Saturday, September 14, 2019

Corpsman Chronicles XX: Saturday the 14th

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.

Hey, Sailors.

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.


  1. Yep, I remember that crash. I think a few P-3s even got drafted to haul some of the burn victims to San Antonio. And yes, sailors... LOL BTDT...

    1. I didn't know that about the P-3's but I'm not surprised. There was a real full-court press in the wake of that crash. When I talk to sailors who joined after Boosche the First got hounded out of office and share a few liberty stories they often seem shocked at even the PG tales. Makes me feel a bit sorry for them. If you've never thrown up at morning quarters, smelling (as one Chief accused me of) like you've just come from the brewery whorehouse, you've either badly underachieved or served in a largely emasculated organization. How did Patton put it? "A man who won't firetruck won't fight."

  2. I'd never heard of that incident, tragic. Was in Korea at the time, tweaking Phantoms and wondering if the boogeyman would ever venture south so that we could cut him to red ribbons.

    Ah, the 80s.

    (I really need to track down that film.)

    1. That was a pretty defining/coming of age night for a lot of guys. As fate would have it I'd later be involved in Beirut with both the U.S. Embassy bombing and the Marine Barracks bombing, albeit in a support/medevac role. Some years later the same role when turret two blew up on Iowa. Mass casualty events are nearly indescribable (palms sweating as I type this). But they happen, and the superb training we had stood us in good stead.

      Were you still in Korea when KAL-007 happened? I was on an Orange Air Det to Puerto Rico and things got pretty stirred up even there. We were really pushing the Soviets hard at that time and I think we got closer to the abyss than most folks realized.

      It's a great film! And the Eighties were pretty awesome.

    2. I was back in the States when KAL 007 went down. But we had flown that same flight 3 years before. I still had my boarding pass. Kinda freaky.

    3. Now I think I remember you sharing that fact over at your place. Freaky indeed!

  3. Sometimes the words just need to get out, and often those are the most telling posts.

    1. Well those words surely wanted out!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Brig.

  4. it appears i am a few years junior to you salty salts. Things change. I worked (& chatted) with a USAF(ret:2006) air traffic controller. He mentioned he had been booked for travel from Europe back to home, and one of his flights was United-93...yes, that exact flight, in 2001.

    Nowadays (with sailorettes) you no longer have to wait to go on liberty to seek a firetruck...(but then, this began on the tenders back before i graduated from high school in 1991)

    I might have retired myself in 2013...if i had not “chased my bliss” but it’s been quite a journey. I surprised myself by completing ARMY basic in 2015 (at the over-ripe age of 41) but i am definitely not a typical PT stud...

    I apologize for asking, but dare i ask which movie you are referring to???

    1. I spent a week on the USS Shenandoah (AD-44 I believe) bitd, got stuck on a medevac when there was a surge to the eastern Med and flights were hard to find. It was an interesting experience. The female part of the crew substantially altered day in day out shipboard life. I think it was mostly for the better but there were also some significant problems.

      The movie was called "Saturday the 14th." It's a good one.

  5. OMFG...curiously, i check back for any replies...the name of the movie in particular... i feel a small explanation is due here...i don’t have a data plan that lets me stream YouTube’s. I think i can otherwise claim to be the winner of the dumbest question asked on Sept 19???

    I served on DDG-55 & DDG-61 (among my other varied job titles which include the more recent “Walmart auto-tech”) DDG-61 was scheduled to receive the “female mod” during a yard period in 2009. At least for the “ram-rod” i’d say the “fortunes” benefited us when CG-73 decided to park itself on top of a coral reef in Hawaii. Navy shifted the $$ to cover those unexpected repairs!

    I’ve written (typed?) a few things, that when i finished caused me to pause and think: dayaaaam...where in the heck did THAT come from??? i’d arguably call it “divine intervention” but most people don’t believe in that sort of thing...

    1. Trust me cT, you're not even in the top million dumb questions asked on Sept. 19. And given the inability to watch the video, you're not even in dumb question territory.

      Time does funny stuff. There weren't and Burke class cans in my day, and I still think of the Perry class frigates as new and wonder where they've gone.

      Red Ramage. Now there's a name I've not heard in a long time...