A lot changes in forty years. In May, 1977, prior to my departure for Boot Camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego in October, I was graduating high school. Jimmy Carter was President, a fact that I thought, being a former naval submariner officer, would make him an excellent leader. People didn’t want Gerald Ford as he had pardoned ‘criminal’ Richard Nixon, but I remember him for sending in Marines to retrieve the Mayaguez, which had been seized by the Khmer Rouge a month after the last battle involving U.S. troops of the Vietnam War.
In those last two years of the Seventies, the Zumwalt-era of loosened grooming standards – longer hair, mustaches and beards worn by Sailors were okay. Dungarees (bell-bottom style) and dixie cups, were the working uniform. Pot was a problem on military bases including San Diego. A community that now is marked by the upwardly-mobile, well-heeled beach crowd, Ocean Beach, was then a place where druggies and ex-military, tattoo parlors and bars were less restrictive than up the coast near the UCSD campus.
A visit over the Coronado Bridge to the Naval Station Coronado, where carriers were berthed was my first view of a ship – the USS Recruit was a wood and metal reproduction on the Recruit Training Command, to introduce us to naming convention, etc – so did not count. The ‘aroma’ of the interior of the USS Kitty Hawk was the first ‘knock out’ that I will never forget. Jet fuel, grease, human sweat, urinals and generally, the stink of at times, 3500 men (no women then) wafted fresh new sailors who had more recently been accustomed to PINE SOL clean scent.
At the time, I was a student learning to work on complex electronics and mechanical maintenance of teletypes. Where I now cannot see without at least one or two orders of magnitude, I was able then to discern two from three centimeters adjustments. The instructor was quite ADAMANT about that ability before graduation. We had Iranian military students – this was prior to the Iranian Revolution – and when they were recalled by their government, we were relieved. Suffice it to say that American and Iranian hygiene were on different tracks.
In May of 1982, with several of my fellow Russian Language students and the professor – I was able to travel to Russia – prior to the end of the USSR (1989) – visiting cities – St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi. If only for all but one – a socialist- the trip was very informative and probably saved them and their future families from the ‘snowflake’ sensibilities, the mantra of “coexistence” and “socialism’s great”. The people may have been interesting and interested, but the economy was a shambles. Ambition was reserved for the underground economy — some of whom are today’s Russian millionaires and billionaires.
In May of 1984, I had been out of the Navy four years, attending the university in Tucson, Arizona. Four three of those four years I had been actively involved in the Veteran students organization on campus, and while peers were pursuing commissioning programs, I was looking toward a government job after graduation. Strangely, in my second year after graduation, when my graduate school plans went unfunded – I re-enlisted in the Navy -Reserve – that is. The entreaties of one of my friends finally had me join his unit, only to see him quit!
After petitioning to resume an Active Duty career in 1987, the next major May milestone I recall was May of 1997 when I was transferred from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego, California. 1970 Dodge Chargers, if you could find one in decent shape were then ten thousand dollars or more, homes which had been an unheard of, eighty thousand dollars – for an ocean view, were nearly eight hundred thousand, and NTC was closed but for a few administrative medical functions.
And in the twenty years since that time, friends and mentors went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Soviets became Russian trade partners, the Chinese became the world’s second-most powerful economy, the Islamic world tried to separate the economic need for the non-Islamic world – from the ideology that wants to reduce infidels to ashes, and we are again at some form of odds over military preparedness against the adversaries that were no longer adversaries?