Anniversery….40 years

me wanting to be a sailor-with my brother Frank
Originally uploaded by jayfherron


As a boy-the boy in the photograph,many of my days were spent playing Captain of my ship.

Our father had built this unusual set of bunk beds in my bedroom-they weren’t typical of what you would think bunk beds look like. They were kind of an offset situation,one bed going in one direction,the other in the opposite at a right angle. That one combined a window-that window looked out on our West Virginia yard that was an incline that would scare any trucker to death. It was perfect for a boy who wanted to play ‘ship’, I could sit up in the top bunk and open that window and lean out as if I was piloting a huge destroyer out the channel.

My older brother had joined the Navy. He had come home from boot camp-he gave me the sailors hat. Our father had been a petty officer in the Navy and our mother sewed the patches on my jersey. I was so proud of my new gear.

You can see the age difference between my brother and I. After his leave from boots was over he headed off for his duty station. I returned to Captain my ship-most likely with more vigor than ever with my sailors cap and stripes.

High school wasn’t so good for me. We had come from West Virginia via a short life in Tuckahoe Virginia to live in the suburbs of Washington DC. My clothing remain the same as in West Virginia-converted from hand me downs from my cousin who had to be six foot tall. I was the only kid in the world that had pockets that dropped to my knees-my lunch money change was an arms length to reach. This stood out in the crowd of country club suburbanites who came from families that color coded these kids cars to match the new clothes they wore to school.

I hated that time. I had a part time job after school and saved enough to buy a shirt like the ones they wore-one kid smeared a blueberry pie on it the first day I wore it-another pulled the hanger loop on the back of the shirt. It ripped. In boot camp there was no color coded cars to come with the clothes-everything was uniform.

I went into boot camp 40 years ago this past Friday. We arrived in Camp Moffitt at 0200 in the morning. At 0400 I woke to some man screaming and yelling that my mother did not live here and this was not her house-and he damned sure wasn’t going to let us sleep in. At this point I determined that what ever this guy said to do-I was going to do it. He had my attention the first minute we met. And he kept our attention for the following nine weeks-he was our drill instructor, known as the DI.

That Saturday morning we ‘marched’ around the camp to be given haircuts and get uniforms. It was official.

The following day at 0410 as we headed towards the mess hall for breakfast-newspaper boys stood outside hawking papers. For the next nine weeks we would only be allowed a Sunday paper. That mornings paper had the headline above Jimi Hendrix photo-WOODSTOCK. I remember thinking-why was I here this week….I idolized Jimi Hendrix.

They didn’t give you much of a chance to mull over current events in boot camp. You owned the paper for about an hour until they passed the trash drum and of to marching somewhere we’d go. It was beautiful to see the company’s of men marching. We wore white leggings that covered our boots-they made it look like birds in flight.

I was asked during the fifth week if I had any relatives that I’d like to be stationed with. My brother had been long  in his Navy life by then and thinking it would be great to reunite,I asked for being stationed with him.

It is really funny how parts of us never grow up. I still reach back at those days in the bunk bed-my big ship heading out the channel,me hanging out the window watching to be sure the coast is clear. My mobile home is long enough to make it a challenge to steer clear-I sometimes feel like making the chugging noises of the engines,but usually don’t.

I wonder what it might have been. Once I boarded the USS Vulcan AR-5 my eighteen your old soul felt like it was already in heaven-I could not believe I was going to be living on this ship.

It was all so perfect-except my brother.

I was given some exams the first few days aboard. It was a process they had to determine what were capable of doing. One of the tests showed an aptitudefor something in the Navy’s interest and I was offered a chance to advance quicker than usual-I was offered some college time in exchange for my time,which would have been 10 years (if I remember well enough) and I would be made an Ensign-or what ever the bottom of the officer chain was.

I was thrilled-but my brother saw to it quickly that I was destroyed. He mocked the offer saying it was bull shit-and made every effort to keep me thinking that.

I know,looking back at it now,my brother was jealous-him having 8 or 9 years in and all he did was run the ships laundry and I show up and fresh from boots they offer me this program.

40 years is a long time ago. I met somebody once that said they went to Woodstock and the only thing they remember was Jimi Hendrix played early in the morning on the last day and he didn’t care because it was miserable from the earlier rain-and mud and being hungry.

I remember more. I remember how cool every inch of it was….back in Camp Moffitt there was a tunnel we frequently marched through and there was full time order to sing ‘Anchors Away’-the echos of our voices and the tromping of our feet measuring cadence sent chills up my spine. Everywhere we went we went as equal and uniform as the other man. There were no high school cliques-there were no social class divisions,we all were the same. I remember the walk from our barracks to the mess hall-we were allowed to do it every morning as long as we walked in pairs,just about the only time we did not march. It was always 0410 and the lights would burn through the fog and it was such an interesting feeling knowing that in each barracks we passed the same thing was going on as in the barracks we just left.

40 years! It always seem like just yesterday!

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