I'll never forget the day when Henry Green gave me his pair of spikes. I never ran so fast. A couple of guys said, "so, you finally got some spikes, huh?" Twenty-three years later, I still have those spikes. Thank you, Henry.
I don't remember the name of this guy who my sister befriended, or maybe he befriended her. I imagine they met in the pub where she sometimes washed dishes and, at other times, waited on tables. He was kinda corny, always jumping around in that funny looking blue suit. He wore a blinding white cap that didn't fit right on his head. The heavy blue coat had those thick, distinctive buttons that kind of hung from a thread and looked like they were about to fall off. We couldn't help to joke about those pants. Bell bottoms had gone out of style a couple of years before. His bell bottoms were too much. And he wore the same suit all the time.
It wasn't long before we realized he was in the Navy, stationed on board the USS Midway (CV-41). How he got to Speonk never occurred to us, but that anonymous sailor changed my life. He was about to return to duty, but we got to know each other. I learned why he jumped around like a sissy. Japanese martial arts teaches hard and strong movements. Korean martial arts uses more kicks than punches. Chinese martial arts is more flowing and circular. In combining the three, this Navy guy would incorporate various movements and practice them all the time. I was a big Bruce Lee fan then, but the sailor's movements were unlike anything Bruce Lee did. I began to practice martial arts, and eventually became an instructor. He also gave me a stack of pictures, the most prominent of which was of the A6 Intruder.
That sailor went back to sea and neither my sister nor I ever saw him again. But it didn't really matter. My life already had been touched by that man.
Maybe dating that sailor played a part in my sister meeting Chief Jerry Hudenall who happened to be a recruiter in Jackson, Mississippi. They dated for about nine months before he ever spoke with me. I signed up for the delayed-entry program and remained there 11 months. I saw my recruiter only once during that time. It was a Saturday morning. For some reason, I never got the chance to speak with the judge. Everyone spoke on my behalf. It was eight days before I was to leave for boot camp. I looked forward to seeing Florida. They told me it was the only place in the Navy where women trained alongside men. I couldn't wait, but I would have to.
Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a serious offense. The judge had some grief about letting a 18-year-old man go free without any type of punishment, but it was my first offense and I was about to join the Navy, if the Navy would still have me.
My recruiter was furious, but his boss, another chief, was as nice as could be. He even complimented me on the story I wrote. "Most kids coming out of high school can't write as well as you do," he said, referring to my account of what led to my incarceration. He called it a waiver statement. Maybe they saw something in me. But now my travel arrangements had to be changed. Instead of going straight to Florida, I was on my way to Memphis, Tennessee, to meet with the commanding officer.
I never had spent the night in a hotel before. None of us had. I guess we were all there for similar reasons. They told us not to drink alcohol, but that was the first target on our search. None of us knew each other prior to that day. None of us have seen each other since.
The evening was uneventful, but the moments prior to meeting the commanding officer were very memorable. Everyone told me how tough he was going to be and what a big mistake I made in being sent to see him. It is funny how time changes people. Once, I was shy. Later, I became a bully. But by the time I met the commanding officer, I was more afraid than I could ever remember. I knew this man held my future in his hands. Folks back home already thought I wasn't going to the Navy because I was supposed to have left eight days earlier. I couldn't go home a failure. I needed the Navy.
I was crying before I ever entered the office, but I tried to conceal my tears. I never had seen such a large office. The commanding officer was a giant and he reeked of money. To a city kid, money was all that mattered. He must be getting paid a lot to have all these people working for him. No one entered his office without knocking and waiting for an answer. Yeah, this guy was very important, and I had a meeting with him to see if I could join the Navy. I had made a mistake, and where I came from, when a kid was arrested he usually didn't get a second chance. My spiral was leading downward, and, although I had "promise," it wasn't going to be realized unless this guy let me join the Navy.
My Navy career has not been perfect. I have spoken with several other commanding officers at different commands since I signed up, but in 1979, I was given a chance. Maybe fate led me to Tennessee that year. My score on the entrance test qualified me to become a dental technician but because of the unexpected trip to Memphis, I had to decide on a different type of job.
"We can send you to boot camp and you can strike for the dental program once you get to the ship," the recruiter told me, "or we can give you something guaranteed." I went the guaranteed route. They tossed a book into my lap and told me to look through it to decide what type of job I'd like to do. "You're qualified for almost anything, so just pick a job," the young lady at the entrance processing station said.
Jet engine mechanic sounded impressive. That's what I'd be. They called it an Aviation Machinist's Mate (AD). I didn't spend much time looking through the book. I stopped at the As.
I enjoyed repairing engines. The old Sunstrand CSDs were awkward and, when the flight deck elevators weren't in use, carrying them from the roof to the hangar bay always posed interesting challenges. Fuel cells and inlet guide vanes, buddy stores and throttle controls, I had a chance to fix them all. But my real joy came in writing about them. I published articles in the base and shipboard newspapers.
The AD rating was overmanned, and although I was invited to remain a mechanic, I also was given the chance to convert at reenlistment. Whidbey Island was not a very large place. Everyone in the squadron knew I was a writer and often commented on my published works. As a junior jet mech, that was an accomplishment. The career counselor suggested I convert to Navy Journalist. Heck, I didn't even know the Navy had journalists. I should have looked beyond the As back in 1979.
Journalism school in Indianapolis was not as easy as I thought it was going to be, but I graduated with an 88.9 average and went right to work. My first assignment as a journalist was at the U.S. Naval Academy. I first met Midshipmen David Robinson in Bancroft Hall. I was preparing for my radio shift at the "Mother Bancroft," radio station WRNV. Journalism definitely was for me.
In my Navy career, I have done things most people only dream about. As a plane captain, I launched the first female pilot to fly the Intruder. Who knew that years later, I would interview her for my first article when I worked for Naval Aviation News magazine.
I grew up and became a man in the Navy. More important, I have had the opportunity to help other people grow. It always has amazed me to watch boys mature into men. No other place provides such a window seat on life.
As I get older, I think often about all the things the Navy has done for me. It lifted me from the grasp of something some people never get a chance to break. It gave me a chance to become a better person. I have been an Airdale as well as a Blackshoe. When I first enlisted, I never heard the term sea story. Today, I have just as many as the next senior sailor.
I went running to the end of a rainbow searching for the treasure they said I would find. On the way the load got heavy and at times the burdens were hard to bear. I was alone sometimes. But there were times like that before I joined the Navy too. Some people never get the chance to find their rainbow. I have found mine, traveled along its colors and now, I am at the other end where the pot of gold is supposed to be.
I'd say my pot of gold is sitting there, but it's not physically where someone may come and snatch it away from me. You see, each coin in that pot, I collected during the course of the years I've spent in the Navy. Every time I got one, I'd toss it into the pot. I've been able to collect coins like education, self esteem, peace of mind, a place to call home, a retainer to cover that home, a skill to fall back on, and the list goes on and on.
I found my rainbow, rode it out, and now I'm at the pot of gold. Funny thing though, now I have another rainbow in front of me that I had no idea would be there when I found the first one. Good thing the Navy has prepared me to begin this new trip.
Petty Officer Evans plans to retire in 2000. He was awarded several Chief of Information Merit Awards in desktop publishing and the Admiral Donaho Award for newsletter design. While serving as a public affairs officer for the Naval Recruiting station in Atlanta, Georgia, he had a locally syndicated column. He owns and publishes on line “Singles Magazine.”