Late 1981, after the big fire. The boat with embarked airwing are smashing Orange Air down Puerto Rico way. We're all working very hard, and in the occasional down hours we all appreciate the entertainment provided by AFRTS, including a brand new film which at the time and in many a sailor's opinion was one of the greatest movies ever made.
You might wonder how sailors could possibly assess a low budget horror spoof as one of the greatest films of all time. Wonder no more.
Good memories come dressed (or undressed) in interesting clothes.
This particular good memory came hard on the heels of a bad memory. Fourteen dead and more than 50 injured and medevaced to J-ville and San Antonio.
For the living, life goes on. Once the trauma begins to recede and the shock eases into the realm of past experience, appreciation and zest and enjoyment bounce back. Hard work and long hours feel good and suck mightily in a profoundly satisfying dichotomy.
Cobalt blue of Caribbean waters, huge blue sky overhead choked with budding thunderheads. Sultry warm and humid air. Smoking hot, rough and scarred nonskid. Clouds of catapult steam and the shimmering heat of jet exhaust. The roar and visceral wham as Grumman Iron is dashed into the air. The smash-rumble-scream as jets are snatched back aboard. The eye-stinging, snot-producing stench of freshly incinerated kerosene. Ahh, these things are achingly beautiful and soul cleansing. These things killed and maimed some of us before, and they can do so again, but now we rebuild a powerful shield of operational excellence. We were gravely wounded, now we are healed. The flying fish that sail into the hangar bay are a reminder that we are living a unique and important experience that most people will never know or even care about. There's an enormous burden in long hours and hard physical work, but purpose and responsibility and dedication make it bearable and, in a way, ennobling.
Others are mindlessly enjoying the fruits of liberty. We are honing our skills for war. We are very, very good. Ashore there are Marines and Soldiers on the wall. Our walls of steel can and will venture anywhere across the broad seventy percent of the globe covered with water. We carry with us a terrible skill set that gives our enemies pause and makes it hard for them to sleep at night. We are hard. We actively seek and willingly embrace our burden.
And we enjoy Saturday the 14th in a way that no one else can. I can state the fact, but to understand what enjoying that film on the boat meant to us, well, you just had to be there.
Now that I've made us all out to be the noblest of the noble, let me repeat again -- Sailors.
Few if any of us were too noble to get up to remarkably ignoble activities. We drank and screwed and tore up bars, hazed the noobs mercilessly and plotted to dismay and discomfort the Chiefs and division officers. We skated right up to (and sometimes over) the line between legal and illegal, respectful and disrespectful, honorable and dishonorable.
We were walking, talking, drinking, screwing, mobile disaster areas. The heavies put their lives and careers at risk every time they let us slip the chain and go on liberty.
When it came to doing our actual Sailor jobs, though, we were the best in the world. That reality gave us a lot of latitude, and we used up every bit of it. We were neither as great as we could have been nor as bad (quite) as we could have been.
We were Sailors in a golden age, and without having experienced it, no one can lay hands on the reality of sailing those seas at that time and place.
Perhaps you can take my word for it -- it was a formative experience.
Now as it turns out, this is not the blog post I set out to write. All of those words above are true, and all (or nearly all) of them surprised the hell out of me the way they magically appeared on the screen.
It's a goofy and puzzling and delightful Saturday the 14th. I can't wreck this post any more, so I'll just put it up let it live in infamy for the eternity of the interwebs.
May all of you kind readers be as blessed as I am on this lovely and delightful near-autumn day.
Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.