A Wave Washes Out; A Veteran’s Day Tale

(Each year for the past several years at this time, our Church lines the main highway which runs before it with flags and white crosses bearing the name of Veterans who have given their life in service to our country, or who have served and passed on.  Tomorrow night I am giving a speech and poetry reading to a group at my Church.  I share it with my followers on Twitter and Facebook in honor of Veteran’s Day.)

 

YOU MAY WONDER WHY I AM SPEAKING TO YOU ABOUT VETERANS AT WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A POETRY READING.  FOR ONE REASON, TODAY, NOVEMBER 11TH, IS VETERAN’S DAY.  I AM A VETERAN OF THE VIETNAM WAR ERA.

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT TWO OTHER VETERANS WHO SAVED MY LIFE.  ONE OF THEM – DR. GEOFFREY K. BOOTH, LCDR, USN – IS MEMORIALIZED ON ONE OF THE WHITE CROSSES THAT LINE HWY 20 THIS EVENING.

THE OTHER IS LIEUTANENT COMMANDER EDWARD “SKIP” HUGHES (USN-RET) WHO LIVES IN ARIZONA AND WHO REMAINS A FRIEND TO THIS DAY.

THE REASON I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK ABOUT THEM IS BECAUSE THESE TWO MEN SAVED MY LIFE.  THEY ARE HEROES TO ME.

TODAY, WOMEN REPRESENT ONLY 15% OF THOSE ENGAGED IN MILITARY SERVICE, ENLISTED AND OFFICER CORPS COMBINED, ACCORDING TO A STATISTIC IN YESTERDAY’S WASHINGTON POST.  THAT COMPARES WITH 47 % OF WOMEN WHO PARTICIPATE IN THE ENTIRE LABOR FORCE TODAY.

IN 1973, AT THE COMMAND TO WHICH I WAS POSTED, I WAS ONLY ONE OF TWO WOMEN IN A COMMAND OF APPROXIMATELY 1,500 MEN.  THIS IS BECAUSE I WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TWO WOMEN EVER SELECTED TO SERVE AT A NAVAL NUCLEAR POWER COMMAND.

SUBMARINERS HAD NEVER HAD WOMEN IN THEIR RANKS BEFORE.  THE CULTURE SHOCK WAS FELT ON BOTH SIDES.  I WAS 19, AWAY FROM HOME FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, AND MORE NAÏVE THAN I WAS GIVEN CREDIT FOR BEING.  I WILL NOT GO INTO THE DETAIL, BUT AFTER ABOUT THREE YEARS OF SERVICE, I ATTEMPTED TO COMMIT SUICIDE OVER A FAILED ROMANCE AND THE DAILY PRESSURE OF BEING EVENTUALLY THE LONE WOMAN IN  THAT ALL MALE SCHOOLS COMMAND

THIS IS WHERE DR. BOOTH ENTERS THE STORY.  I WAS NOT REQUIRED TO GO – BUT I CHOSE TO GO – TO OAKKNOLL NAVAL HOSPITAL IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, FOLLOWING MY SUICIDE ATTEMPT.  IT WAS MORE ABOUT MY INABILITY TO WALK THROUGH THE DOORS OF THE SCHOOLS COMMAND WHERE I WORKED AND FACE PEOPLE WHO KNEW WHAT I HAD DONE THAN AN ATTEMPT TO SEEK TREATMENT.  MY SHAME WAS DEEP AND TORTOROUS.

I SPENT 30 DAYS ON A LOCK-DOWN PSCHYATIATRIC WARD AT THIS FACILITY.  HOWEVER, WITHIN A WEEK, DR. BOOTH HAD DETERMINED THAT I WAS NOT A DANGER TO MYSELF AND COULD DO SOME LIGHT CLERICAL WORK THAT LEFT ME OFF-WARD.  I WAS ALSO ALLOWED OFF-CAMPUS, WITH A CURFEW.

YOU SEE, HE SAW IN ME WHAT ALL THOSE OTHER MEN I HAD WORKED WITH HAD NOT – A BRIGHT, SENSITIVE, ROMANTIC PERSONALITY WHO CAME FROM AN UNCONVENTIONAL UPBRINGING IN A HIGHLY ALCOHOLIC, NON-FUNCTIONING HOUSEHOLD.  HE SAW WHO I TRULY WAS – THE FIRST PERSON I HAD MET IN THE NAVY WHO COULD ACTUALLY SEE ME AS A PERSON – NOT AS A SEX OBJECT TO BE TALKED AND SPECULATED ABOUT, OR AS SOME SORT OF FEMINIST TRYING TO MAKE AN INCURSION INTO THE SUBMARINERS BOY’S CLUB.  I WAS JUST A HUMAN BEING, AND HE SAW MY HUMANITY.

