Friday, February 13, 2009
The sounds of the engines began to sound like conversation, muffled, yet meaningful. The distance from home hit him. The distance so large it could be easy to get lost in, even for the Navy's latest fighter aircraft. He felt acutely that he was, worlds away from his beginning.
The forced draft blowers whined in unison, just below him, as the flight operations began. He could feel their vibration on the cold bulkhead his sleeping rack was bolted to. All that iron, on the water, being furiously pushed away from all that he loved and was familiar with. He felt it in the pit of his stomach.
There would not be a real morning. A recording of reveille would sound as the lighting snapped on, with that odd squeaking sound of bare feet on immaculate linoleum installed on a steel deck. Conversation wouldn't start right away. The sailor's etiquette of unloading men stacked in shelves three high would work itself out first. But the quiet wouldn't last for long.
This day there would be quarters on the hanger deck for four main machinery room. Usually the "black gang" (engine room personnel) headed down the steep stairs called a ladder that ended up in the unbelievably hot engine room that held two boilers and the number four main engine.
The boiler tenders and machinist's mates weren't much for tradition and not used to forming up for inspection. Ray Searles held a greasy concoction of bacon and bread he swiped from the mess decks as he was on his way to the hanger bay. As he took formation it was behind his back and he was on the next to the last line of men. As the inspection team headed away from him he would eat the sandwich, as it came closer sweeping across the formation toward him, he would stow it again behind his back, assuming the group's "parade rest" instructions.
Behind him a small spot of grease formed. He timed his consumption of the greasy mess perfectly. Finishing it just before the officer stood before him and then moved on to the next man. The sailor behind him watched closely, admiring Searles' rhythm as he syncopated with what would have otherwise been a dull exercise.
The observer was focused, wondering what would happen to the daring sailor and the sandwich that was beginning to smell so good. And all he could think of, thousands of miles from home and next to battle ready fighter aircraft was, why didn't I get a sandwich?