Fifty-One Years

Fifty-One Years (August 31, 2016)

By:  Garland Davis

 

When we were children and watching a western movie and the girl came charging by in a runaway buckboard and our hero took after her on his trusty steed and rescued the girl just before the buckboard plunged over the cliff that happened to be there in the middle of a flat prairie and she batted her big eyes at him, you knew the mushy crap was about to start.  You wondered what was wrong with cowboy heroes.  Why did they always get sidetracked from chasing the bad guys by girls and mushy stuff?

This one will be mushy stuff.  I have permission.

All stories of young love begin when two people meet.  There are fireworks.  Possibly angels singing. Bluebirds singing and that kind of movie crap.  I met her in the Billet Office for Bayside Courts in Yokohama Japan.  The Navy Housing Activity at Yokohama was comprised of four officers, fifty-six enlisted and a contingent of Japanese civilians that maintained and administered the more than three thousand Navy Housing units that provided quarters for Naval Personnel in the Kanto Area of Japan.

There were no barracks for enlisted.  One building of an old Army BOQ complex was devoted to housing single enlisted sailors.  She worked in the Billet Office and assigned me to a room.  Room?  WTF! Officers lived in rooms.  Sailors lived in open bay barracks.  But there it was a room.  She explained to me that maid service was available for ten dollars a payday.  The maids would clean your room and do your laundry.  When I got to the room, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  The maid assigned to me helped me unpack and placed everything in the closets. Where she wanted them.

I quickly fell into a routine of awakening, dressing, going to the NEX cafeteria for breakfast (There was no enlisted galley), and then to work at the Commissary Store.  We worked Tuesday thru Saturday and were not required to stand any duty days.  At approximately 1630 my shipmates and I would stroll across the street to the Yokohama Seaside Club and take advantage of the ten cents Happy Hour.  About 1900 or so we would take a cab to Bayside Courts shift into civilian clothes and head for the Zebra Club downtown for a couple and then on to China Town for an evening comprised of drinks and mushy stuff.

From the day in July when I arrived there until shortly before the Navy day celebration in October, I lived this idyllic sailor’s life.  The command announced a date for the Navy Day Ball at the Seaside Club.  Each member was permitted to bring a guest.  A group of us were in a room at Bayside drinking beer when the subject of dates for the Navy Day Ball arose.  Different bar girls were suggested.

I told them, “I am going to ask the girl who works at the Billet Office.”

“Not a chance Stewburner.  She won’t date sailors.  Believe me many have tried and no one has been successful.” Was the consensus.

I had just enough beer, so I said, “I’ll show you just wait and see.”  And off to the billeting office, I went.

I walked in, she came to the counter and asked how she could help me.  I told her, “I came to invite you to the Navy Day Ball as my guest.”

She said, “Okay.” She gave me directions where I could meet her.

I went back to the room with a shit eating grin on my face, opened a cold one, and sat down.

“Struck out, huh?  I knew you would. She won’t go out with sailors.”

I said, “I have to pick her up at six thirty Friday evening.”

Of course, I got the, “What did you do, lick your eyebrows? What do you have that nobody else does?”

I picked her up for our date.  We had a good time. Over the next few weeks, we became inseparable.

Fifty-one years ago today that young Japanese girl and I, both of us barely out of our teens, caught the train at Yokohama Central Station for Tokyo.  It was to be our wedding day.  There was no preacher or organist, no best man or bridesmaid.  There was just a busy office in the American Embassy Annex and a Japanese government office.

I was carrying an envelope of papers that had begun six months before as a single sheet of paper asking the U.S. Navy for permission to marry a Japanese National.  The envelope contained the results of physical examinations and background investigations. Also included were interviews with a Legal Officer, counseling interviews with Chaplains and English translations of my fiancé’s birth records and copies of the investigations of her family and background. And finally a letter from Commander Naval Forces, Japan granting approval of my request.

A clerk at the counter took the papers separated those he needed and returned the remainder to me.  After a time, we were given forms in Japanese and directed to take them to a Japanese government office to register our marriage and then return to the embassy. This took some time because Japanese bureaucrats love properly completed forms and placing numerous rubber stamps on them.  By mid-afternoon, we were back at the embassy annex and returned the properly stamped and annotated forms to the clerk.

We waited for a time with another couple and finally were called to the counter.  The other serviceman and I were directed to stand at the counter with our brides behind us.  A number of forms were placed on the counter and we were instructed to sign them.  A gentleman came from an inner office and introduced himself as a U.S. Consulate Officer.  He instructed us prospective husbands to raise our right hands and said, “Do you swear that everything you have signed is the truth to the best of your knowledge, so help you, God?”  We both replied, “Yes.”  He said, “Congratulations,” shook our hands and left.  The clerk gave us our marriage certificates and congratulated us.

