From a Lucky Old Vet

It’s that time, and tomorrow morning, i shall walk up my hill, stand under my flag at the peak — i put a light on it so i could keep it up during the night, not because i am lazy — i might be but not for this — but because a number of neighbors have thanked me for being able to see it in the morning and how good it makes them feel. If i raised it according to regulations, it would be at 8:00 a.m., and many would have already gone to work by then.

i shall stand there, look down on the combatants of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, and i will take off my cap and put my hand over my heart (not the cap: the U.S. Flag regulations call for one to take off his cap and put it at his side while putting his right hand over his heart). This will be my salute to all veterans. Later, i plan to go over to the golf course, hoping Jessie Thompson, the Pearl Harbor survivor will be there and i can thank him for his service.

Memorial Day is for honoring those who have died in defense of our country. It has been expanded to honor those veterans who have died after serving. Tomorrow is not a day for mourning,  saluting those folks who have left us, or lowering the flag to half mast. Tomorrow is a day for honoring our veterans.

By sheer circumstance and good luck, i am one of those veterans. It wasn’t really a sacrifice for me to serve our country. When i got back in the second time, i gave up my career in sports journalism for the security of my family. i had some close calls, but to me my service on ten ships and two shore duties was not arduous. i remain quietly respectful for those who really put it on the line. i have lost good friends whose lives were cut short because of service. i have number of shipmates who have debilitating injuries and less than good health because of their duty. So my few close calls are insignificant. As i have said often, i loved going to sea.

i hope everyone in this country stops for a moment tomorrow and salutes the veterans who served with honor in defense of our country and our way of life. i hope we put aside our political differences to pay homage to those who have served.

i plan to post one or two more of my Lebanon Democrat columns in the next day or so  dealing with this veteran and others. Some of what is included will be repeats from what has been posted before. But i hope it provides the opportunity to think about what our veterans have done.

Why Navy?

SAN DIEGO – As the new year ramps up, I am back in the Southwest corner considering why I made the Navy my career.

My father also has wondered why a boy from Middle Tennessee would choose the sea for his livelihood. Others have wondered the same thing.

The sea called me during my midshipman cruise on the U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 694) in 1963. We steamed from Newport, RI, to Sydney, Nova Scotia; to Bermuda; and back to Newport as part of the U.S.S. Intrepid (CVA 11) battle group.

My last four weeks were in engineering with two watches and normal work requiring 16-hour work days. Having no more sense than now, I went from my last watch to the crew’s movie in the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) hangar – “DASH” was a weapon which did not last long. Sailors called it “CRASH” instead of “DASH.” But its hanger on the 02 level just aft of amidships was perfect for showing movies.

This night, I watched “The Quiet Man” for the first time. As I left the theater and traversed the torpedo deck, I walked to the port side and gazed at the full moon.

The ship was making 15 knots. The moon’s reflection cut a wide, rippling, reflective path straight to me. The boilers roared through the forward stack. The bow wave was white, curling from the side and swishing its whisper as the ship cut through the water. “Darken ship” allowed no lights except those for navigation. At least a billion stars blanketed the black sky.

The sea grabbed me. She came down that path from the full moon, wafted across the bow wave, and reached deep inside. I felt her grab my heart and take it away.

I have loved her in her fury of the winter Atlantic, when she tossed a 500-foot ship around like a cork, ripping off protruding metal like dandelion bristles, and tossing sailors around the ship like matchsticks. Her intense fury blanketed the sea surface with froth.

I have loved her in the doldrums of the South China Sea where not a breath of wind existed, and the sea surface was glass for a week. I saw my first “green flash” then.

In the summer of 1973, steaming in the operating areas off of Newport, Rhode Island, my father saw why I went to sea. My ship, the U.S.S. Luce (DLG 7), was undergoing a major inspection. My Commanding Officer learned of my father visiting and invited him to ride during our underway day.

As a lieutenant, I was the sea detail officer of the deck. My father was by my side as I had the “conn” while the ship stood out of Narragansett Bay. As soon as we reached the operating area, we went to 25 knots for rudder tests, rapidly shifting the rudder to max angles both ways. The commanding officer and I went into a frantic dance, running in opposite directions across the bridge to hang over each wing checking for small craft in the dramatic turns.

After the rudder tests, I took my father into the bowels of the ship to our anti-submarine warfare spaces. My father stood behind me as I directed prosecution of a submarine contact. In the darkened spaces with sonar pings resounding, he watched as we tracked the sub on our fire control screen and simulated firing a torpedo.

After lunch, we set general quarters and ran through engineering drills. Finally, we transited back to Newport.

With mooring complete, the captain gave my father a ship’s plaque. My wife and mother were waiting on the pier when we debarked from the ship’s quarterdeck. As we walked the brow to the pier, my father said to me, “Son, I now understand why you would want to make this a career.”

I did. Somewhere in the latter stages of that career, I met a woman, a native of San Diego, and we got married. After a brief taste of being a Navy officer’s wife, she and I returned to San Diego for my “twilight” tour, the last four years on shore duty.

So now when I walk up our hill to raise and lower the flag, I look out to sea and check to see how many ships are pier side at the Naval Station.

And that, my friends, is why I made the Navy career and live in the Southwest corner, far from my home in Tennessee.

To my family veterans: Thanks. i don’t have photos of numerous others in  uniform, but thanks to all.

Jimmy Jewell
Jason Gander
Bill Prichard with his fighter named “Colleen.”
Ensign James “Pipey” Orr
















As for me:

Goofy guy, 1989
Goofy guy, 1968

1 thought on “From a Lucky Old Vet

  1. Oh, this was lovely and humbling
    Thank you so much for dusting the cobwebs of more than a few of us who are lax in paying homage to those who have served and protected our country. 🇺🇸

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