AFTER HE RELEASED ME IN A MONTH FROM THE HOSPITAL, I WENT HOME TO MY FAMILY BEFORE REPORTING TO MY NEW DUTY STATION IN SAN DIEGO.  HAD THE NAVY HAD MORE CARE AT THE TIME FOR THE PSCHYOLOGICAL NEEDS OF THEIR PERSONNEL, THEY WOULD HAVE KEPT ME IN THE BAY AREA WITH ACCESS TO DR. BOOTH FOR MORE COUNSELING. WE HAD AN ESTABLISHED DR.-PATIENT RELATIONSHIP.  WE HAD A BOND BUILT ON HONESTY AND TRUST – HIS AND MINE.

BUT, IT WAS 1974, AND THIS WAS THE MILITARY AT THAT TIME.  THEY WERE FIGHTING A WAR THEY WEREN’T WINNING IN VIETNAM.  THEIR REGARD FOR INDIVUDAL RECRUITS WAS SOMETIMES SCATHING.  I KNOW THIS, BECAUSE I TYPED THE CAPTAIN’S REPORTS ON SUBMARINE NUCLEAR REACTOR TRAINEES THAT WENT TO THE ADMIRALITY.  I KNOW SOME OF THE THINGS THAT WERE SAID ABOUT THOSE HAVING ADJUSTMENT DIFFICULTIES.  THEY WERE NOT PRETTY, NOR THEIR LANGUAGE REPEATABLE IN CHURCH.

INSTEAD, I WAS REASSIGNED TO SAN DIEGO, WHERE I KNEW – ABSOLUTELY NO ONE.  THIS TIME, INSTEAD OF MY OWN APARTMENT STIPEND, I WAS LIVING IN BARRACKS AMONG OTHER WOMEN.  PERHAPS THEY THOUGHT IT WOULD HELP.  MORE LIKELY IT WAS JUST THERE WERE MORE FEMALE SLOTS AT CINQPACFLEET, WHERE I WAS ASSIGNED A PERSONNEL ROLE.

HOWEVER, THE PRESENCE OF THESE WOMEN IN MY SLEEPING QUARTERS AT NIGHT WERE NO GUARANTEE AS BUFFERS OF THE WORKDAY ENVIRONMENT.  MANY OF THE PRESSURES I FELT AT MY OLD COMMAND CAME ABOUT AGAIN.  I FELT EVEN MORE ISOLATED, ALONE AND MISERABLE, AND THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE AGAIN ENTERED MY HEAD.

I HAD BEEN WRITING SINCE I WAS A CHILD.  ONE OF THE THINGS I BOUGHT MYSELF ON MY MILITARY SALARY – BESIDES MY BRIGHT BLUE PINTO HATCHBACK – WAS A TYPEWRITER.  I HOCKED THE LATTER, BOUGHT A PLANE TICKET, AND FLEW TO THE HOME OF A MILITARY OFFICER’S WIFE I HAD MET IN THE HOSPITAL IN OAKLAND.  TOGETHER, WE CALLED DR. BOOTH AND TOLD HIM THAT I SIMPLY COULD NOT CONTINUE IN THE MILITARY AS I HAD HOPED AND THAT I WAS AFRAID OF THE SUICIDIAL IDEATION I WAS EXPERIENCING.

HE INSTRUCTED ME TO FLY BACK TO SAN DIEGO AND REPORT TO THE HOSPITAL THERE, WHERE HE ARRANGED ASSESSMENT INTERVIEWS WITH OTHER DRS WHO BEGAN PROCESSING ME FOR MEDICAL DISCHARGE.

IN THE MEANTIME, I CONTINUED MY WORK AT CINQPAC FLEET IN PERSONNEL, ALTHOUGH I WAS BARELY CONSCIOUS OF WHAT I WAS DOING.  IT WAS AT THIS POINT THAT A VERY KIND OFFICER THERE TOLD ME ABOUT A PROGRAM CALLED “CREDO.”  LED BY NAVAL CHAPLAINS, IT WAS AN EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAM WITH A 70’S VIBE TO HELP THOSE WITH PROBLEMS ADJUSTING TO MILITARY LIFE.