There were no vows, no “I do’s.” Just simply completing paperwork and registering the fact with the Japanese government.  I often joke that I dropped my pen, bent over to pick it up and when I stood up, the gentleman shook my hand and said, “Congratulations.”

It has been a tumultuous fifty-one years.  There was the Viet Nam War, twenty-six more years of the Navy, lengthy separations and, not a lot of money during the early years.  Like most couples, we had to adjust to each other.  Now we are aging and dealing with my Parkinson’s disease. I guess you can say that after fifty-one years, we have succeeded.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any differently.  She is my best friend, and I love her with all my being.  As the poets say, “She completes me.”

Today is our fifty-first anniversary.

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I AM AN AMERICAN SAILOR

I AM AN AMERICAN SAILOR
By:  MUCM J. Wallace, USN

“Hear my voice, America! Though I speak through the mist of 200 years, my shout for freedom will echo through liberty’s halls for many centuries to come. Hear me speak, for my words are of truth and justice, and the rights of man. For those ideals I have spilled my blood upon the world’s troubled waters. Listen well, for my time is eternal -yours is but a moment. I am the spirit of heroes past and future.

I am the American Sailor. I was born upon the icy shores at Plymouth, rocked upon the waves of the Atlantic, and nursed in the wilderness of Virginia. I cut my teeth on New England codfish, and I was clothed in southern cotton. I built muscle at the halyards of New Bedford whalers, and I gained my sea legs high atop mizzen of yankee clipper ships.

Yes, I am the American Sailor, one of the greatest seamen the world has ever known. The sea is my home and my words are tempered by the sound of paddle wheels on the Mississippi and the song of whales off Greenland’s barren shore. My eyes have grown dim from the glare of sunshine on blue water, and my heart is full of star-strewn nights under the Southern Cross. My hands are raw from winter storms while sailing down round the Horn, and they are blistered from the heat of cannon broadside while defending our nation. I am the American Sailor, and I have seen the sunset of a thousand distant, lonely lands.

I am the American Sailor. It was I who stood tall beside John Paul Jones as he shouted, “I have not yet begun to fight!” I fought upon the Lake Erie with Perry, and I rode with Stephen Decatur into Tripoli harbor to burn Philadelphia. I met Guerriere aboard Constitution, and I was lashed to the mast with Admiral Farragut at Mobile Bay. I have heard the clang of Confederate shot against the sides of Monitor. I have suffered the cold with Peary at the North Pole, and I responded when Dewy said, “You may fire when ready Gridley,” at Manila Bay. It was I who transported supplies through submarine infested waters when our soldiers were called “over there.” I was there as Admiral Byrd crossed the South Pole. It was I who went down with the Arizona at Pearl Harbor, who supported our troops at Inchon, and patrolled dark deadly waters of the Mekong Delta. It was, in thr seas off Vietnam, who manned the broilers to make the steam and I who manned the main engine throttles on US Navy Aircraft Carriers bringing them up to 25 knots so we could launch the planes that helped our ground forces out of sticky situations and recover those planes on our Carrier, sometimes less planes came back then took off.

I am the American Sailor and I wear many faces. I am a pilot soaring across God’s blue canopy and I am a Seabee atop a dusty bulldozer in the South Pacific. I am a corpsman nursing the wounded in the jungle, and I am a torpedoman in the Nautilus deep beneath the North Pole. I am hard and I am strong. But it was my eyes that filled with tears when my brother went down with the Thresher, and it was my heart that rejoiced when Commander Shepherd rocketed into orbit above the earth. It was I who languished in a Viet Cong prison camp, and it was I who walked upon the moon. It was I who saved the Stark and the Samuel B. Roberts in the mine infested waters of the Persian Gulf. It was I who pulled my brothers from the smoke filled compartments of the Bonefish and wept when my shipmates died on the Iowa and White Plains. When called again, I was there, on the tip of the spear for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

I am the American Sailor. I am woman, I am man, I am white and black, yellow, red and brown. I am Jew, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist. I am Irish, Filipino, African, French, Chinese, and Indian. And my standard is the outstretched hand of Liberty. Today, I serve around the world; on land, in air, on and under the sea. I serve proudly, at peace once again, but with the fervent prayer that I need not be called again. Tell your children of me. Tell them of my sacrifice, and how my spirit soars above their country. I have spread the mantle of my nation over the ocean, and I will guard her forever. I am her heritage and yours.

I am the American Sailor, past, present and future.”

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Safe and Secure

Safe and Secure

By:  Garland Davis

 

Sidney walked slowly into the post office building and searched the directory of offices.  The military recruiting offices were all on the second floor. He found the number of the Navy office and decided to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.  As he topped the stairs to the second-floor hallway, he saw that he would have to pass the Army, Air Force, and Marine offices to reach the Navy office.  As he passed each office, he saw each recruiter watching hopefully as he passed.  He paused just before reaching the Navy door.  His uncle Dale had promised to meet him here.

