Executive summary by Jonathan Pie. Please note rough, Brit pub language, but no rougher than a presidential political campaign.
The stunning and also logical outcome of the presidential election coincided with several national anniversaries which modulate for me the Blues raving of apocalyptic certainty versus the Reds we-did-it, game-winning, end-zone Shimmey. It wasn’t only that Donald trumped Hillary. The nation, at nearly every level of government, told that level of government that it wants something done about the way that things are going, being communicated and How who is benefitting. What is to be made of the news industry, whose talents, resources and reputation are devoted to accurate insight of what is going-on, and so completely misidentified the will of the people that they “impartially” observe?
I believe that George Packer had it right in his New Yorker article published on Halloween.
On November 10 the United States Marine Corps celebrated its 241 birthday. Birthday greetings from their Commandant, General Neller, persuade me that there yet remains plenty of institutions valuing self-sacrifice, tradition and commitment to purpose.
On November 11 we celebrated Veterans Day. Before class in the Research Triangle Park, I asked 4 or 5 MBA graduates what does this day celebrate? Yikes! No one knew and the best guess was D-Day. Maybe we should rename it Thank You For Your Service Day which no veteran truly wants to hear because it is interpreted as ‘TYFYS while I was shopping at the mall.’ We haven’t experienced yet The War to End All Wars as was the ambition for the 11.11 at 11 a.m. armistice in 1918. I’m a proponent of national service for every young American. Maybe not military service and surely a ‘larger than the individual’ experience that introduces Blues to Reds, develops marketable skills and demonstrates the wonder of our nation as well as the need to preserve it.
November 19 is a special day for me. The older that I become, the more that I admire Abraham Lincoln. How did he do it?! Those Blues and Grays really did go to war. I’ve tried to memorize his Gettysburg Address delivered on 19 November 1963 and the near concluding segment challenges me.
Maybe it’s useful that I am not yet able to commit the Address to memory as such causes me to read and to re-read its hopeful admonition:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion.”
Now we have an immediate cause of our own. Its necessity may not be the preservation of our nation and it may be a time to nurture a renewed birth of freedom ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I admire Stan Wawrinka. Seemingly doomed to be the foil to the magnificent Roger Federer. Like Andy Roddick and David Ferrer, a great tennis player and great in an era of the Olympian players Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and, certainly, Roger. Even when he won the 2008 Olympic Gold medal for Tennis Doubles, the story-line was that he was Federer’s partner.
I witnessed Stan in full form on the opening round of the US Open in 2009, the year that Del Potro upset Roger in 5 sets including 2 tie-breakers. Roger lost late and Stan lost early; also in 5 sets, also with 2 tie-breakers, also to a South American, Nicolas Lapentti of Equador. Roger defeated on centre court before an audience of 23,000+; Stan defeated on a back court of the BJK Tennis Centre before an audience of several dozen, although the Ecuadorian flag and soccer-style fans out-sung their size. When people ever ask about being at a US Open, I answer with the vignette that ‘you can get so close that I once handed Stan Wawrinka a ball at the short fence in the middle of a match (the Lapentti one).’
His victory over Djokovic in the French Open of 2015 followed by their late 2015 Davis Cup victory versus France – this time he carried Roger with the bad back – certified Stan as a top player and much less of Roger’s hitting partner.
Then came Stan the Man, the indecipherable signature tattoo on his left arm, the ugly shorts and the wonder if he had only partnered with Magnus Norman earlier in his career.
For the third year in a row, he’s won a Grand Slam tournament and now has 3 as does Andy Murray, by the way. Tennis fans are no longer surprised when Stan goes deep in a tournament and no one really expects him to come out on top often. After all, the magnificent four are still around with Murray on the rise, Joker in the driver’s seat, Roger and Rafa waning.
