Saturday, June 5, 2010

Charting a Course for Home

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

We moved our ship into dry-dock in the way early morning hours of Monday, July 16 for a yard period that would relocate all or most of us from the ship into barracks on base. Getting off the ship was such a relief to me as one who never opted for an apartment off base as many of the guys I served with did. At this point in my enlistment I was antsy for change and barracks life would provide that for me.

I was able to avoid a lot of the mind-numbing-needle-gunning-paint-chipping work that was a large part of the yard period by accepting an assignment to base shore patrol. The duty ranged from undercover (literally) work to being a presence in and around the Enlisted Mens' club.

The undercover work involved keeping an eye on one of the main parking lots off base that sailors would use. I would spend 8 hours in a tiny wooden white shelter/box on top of a building along 8th street while I surveyed the lot with binoculars through a tiny opening for any suspicious activity. The walls inside the box were littered with graffiti from others like me trying to pass the time. I wasn't very good at the job as there was a motorcycle stolen from under my nose while I was on watch one afternoon. I have little doubt that my time would've been better served had I been in uniform walking the lot instead of sneakily trying to make a bust from my 4 foot cube with the hot sun beating down and no air conditioning.

As Shore Patrol I was indeed part of a bust one night outside the EM club on base. I was paired with a guy who was very much into the part of looking for offenders. As we made our way around the back of the club I was paying no particular attention to anything but he was.  "I think we've got us some dope smokers" he said and with that he approached a van and asked everybody to step out; two men and two women. I recognized the guy as the base player from the band as we'd been inside the club earlier in the evening. Sure enough, the air around the van wreaked of dope and backup was called. When the band took to the stage after their break they did so without their base player. I found the whole thing a little amusing.

I had friends who had either recently left the ship for new assignments or others whose enlistments were soon to be over. Mike McGregor aka Speedy transfered to the USS Mt. Vernon and headed back overseas. We wouldn't see each other again until last summer, 30 years later. John would begin to hint that he was going to re-up and stay in the Navy; something that caught a few of us by surprise. But with a wife and two small children to provide for I couldn't fault him for his change of heart after all the time we'd spent bashing Navy life.

We were also getting lots of new blood on board and I was finding myself in the enviable position of E5 with lots of people beneath me and not much in the way of responsibility. I wasn't an old-timer by any measure but I was a short-timer and that's what mattered.

Alone in my room in the barracks one night in the fall of 1979 I penned the following as I contemplated my return to civilian life and a return to my family...

81 Days to Home

Well maybe they're not listening
I don't know why I care
Coming home but do they know
I feel kinda funny there

Reluctance in my mind

Was it me or was it them
Or of time am I aware
Slipping into hours
Days to years
Smiles to tears
Oh, the years

Craziness in your laughter
You don't notice but they do
Given one too many chances
You say one too few

Draw the line and set a goal
Ideas thrown to the wind
You run and try to catch them
But return again

Was the competition there
Or didn't you dare?
Wasn't it fair that they left you there?

So back out on the street
You take another stand
Something new to believe in
Revolution in the younger minds
So cock-sure
Yet so unaware
Things get slow
When you haven't a care
Grow your hair
That'll show 'em

To be continued...

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