Dale had enlisted in the Navy 1949 and had served as a Machinist Mate until 1960 when he was medically retired because of an ulcer.  Uncle Dale told him to join the Navy.  He had spent the Korean War on a carrier.  He said that while the Marines and soldiers ashore were fighting the North Koreans and suffering terrible winter conditions, the sailors were safe, warm, and comfortable aboard the ships.  He told him it was the same for the Navy fighting in the Viet Nam war.

He didn’t really want to be here.  His Uncle Thomas, a political appointee, who served on the local draft board had told him his name had come up for induction because he had lost his student deferment by dropping out of the University.  His mother was beside herself and didn’t understand that the only reason he had wanted to go to college was the chance to play baseball.  When he had been cut from the team, he stopped going to class and a few days later moved back home.

Two cousins had been drafted into the Army.  One was killed during the Viet Nam Tet Offensive and the other was injured in a motor pool fire at Fort Benning.  His mother was afraid of him going to Viet Nam and begged him to go to Canada or Sweden.  But uncle Dale had talked with his mother and convinced her that the safest option was for Sid to enlist in the Navy. He had promised to meet him at the recruiting office and help him over the hurdles.

As he was waiting in the hallway, wondering where Uncle Dale was, he heard his uncle’s laugh from the recruiting office. Evidently, Dale was already here. Sidney straightened his shoulders and walked through the door.

“Here’s the boy I’ve been telling you about.  Come over here Sid and meet Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Hanson and Chief Boatswain’s Mate Jones. They will help you get signed in.” Dale said to Sidney.

Chief Jones offered his hand and said, “Welcome aboard.  Hanson here will get your information and give you a short test to establish your eligibility.  But first, I have to ask, have you ever been in trouble with the law? Dale here says you haven’t and we will check with the police, but I have to hear it from you.”

“No Sir, I’ve never had any problems with the police,” Sid replied.

“Don’t call me sir son.  You can call me Chief.  Hanson, while you’re getting the testing and paperwork started, I think Dale and I will step around the corner to Tony’s for a little refreshment.  Hanson you and young Sidney come on down after you finish up.  We’ll see you there.” The Chief was saying while getting a pack of cigars from his desk drawer and his hat from a rack in the corner.

The next hour and a half were taken up with Sidney filling out a myriad of forms after taking a fifty question multiple choice test on mimeograph paper.  Petty Officer Hanson told him the test was just used to determine if he was capable of passing the official tests that would be administered at the Armed Forces induction center.  He seemed very pleased with Sidney’s test score and proceeded with completing everything.

Finally, after finishing typing the information Sid had provided onto the proper forms, the sailor said, “Well, it looks as if you are good to go.  All I have left to do is call the Induction in Raleigh and make arrangements for you to take the tests, get a physical examination, and get you sworn in.  Right now, I can offer you a choice of going to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center or the San Diego Training Center for Boot Camp.  If you pass everything in Raleigh, which one would you choose?”

Sidney thought for a moment and thinking of the movies and the beach scenes of Southern California said, “San Diego.”

“Let me make this call and we will go down to meet Chief and Dale.  Today is Friday.  How does Tuesday sound for going to Raleigh?  I’ll pick you up at your house and drive you down.  All you’ll need to bring with you is a change of clothes and underwear.  When you get to San Diego, you will be issued uniforms and everything else you need.”

Sid agreed that Tuesday would be okay.  Hanson was on the phone for about five minutes.  Finally hanging up and reaching for his hat, he said, “Okay we are good to go.  Let’ go find those two and have a beer.”

Sidney followed Hanson down the stairs, out of the building, and around the corner into Tony’s Tap Room.  Since the age to buy beer in North Carolina was eighteen Sid was old enough but had never been here before.    They joined the other two at a table.  Hanson gave them the information that the paperwork was done and everything was scheduled for Tuesday.  There was a round of handshakes and “Welcome aboard Shipmate” from the Chief and Dale.

After a couple of beers, Dale and Sidney left the bar and Dale offered him a ride home.  They arrived just after Sid’s mother returned from work. After going into the kitchen, they informed her that he would be leaving for San Diego Tuesday morning.  She said, “that is so far away.” As a tear rolled down her cheek.

Dale said, “Now Edna, we agreed that Sid will be a lot safer and removed from the war by joining the Navy instead of waiting to be drafted into the Army as cannon fodder.”

Now that he was committed, Sidney felt an exhilaration about his choice and was looking forward to San Diego and his Navy training.  Of course, his mother made for an unpleasant weekend between bouts of crying and recrimination for his quitting college.

