer in commands at sea and ashore. For all of us, and particularly minority youngsters ambivalent about their career chances in today’s society, Frank’s story is an inspiration and a roadmap to success. It’s a great read for everyone and should be mandatory reading for high schoolers and their guidance counselors!”

—Captain Tom Barnett, USN (Ret.)


“¡El Capitán! is a riveting book that captures the joys and pains of one Mexican-American pioneer’s life journey from a humble beginning to a completely successful naval career. Frank Gamboa has interestingly weaved an intriguing combination of personal stories and structure so you can get a clear and complete picture. It is so interesting and captivating that you will not want to put it down. This book is so immensely readable that it flows from one page to the next. You will be so glad you had the pleasure of reading such an inspirational book.

Frank has amazingly articulated so many details that you will feel that you were right there with him as it was happening. He has been able to interject many anecdotes that create interest and pique your imagination. I can attest to the accuracy of the details because I served as his Executive Officer (XO) onboard the USS Fort Fisher. Frank’s recall of the American yacht Brillig incident off the coast of Vietnam brought back vivid memories of those very tension-filled days that culminated in a successful mission.

Frank’s magnetic personality and effective leadership qualities continually come forth throughout the book. Additionally, you can readily see his deep caring for and development of his people. Pay particular attention to the Petty Officer Academy that he established on the Fort Fisher. It was the envy of the fleet and replicated by many ships. Later in my career, I successfully used that model when I became the captain of my ship. My career has his thumb print all over it.

This book is refreshingly candid and written in clear language. It is extremely valuable for all, in particular for those who may need added inspiration because of being socioeconomically disadvantaged and experiencing greater challenges in life. Frank is a true hero who became successful because of many factors, but mainly due to perseverance and tenacity.

¡El Capitán! is a must read for all!”

—Captain Eugene R. Bailey, USN (Ret.)


“The book is very detailed and I learned a lot about the challenges in Frank’s life along the way to becoming a Captain: His delay in getting into Annapolis due to missing educational requirements; his challenges in getting prepared to get into the academy; and his experiences while at the academy. An interesting aspect of the book is how clearly Frank explains how he fit into the group, even though he was the only Mexican-American in his Academy company, and how his upbringing in a very diverse community helped him in all that he faced in life. I learned that it is/was important to his career to have a loving/supportive wife who was always there for him no matter what his assignment. I also appreciated the recognition Frank makes to the support of his family. I certainly learned a lot about ships and the investment of time that one needs to make in order to successfully operate a ship and get promoted. Frank’s description of events is very thorough and you feel you are in the moment while reading the book. I felt that while there were challenges along the way, he had a lot of fun getting there.”

—The Honorable Theresa Alvillar-Speake


“This engaging and superbly written memoir provides an up front and close look at the life of a U. S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. It is a life story that naval officers the world over can relate to.

¡El Capitán! should be on the book shelf of every man and woman who aspires to life aboard a ship of war. This is the true story of a young Mexican-American whose search for a brighter future took him on an unforgettable life journey that began at the U.S. Naval Academy, and culminated with Frank Gamboa’s selection as the first Mexican-American naval surface warfare officer to command a major warship as a Commander, the first to command a warship as a Captain and the first to command as squadron of amphibious ships as a Captain. These were—and still are—extraordinary achievements.

All sea going officers are taught that hard work, study, dedication, perseverance, patriotism and the highest sense of personal honor are required for any sea command. Frank Gamboa was—and is—the embodiment of all those characteristics. In addition, the reader early on recognizes that Frank Gamboa’s inner mental strength, drive, and discipline made him a leader among leaders.

When he took command of the USS Vancouver (LPD 2), and later Amphibious Squadron Three, the San Diego waterfront knew from the “get-go” that Captain Gamboa was a real Master and Commander whose life preparations had taken—and would continue to take him—on a life journey few naval officers ever make. At his side throughout this journey every step of the way was, and remains, his wife, Linda. Captain Gamboa’s thoughts and reflections throughout this book about Linda make clear that this journey was about the two of them.

¡El Capitán! is an extraordinary story that makes clear our country’s opportunities for all who are fortunate to live here.”

—Captain Jefferson R. Dennis, USN (Ret.)


“Frank Gamboa, a man of faith, family and country. We look around to see him and we smile when we can catch a glimps of him in someone else. Wow, what a journey.

As Captain Gamboa marches to the sunset of his life, he shares a great history of a man and a family, but really a country that welcomed his family and himself to the strength that America is today.

He shares with us the rich history of his Mexican family as they struggled and lived in Mexico, to their journey and settlement in California. As they read the book Mexican Americans can relate to the early years of his life as he wrestled with the decisions, expectations and challenges of a young Mexican American living in two different cultures, speaking two different languages and trying to respect and fit into both.

