We were just out of the yards in Yokosuka, doing a shakedown off the coast of Japan. You know how that is—you’re on a tight schedule and nearly always at GQ, trying to qualify so you can get back to port and prepare for the next cruise. The days are long and you drill until you forget what day it is. We were in one of those modes when dinner came around. They were going to give us an hour to eat and catch a nap before another exercise. I ate in the usual five minutes and then went for a stroll, hoping to find some nice weather out on the fantail of our Knox-Class FF. I went out but there was no sun; the sky was full of gray, drizzly clouds.
And then all of a sudden it happened: the sky opened to the west like a pair of huge curtains parting, and in the gap, gilded by the sun, lay the cone of Mount Fuji, snow-covered for a third of her height, clean as a razor’s edge and utterly beautiful. I turned to see my shipmates, some of them filthy from the fire room, all of us tired as hell, and every single one of them had a look on his face as if it were Christmas morning.
I was about a week out on my first Westpac cruise, and we were taking our time about getting across the Pacific, playing games with a carrier task force, drilling, and using up fuel. Then came the day we were to hit land again.
I was up long before sunrise, packing mail into bags, moving boxes, and getting ready for the sort of incoming you get when you’re away for more than a couple of days. I tied the last of many mail sacks to the outside of my tiny post office, and went to the weather decks to watch the sun come up.
On the ocean the sun doesn’t rise; it simply flashes the day to life. There aren’t long shadows because there isn’t any object to cast them. There’s only a line separating the sea from the sky that appears, with a pink glow that flares to bright blue in an instant, before you can sip your coffee.
I was standing next to the cracker-box missile launcher on the stern, all alone, waiting to see land. When day broke, the sea appeared in sparks of gold where the sun struck the wave-tops. And then, out of the ocean like Neptune, rose a huge mound, green as an emerald, encircled by wisps of cloud; something out of a fantasy. It was Hawaii. I stood there staring until a guy walked up and said “First time? Yeah, there aren’t words for that.” And there aren’t, really.