Finally, Tuesday came.  He was waiting on the porch with a threadbare bag that Dale had brought him Sunday.  He had called it an AWOL bag and it contained his change of clothes and underwear.  Just before eight o’clock, he saw the gray Navy station wagon turn into his street.  As the car pulled into the drive, Sidney called into the house, “Ma, he is here, I’ve got to go.”

His mother came out the door, a handkerchief clutched in one hand, hugged him for a brief moment, and said to him, “I am going to miss you.  Now be good, do what they tell you, and write to me.”

He promised he would and walked to the station wagon.  There was one other boy in the car as well as a Marine in uniform.  Hanson introduced them as the Marine recruiter and a Marine recruit.  Since the Marine Corps was a part of the Navy department, they shared the Navy vehicle.

Sid climbed into the back seat with the Marine recruit and Hanson backed the car into the street and headed for the Capitol.

Arriving at the Induction Center in Raleigh shortly before noon, Petty Officer Hanson directed Sidney to a desk with members of all branches working.  He handed Sid’s paperwork over to another sailor there, said, “They will take care of you from here.”  Shook his hand and said, “Good Luck, Shipmate.  Maybe I’ll see you in the fleet.”

The sailor behind the desk issued him documents he called ‘chits’ which he could exchange for meals at a nearby café and for a room at a hotel one street over.  The rest of the afternoon and the next morning were taken up with a number of tests and a physical examination.  At three o’clock Wednesday he was directed to fall into line with others who were enlisting in the various services.

An Army Captain came from an office, directed them to raise their right hands and administered the Oath of Enlistment.  He then said, “From this moment until you complete your contract you are members of the U.S. Armed forces and are subject to the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Failure to report to your next duty station as ordered will result in you being declared AWOL or possibly a deserter.”

The sailor from the desk gave him an envelope and told him that it contained all his records.  He was also given a plane ticket to Chicago where he would change planes for a flight to Albuquerque and on to San Diego.  He was directed to report to the Shore Patrol booth in the San Diego airport and they would arrange for transportation to the Recruit Depot. He was also given a paper with a seven-digit number.  It was his service number.  He was told that if he didn’t have it memorized by San Diego he would be in a lot of trouble with his company commander.

Sidney arrived in San Diego after flying all night from Chicago in what must have been one of the last of the propeller-driven airliners in the Delta Fleet.  The next eleven weeks were filled with marching, swimming lessons, classroom studies, marching, physical training and even more marching.  Uniforms were issued and altered.  Sid and his shipmates learned to clean, fold and store the uniforms between the periods of marching.

About two weeks before boot training ended, came the day when each of them would receive orders to their first duty station or school. Sid had asked for Machinery Repairman School, but because of no vacancies in the next class, he was ordered to a destroyer stationed in Hawaii as an undesignated engineering striker.

After two weeks leave in North Carolina, Sid reported to Travis Air Force base in California for a flight to Clark Air Force base in the Philippine Islands for further transfer to his ship somewhere in the South Pacific.

Upon arrival at Clark, the Navy desk told him that a group of sailors and Marines would fly to Da Nang South Vietnam and from there a helicopter from the fleet off the coast would collect the sailors and transport them to the ships.

When they arrived at the airfield at Da Nang, Sidney was stricken and amazed by the heat, humidity and the amount of activity.  There were countless jet and propeller driven aircraft as well as helicopters landing and departing the base.  A truck with a Marine Corporal picked up the Marines and their gear to take them to the Marine encampment.  An Air Force Sergeant told them that a helicopter from the carrier would arrive in approximately four hours to carry them out to the fleet.  In the meantime, they would form a working party to help move some leaking drums.

He showed them to an area with about four hundred fifty-five gallon drums.  He pointed out five of the drums setting off to the side and said, “These are leaking.  I need you to move them onto the lift gate of the deuce and a half truck and then move them from the lift gate into the truck so I can drive them over where they can be used first.”

The drums were difficult to move and were leaking pretty badly.  By the time they were eventually loaded into the truck, the sailors and a couple of airmen had been liberally splashed by the contents.  Sid was going to ask the Sergeant where he could wash his hands when another airman came in and said, “Hey sailors, your helicopter is inbound.  You got five minutes, get your gear and standby.”

Right on time, a gray helicopter settled outside.  As they walked toward it, he could read USS Oriskany stenciled on the bird.  After climbing into the aircraft, they were handed life jackets and helmets and given directions how to exit the aircraft in the event it went into the water.  A few minutes later it lifted off for a forty-five-minute ride to the ships.  Sidney and two others would be dropped on the USS White Plains, a stores ship, for later transfer to the destroyers.

