Monday, May 28, 2007
Another Memorial Day, and along with the thoughts toward those military men and women who have died in the various wars in which the United States have been involved, I always remember my own military experience. Mine was a generally easy enlistment, but there were several very tense days.
I was an engineman aboard the USS Saratoga. Part of my job was to run and maintain the compressors that supplied compressed air throughout the ship for various purposes, perhaps the most important of which was to return the catapults to their set positions after the launch of a plane, in preparation for the launch of the next one.
At general quarters, my job was to feed a foam machine for fire retardation. Usually that meant a plane crash on the flight deck. It happened once during the time I was there. Six men lost, five planes.
That was another story, one about which the Navy never really saw fit to fully inform those of use who worked below decks. I only saw the scorched and twisted metal that used to be airplanes, after the fire was out and the men were in sick bay or.....
Back to the current story, we left our berth at Mayport on what was (to most of us) just a routine cruise through the Caribbean. Some flight ops and a chance to buy tax-free smokes. The Cuba situation was in the news, but it wasn't mentioned as we returned from liberty and found out we were steaming in the morning.
It turns out, we learned later, that we were to be involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We noticed the difference almost immediately. No sooner were we out of sight of land that the drills started. Fire drills and general quarters. one after another, sometimes three or four a day--or night, more likely. This in addition to your regular job and your watch duty.
There was no news, of course. We couldn't have distracted sailors, could we? But there were rumors. There could be a nuclear attack on the US from Cuba at any moment. USSR was setting up missile launch sites, and they were shipping in more missiles.
We were there to see that no more USSR ships reached Cuba, the President was to negotiate the removal of those already there.
Fortunately, USSR blinked first, and after a couple of weeks of tension and continual general quarters drills, we returned to routine sailing and made our way to Guantanamo for a couple of days of refueling, and a spot of liberty within the confines of the Gitmo base. Drinking happened.
We spent some more time steaming around the Carib, and finally returned to Mayport.
I never heard if there was a medal for that little skirmish, and certainly nobody gave me one. I wasn't really into medals as my enlistment neared its end, I just bought an old car for the drive home, and left when they handed me my DD214.
I think about it mainly on days like Memorial Day and Veterans' Day. A lot of guys had it worse than I did, and that continues to this day. I take this time to remember them, as best I can, never having looked into the eyes of an enemy soldier.
Like it or not, agree or not, there is a little difference in the way one looks at it, if he was there.
If the United States were free, like in times past, it'd seem more worth it, maybe.
Winning on the battlefield, losing in the Capitol.