What might have been…
At some time in their life, almost everyone has played the “what if” game. The game is really very simple…you go back into your life and pick out a time where you made a decision. It doesn’t really matter what the decision was, or when, because it’s in the past…and that’s what makes the game so much fun. Let’s say, as an example, you were a nerd in high school and you wanted to date the most popular girl in your class. She wouldn’t give you a tumble because…you didn’t have a car, your parents weren’t rich, maybe you even looked like a nerd.
Now, you go back in your mind and visualize a day when you could have chosen something…maybe you should have chosen the sports car instead of the station wagon. Perhaps you could have dressed a little sharper…maybe even told a little white lie about what your parents did, or had. See? That’s the “what if” game, so now let me give you some of my “what ifs”.
What if, on a certain Saturday morning, I hadn’t seen the movies that were at my neighborhood theater, and what if I hadn’t decided (along with my best friend) to do something different…like joining the Navy? That is exactly the way it happened, too. We wanted to do something different and he suggested we go down to the recruiters and sign up…and we did. We brought home the papers for our parents to sign, since we were under eighteen…and they signed them. Confidentially, I think both sets of parents were glad to get rid of us! Not that we were delinquents, mind you, but it was getting boring and we just knew that the world was waiting to see us! In a couple of days, we were contacted by the recruiter and given “travel orders”. First to a place where we’d be physically examined and then off to boot camp.
Suppose, at the initial examination place, they had discovered something wrong with my friend. He would have been turned away at that point and I would have gone on alone…and, as it turned out that was almost what happened. At boot camp we were examined again (as if we’d contracted something on the train along the way) and it was there that his problem was discovered. He was kept overnight and then he told me the next morning that he’d been rejected and was going home. Was I upset? You betcha I was because it had been our plan to stay together all the time we were in the Navy. As it turned out, I went on alone…and aside from boot leave, it was to be years and years before I saw him again. What if he had stayed in? How would our lives have changed?
After a few years in the Navy, as most of us do, I had collected some “what if” stories about serving. This one is about night time, round-the-clock flight operations on an aircraft carrier. During these operations, you sleep and eat where and what you can, and this night was no different. It was maybe twenty hours since I’d had any decent sleep and rotating propellers are no place to be around if you’re not careful and alert…and on this night I was neither. Luckily my ankle was grabbed and I was pulled to the safety net on the side of the flight deck before I could walk into a propeller which would have chewed me into hamburger in a matter of seconds. Back then “skinny” was a good description for me, so a stiff wind across the flight deck could have done for me. You know the answer to that “what if”.
We pulled liberty in some exotic ports, and Oran, Algeria was one of those. At the place where you leave the ship to go ashore, you’re given a list of places that are off limits. To most of us this was simply a list of “better places to eat and drink” and many were the times we went to them. On this particular occasion another buddy and I were visiting one of the listed places and we had, as I recall, a pretty good meal. He wanted to partake of some other “offerings” the place had and it was my turn to be the sentinel. By the time we were ready to go, it was dark. There was one dim streetlight and four young men were standing around it. My buddy and I decided that we didn’t stand a chance of getting out of there alive and so we told the “lady” of the house to call for the Shore Patrol. They came, picked us up and read the riot act to us all the way back to the fleet landing. It occurs to me, often accompanied by the shakes, that incident might well have been my swan song.
Parting shot: what if I hadn’t gone into the Navy? Most likely you wouldn’t be reading this because my future, as a “gang” member might have cost me my life, or some part of me that I needed. My Navy time is often referred to, by me, as a million-dollar experience. I wouldn’t take a million to do it over again, and I wouldn’t take a million to have missed it. Go Navy!