With nothing but an engraved Secretary of the Navy coin and a lot of questions, one man’s sit-down meal turned into a two-year mystery.
The decorative coin, which reads, “Gordon R. England, 72nd & 73rd Secretary of the Navy,” was the only piece of evidence to go off of, and Robert Cage, 88, of Hyattsville, Maryland, was left wondering how it ended up in his possession.
Cage, a Navy Veteran who served on the USS Chevalier DD-805 from 1952-56 during the Korean War, is proud of his service, and sought to find the mystery man behind the coin.
The date was May 7, 2017, at the McDonald’s in Thurmont. Cage had stopped in for lunch, as he frequently does when he passes through, but this visit had a unique and unexpected surprise.
“I was just eating a hamburger, and the next thing I knew, somebody had come by and gave me a coin,” Cage said. “By the time I realized what it was and turned around, he was gone.”
The opportunity to meet in person with England may have passed, but it would not be the last time Cage heard from him. “I wanted to take a picture with him but he had left,” Cage said.
Cage frequently wears his U.S. Navy hat when he goes out, so it is not uncommon for other Veterans and the general public to recognize him for his service. He caught the eye of one Veteran in particular, though, and reeling for answers, Cage took to the internet to find out who may have left him this keepsake.
They don’t make decorative Secretary of the Navy coins for just anyone, so Cage knew this person in particular must have been important.
After doing some homework, Cage learned more about England, who served as both the Secretary of the Navy and the Deputy Secretary of Defense over the course of his career.
England, a Baltimore native, graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in electrical engineering and received his MBA from Texas Christian University shortly after. He also worked as an engineer for the Project Gemini Space Program and as a program manager on the E-2C Hawkeye aircraft for the Navy.
England worked several roles in government preceding his appointment under President George W. Bush as Secretary of the Navy in 2001. From 2001 to 2003, he served in that role and, once again, served as the 73rd Secretary of the Navy after a brief stint as First Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.
Cage, with the help of his nephew, Rob Dowling, was able to make contact with England via email to confirm that it was England who left him the coin that day.
“I do recall giving coins during some of my stopovers in Thurmont,” England said in an email with Dowling. “Your uncle was apparently one of the recipients.”
Outside of his career endeavors, England is an avid fisherman, who often takes fishing trips in Pennsylvania. On his way, he would sometimes make a pit stop in Thurmont for lunch.
“I would sometimes fly fish in Pennsylvania and stop by the Thurmont McDonald’s on the way,” England said. “After a few visits, I became acquainted with four or five Veterans who regularly congregated at the restaurant.”
Meeting with Veterans and acknowledging their dedication and sacrifices made for their country was not out of the ordinary for England. “As per my usual practice, whenever I had Secretary of Navy coins, I would introduce myself to a Navy Veteran and thank them for their service to the nation.”
England sent a personal letter to Cage in October, officially thanking him for his service. To this day, Cage still has the Secretary of the Navy coin kept safe at his home in Hyattsville. And, to this day, Cage is still proud of his military service, and proud to have connected with England once again.