Monday, October 20, 2014

When "Then" was "Now"

Every now and then I like to go back to the letters I wrote to my parents so very, very long ago, when I was a wide-eyed kid stepping out into the big world for the first time as a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga. I consider it a form of time travel and marvel at how different yet how much the same I am. And suddenly 59 years ago is yesterday afternoon.

Sunday, 18 September 1955
Dear Folks
Here it is Sunday again―another week gone almost completely to waste.  We are now scurrying away from Norfolk, hotly pursued by Hurricane Ion, which is a mere 1,000 miles to the southwest of us. Oh, well, they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I honestly can’t see why we have to run, though―almost all the other ships are remaining in port.  The United States Navy, like God, moves in many mysterious ways.
              Before I forget, which I have in the last three letters, I meant to tell you (mom especially) that Bill DeForest and one of my other roommates, Carl Hinger, got their commissions, and are now officers.  A guy from my old pre-flight class is now here on the Ti―he washed out, too.  That makes about six of us on here, now.  And some of the guys in my battalion in Pre-Flight are just about ready to get their wings.  Ah, such is life on the planet Earth.
             They have movies on board every night, but I almost never go (“almost never”???)  Either I’ve seen the picture, or we’re working, or I’m just too lazy to go and put  on a pair of whites.
After being at sea all week, we pulled into Norfolk about 4:00 Friday afternoon.  For some reason, we couldn’t get a pier and had to anchor way out in the harbor, on the outermost edge of a cluster of ships.  In order to get from the ship to shore, we had to use the ship’s power lifeboats.  Now, there are 3,000 guys on this thing, and about 1500 were given liberty. We have three power lifeboats, each with a seating capacity of about 65; two enclosed 40’ launches with capacities of 24 each, and two officers’ boats, which needn’t interest us at the moment.  After waiting three hours Friday night, I finally got ashore.  After the first hour and a half, I didn’t really want to go, but I was so mad by then that I swore I’d go ashore even if I had to turn right around and come back again, which is practically what I had to do.  They have a very clever way of doing it around here―officers first, Chiefs next, first-class POs next, then second class, then third, and finally us peons.  And naturally, everyone at the head of the line have five or ten buddies at the back of the line, and they generously let them in ahead.  Then, too, everyone jams toward the exits for the boats.  The MAA’s (Masters At Arms―ship’s police, more or less) come and make us all fall back into four ranks.  The first rank goes first, and so soon there is no second, and third and forth ranks―just a big mob in the first rank.  You fight your way to the exits again―back come the MAA’s; back you go, further behind now than you were when you started.  The guy who was in front of you a minute ago is now fourteen guys ahead of you.   The MAA’s with their “God damn you, get back―ain’t nobody goin’ no place till you get back.”  Ah, such fun―such good, clean American sport―I’m going to make the Navy my career  (as it says on the posters in front of the Post Office).  Well, I’ll tell you what―when I get out, I’m going to make it a point to go to the Post Office once a week and throw rocks at the Recruiting Station.  And then I’ll stand outside the office and catch prospective enlistees and give them the scoop.  Somebody evidently has already been doing this, as I see the Navy is going to have to draft 10,000 guys this November!
Just been out on the fantail watching the waves.  They are getting bigger.  I’m hoping we’ll be in for a real violent storm, but the guys who’ve been in them say no.  They say a hurricane can swamp a ship, but this is too big to imagine it sinking.
           Sorry I didn’t get a chance to call Sunday (today) but they just don’t have phone booths in the middle of the ocean.  I wonder how far out we are?
          Enough for now. I’ll write more the first chance I get.
                                              Regards to All

For anyone who might be interested, all my navy letters have been published as A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1954 in Kindle and other e-book formats. I’d be pleased if you’d check it out.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

Love reading these. Always have, always will. Am still reading your book of them, too. I find it's not something I read all at once (obviously), but rather savor them a few at a time.

Dorien Grey said...

Memoirs are a hard sell, Kage, but you're right that "A World Ago" doesn't have to be read in one sitting.

Now, if I could only convince more people to give it a try.....