Navy Men

navy men

Navy Men                                                             January 2019

I don’t know exactly how many men in our family have been in the US Navy.  Most recently they have included my grandfather Newell Boughton, my Uncle Newell Jr., my father Robert Q Bekins, and myself Robert Newell Bekins.  When I say recently, I mean in the last 100 years.  Our family arrived in America almost 400 years ago, making this century a recent one for us.

Grandpa had these tall tales about ships on the ocean, which even at the age of eight, I found hard to believe.  Stories of cliffs of water taller than a canyon seemed unlikely.  Certainly the one about a tanker full of soup taken to the Caribbean to warm it up seemed ridiculous.  Using fighter jets to heat the deck of an aircraft carrier for cooking pancakes – well, you get my point.

Then my turn came to wear the pea jacket and Navy dress wools with the 13 button pants while standing duty on the deck.  Sailing in a typhoon, I watched a super tanker that was a quarter-of-a-mile long go completely underwater after a wave swept over it. Not ten minutes later, a 60-foot-long Japanese fishing boat was popping up and down on the same massive waves yet somehow surviving. When we were repairing ships in Subic Bay, a destroyer came to port that had been through one of the worst of these hurricanes.   It was as though giant hands had cleaned it like removing kernels of corn from the cob. Every antennae, boat, radar, flag, railing, and piece of metal was stripped from the surface of the ship.

Grandpa had made sixteen North Atlantic crossings during World War I. Since the ships had no refrigeration, ice cream was a shoreline luxury. The first day in port after one of these trips, he went into New York City and bought a gallon of ice cream to share with his two best, swabby buddies. Unfortunately they had done the same. Not wanting to be wasteful, they each ate their own gallon. Grandpa never ate ice cream again though he was big on pecan pie.

To see the heart of a sailor, one must look during the times away from home in the quiet of his bunk or shop aboard the ship.   For we sailors in the 1970’s, the voice of Karen Carpenter was the voice of home. She made us think about the girls we had left behind.   Some of them were waiting for us on the dock as we pulled into our home port. It was thoughts of those reunions that kept us going.

The ocean is a cruel mistress but beautiful. Standing on the shore, one cannot imagine the pure, raw power that makes our giant ships seem like bath toys. Yet, the next day, the passing storm may display a complete, intense, double rainbow as our ship sails under it. As the storms abate, there sometimes comes a calm like the smooth surface of a quiet lake back home, though it stretches to the very horizon.   The majesty cannot be captured by a photograph; it must be lived in person to be completely appreciated.   The second sentence of Genesis says, “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Here is the Karen we remember:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjFoQxjgbrs

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