Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, December 14, 2009

A little misunderstanding

The annual Army-Navy game is supposed to be a moment of good-natured mockery between members, and veterans, of the respective services. This does include Marines, who are well-represented on the Navy team. It does not include the Air Force, which we mock all the time anyway.

One exchange I had was veering off of "good natured" until I gently applied the brakes. It hit on an old theme: that the Army and Marines do the fighting and the Navy, well out of danger, supplies the transportation.

I won't go into who provides the Marines with health care (the Navy), supplies (the Navy), and often shelter (the Navy). This friction was with an Army veteran, so that's irrelevant. The other friction point involved a female friend who is a Cold War Navy veteran. Even though I have the "Vietnam Era veteran" label, that's an accident of chronology. As I said elsewhere, the Navy in its wisdom sent me to the Cold War theatre. She, and I, both got a bit restive about the do-nothing Navy thing.

Those of us who spent our Navy time involved in the elaborate game of nuclear chess with the Soviet navy were properly grateful that we were not on the Mekong in very small boats getting shot at. You didn't choose your job in the Vietnam era; you got an approximation of your wishes upon enlistment and upon graduation from boot camp, service school, and on reassignment. Sometimes it was very approximate. In my time in the Navy, whilst you could be assigned to Vietnam, you couldn't request that duty. So I played chess with Soviet submarines, aircraft, and surface ships. In every respect except the actual shooting (mostly) it was war. As a character in The Hunt for Red October said, things will get out of control. Accidents happened, especially when one side or the other got aggressive. People died or were badly hurt. My female veteran friend served later, when tensions had eased somewhat, but even then the potential for incidents was there.

The thing about the Navy that the Army (and civilians) forget is that it mostly operates on, under, or over the ocean. Oceans are very dangerous at any time. Those of us in Navy air lived our lives, afloat or ashore, in close proximity with high explosives and volatile fuel. Ashore, we could run from disaster, just like the land forces. At sea, there is no place to run. In addition to the explosives and volatile fuel, ours ships had to contend with gales, icebergs, other ships, and sometimes waves higher than people ashore can even imagine. Could you envision a winter gale with waves high enough to overtop an aircraft carrier? It happened in my task force. At sea, you either deal with these disasters or you die, often in a very unpleasant fashion.

The Army and Marines looked offshore from Vietnam at Navy ships apparently doing nothing and got angry. But had we not played nuclear chess at sea with the Soviets, thousands of miles away, they might have been looking at ships flying the hammer and sickle. A little respect, please.


Blogger massmarrier said...

I knew families whose Navy guys died in battle, as well as some sailors without a leg or two from the same. Sitting out in the ocean is not the safest locale -- no escape either.

You also reminded me of my father's memorial service. He was a decorated field artillery officer (invasion on D-Day, Battle of the Bulge and such). Yet, at the service, infantry guys called out their version, that the artillery was never on the front lines with them, the "real" soldiers.


12:07 pm  

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