I didn’t believe that Stan would defeat Djokovic on the anniversary of 9/11. Tennis, to me is like all sports, respite from, much less representative of life and the affairs of living. Stan won in 4 sets; Joker wasn’t his normal abnormal self, although he played well enough to win the match. Stan was braver in the end. More confident. More determination. More backhand. Most honest about his nervousness just prior to the match and his conviction to fail better throughout the match.
Roger Cohen of the NY Times reflected on 9/11 in an editorial published on 12 September, the morning after Stan’s victory. He makes a point that we honor one another not by wallowing in the past but by honouring the future of the past. He even says it, “by failing better.” I thought that he had to know what is inscribed on Stan’s left arm although RC does not mention it. But I want to.
We have Stan with another late in his career Grand Slam victory; his credo published on his arm; the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and what that’s done or what we’ve become, if only temporarily, as a result = the choice between a Hillary and a Trump. As Roger Cohen suggests, it’s obvious what we should do. There is no need to wait for anyone.
Amidst the thundering rains of this spring, which every bush, tree and weed rooted on our half-acre of taxable property vigorously relishes, we’ve enjoyed several ‘calm after the storm’ evenings and weekends. Trying to take advantage of the spurts of sun, I’ve attempted impromptu BBQs with friends and last-minute tennis matches with the usual partners. So often are the replies “We’ll be or we’re on a cruise.” The destinations seem to reflect the recent popularity of Downton Abbey and its PBS sponsor, Viking Cruise Lines. Plus, our academic community of UNC and Duke MDs and professors likes to vacation in a pattern of life-long learning. There’s no hitting every major league ball park or cruising to Sturgis for my crowd.
I hear of bicycle tours through Provence; palatial barges floating down the Danube; tennis tournaments in Finland; days in Stockholm before days in Saint Petersburg. Every once in a while, someone admits to taking the family to Wilmington for a week at North Carolina’s own shoreline. I guess these guys are not too keen on the Crawleys.
Our local USNA Alumni Chapter hosts 8 monthly luncheons per year in a inconvenient-to-none, convenient-to-none chain restaurant on the outskirts of the Raleigh-Durham airport and off of I-40. It’s not as bad as it sounds and the chow is about the same. We try to get a lot done in 90 minutes, including the guest speaker’s remarks, which leaves little time for lengthy conversations amongst attendees. One gimmick for connecting the group is to poll the audience of their service selections. We have plenty of aviators (I’m always corrected when I, as the MC (more like the class clown), refer to this community as pilots); Marines, both Semper Fi and Sub, are well represented.
I never like asking “How many Surface Warfare Officers are here today?” Surface Warfare! Remember when the training in Newport was referred to as Destroyer School? It’s a Navy; our Navy; The Navy. Why do ships that steam on top of the water and under the stars, America’s Navy, defer in brand-recognition to the other branches of the same service ?
I know that I’m exaggerating and that others can explain the strategic balance of our naval forces better than I so I’ll leave it to them to do this. I’m not stuck on this point because whenever I swap sea stories with the aviators, Marines and nuclear engineers, my ‘liberty in port’ stories are almost always better than their 20,000 leagues under the sea or 20,000 feet in the sky stories. It’s kind of like discussing life in Bancroft Hall before there were female midshipmen (some in the Chapter say before the Academy became the University of Navy, but I won’t go this far because I know that plebe year changed in 1969 before I got to the Yard, very truly yours, English Major Chris). Of course, I never offer such information when I am so exalted by the classes of 1980 and beyond. Actually, I lay it on pretty thick feigning amused amazement, “What! No B-Robes!” “No Tea Fights!” “No Brick Parties (I only saw one and it was pretty lame)!” “No Sock, Jocks and Lock-Box.” Usually, I’ve gone too far on this point, because no one ever knows what a lock-box is.
Now that I think about it, why did anyone ever trust that anything secured in a portable, tin box with a Master combination lock was safe or secure? I realize now the reason that the contents of my lock-box were safe was because I never had anything worth stealing except maybe the lock and the box.
