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Category Archives: sailors

In Remembrance…Memorial Day 2015

MdayMy first memories of war go back to the Vietnam era of the mid-60s and early 70s. My first memory of war death reflects back to June of 1966 when my step-mother’s brother Jerry, Uncle Jerry, lost his life fighting in Vietnam. I have vague memories of Uncle Jerry but the atmosphere at home after word came of his death seems to have been burned deeper into my gray matter files. I was 7 years old.

From 1977 to 1981, I was assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). There were a few sailors who lost their lives along the way for one reason or another. I personally knew a couple of the men. We were in port at Pattaya Beach, Thailand, while deployed for a Western Pacific Cruise. The water was not deep enough to dock beachside so we would take boats to and from shore.   One of the Chief Warrant Officers who was a mentor of mine was heading to or coming back from liberty, my memory is not fully clear on that but he had a heart attack on the launch. His death hit hard to the many who personally knew him.  Years later aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) we lost several others while on deployment.  I knew who the men were but wasn’t close to them.  The loss was still felt the same amongst the crew.

A few short years later, a friend of mine was killed in a berthing fire aboard ship. Although we were able to put out the fire before anyone was burned, he died in his sleep of smoke inhalation. He and I had been on liberty together just a couple of days before we left port in Subic Bay, Philippines. I volunteered to take the casket back to his family.

That event was a very interesting awakening to the importance of the death of a military loved one. We weren’t in any specific hostilities at the time but his death was somehow just as important. I know it was to his family. His parents had divorced and though they came together for the funeral, each “side” of the family wanted to spend time with me and have me tell them about the times John and I had spent together…you see, I was the last link they had to their son. Of course, I left out the drunken sailor stories and the times we chased girls in different ports but I did my best to share the wonderful, exploratory adventures we had such as swimming at Waikiki Beach, our failed trip to visit Mount Fuji (we got on the wrong train and had to get back to the ship by nightfall — we didn’t get more than a glimpse in the distance); and the time we woke up to the water buffalo with its head sticking in the window of the room we shared while visiting a small rural village in farm land Philippines.

Understanding the love they showed to me in place of him, I think, was the first time I truly understood what we were doing in the service of our country. Why we were there when others weren’t. What it really meant to the families we left behind. I presented the flag to John’s mother without shedding a tear.  I had time to think on the plane trip back.  I went on with my life.

Later in my career, I presented the flags to family members at another eighteen military funerals—most were veterans and some were on active duty at the time of their deaths.  I did not know any of them personally but I knew a little bit about the lives they had lived while in the military.  I never once shed a tear when I presented those flags. The guys in my unit told me they were happy that I was the one presenting the flags because they didn’t think they could hold it together. I would tell them that I just did what I had to do—it was just part of my duty.

“On behalf of the President of the United States and the United States Armed Forces, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful (branch of service).”

Today, 15 years since my retirement from 23 years in the United States Navy, of course is very different.  I don’t attend parades on memorial and veterans days; I no longer attend military funerals (though after I retire in the real world, I’ll probably volunteer to be a part of the local honor guard); and I rarely attend veteran events.  It is often difficult for me to watch a good war movie, or hear about a current military funeral on the news.  However, I now freely shed a tear for “all” the men and women who gave their lives for this country. I understand that not every death was given in war, in combat, but that each of them would have given their lives for no other reason than they were there to serve their country; and they understood why they were there.

You may not personally know someone who died during military service but nonetheless, you have been affected. The next time you gripe about something that you don’t like about this country, remember those who died to ensure your freedom to complain about it; when you walk down the street or travel the highway, free to come and go in most places in this county, know that a military person died somewhere along the way to help ensure you and I still have those freedoms.  And, the next time you meet someone who lost a loved one in the service of this country, if appropriate, give ‘em a hug and let them know you appreciate the sacrifice.

Enjoy the freedoms you have that remain…there may not always be someone willing to put their life on the line to ensure you continue to have them.

