Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 26, 2003.

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    J. Wilborn
    Posts: 38
    (2/8/01 4:52:50 pm)
    The volume on the small television set was much too loud. One of the mindless and seemingly
    senseless morning game shows was playing. The voice of Bob Barker, the game shows host, was
    easily recognizable. The older of the two persons watching the show commented how old and
    grey and wrinkled Bob Barker had become. The younger individual listened respectfully to the
    less than kind remarks of the old man, all the time watching the goings-on and the give-aways
    attentively. ‘Grandpa’, the young man questioned, ‘how much do you think that metal detector
    they’re showing the people is worth’? The aging and overweight man looked disinterestedly at
    the screen and stated in an expert sounding voice, ‘oh, I dont know Bryan, about a
    dollar-three-ninty-eight---maybe a bit more or a bit less’. One could almost sense the wheels
    turning inside the youngsters head as he mentally digested his grandfathers answer. Abruptly he
    turned his tousled head toward his viewing partner and exclaimed, ‘oh Grandpa, there’s no such
    amount as a dollar-three-ninty-eight---you’re just making that up’! The boy noticed the smug smirk
    on the old mans face and immediately knew he needed no further convincing of his
    grandfather’s teasing.
    The televisions scenes and sounds changed to commercial time---payday for the American
    programming system. The screen on the small colored television was filled with an aircraft
    carriers flightdeck operations being conducted on a storm tossed sea. The carriers busy flight
    deck showed a nuclear powered aircraft carrier retrieving an F-18 TOMCAT with the arresting
    wire and snatch-hook clearly visible. A second later the scene had changed to a prop driven
    HAWKEYE plane with a large saucer like dome atop the fuselage, being catapulted off the flight
    deck in a slashing cloud of steam. The busy flight deck crewman, dressed in a variety of colorful
    jackets and headgear, scurried about like ants after sugar.
    LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN was announced as the title of the Navy’s commercial . The next action
    scene displayed was of red-shirted bomb and ordinance technicians, strapping heat seeking
    missiles under a fighter- bombers stubby wings. Headaches to be delivered up today for
    somebody, somewhere -----and will it rain on your parade this day? The profound silence of the
    two relatives sitting at the kitchen table seemed deafening as they watched the Navy sea
    operations, wide-eyed and enthralled. As the announcer continued his narration, the next scene
    showed another grey painted vessel, a guided missile frigate, leaning hard over for a graceful,
    tactical turn, in the white-capped ocean swells.
    A 1-800 number flashed onto the screen and a free video about the Navy was offered to anyone
    desiring more nautical excitment. It was one of those where you did’nt have to remember the
    number as there was a catchy phrase like GO NAVY. The Grandpa grabbed a nearby pen and
    scrawled the complete set of phone numbers onto the palm of his liver spotted hand. The old
    man’s active mind flashed back almost fifty years earlier as he recalled his first day in Navy boot
    camp at San Diego when the young sailors had to write important things in the palms of their
    hands with Navy ballpoint pens--things like their blood-type, religion, service number, and then
    to survive the wrath of their new God, the Company Commander, yelling into their faces
    because the perspiration in their palms had flushed that vital information away before they had
    committed to memory what they had, up until then, considered to be trivia.
    What’re you grinning about Grandpa’, Bryan asked the old retired Senior Chief Petty Officer,
    ‘what’s so funny?’ The old man reached over and patted the twelve year old on the top of his
    tousled head and sighed, ‘just and old man’s memories Bryan, it’d just take too long to tell you
    the whole story but I will someday’.
    ‘How would you like to have that video about the Navy, Bryan’, the Grandpa inquired, ‘you
    know how interested you’ve become in the Navy every since your Dad enlisted you into the
    Navy League Program. ‘Golly Bryan, now you’ve got your own uniform and seabag and
    everything---they even give you a set of dog-tags’, the old man exclaimed, sounding very
    enthuisitic. Not to be put off with the hundreds of questions the youngster wanted to ask his
    Grandfather, the lad started out with the one he most likely already knew the answer for as he
    and the old man had often talked of his naval career with his Grandson.
    ‘Were you ever on an aircraft carrier, Grandpa---did you ever watch them launch a jet fighter
    Grandpa --- did you ever want to be a jet pilot Grandpa, huh, did’ja, huh?