Back to the luncheons and occasions when sea-stories are swapped: I may have been a SWO and I spent 103 consecutive days in Olongapo in 1976 (amongst the numerous drawbacks of a perpetually CASREPed 1200 pound steam plant, including the long lines for penicillin at morning sick call, one highlight was that the Joseph Strauss wardroom won the base softball championship. Another highlight is that the six NROTC 1/c midshipmen who reported aboard for summer training only saw water in one of two ways: a monsoon or crossing the brow into town for an evening of San Miguels and sincere affection from the locals, usually female. One arriving NROTC mid from Tulane University went straight from the Cubi Point Air Field to nightlife Olongapo in his TWLs. As I was the Midshipman Cruise Training Officer, he sent me Christmas cards until he turned 30 years old. I sometimes wonder if he stopped such communication because he expatriated to the PI?!). As a throw-away, I tell the submariners about Korean bar girls, Hong Kong golf, snorkeling in Saipan and the quiet beauty of 20 knots across the Pacific Ocean. I never get around to the dark tales of sea-sickness, tedium, storms, pot-smokers on watch and the endless cycle of gun-decked inspections.
Alas, all of such faux adventures were on deployment, what the Navy calls cruises, i.e. the ship cruises to WestPac on deployment. These sound alert and ready for action even though the long voyage was mundane and the action that the crew was eager to engage was not offered by another navy. I did go on a Navy cruise once and this is the one that I recall whenever one of the local Downton Abbey types informs me of their pending deployment.
AFS–2 USS Sylvania
I just wanted to go to the Mediterranean. I gave up on my flight school ambition; a summer on a submarine could only be trumped by a summer in Bancroft Hall (which I did after the Med cruise and was put in hack by classmate Lee Culver for my lack of squared-awayness. Fortunately, while in said hack, Murdoch and I met Lori and Leslie in front of the Chapel).
After June Week and our too-brief leave period, 6 USNA midshipmen embarked on this fine fighting refrigerator ship aka combat stores ship. I have zip slash recollection of how we got to the Sylvania, although I recall clearly that the return journey involved a helo hop to the Kennedy, helo hop to a military base in either Spain or Italy and a flight to D.C via a long stop in Iceland, concluding with a bus ride to Bancroft Hall.
Talk about a cruise! The passengers, we Mids, and the officers enjoyed 10 section watch, like on the bridge every other day. The wardroom had its own game table, not rigged for 5 hands of poker but a table where 5 guys played poker and the others at the same table participated in a non-stop game of Risk. There was a television-viewing section in this wardroom. And a dining table that seated 14 or so. I’ll repeat this descriptor several times, “being a refrigerator ship (BARS)”, we had delicious bug juices of several colors plus coffee and ice tea around the clock. BARS meant that we supplied steak, movies and ice cream to the other ships in the Med as well as to anyone in any port who provided a desired or needed service that could be expedited for 10 gallons of ice cream or a couple of cans of the latest films from Hollywood. BARS, we watched movies all night when not on every-other-day watch standing.
BARS we had two twin 3-inch gun pods, one on each side. Our commanding officer was highly reluctant to exercise such armament. I guess because no one would sink a refrigerator ship with such goodies aboard unless they thought that the refrigerator ship might accidentally, in a moment of ill-considered panic, shoot back. BARS, whatever we didn’t have, we sent out for via one of the two MH–60 helos. Such replenishment included members of the crew detained in Naples or still in bed in Majorca when the ship recently set sail without them. BARS, everyone, everywhere was happy to see us. For the years when my children were enthralled by the notion of Santa Claus, questioning where he lived when not distributing gifts to worthy children that singular evening, I replied that he lives on a refrigerator ship because BARS feels like Santa the other 364 days.
