No, I did not sail with Noah

“Memories which someday will become all beautiful when the last annoyance that encumbers them shall have faded out of our minds.”
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

I am reading my letters written in boot camp forty years ago. As an eighteen year old enlisted sailor,  I entered the training gate by military bus at four in the morning of 3 October, 1977.  This was my first real separation from family.  I wanted to share my adventures.  It is not gripping prose. 

27 October, 1977

Dear Mom,

Payday!  I went to cash my paycheck. After deductions for the ditty bag ( personal items, toiletries and shave kit, $65) and taxes, I have $173 for two weeks.  I am sending you $163 in a money order.  Use it for bills or put it in the bank for me.

We got big news today which made our Company Commander very happy: we earned a 4.0 mark on our barracks inspection which means the inspectors found nothing to report.  And we began a competition between companies which will mean a lot in the coming weeks.  After the barracks inspection, we had a personal inspection – uniforms, gear, shave and such.  In our third week, we took a test that I had been worried about.  It was very easy and I nearly aced it.

At our classification interview – to select which career I would follow, I went for the CRYPTOLOGIC TECHNICIAN, MAINTENANCE ……..  It seems I have been preliminary accepted into this field – part of the Advanced Electronics Field I signed up for.  But it means a COMPLETE security check as I would be dealing with ….. equipment.  I will be sending home a document to for you to completely fill out and return to me as soon as possible. I hope I can get into this “hush, hush” rating.  I sure hope that the investigators will not dig up anything to disqualify me.  …. the Navy will spend five months investigating me.  They will uncover everything and find and talk to everyone I was in contact with.   And five months of schooling.   According to the classification brief, school will pack two weeks of high school electronics training into a single 8-hour day!  If I should fail school I will be screwing up a six-year commitment and become a barnacle-scrubber!

Please thank Nana and Robin for their letters. They help a lot.  I will write again, probably on 4- 4 day next week when we cross the bridge into advanced training.  Movies, recreation room, and a Baskin-Robbins and hamburger joint available to us on our liberty time.  The hitch is that the Company Commander decides whether we earn a pass to visit these things.  Tell Senorita I miss her and not to bug Buttercup too much.

P.S.  Please send postage stamps as it is hard to obtain them here in RTC and I like to keep up a running commentary.    After all the physical training, you will see a definite change when you come here for my graduation.

I miss you a lot. Tons of love,

 

Go far in life by going far (away)

When I initially joined the Navy in the late 70s, I  had already travelled to both coasts of the United States and to Great Britain – Northern Ireland, Scotland and London, England. But as a kid traveling with your parents or with a grandmother,  it doesn’t really make for an adventure.

I joined the Navy to see the world.  For nearly three years, I trained at various bases – in San Diego, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago, in Pensacola, Florida and in Georgia.   And then I returned to Arizona.    I still wanted to see the world.  So in between university semesters, paid in part by my military service, I spent several weeks each summer on the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez,  Mexico with a group of scuba divers from Arizona.

I joined the Navy again in 1987 for the adventure – and spent the next three and a half years near Washington, D.C. working as an electronics technician ( a Cryptologic Maintenance Technician specifically).  I travelled all over the region from the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest to New York City, and all the historical places from Philadelphia to Annapolis, and then spent some vacation time as far south as Daytona Beach.   But it was my decision to specifically request a sea-duty assignment, rare for those in my job specialty, when my world travel really took off.

After training, my orders sent me to San Francisco to board a cruiser, the USS TEXAS.   Panama, Ecuador, and then north to and through the Panama Canal to the western Caribbean.  I’ve ordered red snapper dinners in Panama,  cigars and hotel rooms in Ecuador, and taken pictures of the Galapagos Islands as we sailed past.   I’ve lived in the Kitsap peninsula opposite Seattle for a year,  travelled to Esquimalt, British Columbia and Vancouver, Canada.  (it is where I first learned about micro-brew beer and ales).  On different ships and at different times,  I enjoyed visiting countries around the Mediterranean, and one of the first American Navy ships to visit Bulgaria in 50 years.

As a kid who joined the Navy out of high school,  I had been itching to get away from the desert.  I never understood why my old Navy mentors, WWII sailors would have settled in Arizona and not near the sea. “We have had plenty of ocean.  I am here because it is all beach”.   After eight years of sea-duty, I understood that comment.   And I was glad that I had a love of history and foreign languages to complement my technical profession.  I’ve met and hung out with Spaniards in Cartagena, Spain.  Enjoyed smoky jazz and partying with the French in Toulon and Paris,   and sipped cappuccino in Catania, Sicily, Naples and Trieste.  By the way,  Trieste was also the place I was cussed out, in German, by a shopkeeper with he presumed, a German tourist and his lousy italian!

Whether visiting the historical sites of the Minoan civilization – and a 4000 year old queen’s working toilet,  or seeing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem,  I was grateful for my teachers from high school and college for fostering my interests.

In wartime,  there are often too little focus on the wonder of travel and the opportunities to get to know people.  The world is still full of wonderful places and people, but also dangers that sobers an American’s optimism at times.  In an age when political forces are talking walls and not tackling the forces that cause people to come to the United States,  we have put bandages and temporary dams up.   There are forces also that want there to be no restrictions, and yet are unwilling to discuss the restrictions existing in the travelers own countries.  And language and education advocates want to change history and eliminate a common language.  All of these are just as ignorant as those who have never travelled to faraway places.   America used to lead the world in the post-WWII years not solely out of the hubris of a few, but because it defied the hatreds, disunity, and class struggles of ninety percent of the world’s population.    When Americans travelled to places outside the US, whether in the military or for other purposes, they would get assurances that we had it pretty wonderful.

Reading Mark Twain’s Innocence Abroad, I would love for us to have some of that innocence again.

40, 7 and 2: lucky numbers

I moved my first attempt at blogging from Blogger to WordPress today.  My other blog  are observations of daily life mostly reflected in adventures and sometimes misadventures of my two dogs.   This blog,  Truths, Half-truths and Sea Stories,   I hope you will find entertaining and thought-provoking.    It is my second blog hosted on WordPress, and expresses more salty insight into daily events.

I retired in April 2010 ( 7 years ago),  after combined Active, Retired, and Inactive service of more than 32 years in the United States Navy.   I took my initial ASVAB aptitude test while the Vietnam War was all but ended ( 1975), entered bootcamp when Jimmy Carter was President (1977), and then re-enlisted into Active Duty after George H. W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as President.  Since I retired as a Reservist,  I am eligible to claim a pension starting at age 60 ( 2 years from now).