My Last Nirvana Show, 1991

In late 1991 I was back in Oak Harbor visiting shipmates and spent some time down in Seattle partying and catching as much live music as I could. A group of us lucked out and scored Halloween night tickets to Nirvana at the Paramount Theater. It was about a month or so after the release of “Nevermind” and the buzz was pretty intense. I distinctly remember we didn’t dress up (after much discussion about whether or not it was cool to dress up for Halloween), it was a great show and we went out afterwards to Pioneer Square and maybe Re-bar…

I recently ran across this limited edition vinyl of the show, snagged it without even giving it a second thought and it brought back a flood of memories. I absolutely recall Kris scolding folks for not dressing up and the show was as much of a banger as I remember it being. This is definitely one of the live shows I cherish most because of the hype and energy at the time.

I later had plans to see ’em in August of ’92 when I was back in town, but alas that show was canceled due to Kurt and Courtney welcoming Frances Bean into the world. As a result, this wound up being the last time I saw them live.

I was pretty lucky… I had a somewhat charmed life living out west and got to devour a lot of great experiences, with this one being right up there near the top.

I Always Pause On This Day

My view from the flight deck of the USS Kitty Hawk, on the way into Pearl Harbor. A solemn reminder of the men and women doing their jobs on that fateful day. (Photo: Jeff Small, 1986)

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.

Diamond Head, O’ahu

Puka shell necklace, bucket hat, Birdwell Beach Britches… quintessential late 80s/early 90s beach attire. I think that’s my Tag Huer I bought over in Hong Kong that I wore to death. Petty Officer Small… just a sailor doing sailor stuff.

Knock Knock…

I have no clue. There’s a door behind me over my right shoulder, I believe that’s my Aviation Ordnance Space (the Ordy Shack) on the USS Kitty Hawk. If memory serves, the Aviation Fire Control Techs (AQs, they work specifically on the radar systems) shared a space with the Aviation Electricians (AEs, they worked on all the OTHER electronic systems – except weapons systems – on the plane) so this was probably taken by my best friend at the time, Mike Stover, who was an AE. I can only guess they were troubleshooting something going on in a pilot’s helmet… but you never know.

And yes, I was “Small-slice”. Augie Dog Hamilton wrote that on my float coat when I got to the ship.

A Sailor’s Prayer

I randomly ran across this on the internet this morning. I’m about 99% certain I’m the sailor on the far right. The sailor on the far left is Greg “Soupy” Campbell, next to him on the right is Craig “The Boz” Bosley, and between us is an AD (engines/powerplants) whose name I can’t recall… but I’m about 99.99% certain I’m the one on the right, and this was taken in Hong Kong on my first cruise in the VA-165 Boomers onboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk (CV-63).

We lived life like you’d expect us to, way out there and 100 mph at all times.

Whether I wake up in Thailand,
or Norfolk or Guam
or wake up in Subic with half my stuff gone. 
wake up in a hot tub, butt-naked and drunk,
lord, let me find my way back to my bunk