BARS was not without its nautical value even though the supply department was the largest department reporting to the commanding officer. Getting this single screw tub underway was an adventure in boating, to say the least. As the executive officer was also the ship’s navigator, actual fixes and plots when underway were the cognizance of a first class quartermaster and a third class boatswain mate, Ken and Jerry, tucked away in a tiny Nav Plot with barely enough room for the radar scope and the navigation table. As part of my midshipman practical factors, filling-out questions in a so-called cruise book, one section addressed fundamentals of navigation so I volunteered as part of the Sea and Anchor Navigation Detail, i.e. hanging with Ken and Jerry.
I would be remiss if I did not comment on the Cruise Book process aboard AFS–2. The six first class mids would gather in the spacious wardroom, play Risk, watch Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson films and solicit seaman-like advice from the ship’s officers, including the aviators. Honestly, all we wanted were the answers to the questions and their signatures of validation. This training usually took place as the various reels of the film were being changed or someone was taking too long with their turn at Risk.
As you might imagine, there is one in every crowd where the weight of the Honor Code distorted one’s thinking, and one mid, being concerned that such BARS gouge-sharing might be considered an honor offense by some not familiar with life Before the Mast, shredded and threw his cruise books into the Mediterranean Sea despite the counseling and protests of his five Midshipman 1/c shipmates. The result of which was that the BARS 5 all aced first class cruise and he of the Deep 6 Cruise Book Conscience received a D for his incomplete effort. Just prior to our graduation, he admitted to me his regret for such impulsive behavior.
Back to Ken and Jerry. There are multiple paths to naval service, both officer and enlisted. QM1 Ken Hoteling’s path was via the Galloping Goose Motorcycle Club. Ken netted-out his recruiting yarn as either “jail or the Navy.”
Indeed, Ken was a man of few words. One underway watch in the early morning out of a busy port, he encouraged Jerry to stop sitting on the chart table and to provide radar bearings useful for navigating. As part of his own underway ritual, Jerry liked to play loudly on his boom box the then popular song by Golden Earring, “Radar Love”, so maybe he didn’t hear Ken’s suggestion. Amidst the sounded-powered phone communication with the officer of the deck, plotting fixes on the navigation chart and, essentially, overwhelmed with the detail and the intensity of moment, Ken found time, after repeating his suggestion to Jerry, to lunge at him with his navigation dividers (that instrument with the two sharp, pointy ends). I’m sure that Jerry would have hopped to his duties faster had not the dividers pinned his dungarees to the surface of the chart table right about where the top of his leg attached to his torso. Jerry freed his dungarees, handed Ken the dividers, simply exclaiming, “Jesus, Ken?!”
I recall vaguely a couple of other Ken Hoteling stories such as the time on liberty where as we enjoyed 5 centavo green beers, Ken struck up a friendship with a table of holidaying Swedish men and women even though Ken spoke no Swedish and the Swedes didn’t speak Ken’s English. The U.N. moment abruptly concluded when Ken called Jerry over to share the fellowship and Jerry detoured to a potted tree to throw-up. I think Ken said something like, “Jesus, Jerry?!”
My other Ken-fable passes on his own description of reporting aboard the Sylvania. Apparently drunk and disorderly. Violently so. Either the Shore Patrol brought him to the ship or the Master at Arms (MAA) greeted him with keen disrespect. Ken describes the route to his berthing compartment and assignment to his rack as being ‘dragged by his heels down a ladder where his head did not miss a rung.’ “And that’s a fact,” Ken’s favorite phrase of validation and emphasis. I never took exception. Confined to the ship for 30 days as his welcome aboard packet, Ken encountered the MAA on one of the upper decks of the Sylvania. Somehow, a tussle ensued where the MAA went over the side. Ken remarked to me that he, the MAA, “was lucky it was the side with the water. And that’s a fact.”
