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.