I never forget about today.
Of all the days of the year, this one in particular is a little more special than most and it goes all the way back, not to 1941 but to 1986. The story of how I joined the Navy isn’t that special. I wish I could tell you that sailing the world’s oceans working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier was my life’s calling, but it really wasn’t. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and when I was 17 I couldn’t wait to get out of that town. At the time I thought it was a small town (Chesterfield County, south of Richmond), I hated high school, I didn’t want to go to college and I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. So I did what anyone else with no direction or purpose would do, I went and joined the military.
I walked into my local recruiting station and there were literally four doors I could’ve gone into. One for the Army, one for the Navy, one for the Air Force, and one for the Marine Corps. If memory serves, one door was closed, one door ignored me, the guys standing in one door were assholes, and the guy in the Navy recruiter office extended a hand and asked me what I wanted to do in the Navy. A question I hadn’t given any thought to until that very moment.
Fast forward a year or so later and I’m working on the flight deck of the USS Kitty Hawk as an Aviation Ordnanceman in an A-6 Intruder Squadron (The World Famous VA-165 Boomers). I couldn’t have been happier, I was having the time of my life traveling the world working on jets. I hadn’t really ever dawned on me exactly what I had signed up for.
That all changed the first time I pulled into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
There’s a tradition in the Navy called, “manning the rail“. Basically, the crew lines the edge of the ship in their dress whites (or dress blues depending on the time of year) at “parade rest” as they make their way into port and I had done it once or twice before. The route to the dock at Pearl Harbor is kinda long and as it slowly winds its way into the harbor, you pass the monuments to ships that were sank on that Sunday morning, ultimately arriving at the USS Arizona Memorial.
It was in that moment that I realized on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 those kids that woke up that morning, whose lives were changed forever, were no different than me. They were doing their jobs, same as anyone else that day. They woke up with plans to go to Church, or maybe go to the beach, or play ball… they never imagined that they’d be fighting off almost the entire Japanese Navy in what would be one of the deadliest attacks in American history.
As I slowly made my way into that harbor and passed those memorials to those sailors, my decision to join the Navy, and the sense of history and pride that I felt in that moment changed me forever. The gravity of that decision finally dawned on me.
I never forget about today. I hope you don’t either.