A Tale of the Sea and Me – Athens

i only went to Athens once, 1972. After the Luce left Izmir, Turkey, we were at sea for more operations and then went to Athens for a short liberty stay. It was one of the highlights of that deployment. i was disappointed i had missed the Daphne Wine Festival. But i was excited i was going to Athens.

We anchored in the harbor near Piraeus. i was already in awe. i conjured up Themistocles ordering the Greeks to build up their Navy and defeating Persia in the Straits of Salamis. Our liberty launch landed at the head of fleet landing, a long concrete pier bolstered by boulders that ran down to the harbor waters. It was a formidable looking place, but hey, Athens was at the end. As i went ashore, i recalled being sure to get back before the last liberty launch departed at 0100.

We went to downtown Athens first. i ate a most wonderful Greek meal with spanikopita, moussaka, finishing with baklava for dessert. It was even better than i imagined with retsina wine.

Then, it was time for my biggest thrill. i went to the Acropolis. i stood in awe in front of the Parthenon and tried to imagine it and the Greeks at the pinnacle of their civilization. i scrambled over the huge broken steps. i spent the afternoon there.

Then it was Navy liberty time. i went back downtown and spent the evening drinking and eating and drinking. We had a great time until we realized the last liberty launch would leave soon. We caught a cab and gave him some extra to hurry. We arrived at the landing and run down the pier, which seemed like it was a mile long (it was long for a pier). When we got to about 100 yards, we saw the liberty launch leaving the boarding area. When we got to the loading area, the launch was too far away to hear us. We watched until it went around a bend.

It was autumn. It was cold. The wind had picked up. Did i mention it was cold? There was nothing there, no food, no drink, no cover. Nothing was there except concrete and boulders. The first liberty launch in the morning would arrive at 0600. Between officers and enlisted, there were about ten of us, perhaps fewer.

Before i got too cold to think, i wondered if the enlisted amongst us would be treated differently than the officers for our missing the launch when we got back to the ship. One of my buddies was a LCDR, the senior, so other than a rebuke from the XO or the Weapons Officer, i was likely fine.

i scrunched up against two boulders that formed something like. a very hard, very uncomfortable chair. Every time i would get close to falling asleep, a gust of cold wind would wake me up. i watched first light touch the sky and dawn break. Finally, the liberty launch came around the bend. We got back to the Luce before quarters. Sea detail soon was set, and we were underway again. Athens was behind me.

If i get to Athens again, i will get a hotel room.

And i never, ever missed the last liberty launch for the rest of my career.

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