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  • I was feeling part of the scenery
    I walked right out of the machinery
    My heart going boom-boom-boom,
    Son, he said, grab your things I;ve come to take you home
    Way back home

    Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill”
    When I was on my second ship in the Navy, it became increasingly obvious to me that I didn’t belong in the engine room of a ship, operating a nuclear power plant. I really was not mechanically inclined, in the least. It had taken a herculean effort to get through Nuclear Power School and Nuclear Prototype Training. That effort was largely fueled by my fear of returning to a ship like my first one, an old, falling apart “Tin Can”, Gearing Class Destroyer (DD-867), left over from World War II and just limping back from Viet Nam when I had boarded her, late in 1973.. That ship had been a horror show for me, complete with getting trapped, literally getting locked in a burning Engine Room, an experience that still fueled regular nightmares, and I could still feel scars on my lungs from having breathed that black asbestos-laden smoke. I still carry the scars of asthma from that experience.

    That second ship had been so much better than that first one. It was brand new when I boarded her, the berthing conditions were a hundred percent better, the food was actually decent, and the crew I worked with were of a much higher intelligence level than my first ship’s crew had been. On that first ship, I had stood out as a liberal Yankee among 98 percent Southern Rednecks. My first year on the new ship had been mostly a more positive experience as I settled in for what I thought would be a 4 year run, to complete my 6 year enlistment. Many times during that period, I even considered making a career of the Navy. I was finally on a ship that actually sailed, one of my reasons for joining the Navy. I wanted to see the world, and I’d found that I really loved being out at sea. I loved the different places we went to on this ship.

    I just couldn’t stand working in an engine room. I was like a fish out of water, there. On the last cruise on that ship, I read a ton of books – 75 of them in 7 months. They had filled my head with a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts of freedom.
  • I had learned how to “go along to get along” in the Navy, how to maintain a low profile and get through any kind of garbage that was being slung down on you from above. You just put your head down and plowed through the shit, didn’t make waves, and played the game. I played it so well, that I was considered one of the leaders in my engine room. Many even considered me potential career material, and I guess I was, up to a point. There were many things about the Navy experience that I really enjoyed.

    But something in me yearned to be free. This was a powerful force, and when we got a real idiot for a Captain on that ship, in the middle of a Mediterranean Cruise, who turned out to be the absolute worst leader I have ever encountered, anywhere, in my working life, that thing inside of me began to grow, and became more and more powerful. I began to do things to defy this captain, things that I couldn’t believe I was even capable of doing. I was driven by this force inside of me, this thing that could only take so much shit, and eventually, had to stand up and say, “Enough!”

    It all came to a head one morning, a little over a month after we had returned from that 7 month cruise, when the Captain was coming down on us with some new bullshit and sent one of his idiot Ensigns down into the Engineroom to berate us over some new discretion they had decided we were guilty of. Something in me just snapped, and I was ready to resort to violence. I was fully ready to beat the officer to a pulp with the biggest wrench I could find – I had been taken over by complete and total rage, I had just had enough and wasn’t going to take it anymore. But, that thing inside of me, that freedom-seeking thing, said, “No – that will not make you free. That will put you in Leavenworth. It’s time to go – just walk away.” Whatever this was, it saved me – and, probably, saved that idiot ensign from whatever it was I would have done to him in my blind rage.

    I set that wrench down, calmly walked past the ensign, climbed two sets of ladders up and out of that engine room, walked back to the berthing compartment, loaded my belongings up in my sea-bag, walked to the gang plank, and left that ship for the last time. I was free! I had no idea where I would go, what I would do, or how it would all work out. All I knew was, I’d taken all I could take on that ship, and when I was driven to the point of being ready to resort to violence, it was time to go. I had a vague notion of heading west, and eventually turning myself in in Treasure Island, in the San Francisco Bay. Beyond that, I hadn’t a clue.

    I only knew that I needed to be free. I couldn’t “go along to get along” any longer. That day I walked off that ship was the day that my life began to change. I was on the road to freedom. That road would take many turns, would take me through many tunnels, over many bridges, but it would eventually lead me to personal freedom. It just would take a lot longer than I could have imagined it would take on that day that I walked out of that life, into the life I live today, fueld not by fear, but by a desire to be free.
  • Here’s a poem I wrote about the time that I was leaving for that 7 month Mediterranean Cruise, which happened to be 3 days after this nation’s Bicentenniel Celebration, 4th of July, 1976.
    Independence Day, 1976

    Freedom! That’s what they’re celebrating!
    People running a round, cheering and drinking
    To Freedom! Two hundred years of laughter and tears,
    Of living and fighting for liberty, justice and the freedom from fears!
    Colours in the sky, exploding in my eyes – but I cannot see;
    Thunder and lightning roar from high up above – but I do not hear them cheer;
    For I am not free!
    Three more days and my ship sails to sea;
    Seven months of never seeing my love once…not once!
    And you say “Freedom”!
    Yeah, drink to freedom…

    Come follow me down to the dark side of town,
    Where loneliness and fear are the only friends to be found,
    Aside from Navy Davey, in his dress blues and beer,
    Signed his life away and he’s boring me to tears,
    With his tales of great storms and rugged days at sea;
    A wife and two kids who will never be free,
    Like me, they will never be free,
    Of his tales of raging storms and rugged days at sea.

    Lord, help me if you’re there...take a look at me down here,
    I am still a young man; can’t you see where I am?
    Don’t let me go – just say it ain’t so!
    Make this all just a dream and I’ll clean up my act,
    Get this monkey off my back and get me off this ship, or
    I’ll go crazy insane, and you’ll be to blame,
    For not making my transfer go through!
    I’m counting on you – you’re my last living hope,
    Lord, toss me a rope; just get me off this ship!

    As it breaks away from its slip, and slowly leaves the harbor
    My soul slips away…
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