To realize that this year's Veteran's Day marks the 56th year—well over half a century—since I completed my military service is, quite seriously, incomprehensible to me. I have only to close my eyes and I'm back in the Navy, back aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga in the Mediterranean sea.
The purpose of our military, then as now, is to protect our country, and everyone who has served in whatever capacity has fulfilled that duty.
The 1950s seem like so very long ago, and we tend to forget that it was at the height of the very real cold war, and the threats and dangers we faced were also very real.
I am very lucky to have kept the letters I wrote to my parents at the time, and I am using an excerpt from a letter of March 1, 1956—written during one of the looming crises we faced—to illustrate my point:
Chief Sewell and I spent a good two hours today hotly debating whether, if war came and we were cut off in the Mediterranean (it would be very easy—there are only two ways out—Gibraltar and the Suez), and if we had expended our bombs, planes, and fuel, we would surrender the ship intact or scuttle. I claimed that rather give the enemy a potential weapon to be used against us somewhere else, we would most definitely sink ourselves. The Chief contended that we wouldn’t dare sink $200,000,000 of the taxpayer’s money—that we should put into port and surrender, having first disabled all our guns and instruments, in hopes that we’d be able to take it back by force or it would sit in port till the American armies (victorious as ever) should come and recapture it. He claimed I was very stubborn because I couldn’t agree. What do you think?
“What in hell good reason would we have for sinking it?”
“So they couldn’t get it.”
“There are 3,000 men on this thing—what are they supposed to do?”
“We have lifeboats and life jackets.”
“You know how long they’d last in that water? We haven’t got that many lifeboats to begin with.”
“So you’d going to sail blissfully into port and say: ‘Here we are, take us’? Oh, no, Chief. If you were kicking me in the face, I wouldn’t offer you my shoes.”
And so on into the night. We finally agreed that we would make a run for it, even if we knew we could never make it, and go down fighting.
The United States Sixth Fleet—consisting entirely of thirty-five ships, including two submarines, and two aircraft carriers, is right now in the awkward position of a sacrificial lamb.
But we only have 107 days until we get back to the good old U.S.; and only 163 until I get out.
The crisis passed, and we sailed home safely, and I became once more a civilian and got on with my life. I did nothing special while I served my country. But I would have done anything I was called on to do, and am proud to prove the saying, “They also serve who merely stand and wait.”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).