    The old fellow was used to a barrage of questions, rapid fire inquiries like his young Grandson had
    just delivered, so very patiently the old man reminded the boy that he had spent his entire twenty
    year naval career in the NAVY SEABEES. He always added, like the young man needed a
    reminder, that the SEABEES were named for the naval construction battalions, and always jokingly
    added for the young mans benefit, that the SEABEES ‘babysat’ the MARINE CORPS and built all
    kinds of things like airfields and barracks for them. Bryan had heard his Grandfather speak many
    times of the two tours of duty he had spent in Viet Nam with the First and Third Marine Divisions.
    That had been in 1967 through 1969---actually that had been when Bryan’s father Timothy, had
    only been in the first grades of school over in Port Hueneme, California.
    ‘Would you like me to call the Navy Bryan and ask them to send you the video ----you could
    even take it to your next Navy League meeting and show everyone?’ All the time the old man
    was asking, Bryan was nodding his head vigorously, like he was anxious for it to happen. ‘How
    long do you think it’ll take to get here Grandpa, huh; do you think I’ll get it by next week cause
    that is when I got my next meeting’? The young man questioned and stated, all in a single
    outburst, that left him redfaced and breathless.
    ‘Well now Bryan, you just be patient-- I’ll find out more when I talk to those folks-- that is if they
    have some real live people on the line and not just that computer voice thing---I’ll be sure to ask
    and I’ll make it so they send it to you in your name ---would you like that’? The head nodding
    continued in such a vigorous fashion that the young mans unkempt hair flopped about like it was
    being blown by the wind.
    A short time later the old man was on the phone talking to a ‘real live person’ and responding to
    the questions being asked. ‘Yes Miss Navy, I’ll spell the name for you that I’d like it addressed
    to---the name is Bryan Wilborn--B--R--Y--A--N and the last name is spelled W--I--L--B--O--R--N.
    The old man continued to speak giving the address and zip code followed by an extended
    pause. ‘Yes Miss Navy, that is right, I’m requesting that Navy video for my Grandson who’s name
    I’ve given you, and if that’s not possible because of his age, please send it to us using my name
    as I am a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer’.
    ‘Yes Miss, I did say he was twelve years old and yes, he is very interested in the Navy, even at
    his age’. The old man had made the last statement in such a proud sounding manner that the
    operator remarked quite emphatically, and so very matter of factly, ‘he’ll get his navy video
    sir, I guarantee it’!
    Finally all the information was gleaned and the operator said she would read back the data
    gathered for the old Chief’s verification. When the information was repeated about Bryan’s age
    she made a subdued chuckling sound over the phone and remarked in a jovial sounding voice
    ‘we’ll just make that a two-one instead of one-two’, followed by a click and whir of the
    electronic equipment, recording the mis-deed just logged---’and we thank you Senior Chief
    Wilborn for your interest in our program LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN’.
    The old man then made his declarations of appreciation and thanked the friendly operator most
    graciously for her time and ingenuity by helping the way she had. ‘You have a real pleasant
    day Miss Navy -- you’ve made a pleasant day for Bryan and I, and we thank you again’, and the
    old fellow hung up his phone. Almost two weeks later the video addressed to the grandson
    Bryan arrived. He was overjoyed at his good fortune. The video package was colorful and
    decorated with one of the aircraft carrier’s crewman dressed in special yellow outfit that
    identified him as one of the aircraft handlers on the deck of the giant ‘bird-farm’---bird farms
    were what the SEABEES used to call the aircraft carriers that operated out in the South China Sea
    during the Viet Nam ‘days of glory’.
    No other Navy activity happened for awhile--Bryan watched the video countless times and
    shared it with local friends. July in Arizona leaves a lot of ‘inside the house time’. Younger
    members of the household spend long periods of time in the swimming pool, sometimes with
    friends, other times alone. HOT--HOT--HOT is the main conversation!
    It was about three o’clock Thursday afternoon-- the day the Navy came to our home. Bryan’s
    Grandmother was sewing her Raggedy Ann dolls and watching The Donnie and Marie Show in
    the den. I was working at the computer while keeping an eye on Bryan and his friend Josh as
    they played some roccous splash game in the pool. Though it was comfortable in the house, I
    was wearing only a pair of old scrufty shorts---no shoes or socks or even an undershirt. My
    ‘grungy’ retired attire, was even less than informal.
    The doorbell rang and I called out loudly to Mary that I would get the door as I typed a closing
    sentence on a story I was trying to string together. My wife of forty-five years yelled back ‘okay’
    as the door bell sounded again. I mused to myself, I bet that’s the mailman---he’s gotta a
    package for me today and being he’s the one that’s running late, it’s making him impatient. I
    headed off through the front room to answer the door and glancing quickly out of the front bay
    window, to my utter astonishment, there on my front doorstep, reaching to ring the bell the third
    time, was one of the largest sailors I had ever seen. He was accompanied by two other equally
    large navymen, dressed in sparkling white uniforms, chests full of multi-colored ribbons, looking like
    they had just stepped out of a recruiting poster.