Even as a young man he learned to plan, excute and achive goals strongly needed for his acceptance to Anapolis. Atributes that came down from his family that he would carry a lifetime into the Navy and beyond.

The enrollment and years in the Navy shows us how Captain Gamboa laid the groundwork for future treatment and respect of Hispanics in the Military. Helping to merge different cultures and manage their cohesiveness was years ahead of the diversity movements we live today. His choice of roommates and their choice of him, was the beginning of a long life of friendships. With all eyes on him to do better than most, he achieved his goal and graduated from the academy.

He planned his career by choosing where to perfect his trade and specialized in certain types of ships to steward. Of course, the Navy wanted him to also be proficient in communications, and educated him in that space.

Marriage followed and then a beautiful family. Once again, with his wife Linda, he led in merging two cultures as her parents were from Finland and his originally from Mexico.

He took assignment after assignment until he took a command in Panama. Delivering what was expected of him and more. During his career, Captain Gamboa served in destroyers, a cruiser and amphibious war ships. He was the first Mexican- American naval surface warfare office to command major U.S. Navy warships and a squadron of amphibious warships. Thanks to him, others have followed.

However, please see that this is not just a success story of a son of immigrant Mexican parents but, in Captain Frank and Linda Gamboa you see a couple whose immigrant parents from totally different parts of the world migrated to a foreign land and stitched themselves into its fabric to strengthen a land settled by immigrants and that to this day continues to shine as a beacon for people around the world. A land where two people from different backgrounds came together and succeeded in the dream of their fathers.

When reading this book, ¡El Capitán! will take you from a young man’s dream through an historic journey of this humble yet giant of a man, who, while uncertain as a youth, found it in himself to dream, plan and execute a journey that affected and mentored more lives than he will ever know. As Captain Frank Gamboa excelled in fostering strong human relationships, he saved his best for us to read and share—his journey.”

—Jose F. Niño, President and CEO, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce ,1990-1998


“When you read ¡El Capitán!,  you’ll be a witness that the American Dream is still alive and well! Hard work, perseverance, determination, initiative, enthusiasm, positive leadership, take care your people, maintain high standards and love your family and country—all of these lessons are frequently illustrated and documented in Captain Gamboa’s book.

¡El Capitán! should be required reading for all high school students so that they can witness his formula for success, as well as his real world experiences that will help them succeed in their lives.”

—Captain Vern Von Sydow, USN (Ret.)


“Frank’s memoir provides great insight to the intestinal fortitude required for a Mexican-American to make it to the Naval Academy, and graduate to become a naval officer. That in and of itself demonstrated stellar qualities possessed by the man himself. Later his superb career further demonstrates his grit and determination to succeed. The book is an interesting read and even more importantly provides critical guidance for young Hispanic Americans, even in today’s world.”

—The Honorable Grace Flores-Hughes


“It is said that ‘Leaders are like eagles, they don’t flock.  You have to find them one at a time.’

¡El Capitán! is a chronicle of a leader, and what it takes to be one.  Captain Frank Gamboa, USN (ret) had the good fortune of having a high school football coach who had been a WW II Naval Officer.  His coach was not only a mentor, he had a sharp eye for a future leader of men, a commander of great ships of the line.

Frank Gamboa relates the story of his remarkable life with humility and great pride, a story of tough times, love and respect for family, appreciation and life-long friendships.  And, proud he and his family have to be.  This is a remarkable and inspiring story of a young man of humble and unlikely beginnings for one who would rise to great and well-earned heights in the service of our Country by way of the United States Naval Academy.

It was not easy. His character, commitment, persistence, hard work and growing love for the Navy made him exceptional.  Those who aspire to be leaders should read and study this man’s life. ¡El Capitán! is about an inspiring journey of accomplishments, disappointments and rewards, and the Captain made it without asking for or expecting special favor or compromise of principle.

¡El Capitán! is an eagle!”

—Orson Swindle


“High in the Sierras of California is the 3,000-foot tower of granite named El Capitán, once considered impossible to climb. And in fact was not scaled until 1958, the same year Frank Gamboa, of Lone Pine, California — just down the road from the stone massif — graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. A perfect metaphor for his own difficult, often slippery ascent from being a mediocre Mexican-American high school student to Dean’s List academic excellence … then an appointment to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis 3,000 miles away … and finally to becoming the very first Mexican-American to command a United States naval warship — as its Captain … its El Capitán.

