I’m one of the few people I know that have actually been outside of the US borders and can speak intelligently about foreign issues. Though, they were many years ago, I visited many different nations because of my time in the service. That was one of the great joys about serving then – seeing places in the world no one else had even hear of. I sat on the subway in Tokyo while thousands of Japanese Nationals stayed perfectly quiet and kept to themselves, even when the American military members were making complete asses of themselves.
I sat with a wonderful Bahraini family that served us tea and cakes while me and my shipmates perused through their stock of fine-knit rugs. We spent hours laughing and playing with the children in the store because they were kind and enjoyed having us. I saw true poverty in places like Thailand, Ecuador, Guatemala, and even Panama. They are beautiful, exotic sites. However, they are teeming with need and have little in basic necessities like – running water and sewers.
I was fortunate enough to visit Vladivostok, Russia to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the end of WWII. That was a visit I will never forget. The people of Vladivostok could care less about politics and couldn’t care more about their drink! I was hardly sober during that visit because almost every Russian we encountered just wanted to have a drink with the US Sailors! It was a great time. No worries, not problems, but lots of falling down, vomiting US sailors unfortunately. If we ever went to war against Russia and it came down to a drinking contest – you better start learning how to read and write Cyrillic. It’d be a slaughter. They had stills in the enlisted mess decks on their boats for goodness sakes! What do you expect??
I wish now that I did more with my time overseas than just snap some pictures, dive a few relics, and drink as much of the local quaff as I could stand. I wish I adventured a little more, spoke with more locals (and at least wrote it down, because I spoke with them I’m sure – I just don’t remember what they said!), and journaled my travels in more details. Not only would I be able to tell strangers of these wonderful things, but I would be able to marvel my two sons with wonderful tales. I could be more than an average dad.
Alas, not many 20-year-olds think of these things. You know what? Not many people still say, “alas” these days either. I am not an average dad by any stretch of the imagination. My experiences molded me, gave me insights that defined how I would create thoughts for the rest of my life. Even though I didn’t write it all down, I stayed with me and is able to come through when I need it most.
I have some pictures. Not a lot, because we were still using good ol’ film back then! I am both glad and sad digital photography did not exist when I was in the navy. I am extremely happy social media did not exist. We were able to keep our misdeeds to ourselves and maybe the nice lady that developed our films. But, our adventures did not go “viral” and we were not worried about how many likes a picture of us in front of a mule would garnish. (The mule thing is just a random image of some of the poses we would find ourselves in during our travels. There were camels, monkeys, birds, and all sorts of other creatures you just don’t see on the streets of downtown USA) The pictures are in boxes in my attic. They make an appearance every couple of years when I need a refresher of my past. My boys laugh at the stupid haircut ( shipboard military cuts were not overly concerned with the style of the day), my wife still cringes at the attire (yet, she knows all-to-well that I wore those tank tops in the jungles and that’s that!), and I have swelling in my heart of a great and simple times with brothers-in-arms. Dear friends and confidantes that would do almost anything for you – cover you duty for you because you were passed out drunk still, knowing full well you would be paying them back twice as much though!; spot you a few bucks because you still don’t know how that stripper was able to get her hand in your front pocket to get the last of your dough!; cover your back when you picked a fight with that girl’s big brother/boyfriend/father/pimp/take your pick!; and finally, drag your sorry ass back to the hotel and throw you in the shower before you all went back out for more debauchery.
We were fortunate to not find ourselves in times of battle, but I have no doubt to this day that they would jump on a grenade for their friends and I would have taken a bullet for them. In the wars that were to come, many of our brave troops were required to find out if their friends were capable of just those feats of selflessness.