After arriving on the store’s ship, they were shown to some empty bunks and went to supper.  The Chief BM told them they would be helo’d to their ships the next morning.  After chow, they got a shower and were sitting on the mess decks waiting for a movie.  Sid was feeling good about experiencing Viet Nam and escaping without harm.  Uncle Dale was right.  The Navy was the place to be, safe and secure while the war was miles away.  He was in no danger from the war now.

Sidney said, “I sure was glad to get that stuff from those drums washed off.  It smelled pretty bad.   wonder what kind of stuff was inside those barrels, I spilled that crap all over my arms and clothes.”

The other sailor said, “I don’t know.  I asked the Air Force guy.  He said it was something they sprayed on the jungle.  He called it Orange something.  Did stink, didn’t it?”

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Beer and Decisions

Beer and Decisions

By:  Garland Davis

Most people use certain procedures and receive help from outside sources to make decisions, both large and small, that affect them and their lifestyle.  While growing up, the primary influence is from the parents, family members, teachers, and, as one moves into the teen years, their peers become the primary source motivating decisions.  No one wants to differ from the crowd and the great efforts a person makes to emulate others becomes a driving influence on most life decisions from the brand of soft drink, the style of undergarments one chooses, or the haircut you sport.

As you move into adulthood, experience, accumulated knowledge, societal morals, and other influences motivate decision making.  Once I entered the Navy, many of these decisions were already made for me.  All I had to do was conform to the regulations. Looking back on my late teens and advancing into my twenties and my early, and exciting years as a sailor in the Asia Fleet, I now realize that one of the biggest factors influencing my decision making was beer.

I grew up in the hillbilly enclave of Western North Carolina where, more often than not, moonshine was the drink of choice.  Actually, it was often the only thing available as most of the state was “dry.”  Moonshine did the trick, but when the county authorized its sale, I learned to love beer.

Arriving at NAS Lemoore, California is 1961, after boot camp, I learned the sophisticated sailor’s choice of libation was Olympia beer.  Not wanting to be different, I became a connoisseur of Oly.  It prompted and assisted me in making many decisions.  And they weren’t always good decisions.

Olympia’s influences were not always the best. For instance, Oly decided that I should enter the bull riding event in an amateur rodeo.  Being easy going I went along and signed.  I didn’t realize the stupidity of that decision until they pulled the gate and I ended up on my ass, with a broken arm.  By the way, I was still in the chute.  The bull left without me!

Another time, after imbibing a quantity of this sterling product of Tumwater, Washington, another fool and I decided to go from Fresno to Los Angeles.  We only had enough money for one-way bus tickets.  We thought we would hitch hike back.  We barely made it back to the base, hungover, sick, and sleepless, after hitchhiking and walking all night.  That was one of the longest, most miserable days I have ever spent working in a Navy galley.

A year later, finally in the fleet and in WestPac, I was introduced to the quality fermented beverages of Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi, and that real detriment to sound decision making, San Miguel Beer.  Not only did one make foolish decisions, the actions were often repeated.  For example, I was a pretty good poker player, and, more often than not, was a winner in the nickel and dime games played on the mess decks.  After a few beers, I decided that I was good enough to play in the higher stakes games played at CS1’s house on weekends.  Lost my ass a few times, always after the beer of the moment convinced me that playing in that game was a sound decision.

In Yokosuka, a bluejacket could check a case of American beer, or bottle of whiskey, into a Japanese bar for a fee.  The sailor was given a ticket and a number was marked off each time one of the beers was ordered.  The tickets were usually good for three days and then unless another fee was paid, the beer became the property of the bar.  It was common practice to check cases in three or four bars so one could bar-hop and have cheap beer available.  The night before the ship sailed became a marathon of trying to drink all the beer checked into the various bars.  Not always the best decision!

But all the decisions prompted by beer were not bad.  In 1964, I received orders to the Commissary Store, Yokohama, Japan.  The only thing I can say is that, in 1964, duty in Yokohama was akin to going to heaven.  The single enlisted men lived in an old Army BOQ.  We had private rooms and there was maid service available for a pittance.  The maids did laundry, shined shoes, made beds, and cleaned the rooms.  Most of the maids were older women who spoke little or no English.  When a sailor wanted to communicate with his maid, he would go to the Billet Office and have the young girl that worked there translate for him.

We were drinking beer and someone asked if I was bringing a date to the Navy Day Ball. That was when the beer kicked in.  I told them that I was going to ask the girl from the Billet Office.  They laughed and told me that she didn’t date sailors.  Many had tried and failed.  After a couple of more beers, I decided that now was a good a time as any to ask her.  So off to the Billet Office I went. To make a long story short, ten months later, she became my wife.  We have now been together for over fifty years.  If it wasn’t for the beer, I may have believed my shipmates and not have mustered the courage to ask her.