Chapters 2 and 3 are engaging in that they are the American Tale of a terribly arduous struggle for a poor kid from the high plains of Eastern California to the distant nautical military academy on the banks of Maryland’s Severn River. A teacher/coach first giving him the improbable idea of such a venture to a kid who never even considered college … three years of city colleges to get the education — living in such rigid frugality he does not remember a single outing, except as a treat from his loving sisters … the three years of waiting for a congressional nomination to open while his age ticked inexorably toward the cut-off deadline of 22 … finally a sudden appointment — only to be sabotaged by molar cavities … getting drafted and having to serve in the army while still trying to get that elusive place among Midshipmen … being failed on an eye exam by a San Diego navy doctor whom a Naval Academy physician would later call a ‘bastard’ for doing so. And that, as they say, is not all.

But the heart of this biography is not the turning his face toward the Navy and the struggle to get there, but rather a tale of a Naval officer growing, and learning the responsibilities of command and leadership, both at sea and in shore assignments. Each chapter is a manual of these lessons learned at sea, and ashore, as Gamboa becomes a watch officer … an Officer-of-the-Deck … a department head … and finally receiving honors on the quarterdeck of a warship afforded to its Commanding Officer. For Gamboa was determined to serve honorably, ethically, effectively, and thus his continuing analysis. He needed to learn his trade.

He constantly studied and evaluated the cohesion of a crew, or its lack of it, during his various assignments. This propensity sharpened by serving under a bullying commanding officer aboard his first ship, the destroyer USS Putnam. He watched the way officers interacted, dealt with enlisted men, addressed problems, meted out punishment — or withheld it. What worked best, what didn’t. What made for a good crew — a ‘happy ship’ — and what fell short.

On pages 250-52 is an outline of conduct for all officers and petty officers he sent to all aboard his first command, the amphibious assault ship, USS Fort Fisher — a fascinating chapter of taking on command of a ship with troubles ‘below decks’. Ranging from civility toward all personnel to correct ethical behavior, the 26 codes are a compact guide to effective and positive behavior by all in leadership roles aboard a war vessel, from Captain to Third Class Petty Officer. Indeed, throughout the book are excerpts from fitness reports, letters, messages, and various other documents that illustrate the process of decision-making aboard navy ships — and Gamboa’s constant search for the right way to lead men. All bent toward learning how to command … for command is a deadly serious business — this being the monarch of the world’s largest weapons of war, bristling floating fortresses worked by hundreds or thousands in a crew. There is much in the book that illuminates that process.”

—Joe McCain


“There is an underlying story that Frank Gamboa revealed in his book that gives the reader an understanding of the basis of his success as a son, brother, husband, father and a U.S. Navy Captain. That is, the strength gained from the women in Frank’s life, especially his mother, Enriqueta, with her unwavering support of her son as he embarked on an unknown path in his naval career. Frank’s writings reflect that she was always in his thoughts—his ‘safe haven’ to reach out to during the many challenges he faced and overcame.

Frank writes about how his sisters, like their mother, were his sibling strength during those years of his rise through junior college and the Naval Academy, and then during his career as a naval officer. His warmly describes their sibling celebrations of his successes and, ultimately, when he achieves the rank of U.S. Navy Captain – ¡El Capitán!

What I found most fascinating is the role that his lovely wife, Linda, played in his career and the making of an outstanding Naval Officer. Frank describes her unrelenting passion to provide a home for him and his children in all his postings, and while he was deployed. The description of her packing up the kids, and ‘on their own nickel,’ moving to Korea to be with him is an outstanding love story framed within the accounts of his naval career. His narrative of their life journey and experiences as a Navy family allows the reader to understand his motivation to succeed as a naval leader.

As a son of Mexican immigrant parents, I can closely identify with Frank. As I read his story, I constantly recalled my embarking on similar educational and career paths, ones that were filled with the unknowns of a new culture and environment to be faced. The book re-enforces why I have such a high respect for ¡El Capitán! as an outstanding son, brother, husband, father and Naval Officer. I plan to purchase this book for my grandchildren to give them a sense of what real personal sacrifice and commitment it takes to be become a respected leader like Frank Gamboa.”

—Frank Ramos, Director, Small Business Programs, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Retired)


“I consider the memoir, ¡El Capitán! The Making of an American Naval  Officer, to be extremely well written and the finest autobiography I have ever read. I could hardly put it down until I had finished. I believe every young man or woman considering a naval career should read it. It contains numerous situational leadership lessons. I don’t know what kind of leadership curriculum they have at USNA but it would  be worthwhile for the Academy to consider integrating this book into its curriculum as required reading by midshipmen.”

—Bruce Wilcox, President, USNA ’58 Greater Washington Area Chapter President and Past President, National Society, Sons of the American Revolution