A Sense of Place
By Garland Davis
“We have to lock the gates Sunday night. After a weekend of carousing the Sumbitches think they can get underway Monday morning.” — The Commander of Fiddler’s Green in a press release.
I was about seven years old when I was introduced to the school library. Each student, after being subjected to a lecture on library etiquette by the school librarian, was required to select a book to read during the next week. I don’t know what books interested the girls. Girls didn’t hold any interest for me at the time. All the boys in the class were searching for books with big words and lots of pictures.
I didn’t fit into the class. My grandmother had taught me to read, write and rudimentary arithmetic before I was old enough for school. When my first-grade teacher discovered that I could read and write, she took me to the principal. For a couple of days, I demonstrated my abilities to the Principal, the Superintendent of the school district and a group of teachers. They finally decided that the third grade was more appropriate. Let’s just say I didn’t fit in. I became a loner. I could get an ass kicking for knowing the answer to a question after another of the boys had answered incorrectly.
Anyway, back to the library. I found a book that intrigued me. It had a drawing of a sailing ship on the front cover. It was a biography of John Paul Jones written for the seventh or eighth-grade level. At first, the librarian refused to let me check the book out. I told my teacher I could read it and she talked with the librarian who reluctantly let me check it out. When I returned it the next week, she questioned me about the book. After that, I was granted the run of the library.
That book was the catalyst for my whole life. By the time I finished that book, I had already made up my mind that the sea and the Navy were for me. I read everything I could find about the sea, ships, and the Navy. A long ten years later I was sworn into the Navy on my seventeenth birthday and never looked back.
A very quick thirty years later, I was turned out the door into a world in which I had to learn to function. During the next twenty some years, I succeeded in my new life, but something essential to a person’s wellbeing was missing. I didn’t feel that I belonged. I had lost the feeling of belonging, a “Sense of Place.”
In late 2012 and early 2013, a group of us created the Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association and conceptualized a reunion of members who had served in the Far East, the forward-deployed ships and had made a WestPac cruise. Plans were made and the information promulgated.
In April of that year, we came together at the Clarion Hotel in Branson, Missouri for the first annual Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Reunion.
The first afternoon, in the Jungle Room I saw shipmates whom I had not seen in thirty and forty years. Shipmates who had lived through the same hardships and good times.
On May 15, we will again meet for the seventh year. I daresay that each of us has developed a “Sense of Place” at the reunion and in Branson.