Sunday, June 18, 2006

Two Sailors - My Dad and Me

I'm a Navy brat; my birth certificate is from the U.S Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan and my father was career Navy enlisted. Even though both my dad and I served in the U.S. Navy we had completely different experiences. You see my father was a Seabee and I was a Submariner. He served 22 years as a CE Construction Electrician and I did six as an ET Electronics Technician. He was in the hot end of the cold war, Korean War and three tours in Vietnam; I was in cold end doing strategic deterrent patrols in the dark reaches of the Atlantic.

Near the end of the Vietnam War my parents separated and my dad retired from the Navy. He later remarried a beautiful lady from the Philippines and they had three daughters. Dad is in his 70s now fully retired from a second 30 year career in civil service and I rarely get to see him.

My childhood memory of my dad is of a man who was tough as nails, a John Wayne in The Fighting Seabees kind of character, as corny as that sounds. In those days dad didn'’t like to repeat himself, he told you to do something once and expected it to be done. If you asked him a question and his answer was no, it had a distinctly military even Marine drill instructor sound to it. "Negative son the geedunk is off limits till after dinner."”

Dad rarely talks about his Navy career and the two wars he served during even though he had a chest full of ribbons, and a sleeve length of gold four year service strips. But while I was in the Navy I did get him to tell me a couple of Seabee sea stories, probably during a one of my visits between duty stations.

Two stories my dad told me was how he was slightly wounded twice in Korea. Once on foot patrol of a reportedly cleared area he had a North Korean soldier jump him from behind and put a bayonet to his throat. He reacted quickly by thrusting his head back and catching his assailant on the bridge of the nose with the back of his helmet. This reaction stunned them long enough for my dad to use his bayonet on and kill the North Korean "“woman"” soldier. It only took a few stitches of a needle and thread from a sewing kit to close the several inch long cut on his throat, he still has the scar to this day.

The other time he was injured was during a mortar attack. He was working on a generator barge when the attack started. He fell to the deck with his hand between the barge and dock. The concussion of one of the mortar rounds pushed the dock and barge together crushing my dad'’s thumb in the process. That injury is also still visible today.

The only Vietnam story my dad told me was this. During the Tet offensive the Vietcong had penetrated the parameter of the air base he was working at. My dad was on the roof of a building with a young Marine who had been in country for only a month or so. One of the Vietcong had managed to get on the building's roof and was approaching my dad and the Marine when my dad'’s 45 jammed. The green Marine froze and didn'’t react, my dad had to take the Marine'’s M-16 and kill the enemy before their position was overrun.

Writing this it's hard to believe my dad did these things; he has mellowed considerably over the years. It's been a while, but I seem to recall at least one Presidential Unit Citation in his ribbons but have never got any stories relating to his awards. No Purple Heart though, he talked his CO out of putting him up for the hand injury because he felt it was his own stupidity that caused it.

My service was not as gritty as my dad'’s, it was technical and tedious. The dangers I faced in the 1980s on SSBNs were less individual and more operational. We were chased by the Soviets a few times but knew that by then it was a game of information gathering and tracking. To go hostile on an operation SSBN meant the unthinkable was happening.

Stealth, being on station and operational readiness was the name of our game and we did it well. The stories I have to tell my son are ones computational calculations of Lat and Long, of pounds per square inch of sea pressure and weapons readiness drills.

You didn'’t make rate in the Seabees as fast as the technical rates did a decade later, both my father and I ended our Navy service as E6s. But in my eyes Dad will always get my respect for his service and his commitment as a Navy man.

Happy Fathers Day.


Sons of Dean said...

I was in the Navy - the danish - from 1975-81.
Loved reading about Your dad.
Best Wishes
Hans Olsen

bothenook said...

my dad was in the army. as a matter of fact, if you believe the stories told by some of his buddies, and the writeups for the medals he got, he was damned close to an army of one.
i never ever heard one story.
i was encouraged to join the navy
somehow, i'm glad for both those facts

Anonymous said...

Your Dad sounds alot like mine, and I'm glad that your dad is still around to share life with. Both my dad and I served on boomers out of Holy Loch, him at the beginning in the 60's, and me at the end in the late 80's. It seems your dad is as much an inspiration to you as mine is to me. This is a nice Father's Day tribute to your dad. Please check out the link above to see mine.