Another decision that began as a poor choice actually worked out well.  I was in China Town drinking with some shipmates. We decided to go to the club and walked out to find a taxi. I saw a puppy in the window of the pet store next door to the bar.  The puppy was cute, I was tanked up on beer and decided to buy him.  I carried the puppy home and gave him to my wife. In the taxi on the ride home, I was worried that she would be upset that, I had spent money on a dog.  That cute little puppy, Taro, grew up to be a beautiful Akita and became her companion through many deployments.  He was with us for fourteen years.

I was probably thirteen or fourteen when I drank my first beer.  That means beer has been assisting me with my decision making for the last fifty-six or fifty-seven years.   I have lived a good and eventful life.  I choose to believe beer contributed more positively than negatively to the decisions that led to the present.

I do know that it has been one helluva of a ride and without the beer, it would not have been as near as much fun.

If you attend the Asia Sailor reunion in Branson next year, look for me in the chair nearest the cooler!

 

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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.

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Why We Miss the Navy and the Ships

Why We Miss the Navy and the Ships

My take on PTSD

By Garland Davis

When the General Quarters klaxon sounds, whether for fire, taking on water, collision, crash on the flight deck, or preparing to engage the North Vietnamese on a run into Haiphong port, the adrenaline kicks in.  They say that when you are faced with a life or death situation, your training takes over and you don’t really think about what you are doing.  It all becomes muscle memory.  You are on autopilot.

It’s true, to a degree.  Training is just a safely repeatable replacement for near death experiences.

I remember a helicopter crash on the flight deck of an FF I was serving in.  The flight deck fire party had the situation in hand, but almost by the time the general alarm was finished we were crowding each other running fire hoses through hatches and doors to the flight deck and main deck.  Did I stop to think, I will have my galley crew breakout and run a fire hose to help?  No, the ship was in danger, my training took over and I reacted automatically.

In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that becoming an expert at a skill requires 10,000 hours of practice.  Perhaps that is true, but one fire at sea or near death experience has a similar effect to those 10,000 hours, ingraining in your memory every action, no matter how small, that kept you alive.

And when any portion of that experience is recreated, the smell of smoke within the ship, the sound of artillery rounds alongside, the sound of machine gun bullets against the steel, the unthinking responses that save your life are triggered automatically as if they were forged by 10,000 hours of practice.

The hormones released by highly stressful situations instruct the brain to imprint those memories more deeply. We can thank evolution for that trick.  The pre-historic man who could best remember how he escaped an attack by a saber-toothed tiger had a better shot at surviving the next one.

Time seems to slow down in a car crash or when you are getting mugged or any casualty situation, at sea, with no one to call for help.  The adrenaline boost to your system triggers your brain into hyperactive memory storage.  Your mind and senses go into overdrive, absorbing every sensory detail with almost superhuman lucidity.

Because of this, an event that might only last a split second occupies as much mental storage space as a week or a month. Years later you can recall details, feelings, colors, smells, and sounds more vividly than you can remember this morning’s breakfast.

After decades you remember with perfect clarity every aspect of the event.  I remember being in the galley baking cinnamon rolls as the shells were exploding in the water and air around the ship.  I remember the Super Arboc firing chaff into the air to confuse the enemy fire control radars and the two gun mounts periodically going to “rapid continuous” fire. Forty-four years later I can smell the cinnamon and butter of the baking pastries.

This hyper-alertness often extends for a time after the actual experience.  For hours or days after the experience life just seems better. After returning to safety and even after returning home from a hectic and stressful deployment life just seems better.

You want to talk and re-talk it with your shipmates who experienced it with you.  You seem to live harder and truer than you ever have before.  The liberties were more intense, the drinks colder, the girls lovelier and yes, it felt good.  You felt so alive.  I remember thinking, “I wish I could live my whole life like this.”

It is the inability to ever match the excitement and stress of living that you achieved at sea and in war. It’s the letdown of having it end, you survived and you worry that a normal civilian life is just a slow letdown and a fade away.

Ask any sailor to tell you the worst experiences of their lives and they will tell you it was life aboard the ships, underway, and the war.

Now here is the confusing part.  When you ask them to tell you the best experiences of their lives, they’ll usually tell you it was life aboard the ships, underway, and the war.

This is why it is nearly impossible to talk to someone who wasn’t there, didn’t live it, and cannot understand.  That is why we talk among ourselves and rarely try to explain to civilians how we lived our lives and fought our wars.

High school classes schedule reunions about every ten years until there is no one left who cares.  Sailors and ships seem to hold reunions almost annually.  We go through the time between reunions living in two worlds.  One, the world of little excitement, of civilians and, the monotonous, never changing, nine-to-five job. The second world is in our minds and in our memories, once again looking into a westward sunset over a placid sea.  With the reunions you meet once again with the best men you will ever know and consider yourself fortunate to just be one of them.

