Discovering that a capitol ship has a heart.
|I’m trying to show a place, an aircraft carrier, and the feeling evoked by the physical things I felt. It’s a true story and the “Feelings” are really the most important aspect of it.
A Profound Place
. . . I can feel her in every cell in my body . . . and in my mind, a buzzing of excitement like I’d just hit the jackpot. Lying on my back I reached out placing my hand palm down on her . . . the power . . . Incredible. . . and the sky . . . infinity . . . all those stars . . . I discovered later really held only 2,000 stars visible to me there on the catwalk hanging off the side of the aircraft carrier I was stationed aboard.
I’d lain there thinking . . . 150,000 HP turning four screws pushing 47,000 tons of aircraft carrier at 18 knots, 21 MPH. . . . Wondering how much kinetic energy was stored when that much steel and other stuff, including over 3,000 meat puppets, moved at that speed.
A constant, mildly exciting thrumming played through my body. There was a soft, barely felt thumping that was several beats a minute faster than my heart initially, but in five minutes they were beating together. Another stronger beat too that varied from 18 to 26 of the faster ones between them. It was an incredible feeling.
I could hear the ship slipping through the water too, a soft sibilant sound, a whisper in my ears and when I closed my eyes and listened I could hear voices in it. The barely heard sound of people talking in another room, my mind inserting words and understanding where none existed.
And the smell, the smell of the sea — mostly salt — but with undertones of fish and green things. I wondered about that until I learned about alge. My perch was just below the island structure and the exhaust stacks were way up on top so all I could smell was sea.
I loved it really, and strictly forbidden, I was out there once when we hit some wind and mildly rough seas. Understand that mildly rough to an aircraft carrier is anything up to fifteen foot waves. When the bow would plow into the side of a wave, every eight or ten actually, the wind would hit me with the spray and I’d stand with my mouth open to get a taste of the ocean. Sometimes it was so intense it was almost erotic.
Facing into that very cold, stinging spray and unable to keep the salt out of my eyes I was never sure if it was the salt or the intense feelings of Peace and The Worlds Okay I’d get that made me cry.
When we were within a hundred miles or so of land the seagulls were there too adding their raucous cries. Seagulls follow ships, they know we throw garbage overboard and watching them attack it is fun. The activity and the fights over the best pieces was a circus clown act. Fish too, big to small in a churning mass in our wake. During wartime it all goes in weighted sacks so there’s no trail left to follow, in peace time you weren’t allowed to include anything other than food that floated.
Aboard ship it’s not easy to find places to be alone and just let your mind flow, especially one that has upwards of 3,000 men aboard. Without the air groups our normal crew was around 1,800, but it was still difficult. I found a place that was almost never used after the sun set; a catwalk off the port (right to you non sailors) side of the ship below flight deck level and right under the island, the big thing that sticks up from the flight deck.
We weren’t supposed to do that because if you fell overboard you were gone. The ship would be a twenty miles away in an hour. But, several times a week on clear nights I’d stand or lie there for an hour or two looking at that glorious night sky, feeling the ship and thinking. I solved many problems out there and led a much calmer life because of it. I almost re-enlisted just to keep that, but got out and went to college instead.
The photo was taken in 1959 on my first cruise passing the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. All of the superstructure, the big guns, masts, bridge, were removed and stored on shore so nothing shows above water, but you could see the outline of the hull and it was always a very solemn moment for me thinking of the men who’d died there. It was only 15 years after the war ended.
All naval ships were required to “Line The Deck,” stand shoulder to shoulder and salute each time you passed and every entry or exit from Pearl required you pass it. This was a special occasion for some reason I don’t remember and we spelled out the name. The memorial was started in 1960 and finished in 1962 and I stood and saluted it several times before getting out. It straddles the hull so you can walk across looking down at her, Arizona.
I’m somewhere in the slanted line in the “N” character.