Certainly there are other highlights of BARS such as attending a Mozart concert in the ancient Greek amphitheater near Athens; or the cab ride down the side-walk in 5 o’clock traffic so that two of us could get back to the pier in time to catch the last boat back to the Sylvania. Quite the sensation to view out of the right window tables of people seated outdoors and to simultaneously window-shop on the port side of the taxi.
Our son is stationed in Naples.He’s the PAO. I visited him in late winter. I found ourselves near the section of the port where I recalled the Sunday afternoon that the Sylvania got underway on an emergency basis as Naples suffered a typhoid epidemic and the C.O. did not want his ship quarantined. We left about one dozen crew members ashore as we low-tailed it to the sea. BARS, we sent the helos back for the unmustered crew. Ice cream and steaks for all in joyful reunion.
AFS–2 is gone since 1994. Support ships are now manned by civilian crews. Edges soften with time and memories tend to gravitate to the positive. Of all of the places that I’d like to re-visit or the individuals that I’d like to know about, I have no interest in revisiting or updating or verifying the people and circumstances of that summer on the Sylvania. BARS was plenty. And I’m never, ever going on a cruise. How could Viking, Princess or Disney compete?! And that’s a fact.
“The meet brought midshipmen and alumni fencers, representing classes ranging from 1960 to 2013, together for competitive matches that tested each other’s wits and skills.”
I read this and wrote to Jay Eads, “Why weren’t we invited.” He replied, “Good question! Maybe they only invited alums that were wealthy as opposed to us natural athletes. I’ve never heard of this.”
PEP, P.E. and Brigade Sports
I’ve played tennis 30+ years which is just about – Grim Reaper Alert – half of our lifetimes. I’ve gotten inconsistently and progressively better for two reasons: at one point it was hard to get worse; and I play a lot because I’ve worked from a home office since the mid-1990s and the tennis club is only two miles away from said home office. Frequently, I skip noon meal formation and bolt for such a workout or declare a Youngster Afternoon to hit the clay (we have 19 clay courts)
Between you and me, I am pretty good for my age. My strokes will not be found in any How To guide and the strength of my game is my Don’t Give Up the Ship attitude….belay my last, the strength of my game is that I run around a lot, outlasting the former really good players who rely on past skill rather than running around a lot.
By now, everyone at our tennis club knows that I’m a USNA grad. I’m only more distinguished by not being either a medical doctor or a university professor, the likes of which comprise 75% of our club’s membership. Because of my USNA novelty and my ‘running around a lot’ style of play, my “talent” is attributed to those days on the Severn where it is presumed that we were trained and nurtured, maybe even injected, Jason Bourne-like, to be more athlete than scholar. Such sweet irony and a reminder to distribution that Vietnam got me into the Academy not my stunningly low SAT scores. At the Academy, I became a much better student than I was in high school while demonstrating 2.0 athletic abilities. Interjection: I was never bested in any P.E. class on the Hospital Point Obstacle Course. All gravy once that I got over the rope-climb.
Whenever a tennis partner connects me with the the Navy or the Naval Academy, I’ve never replied that I was on the 4th Battalion Bowling Team in that first semester of plebe year. Nor do I describe being Paul Brandon’s motley crew on that 420 in the freezing spring waters on the Chesapeake or that I learned handball at USNA with the unexpected in-court-only spooning by Captain ‘call me Chuck on the Court (only)’ Krulak.
My younger son traded his high school lacrosse gear for a set of golf clubs when he went off to State U. Over Christmas, we played a couple of rounds. At 6’5” with modern clubs and single piece balls, he knocks it a long way. He’ll really be good and save plenty of money when he learns to hit them straight regularly. As we meandered from one shot to the next, we talked about the value of learning early in life such a sport as golf. From the library of “Hadn’t Used Those Phrases in 40 Years” presented the expression, Carry-Over Sport. Ya know, golf and tennis, as taught to us in a couple of P.E. classes in preparation for the days not too far off when one realizes that football and basketball would become, first, inconvenient, and, gradually, dangerous. I wonder if Yoga or Ultimate Frisbee is suggested as a C-O-S by the 21st century version of Coach Al Cantello?!