You drink the beer and tell the stories reliving the worst and best experiences of your life.  You laugh with them at the stories you don’t remember being so funny at the time, and you shed a tear for those who have sailed over the horizon.

That my friends is PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I am afraid we are all afflicted.

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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.

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The Dreaded Colonoscopy

The Dreaded Colonoscopy

By: Garland Davis

As a person reaches into the fifth decade of life there comes a hurdle that we all are faced with.  The doctors have prescribed it until it has taken on the mantra of a rite of passage to older age.  I am talking about the dreaded colonoscopy.

It usually begins when your doctor asks if you have ever had the procedure done.  The doctor’s next step is to convince you that your health and possibly your very life depends upon another doctor shoving a flashlight and camera up your ass after inflating your guts like a balloon.  Panicked, I was ready to not only say no, but fuck no, until the doctor explains that they will sedate me and I will sleep through the whole procedure.  Relieved, I readily agree, figuring it will probably take a couple of months to get an appointment.  That will give me some time to talk with all the other old farts and get the low down on medical ass invasions.

As luck would have it, as I am preparing to leave, the doctor’s receptionist tells me that she called in my referral to the Colonoscopy section.  I am indeed fortunate, they have a cancellation Friday and I am already scheduled for the first thing that morning and must stop by for a pre-colonoscopy brief.  She tells me the clinic is just one level up and I can stop by on my way out.

I reluctantly wander into Colonoscopy (I am thinking so this is where doctors manage the health and wellbeing of assholes).  The nurse gives me a paper to fill out. I am sure you have seen similar ones.  They ask the same damn questions at every clinic in this freakin’ hospital every time you visit.  They have spent millions on computerizing medical records and still no one has this simple information at hand.  They ask you to list the medications and supplements that you are taking.  I suspect that no one reads these. I have been writing “Horseshit Capsules 200mg” under supplements for two years and no one has ever questioned me about it.

The nurse gives me a Digital Video Disk that explains the procedure. It turns out to be a cartoon about guts and an asshole.  She tells me that I may keep it.  She gave me a bottle of laxative and says drink this entire bottle, twenty-four hours before the scheduled event.  Next she gives me an empty gallon jug, no wait, there is about a cup of powder in it.  She instructs me to fill the jug with water and refrigerate it.   She recommends improving the flavor with Kool Ade or Crystal Light.  Eighteen hours before the exam, I was to drink half the jug as quickly as possible.  I wanted to ask if I could mix it with beer.  I would have a better chance of drinking a half gallon of beer quickly. She didn’t seem the type who could see the humor in that, so I kept my mouth shut.  Then twelve hours before the procedure I was supposed to empty the Jug.  You guessed it, as soon as possible.  I still think beer would be easier.  She also tells me not to eat anything for at least twenty-four hours before the exam.

Since I am scheduled for eight Friday morning, I eat breakfast at seven Thursday, figuring it will be at least a day before I can eat again.  At eight, I shake that bottle up and gulp the nasty crap down.  They said don’t eat.  Didn’t say anything about coffee. My gallon jug of water, powder, and lemonade flavor Crystal Light had been in the reefer for over a day.  I would have to drink half of it at two in the afternoon and the remainder at eight this evening.

I was reclined in my chair dozing and listening to a talk show on the radio.  Suddenly, I was hit with an excruciating pain in my lower regions.  My wife almost fainted when I jumped bolt upright, tearing at my belt as I ran for the toilet.  The only thing I can say is “Holy SHIT!”  I thought it would never stop.

My grandmother’s punishment for what she termed “little boys full of meanness” was a “good working out”, by which she meant a dosing with an elixir called Syrup of Black Draught or the dreaded Castor Oil.  My grandmother believed that a periodic purging made little boys much better behaved.  You know, she was right.  After a dosing of her laxatives, I was too weak to get into any mischief.   I’m glad that she never got her hands on this stuff.

After I thought I had survived the bottle of laxative it was time to drink a half gallon of the chilled liquid, which I reluctantly did.  At the time I would have bet you there was nothing left in my digestive system.  Boy was I wrong.  I never lost eye contact with the toilet for the next six hours when, you guessed it, time to drink the next half-gallon.  I told you it was refrigerated.  It was still ice cold when I flushed it away.  I spent the next twelve hours within arm’s reach of that toilet bowl.  I was hoping the stock of toilet paper held out through the night.  I know they had to call in extra staff for the third shift at the waste water treatment plant.

Finally, morning came and time to leave for the Medical Center.  My wife came with me to drive me home because I would be under the influence of drugs, otherwise they wouldn’t release me for twelve hours.  I carried extra underwear and shorts.  I knew I was going to shit myself during the seven-mile drive to the hospital.  Fortunately, we made it to the first toilet inside the hospital entrance without a mishap.

