A steel cigar slid silently through the depths of the Mediterranean sea, a small body of water as oceans go, but chock full of sea-craft ranging from small fishing boats to mighty aircraft carriers. These ships, boats, and as-sundry watercraft sported flags of damn near every nation with access to the open ocean, and at least two of these flags did not approach each other with any kind of affection. The Stars and Stripes kept a watchful eye on the Hammer and Sickle, and vice versa, each waiting for the other to make the wrong move, the move most of us onboard these vessels prayed would never come. But we all had our fingers on our triggers, for that was what our respective countries had trained us for, and I for one know that MY side was damn good at hitting what we shot at.
However, the world that all this angst was flavoring was a different one than the ones our fathers and grandfathers served, for this was not the life and death struggle between two distinct philosophies brought to a head, but a slow, simmering bickering between two superpowers with Armageddon at their disposal. Then, it was us or them. In this new "cold war", it could easily be us AND them. Our superiors knew it, we knew it, and perhaps that knowing kept us from having a hair trigger. None of us savored the possibility of our own families suffering their own private Hiroshima.
On top of all this posturing of man and machine above and beneath the waves, was the entanglement that the United States found itself involved with in Vietnam. I can safely say that a good portion of the ranks of both the Navy AND the Air Force was filled with patriotic young Americans who were not quite patriotic enough to wish to find themselves wading through rice paddies with no earthly idea who their enemy really was. The fly boys dropped their bombs on coordinates; THAT was their enemy, and most of the time they never had to actually SEE that enemy. Likewise, out here in the oceans, our targets were ships of designs different than ours with a different flag flying from the mast. Our torpedos would seek out a THING, a great big STEEL thing that was going to kill us if we didn't kill it first. We could not afford to worry about the flesh and bone within those steel hulls, just as they couldn't afford to worry about us. So, you had at least ONE branch of the service facing down an easily identifiable enemy, a cadre of sailors who felt much more comfortable risking annihilation by an easily understood enemy than those in Vietnam who increasingly found themselves BECOMING the enemy, against all those ideals they thought they had been raised with and measured by.
I was just one of a crew of a hundred-odd individuals who found themselves in a decade of transitions, who didn't quite understand the history they were making, who in a very human way were more worried about running out of cigarettes on a long deployment and getting laid back in port than they were with the geopolitical implications of the missions they were participating in. It wasn't until long after I had satisfied my active duty requirements and did a few years of Reserve duty did I finally come across a book that spelled out in startling detail some of the dangers I had been exposed to and didn't even know it. You see, loose lips sank ships, and there was so much secrecy involved in OUR branch of the Navy that half the time we didn't even know ourselves half the stuff we weren't allowed to talk to anyone about, including our own spouses. If you want to know how fast and how deep my submarine could go, you can find out in this book, but we were never allowed to divulge that information, no matter how common knowledge we suspected it might actually be. So, years after the fact, instead of the disaffected Personnelman who served aboard two nuclear attack submarines who could not wait to get back to civilian life in order to find some sort of respect, I have become the enlightened veteran, who had no idea that yes, I actually played a major part in contributing to the ultimate downfall and disillusion of the Mighty Soviet Empire. Contrast against those fine young men who survived a FUBAR only to watch the North Vietnamese Army drive a tank through the gates of the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace. How do you come to grips with THAT?
The decades since have passed beyond us much faster than any of us imagined they could. WE are now the older men, with memories to pass on to younger generations who perhaps think of us more as the baby boomer hippies rather than the young men out to change the world for the better, who both utterly failed and succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. Old threats vanquished, we now face new and confusing challenges, and once again finding those in power failing us and this fresh new generation paying THEIR price for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The mantle has been passed to US; shall we stand idly by while caskets draped in American flags continue to return across oceans that no longer protect us, while people in places most of us can't find on maps learn to hate us for manufactured reasons having nothing to do with who we are as a people? America STILL can stand for something precious in this world; it remains to us to lend voice to that truth.
My brothers, thank you for finding me worthy to join you here, practicing with full force the rights we served to protect, in one capacity or another. You will find me a harsh practitioner of those rights, for I have lived long enough to actually think that I could be called to arms to protect those same rights, only this time from DOMESTIC threats, which I never in my wildest dreamed imaginable. No, I doubt very seriously that any of us will find ourselves becoming involved in some sort of insurgency against our own brothers, as we did back in the civil war, but I do believe that those now here will utilize this amazing and powerful forum to speak out and shine the bright light of reason on these outrages perpetrated by our present administration and those in congress who enable them to do such damage to our precious constitution, our armed forces, and the prestige that we once enjoyed around the world as that "shining city on the hill".
So, once again, thank you, and you can be rest assured they can shut me up when they pull this keyboard out of my cold, dead fingers.