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  • “Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road
    Tell me, how long you going to stay here, Joe?
    Some people say this town don’t look good in snow
    You don’t care, I know…
    Ventura Highway in the sunshine…..
    You’re gonna go I know
    Where the free wind is blowing through your hair”

    - By Dewey Bunnell, from “Ventura Highway, America
    (Tell the story about a time you felt different from others around you.)

    I arrived on my first ship at the tail end of a 3 week bender that had taken me from Great Lakes, Illinois, west to Kearney, Nebraska, then back east across the country to New England, mostly through driving blizzards with a cooler full of Purple Passion Punch(190 proof grain alcohol mixed with grape koolaid) in the backseat that I drank from liberally, right out of the cooler, with my new best friend Joe, a stack of 8-track tapes that we memorized word for word, but I’d have very little memory otherwise of anything that happened on that trip.

    For instance, I remember nothing after driving across the state of Pennsylvania towards Connecticut, until we arrived at my parents’ house in New Jersey 5 days later. We’d spent 4 days in Connecticut in the interim, but I had nothing but bits and pieces of clouded memories, more like a dream, mostly of being carried to a cabin in the woods that I was too drunk to negotiate on my own. I filled in the blanks with the stories that Joe told me about what happened there. It was apparently a wild, wild time.

    Joe claimed I got engaged to Susan while I was there, but I didn’t really believe him. I wasn’t in love with her. I was in love with Martha. Susan was sort of my girl friend, because Martha was still avoiding me. My love had apparently been too much for Martha to take, and she just couldn’t handle being around me.

    Susan liked me. I liked her. We didn’t have boyfriend-girlfriend chemistry between us, but I felt like I needed a girl back home to write to, and to see when I went on leave, and she was willing to be that girl. Now, I was supposedly engaged to her? I didn’t think this was possible.
  • I’d grown arrogant and somewhat belligerent as the trip progressed. Joe had crossed a line with my little sister when we visited my family in Jersey, and I had pulled the car over to the side of the highway and thrown him out, and kept on driving, when he told me what he’d done. The only problem was, it was his car, so I eventually went back to pick him up. I was mad as a hornet at him, though. There weren’t many things in the world I cared about at that point, but my little sister was one of the few things left that I did. Joe had seriously crossed a line with her, and I was pissed beyond belief.

    We drove in stony silence down to Norfolk, Virginia, where his first ship was ported. He dropped me off at the airport, where I caught a flight to Jacksonville and my first ship, ported out of Mayport, Florida. I was still drunk, beginning of a hangover, fresh out of Machinist’s Mate A School, and Boot Camp before that. While I was making my wobbly way south to meet my ship, it was just arriving there after an arduous journey back from Viet Nam, through the Panama Canal, across the Caribbean Sea and up the Atlantic Coast to Mayport.

    Me and that ship were like oil and water. We simply didn't mix well.
  • I’d had visions of how great being on a ship out of Florida would be. I’d never been down there, but had the notion that it was nothing but sun and fun down there. I was ready for both of those things, but I was not ready for what I found when I got there.

    What I found was a ship full of sailors who were tired and worn-out from being in a war zone, and who had little to no patience for a snot-nosed, arrogant punk right out of "A" School and Boot Camp, who instantly outranked the majority of them, but who hadn’t earned that rank, yet. It was the Navy’s way of luring sailors into the 6 year Nuclear Program, rapid rank advancement helping to offset the extra years of enlistment required. They liked to put you on a regular ship in the fleet before you started your intensive training in Nuclear Power. Everyone in the regular Navy hated Nukes.

    I quickly realized Florida wasn’t all I’d had it cracked up to be in my mind. This was also my first introduction to southern culture. There were 190 sailors on that ship. Aside from myself, two others were from north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the imaginary line that separated the northern states from the southern states. The rest were from the south, and while the Civil War had been over for 108 years at that point, you wouldn’t have known it by the way those guys treated us guys from the north. They still blamed us for the war! So, in addition to being what they called a “Nuke Puke”, I was a damned Yankee, to boot. Strike three was I was an arrogant, angry drunk. It wasn’t long before the only sailors on the ship who would have anything at all to do with me were the Jesus Freaks, and then I even managed to piss them off!

    Just as I was learning to deal with all of this adversity and hatred, I got trapped in an Engineroom fire while I was down in the bilges, dipping oil out of the bilge water, and I very nearly died, between the smoke inhalation and my oil covered coveralls catching on fire as I tried to escape.

    At least, after that experience, I was not quite as hated by the rest of my shipmates. But, it was too late. I hated all of them, and I hated that ship, both with a burning passion. The only thing I knew was, I wanted off that ship. I nearly didn’t make it, when it came time to go. I'd gotten into so much trouble, they almost didn't let me go to Nuclear Power School. But, I finally got lucky, and they did let me go. I never looked back, once I did get off that God-forsaken Tin Can.
    Photos: 1. My first ship, the USS Stribling, DD-867, Gearing Class Destroyer (Deestroyers were also known as "Tin Cans"; 2. My Boot Camp mug shot; 3. Engineroom of a Destroyer, where I worked; 4. At Sea
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