Arriving at the Colonoscopy Clinic, I was handed a robe, a pair of paper slippers and told to go into a cubicle and get undressed.  There was a room with a TV where my wife could wait. I did as I was instructed and reported back to the desk.  I was directed into a curtained off area with bright lighting, a hospital type bed, and some tubing and other incomprehensible instruments.  I was instructed to climb onto the table.  The nurse wrapped a rubber band around my arm and put a blank IV lash-up into the inside of my left elbow.  The doctor come in and introduces himself.  He tells me to position myself on my left side.  He said we put the IV in to administer the sedative and in case I tear the colon and we have to take you up to surgery. “Surgery,” alarms bells were going off in my mind when the nurse said, “Now you will get a head rush from this,” and everything went black.

The next thing I remember is waking up with an almost painful need to fart.  But after my experiences during the past twenty-four hours, I was afraid.  The recovery room nurse told me, “If you feel the need to pass gas, go ahead, it is just the air used to distend your colon.”

From the sounds coming from the other patients in the recovery area, for a moment, I thought I was back in CPO Berthing on that old DD I served in during the end of the Viet Nam War.  I thought Oh, well and cut the absolutely most satisfying fart I have ever experienced.

The nurse eventually told me I could get up and get dressed.  I did so thinking that maybe the preparation was worth the drugs. Oh! No! No fucking way.  There is no way anything could be worth twenty-four hours of trying to shit my tonsils.

I was told to wait in the room with my wife and the doctor would see me with the results soon.  It was twelve noon, my last meal was twenty-nine hours ago, there was nothing solid between my tonsils and my rectum.  I felt as if I had missed breakfast, dinner, supper and midrats.  I was as weak as a kitten. The TV was on the Food Network.  I don’t eat chicken but if someone had offered me fried buzzard that looked as good as what Bobby Flay was displaying, I may have had a piece or two.  I was so hungry.

The doctor finally called me in and started showing me photos of my innards.  He complemented me on the cleansing job.  As if I had had a choice! He told me that there were no polyps and I wouldn’t have to repeat the procedure for ten years.

I had her stop at McDonalds on the way home.  I bought and ate two Big Mac meals before we got home.

My next colonoscopy is only a year away.  Just thinking about it takes some of the happiness out of a living another year.

 

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A Man’s Best Friend

A Man’s Best Friend

By:  Garland Davis

 

I grew up with a dog.  A little red Cocker Spaniel named Cookie.  She was my dog from the time I was twelve until I enlisted at seventeen. We played through the woods and explored the creeks and streams of Western North Carolina during those years. Mama told me that she seemed to miss me after I left and spent a lot of time on the porch watching up the road, hoping to see me coming home. She was always excited and happy to see me when I did come home on leave.  I remember the sad day I received the letter from my sister telling me of her demise.

During the fifty-one years, Kikuko and I have been married, there have been six dogs who shared the time with us.  First, there was an Akita named Taro who was with us for thirteen years. For a short time, he had a companion, a Shiba named Boots who tangled with a car and lost.  Then there was a Shikoku also named Taro.  As he got older he was joined by a female Shiba that we called Yuri although her “paper name” was Kotobuki Hime.  After Taro II died at age twelve, Yuri was alone for a number of years and then was joined by a Shiba puppy, Taro III.  Yuri lived seven more years and died a month before her eighteenth birthday.  Taro, as he grew older was joined by another female Shiba named Izumi.  Taro succumbed to cancer at the age of twelve.  Izumi is sleeping under my desk as I type this.  Each of these dogs had names on their pedigree that didn’t seem fit them or their personalities. It is probably good that they didn’t know.

Kikuko and I are both aging and don’t want to leave a dog as an orphan so we have decided that Izumi will be the last fur baby.

Someone once wrote a piece called, “The Rainbow Bridge.” According to this missive, as each dog leaves this life, they gather just this side of a rainbow colored bridge to wait for their human companion to join them and they cross that bridge together, united once again forever.  If there is a life after this, I pray that all my dogs are there.

I echo the comment of Will Rogers, the great cowboy humorist who said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

I remember an episode of Death Valley Days with Ronald Reagan playing the part of George Vest.  Someone posted about it recently on Facebook.  Vest is credited with coining the term “Man’s Best Friend.”I can think of no better description of a dog’s devotion to his friend and companion.  I hesitate to use the word Master, as that isn’t the relationship I have had with my dogs.

George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903 and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog. During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, and when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.

“Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us — those whom we trust with our happiness and good name — may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action.

The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world — the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous — is his dog.  A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

“If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.” — George Graham Vest

 

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