PEP, PE and Brigade Intramurals blurr into one frame now, although I am able still to hear Heinz Lenz and to taste the cotton-mouth of the indoor mile runs.
Baseball was my sport in high school. Played varsity for 3 years. Got cut just before the team headed to the state playoffs because I skipped practice in order to organize the senior prom party at a Bourbon Street Motel. That scheme failed also at the last minute = no baseball trophy and no party. I was ready for a change of scenery right about May 1970. I tried-out for the Plebe baseball team observing that ‘those not recruited to play’ were of a different caste than those so selected. Chopping from that far way ball field with the weird outfield dimensions back to Bancroft doused my field-of-dreams dream. And I wasn’t that good.
I tried golf Plebe Summer. Honor Offense Alert. Sobel and I never played a hole. We came-up with this plan that we’d ride the bus to the golf course, catch some Zs in the woods, arrive back in the Halls in time to miss evening meal formation (such was the bus schedule). Another scheme run-ground as it was hard to hide in the woods a) because other golfers hit their own balls there and b) White Works in July are not an effective camouflage pattern. Never visited the golf course again.
I signed-up for the 4th Batt Bowling Team in the first set of plebe year. Never attended a practice, never rolled a ball, had no clue where the alleys were even. I read in a far-gone USNA-gram that the bowling alleys closed for conversion to something of modern value. First reaction, “now I’ll never be able to return during some important reunion to reminisce wistfully about my first intramural sport that I never played.”
I remember Yorke Warden and Paul Sullivan playing Batt Flag Football. Isn’t that where Max Cranney injured, fatally it turned out, his kidney?! I played a lot of touch football in high school with me as the quarterback. Never tried it at USNA except the time that the 4/c played the 3/c in a game of tackle football on one Sunday afternoon of extreme foul weather. Such a pleasure to tackle John Yencha to the muddy ground!
I just flashed on those several classes of gymnastics in the gym which was actually some deck in a building or hall. Do you remember exercises on the rings, flips on the trampoline and rotations on the horse?! And wasn’t there some exercise for grade on the parallel bars? The average mid is about 100 pounds too large for the sport.
I still grimace in absurd memory of the mile run indoors, those 8 circles of ultimate mental anguish where laps 5 and 6 seemed to repeat themselves in imitation of Greek mythology. I can visualize the morning (my PE classes seemed to always be 3rd period) when classmate Iovanna, despite the collegial urgings of that lieutenant in his SDB, jogged to a walk, a DIW actually, right about mile marker Lap 7. The supervising LT, enraged by Joe’s failure to live-up to any one of our Reef Points published Famous Naval Sayings, discarded his SDB blouse (coat) and began to run around the track threatening that if he caught-up with Midshipman I…. Joe picked-up the pace, finished his mile run in, like the entire P.E period, and went on to the sub-squad.
The unforgettable afternoon that Art Edinger 2/c ran off of the sea wall in pursuit of a fly ball during a 3rd set softball game on Hospital Point. I recall Art as being an OK upperclassman. However, on behalf of the losers in his class that could not be so described, I was thrilled by his misadventure. Too bad Sports Center had not been invented yet. Top 10 for sure.
Don’t cry for me, Annapolis, as my Yard Jock career is not all characterized by poor planning, mis-adventure and drifting-around waiting for evening meal. I signed-up for the Batt Fencing Team in 2/c year, led by Jay Eads who manifested clear signs of his promising political savoir-faire. My weapon was the saber.