    My wife described my vocal outburst later, in fact she said it sounded like I was strangling. She
    said I had fairly gasped out, ‘there’s three great big sailors at the door Mary---are they here for
    you’, to which she responded gaily “sure, at my age, there’s three big sailors at the door, ringing
    the doorbell for me!” What a woman--what a wife---I thought all these thoughts much later, for
    by then I was streaking toward my room on the other end of the house to get at least a shirt and
    some shoes on as the doorbell continued to chime determinedly. Never let it be said this old
    navy chief would greet any navy representive out of uniform, as I yanked on my ‘skivvy shirt’
    and shoes with panic-like determination.
    When I opened the door for our nautical visitors, I tried to be clever and suave when I
    introduced myself to them and remarked casually, ‘where do you want me to sign to go
    back to active duty men?’ They chuckled polietly-- I believe it was a chuckle, as I invited
    them in to the living room. Actually they probably thought to themselves, ‘who’s leg is this old
    Dude trying to pull’! I can’t tell you how honored I felt when those young navymen called me
    Senior Chief and as we visited openly, rapport and good feelings prevailed. Humor was at the
    forefront of the entire meeting that day. Actually, they had come to interview Bryan Wilborn, the
    twenty-one year old Bryan Wilborn, for enlistment into the United States Navy. When I told them
    my grandson Bryan was only twelve years old and that a mistake must have been made when
    paper work was filled out, you know maybe the thing of a two and the one being
    reversed----well my face must of flushed and gave away the video conspiricy that had transpired
    for those navymen smiled and remained totally unflusterd looking. When I told the recruiters that
    my twelve year old grandson Bryan was out swimming with his friend, they all remarked and
    wished that they were able to do the same. When I offered to have Bryan dry off and come in to
    talk with them, they simply scoffed at the idea of disturbing the young mens enjoyment. “Let
    them swim Senior, they’ll have their nose to the grindstone soon enough the way it is,” one of the
    knowing sailors remarked. That matter-of-fact statement made me feel good and even relieved
    for the deception I had been part of. Later when I told Bryan and his Dad about the recruiting
    escapade, we all agreed that it would have been so unforgetable for a meeting to have taken
    place with the recruiters and my twelve year old grandson.
    As I visited that afternoon with those impressive looking Navymen, I could not help from feeling
    proud. Proud for them and their deportment and for what they represented, proud for myself of
    having been once been a part of it, and proud of Bryan and his father for questing about the
    information and finally their advancement into the naval organization. The sailors inquired and I
    told them, probably boastfully, of things I had done and places I had served. I told them that
    when I had been twenty-one years old, I had been helping to shove a mountion out into salty
    depths Subic Bay in the Philippines --- my SEABEES were building the Cubi Point Naval Air Base
    there during the Korean War. To that, one of the young warriors commented that he had
    helped decommission that same base following the devasting volcanic eruptions that had
    occurred in the Philippines a decade earlier. There were many other sea stories told also but the
    recruiters were’nt able to stay very long that afternoon. I offered coffee and refreshments,
    however they declined as other commitments needed their attention . I commented how sharp
    and ‘squared-away’ they all looked---even tried to identify a couple of the strange new insignias
    on their uniforms rating badges. Silently I felt elated that the ‘torch had been passed’ to the
    new generations -- it glowed as brightly as I remembered.
    Although just by being the biggest, does’nt always mean you’re in charge, but today it seemed
    to be that way. The men were all much taller than I, but the recruiter in charge was a giant of a
    fellow. I randomly thought of the yard-arm that is up on a ships mast---and mused to myself, that
    this big guy had that yard-arm fashioned inside the shoulders of his shirt. Their shoes glistened like
    polished ebony and the service dress whites they wore so handsomely, were almost unnatural in
    their brilliance. At the door when the Navymen departed, a few more humorous remarks were
    exchanged---‘sailor talk’ you know, and we shook hands all around. The giant was the last to
    leave and as he clasped my hand, he flashed a brilliant smile. “They told us there would be
    stories out here like this Senior Chief--I’ve been out for three years now and this is going to be the
    one I’ll never forget--these are the kind’a stories our country and our Navy are made of.” He
    seemed to gather his thoughts for a moment as if he wanted to say something additional and
    then remarked so very casually, “this is just going to make one hell’va Navy recruiting story--just
    can’t wait to get back to the office ----wow!”