Recently I read an article by Bill McClellan of the St. Louis Post Dispatch titled “One Last Call to Service – End Military Funeral Honors.”
As a retired Navy Warrant Officer that article really raised my blood pressure. Every day for 25 years I got up and donned a uniform, through good times and bad, through war and peace, and was proud to do so. I did nothing heroic—I simply did my duty. During my career I served on eleven ships and in two shore duty stations. We eked out an existence on low pay, while our families did the same at home.
During the Viet Nam war, which I didn’t start, I served on a 30 year old Destroyer, a relic left over from WWII. Her crew of 325 Enlisted and 20 Officers were packed into a hull that was 390 feet long and 41 feet wide. We endured 100 degree heat and 90 percent humidity while operating on the Gun Line in Viet Nam. Adding up the hours maintaining the ship and the hours on watch, every day became an eighteen hour day. Every third day we left the gun line at night, and went out to sea to refuel and re-arm, thus giving us a 21 hour work day. We did this day after day – one time for 93 straight days, all for less than minimum wage and no overtime pay. Imagine that!
A ship must use her evaporators to distill salt water into fresh water for drinking and feed water for her boilers. The boilers always came first, since without them we couldn’t go anywhere. The old Solo Shell evaporators couldn’t always keep up, so we had to make feed water instead of fresh water. The water was shut off throughout the ship, so you couldn’t get a drink of water if you wanted it. Showers were out of the question. Imagine going a month without a shower. Putting it mildly, we were ripe. To alleviate some of the discomfort and the smell, we bought talcum powder from the ships store to sprinkle on our bedding, and then rolled around in our rack. ‘ Evening In Paris’ was the brand available to us.
I didn’t have to do this on all of my ships, but the fact that I had no choice but to do it at all made an impression on me. The sailors serving in today’s Navy or Coast Guard may not face these conditions because technology has evolved, and boilers are replaced by gas turbines and nuclear power, so they are able to produce enough water for the crew’s needs.
But what about the Soldier or Marine who has to endure the heat and sand fleas and has to sleep in the dirt? All the while there is the distinct possibility of being killed while they sleep.
Remember that the people serving in today’s Armed Forces are volunteers. They are there not because they have to be, but because their country called. They gave Uncle Sam a blank check, payable for anything up to, and including their life.
Ballistic Missile submarines (“Boomers”) leave the harbor and dive. Their crews never see the light of day again until they return and surface at the harbor three months later. During that time they are completely cut off from the world, and have no idea if it’s night or day or what day of the week it is. The only clue is lighting – red for night, white for day. If you are aboard a fast attack submarine where space is at a premium, you have to “hot” rack — you get out of bed and another guy climbs in. If there is a death in the family, too bad, you won’t be there. If your wife gives birth, no problem, you’ll see the baby when you get home. If you were stationed aboard the USS Thresher or USS Scorpion, you’re never coming home.
If you’re in the Coast Guard, you might be able to get home. It all depends if you are within helo range or if you are stationed at some air station out in the boonies.
How about the Air Force? They probably have the best and the worst. They get to fly back to base every night and eat hot food and sleep in clean beds. I can walk and I can swim, but I damn sure can’t fly. So, if something goes wrong with their plane they may be able to bail out or eject, but chances are their remains will be found in a smoking hole.
The Marines. The Few, the Proud, the Marines. This is the branch of service I most admire. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome!! It is hard to understand why anybody would want to be a Marine, but I’m sure glad there are people out there who do. These are the people who are first to fight and do the most with the least. When you’re in trouble, call the Marines, Semper Fi !! These are the people who would charge hell with a bucket of water. Would you, Bill?
I’m an official “Old Salt” and must admit that I am not politically correct – I call them like I see them. I wouldn’t last five minutes in the “New Navy” because what we used to call “Good Liberty” is now called “An Alcohol Related Incident”. But the next time the feces strikes the oscillating air mover, they are going to wish they had some of us Old Salts.
So Bill, when all this was going on, where were you? Our Military deserve any honor we can bestow on them because they did without and protected us while we were kicked back, drinking beer and watching TV. So, don’t say that these guys don’t deserve military honors when they pass on. Live a week in their life and then tell me what they don’t deserve.
Maybe then the haunting notes of “TAPS” will bring tears to your eyes the way they do to mine.