Forty-five minutes into an afternoon workout near the handball courts and the boxing rings, Coach Eads appears asking/reminding/insisting, with charm, that I join the scheduled matches topside in the fencing loft. I had forgotten about the match. My opponent was the Sabre Champion, #1 Lancer on the varsity team, A Guy Who Knew What He Was Doing. Unlike foil or epee where one touches the opponent with the point of the weapon, the saber is used in the way that we imagine boarding parties of 18th century pirates to handle their weapons in frantic combat – with fearless slashes and devastating cuts. Argh! Unlike the engagements of the Spanish Main, first one to make five touches on his opponent would win our intramural battle.
This note is much longer than I intended so I’ll give you the 140 character version. I won 5-0. Or maybe it was 5-4. But I did win.
My post-match analysis is that I achieved this intramural fame because I was thoroughly warmed-up. Thank you, speed bag. Plus, LeSaber could not have taken me seriously. Culminating my tres brief fencing career, was the sight of Coach Andre Deladrier, a fencing legend of Olympic experience, who approached Coach Eads to inquire about me. I prefer to believe that his question was in the vein of stunned admiration akin to “who was that masked man/mid.” And he could have said as well, “I’ll fry his ass if I ever see him in the fencing loft again.” Only Jay Eads would have heard this.
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A note to my Naval Academy classmates, 23rd Company, recalling events 40+ years ago.
Christmas Leave commenced this past Friday about 1430 or 2:30 Deck 5-3, Bancroft Hall Time as I motored-out of the IBM Main Gate on Davis Drive. Retirees on contract are granted car privileges and a parking spot near the cafeteria. As I’ve been on duty (sales instructor for new MBA hires which recalls that summer of fire-fighting training in Philadelphia where HTC Gruff demonstrated how to apply a gooseneck in order to fight an oil fire in the bilges. As he ranted his words of fire-triangle wisdom, the flames licked-through the deck-plates which did not distract the Chief….until the hem of his kakhi trou began to smoke. We mids were amused as you might imagine and one of them still remembers what is a gooseneck) consistently since August, Friday’s end of day actually felt like the beginning of the Christmas holiday. It’s been an erratic year for the family with a step forward here and a step in retreat there, and kind of like the companies of wavering mids marching onto Worden Field, somehow we found the proper block at year’s end.
Last weekend for the Army-Navy game, our local Alumni Chapter mustered at a brew-pub in Chapel Hill owned by a West Point grad. Our 19th annual party with a near chronic Groundhog Day vibe for the Whoops. It’s fun and a respite to be with such a trustworthy and mixed crew numbering nearly 250. Amidst the beers and the buffet and the tv screens, we passed around a Mark 1, Mod 0 G.I. Ammunition Can, 1 each, at half-time to collect for the USO. Once upon a time we were thrilled to achieve $500 in collections; last week’s take jumped-over $4,200 and the truth must be told that the boozers in gray are the more generous. Maybe they’re making a sacrifice to their gods for a favorable outcome at least once in the 21st century.
“But still when two or three shall meet, and old tales be retold…”, the classes of 1958 through 2010 spun stories about them days of a Real June Week and exams AFTER Christmas Leave (so that you could take home in your B-4 bag and not work on your EN201 Steam Tables project). I remember 2/c Clawson 72 (Hopper, Laughter (pronounced Law-Ter not Laugh-Ter) and Clawson were my 2/c in first set of plebe year. How Sweet It Was!) advising the plebes at chow one evening that two weeks of leave was about right: one week to get away from the Halls leaving a full week for partying. Wisdom!
As I merged onto I-40 from IBM, I plotted my own two weeks of leave (before the next MBA Sales class in January) recalling that commencing leave in those halcyon days was one milestone and getting to where one needed to be was yet another evolution fraught with sand bars and drifting buoys. In my very first leave period after exams, January 1971, I hitched a ride to Friendship Airport (now BWI) with David Treppendahl of Mississippi 74 who was hitching a ride with a firstie in his company, aka BeepSlash 71. We piled into his Datsun 240Z in the Mid Store Parking lot after the Wednesday evening exam (English majors always had exams done by the end of the first week of the exam period) and set sail for Baltimore. Netting this out 12 o’clock report-like, the firstie (I called him the dumb sob for about 35 years) got lost on the way to Friendship so that DT and I missed our 2200ish Delta flight to New Orleans. We racked-out in waiting room chairs at Friendship until the 0830ish flight the next morning. My mother met me at the NOLA end of the trip presuming that my sallow eyes and disheveled appearance were the results of maltreatment at USNA. I told her that ‘Dan Rockwell is my squad leader so that we would be impossible’. She did not catch my drift and suggested that I rest when we returned home.
