March 14, 2018 – Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, Alabama
I marvel at the feat of engineering genius it is, even today, to have constructed the USS Alabama & the USS Drum.
Everything is so properly placed, every inch of space put to its best use; the coordination and organization of every wire, bolt, and gauge. The priority placed, not on comfort, but on achieving its mission, and all others given their place which gave the mission its best chance at success. It’s American Spirit and ingenuity.
My thoughts turned to the men who manned these vessels, the hardcore strength, and camaraderie. How morale had to be found in hope and very few conveniences. The transformation to become well-built machines themselves, with heart. How they kept each other in line, for the unit was only as strong as its weakest man.
How, in such close — really close — quarters you had to get over yourself and do your job. Your duty was far more important than your individuality or opinions; because, if you didn’t feel like doing your job, everyone died.
One must take into account there was always a threat who was seeking to put you under. It would be hard to ignore the hail of shells, the kamikaze, the torpedoes – the blood, the lifeless shell of men in the station next to you because it just took a direct hit. Then, the damage control, and no sign of land nearby.
In the action, your training and usefulness were put to the test. Adaption, overcoming, and courage had become instinct.
Yes, you put your feelings and your bravado away. There is simply no well-placed compartment for them on board.
The other time spent afloat, when drills or attacks didn’t occupy your attention, there were many occupations that kept this city on the seas running. The forge and bakery, a commissary to minimally supply your desires, post office to keep in touch with the reality of home, exercise, chow, machining, and, not the last, photography. I can hear the blur of conversations over the lull of the engines while Bing Crosby sings over the loud-speakers.
The further I explored these fine American ships from the WWII era, well-oiled, finely honed mechanisms of defense, my patriotism grasped at the heights of morality: leaving the comforts of American life to defend the weak, put down tyranny. I bonded with the uplifting unity and fraternity which even the ship-building ironworker on the production line must have felt roused in his being; which is within every American.
And, there’s a bell with a well-placed Cross welded below it, because no matter where you are on Earth, people need Strength and the Sabbath. This bell sounds attention and reverence, as to not forget Providence, the suffering and the true meaning of Freedom.
Then, my thoughts turn to those people who made it through, that gave all they had in the face of those who gave their lives. How those who remain still gather together periodically to remember this nostalgic time of their lives, their lives forged together as strongly now as the steel that remains so well preserved for our generation. I wonder if their emotions, which were precisely folded and stored away all those decades ago, manifest themselves at these gatherings.
I hope so. For these hard-chargers are, of course, human beings, not machines. And, with their duty long gone and done, it is my prayer that they can digest all this world threw at them and lay it on the altar of Peace.
All those names have a face, which have a soul, and when you empty yourself of all you have to give, there’s honor and virtue in that offering. And those events, more than a memory, have become a part of them, as they have become a part of history.
It’s their fingerprints on those hatches that my children’s little hands grasped. Generations between them, our feet walking the same corridors in which their sweat and blood fell. Yet, because of their service, their duty, we are free to spend a beautiful day on a decommissioned battleship and connect with our heritage.
I pray, as we touch the areas of those whose sacrifice was laid before us, that we pay them honor always; that we do well to avoid any disconnect from our American history, and to a larger degree, for better or for worse, our human story.
And in thanksgiving, pause, to remember.