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  • Standing On the Corner, waiting for the snow
    Wishing I was a little warmer, wondering where to go
    I saw a man break down today, break down into tears
    Tonight I feel so far away from home

    Who can I confide in, who can really hear?
    Who can keep my secrets, who can see me clear?
    I saw a man break down today, break down into tears
    Tonight I feel so far away from home.
    (Steve Forbert – “Tonight I Feel So Far Away From Home”)
    I arrived at my first ship after spending 3 weeks partying hardy with my Boot Camp and “A” School buddy, Joe. These 3 weeks consisted mostly of consuming large amounts of alcohol, as we partied our asses off driving from Great Lakes, IL to Kearney, Nebraska where he lived, up to Windsor, Connecticut to visit my friends there, down to Cherry Hill, NJ to visit my folks, and finally to Norfolk, Virginia, where his ship was. From there, I flew to Jacksonville, Florida, to get to my ship in Mayport.

    There were large blocks of time from these 3 weeks that I never had any conscious knowledge of. They’re called blackouts. I had a few that lasted for days. I only heard from others what I did and said. We spent 4 days in Connecticut, and I only remember driving to it, and arriving at my parents’ in New Jersey 5 days later. I apparently almost got engaged, pledged my love to a girl who was just a friend, and did nothing but fight with her the entire time I was there. I remembered none of it. Joe thought it was hilarious. I wasn’t so sure.

    I arrived on the Quarterdeck of my first ship still half-drunk, arrogant as could be, out to prove that I was a seasoned sailor when I wasn’t, and just about as young and stupid as one could be. It was an old Gearing Class, World War II vintage Destroyer, DD-867, the USS Stribling. I’d chosen Mayport for my first port. I’d never been to Florida, and had visions of sun and fun and lots of beaches. I never found that Florida. Believe me, I searched for it.

    The “Strib” had just gotten back from Nam several days before I boarded her, and she was slated to head back out to sea in two weeks. This was early November, 1973. When I got off her in May, 1974, they were still talking about going out to sea in two weeks. It never happened. I considered it a miracle that I ever managed to escape that Tin Can Hell, and finally made it to Nuclear Power School.

    I was very much a Yankee from the North. Of the crew of 220 on this little ship, I believe there were 2 other guys from north of the Mason-Dixon line. Everyone else was from the South. This was Strike One for me. You’d have thought that they would have realized by then – it was 1973 – that the Civil War had been over for more than 100 years. I learned that for many, the bitterness still remained, and I represented that which they grew up resenting. Damn Yankee! I’d never been exposed to the South, or southern attitudes, prior to this, but I got a crash course in both for these 6 months.

    I had enlisted for a 6 year hitch, and was slated to go to Naval Nuclear Power School after my 6 months on this ship. The incentive to enroll in this program, with the longer enlistment, was rapid advancement. I came out of Boot Camp 3 months earlier with my E-3 ranking, and got my Petty Officer stripe, and E-4 rank, upon completion of “A” School. Most of the guys in my Engine Room on this ship had to bust their asses for 3 years to get an E-3, and most with an E-4 ranking had had to re-enlist to get that. This was Strike Two. I walked in, with zero shipboard engine room experience, out-ranking most of them, having done nothing but complete Boot Camp and “A” School. They’d all been to Nam and seen several hard years onboard a ship that was held together by spit and chewing gum, that had no business still being on the seas.

    My young and stupid drunken arrogance was Strike Three. This was a new style for me, and I somehow thought it was endearing. It wasn’t. I quickly realized I had no friends on this boat, and many, many enemies. It would be a long, lonely 6 months. A few things got me through – a couple of unexpected friendships, a 3 week stint with a bible reading group of Jesus Freaks, a couple of really bad acid trips, and barely escaping an Engine Room fire that I and 2 other “Snipes” (shipboard slang term for Machinist Mates and Boiler Mates – I was a Machinist Mate) had gotten trapped in. Also, letters from my little sister and a psychic connection with my best friend.

    So, this is the intro to the story. Honoring the code to not go too long with a story, consider this the first part of the Stribling Saga. I should be able to cover the rest in one or two more parts. Stay tuned!
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