me on the USS Vulcan

Originally uploaded by jayfherron

When I enlisted in the US Navy the year was April 1969. I had to enlist under a deferred enlistment because I wasn’t yet 18.
Viet Nam was going furiously and it was not the choice of many to sign up in the military at that time.

My family was Navy way back to my great grandfather. My grandmother used to tell me neat stories about being on his ship as a girl-sailing to Miami Florida when it was as she described it-mud and boardwalks.

I remember photographs of my father in his Navy uniform. There used to be a famous enlistment poster of a sailor facing the ship he’s about to serve on-he’s wearing his dress blues. My fathers photograph made me feel like that poster did.

I would have like to have finished high school. The school that I attended last was named after Robert E. Peary. It was larger than any school I had seen-complete with an automotive shop,and greenhouses-even two football fields. It was a different era then. I did not finish high school-I decided to take take my chances in another level in life in the military.

I found boot camp was perfect change. We all wore the same blue uniform and there were no cliques-everyone was the same…a unit,uniform,in formation.

Like that famous enlistment poster I stood with my sea bag dressed in my dress blues and faced the USS Vulcan for the first time. I’m not capable to describe what she looked like to my eighteen year old eyes. The ship was like looking at a city all lit up. Lights ran the length of the ship and on every deck and towering high on the main mast. The entry for enlisted men led you up a ramp that doubled back into a long flight of stairs and put you on the quartermasters deck. That section of deck is highly polished and decorated with assorted honors to the ship. It is also where the master at arms shack is-the ships police station where I would be sitting in a few months.

I did not want to drop out of school. There were social conflicts at Peary High that pushed me in that direction and led me to the uniform life of the Navy. I was pleased at the attention the ships education officer gave me-he was pleased with results from testing he did with me. We discussed my future.

It would have been around this time we sailed for rendezvous with other ships-my first time out at sea. That experience is an instant love. The ship was under a different spell when under way then she was at port-it was a good feeling either way,but notably different as we sailed.

I loved to go after my work was done to stand at the very bow of the ship and look down as it cut through the mighty ocean. I could lay my body right into the thick steel and just watch with ease and with out fear of falling. The shape of the bow was almost perfect to fit my body in. When I tired of watching the ships cutting the seas I could turn and stare up at the majestic size of her. I never knew until years later I could have gone up to volunteer to hold the wheel and keep the course.

It is such a bitter sweet feeling thinking of my sons-one having 18 years in the Navy,the other just returning from training in the US Coast Guard-and the young man I raised has also made a budding career in the Navy. I encouraged that in them-they saw my grief,my oldest son attributes my grief as his desire to serve in a way to make it up to me.

This time of year always puts me in a place in my mind-a mood,sometimes of gloom. The crixmix holiday gedunk is beginning to sprout up in places reminding us of the goodness of Thanksgiving and the cheer of crixmix and the yahoo of the coming New Year. They all remind us of something-they always remind me of something.

This morning I woke up and as any morning my mind immediately focuses on that part of my life. It’s always a shuddering feeling to wake up and think back and think why. Most of the way I live is result of why-so thinking it is abrupt. This morning was no different and was more magnified by a reoccurring dream I have about being incarcerated in a prison of some kind. The prisons always vary in the kind of community it is-but always a prison. They remind me of barracks D.

I dreamt last night that the prison was like a maze of honeycomb stacked cells,and as I walked by them men’s heads would stick out like larvae of worms-just enough so that I could see them peeking. In barracks D at the end of the urinal trough where I was raped  was a hole in the wall and while I was being attacked there were men’s faces looking through that hole in the wall watching as I was being assaulted. Where more of the later assaults took place was a room on the second floor of the barracks-it was a dark room that once was a storage closet for sea bags that had deep shelves. The room was lit by a black and white TV and the shelves were deep enough men were laying in there. I get such a strong sense of barracks D from last nights dream. I became a part of a community there-it was told to me to…”get used to it” is what he said. He was the man that asked me why I had a bloody nose and piss all over me. I said I was raped-except then I described the act…I was too young to know what rape was.

To this day whenever I approach a place where there is more than a group of people standing I feel a deja vu of when I returned to the barracks building where barracks D was. We were in a compound of two buildings-it was obviously a place with limited freedom. I had no time to think about what to do next as I walked past all of the men in barracks D, and the men who assaulted me.

I was in barracks D for nothing. I had done nothing. A few days ago I received an envelope of papers from the Veterans Administration saying…and signed by a judge-there was ‘no wrongdoing’. Supposedly soon I will be receiving compensation for my disability because of those days that seem like just yesterday. I find that so hard to comprehend-I’ve lived so long out of the change can-poor. But more so the guilt comes to me-it hard for me to comprehend that I went to be a good man and did not fail except for in the eyes of others…but yet had to live the life of blame for something that I did not do. I enlisted to do what we were taught back then-to do our duty to honor our country. If I was supposed to get hurt-it was supposed to happen in a battle,not like it did.

I always struggled with my being treated at the VA Hospital. Being in the service only 7 months-and what I had always considered at being kicked out of the Navy…I never felt right being there. It is hard for me to face my friends that have done duty in Viet Nam knowing what they went through-some will never get what I am about to receive. But I have always stood in the line that was prepared to do the same thing-to go to the front.

I apologize for the uncheery report. I should be more postive because we have a group of survivors-unique and silent survivors have achieved a recognition that ‘military sexual trauma’ is a reality and in fact causes PTSD. We have been recognized.

I have had a sense of strength that has never been mine before-some kind of mystical freedom that I cannot describe because the feeling is so new. The many years I’ve lived with this as a permanent scar did I ever think that the words “no wrongdoing” would be spoken on my behalf. I think that is the most powerful reward of them all…no wrongdoing.

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