As I put the helm over 15 degrees starboard to join the Durham Freeway, I remembered those ‘hops’, the free, space-available flights from Andrews Air Force Base to nearly every location in the world except maybe where you lived. Was there ever a more disappointing 1MC announcement then “For the information of all hands, the hop to …..XXXXX…… has been cancelled.” Of course, there are tales of planes loaded with mids headed for Omaha or Los Angeles only to suffer mechanical issues requiring hours of delay or eventual cancellation, but such news via the halls IMC had to rank with going C-A-C on the previously mentioned EN201 course (I know a mid who suffered this. Lt. Prof said that ‘anyone can have a lucky day taking a test.’ I prayed nightly for his orders to include Port Services Officer in Bahrain after a tour as Main Space MPA on a very old CV).
And when I think of ‘hops to hometowns at Christmas Leave’, I recall the story of the midshipman, and only he can verify this story as it may be someone else’s story or not even a story at all, whose hop to an Air Base in a remote North Dakota town hung in there/remained on the manifest until the bitter end. As the casualty list of hops to larger and more familiar naval stations and Air Force bases was updated on a daily basis, this one to the south of Canada hung in there like the lone plebe scaling Herndon. Until the afternoon of the day that the Brigade left for Christmas Leave. “For the information of all hands, the hop to Minot, North Dakota has been cancelled.” Certainly, the announcement was repeated, but the damage could not be increased.
It seemed that as soon as the fabled 1MC clicked-off, Midshipman Miller flashed down the hall with B-4 and AWOL bag in tow – it looked as though they were chasing him. Now this is the part that I don’t know, so either I have some of the facts or I invented all of the facts and I’ve told this part of the story for years: that Miller got to the 6th wing parking lot; there sat one of the revered Diamond Cabs from Baltimore trolling for a fare; that said Midshipman tossed gear into back seat; barked that he would pay $20 to get to Friendship by H-Hour (the departure hour of a flight to Minneapolis); relevant to the urgency of the matter was that said flight’s take-off was only an hour away from the moment Miller began to board the Diamond Cab; you may also wish to note that $20 was quite the sum in the pre-inflation 1970s; hearing of such a bounty, the Diamond Cab EOOW hit the gas creating sparks from the midshipman’s Corfam shoes sliding on the gravel as he jumped the brow; word is that he made the flight on time.
I could be misinformed about some or all of this tale; nonetheless I repeat it with confidence whenever opportune, e.g. over beers with the class of 00s at an Army game. The tale or fable is well received by all as it validates a heritage of risk, clear thinking under pressure, elegant resource management and an unquenchable desire to succeed. May we all be cut from the same cloth is the hope. Next time that I tell or make-up this story, I think that I’ll add that most of the hops were props. One has never enjoyed air travel until one knows the experience of sitting in cargo webbing, freezing under a blanket, vibrating one’s way at 400 knots, wondering if that vehicle in the middle of the cargo-hold was tied-down the way it should be by that stoned air crewman sitting across from me.
As I pulled into my driveway on Friday, it occurred to me that I too should have taken a Diamond Cab instead of hopping aboard that firstie’s ‘free ride.’ After all, a day of leave, as Midshipman Clawson would surely have advised, had to be worth $20.
Merry Christmas. Independent muster is granted to all for the worship services of your choice.
Link to First Night Tickets: http://www.firstnightraleigh.com
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