THEY WERE GOING ON A RETREAT TO A YMCA RANCH CAMP IN THE MOUNTAINS NEAR SAN DIEGO AND I WAS ABLE TO GET A PLACE ON THE UPCOMING RETREAT.  THERE I MET LCDR HUGHES – SKIP- A DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER WITH A MASTER’S IN PSCHYOLOGY AND A LEADER OF THE PROGRAM.

THIS FOUR DAY EVENT USED CONTEMPORARY MUSIC OF THE TIME TO TAKE THE PERSON ATTENDING ON A JOURNEY THAT MIRRORED CHRIST’S WALK FROM GESTHEMANE, TO THE VIA DOLOROSA, TO GOLGOTHA, TO THE RESSURECTION.  THE MUSIC WAS ESPECIALLY PICKED TO CREATE CERTAIN MOODS THAT WERE APPROPRIATE TO WHAT WAS HAPPENING DURING WHAT WE AS CATHOLICS CALL STATIONS OF THE CROSS.

THAT IT WAS CONTEMPORARY HELPED THOSE OF US WHO WERE YOUNG RELATE OUR OWN FEELINGS TO THAT MOOD BEING EVOKED.  AFTER THE MUSIC, WE WOULD BREAK UP INTO SMALL DISCUSSION GROUPS TO TALK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS AND WHAT HAD BEEN PULLED OUT OF US BY THE SELECTED SONGS AND THE READINGS OF THE GROUP LEADERS.

AT THAT TIME, I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE IT AS A PASSION WALK.  JESUS HAD CALLED FOR ME AT 10, BUT I COULDN’T GO TO THE ALTAR THEN.  BECAUSE OF SKIP, BECAUSE OF A CONTINUED ASSOCIATION WITH CREDO AFTER THE RETREAT, BEFORE I WAS DISCHARGED, I WAS BAPTIZED INTO RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.  IT WAS SKIP WHO BAPTIZED ME.

SO, DR. GEOFFREY K. BOOTH SAVED MY LIFE LITERALLY, AND LCDR SKIP HUGHES SAVED MY LIFE SPIRITUALLY.  IT WOULD BE MANY YEARS BEFORE I BECAME A MATURE CHRISTIAN-BUT HAD I NEVER HAD THOSE EXPERIENCES THAT I HAD IN THE NAVY – HAD THEY NOT BEEN MY CRUCIBLE OF YOUNG ADULT SUFFERING – I WOULD NOT BE STANDING HERE BEFORE YOU TODAY.

I DO NOT WANT YOU TO THINK I AM BITTER TOWARD THE MILITARY.  I AM NOT.  I AM A VETERAN; I DID WHAT I WAS ASKED TO DO EACH DAY THAT I SERVED; I DID IT TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY UNTIL I COULD NO LONGER DO SO.  I AM GRATEFUL FOR MY VETERAN’S BENEFITS.

THEY WERE WHAT ALLOWED ME TO PURSUE MY JOURNALISM DEGREE AND FED THAT FIRE TO WRITE THAT STILL LIVES WITHIN ME TODAY.  HAD I NOT HAD THE JOURNEY FROM THERE TO HERE, I WOULD NOT HAVE WRITTEN THIS BOOK OF POEMS.

SO I AM A GRATEFUL VETERAN – PERHAPS IN A DIFFERENT WAY THAN OTHERS MAY BE.  BUT I AM GRATEFUL, NONETHELESS.

AND I ASK YOU TO GO HOME TONIGHT AND PRAY FOR THOSE VETERANS YOU HAVE KNOWN, THOSE WHO ARE SERVING NOW, AND THOSE WHO HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES IN SERVICE TO THEIR COUNTRY.

WE HAVE PERHAPS BECOME EMBROILED IN SOME WARS WE SHOULD NEVER HAVE FOUGHT, BUT WE DID FIGHT IN THE WARS THAT MATTERED THE MOST.  AND ALWAYS OUR TROOPS FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHT TO LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE WE HAVE FREEDOMS MILLIONS LITERALLY ARE STARVING TO HAVE.

WE SHOULD ALL BE HUMBLED BY THAT FACT.

AND NOW, FOR A FEW POEMS FROM MY BOOK, “POEMS FOR CATHOLICS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS…”

(Please note:  this was written as a speech.  Hence the capitalization for easier presentation.)

 

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