Every now and then I enjoy going back over the letters I wrote my parents while I was in the Navy so very long ago. They are a form of time-travel for me, taking me back mentally and emotionally if not physically to a time when I was very young and the world lay before me like the presents beneath a Christmas tree.
Here is a letter I wrote when I'd been in the Navy less than three months. My 21st birthday was still two weeks away, and I was beginning to realize that for all the wonder that lay ahead, there was also danger.
Monday, November 1, 1954
This isn’t going to be a pleasant letter—at least not the first part of it—mainly because it deals with a very unpleasant subject.
In class 25, which graduated about four weeks ago, I got to know several guys; one of them our platoon leader—a quiet guy from California named Franson. He was Norwegian and reminded me vaguely of Zane.
Today, at Corey Field, he and his instructor were taking off—Franson was at the controls. Something happened and he got “shook” as we say; he pulled the nose up sharply—it began to stall—he got more nervous and pulled back on the stick as hard as he could….
The instructor is still alive--Franson resembled a department store dummy that had been hit by a truck.
Death comes in many forms, and is unpleasant in any of them—it can be remote, where someone dies in some futile little war in a nameless country; or it can be personal—like Uncle Buck. Franson was a third type—a vague mixture of the two others. He was no great friend, and yet again, he wasn’t a statistic in the newspapers.
Everyone, I am told, has an intense desire to live—that is one habit or trait I have acquired, and is very deep-rooted. Truthfully, I don’t see how the world could get along without me.
The guy across the hall is playing bop, and I loathe bop! To me, music is something you can hum or whistle; bop is like a surrealistic painting done by a lunatic.
Sorry if I sound morbid—I didn’t mean to, but I get “shook” when it comes to things like that. Death, like life, is also very real, and I suppose I must learn to accept that idea. Tomorrow, no doubt, on the commanding officer's desk at Corey will be five or six letters requesting permission to D.O.R. (Drop on Request). It always happens when a serious accident occurs.
The command is always very unhappy when someone is inconsiderate enough to go and kill themselves; especially around the holidays; for then guys get to thinking about their families and girls and things, and decide that two years of rough Navy life is better than five months of glory that will end in flames at the end of a runway.
Don’t worry, dad; I’m not considering DORing—but should I ever, it won’t be because I disliked the idea of dying—rather that I loved life more (a paraphrase from “Julius Caesar”—Act II, Scene V; I think). Anyhow, which would you rather have—a dead hero or a live nobody?
Well, now if I’ve made everyone perfectly miserable, I feel a bit better. And I’m not discouraged—just a wee bit suspicious of the workings of this old world. Cheer up—I have.
P.S. Remember how I used to be when I was smaller; get all broke up any time I’d see a dead cat or dog? Well, I’ve put on the hardened shell of growing up; but I think I leak a little here and there….
I'm thinking of reposting them all in hopes of reaching a whole new group of readers. Would you be interested in seeing them?
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, the recently-released Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).