Jay

John 15:13 (NIV)

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

 

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Criminal Minds Got Me…

Joe Montegna brought emotional reality to the Criminal Minds episode that aired last night, in memory of his forever friend and veteran actor, Meshach Taylor by honoring the character, Vietnam veteran, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Harrison Scott, who was a life-long friend of Montegna’s David Rossi character, also a Marine veteran.

We viewed a flashback to a young injured Rossi being provided encouragement from Scott. Any military person who took something positive away from their service experience will always remember one or two leaders who made a difference in their hitch or lives in general. I remember a good piece of mentoring in my earlier years from Chief Warrant Officer Kemp (I remember that he persuaded me to change my attitude); and of course, my dad, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Fuels Chief, Lee LeBorgne – my forever life coach, mentor and friend.

Each of us who served in the military took away individual experiences. Some completed their first stint and moved back into civilian life, and/or reserve duty for a while. Some of us made it a career. I made it a career.

In the U.S. Navy, I experienced many adventures…yes, some were brought on by my own um…decisions. Nonetheless, I enjoyed many jobs and meeting many people along the way, most of who will provide life-long memories. I am still in occasional contact with a couple people that I served with, including John Sulin (USN Retired) and Sunyatia Burks (the last person I had the pleasure of training and who still on active duty).

I won’t go into the many jobs that I had but one stands out in particular that brings me back to the Criminal Minds episode from last night.  While on active duty, I had the privilege of attending nineteen veteran funerals at which I presented the flag to their loved ones. Though I will never remember names, I quite often remember the faces of the mothers, wives, children and other family members that I presented the flags. Each of the following words were said with reverence and never a tear shed.

On behalf of the United States of American, the United States Armed Forces, The Department of (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force), I present you this flag in grateful recognition of your (family member’s) honorable service.

It has been 15 years since I retired (14 ½ until June) but I remember each of those words as though an artist engraved them into my wooden heart with a pyrography tool.

Last night, the tears that couldn’t and wouldn’t be shed during those past funerals flowed freely. Now, they flow for all of those who served when it is their time to depart.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t care about Jeff Gordon’s future plans.

Jay 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2015 in airmen, marines, sailors, soldiers, veterans

 

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One More Night

One More Night

A shorter story by Jay LeBorgne © 2014

The boy aloft in the crow’s nest calls out, “land ahead,” as the ship breaks from three days of fog.  The sun is long set–I can see the shoreline aglow from the beach fires welcoming this long weary crew.  None as weary as her First Officer, his last night at sea.  The last night with this smelly, fine, crackerjack crew.

The Captain sleeps while I dream.  I dream of Abigail, my love of near a quarter century.  My love for life and the reason for my existence.  She waits for one more night.  I am as elated as I am tired.

The crew ready.

“Helmsman, Right 10 Degrees Rudder,” I bellow though the wind does not warrant such a voice.

“Rudder 10 Degrees Right, Sir,” he responds sharply.

I am tired, too tired to continue anything but dream of the life that awaits me with my beloved Abigail.

“Chief, prepare sails for anchor.”

“Aye, sir,” he growls before he barks his orders to the seamen.

All I can see is her light ashen hair blowing in the breeze that I struggle to hear over the commands.  I stand erect just beside the wheel, the helmsman starts to whistle a bawdy tune.  My mind snaps to attention to avoid allowing the tune to defile the vision of my beloved Abigail.  Time has stopped for me but the sails are furled.

“She’s ready, Lieutenant,” the Chief almost whispers.

“Thank you, Chief.  All hands bring ship to anchor!”

She is ready.  “Let go!” I shout for the final time.

The anchor runs to coastal depth until it hits sand.  The ship slowly rests to drift.  Waters calm.

“Set the watch,” commands the Chief in his less-than-mellow tone.  “Crew to muster.”

Unexpectedly the men gather in a loose group in front of me.  The Chief speaks softly, “Sir, we would like to say how much we’ll be missin’ you as First Mate.  You’ve been a fair commander, Sir…well, we just wanted to let you know, Sir.”  The Chief was slightly teary-eyed.  He is a fine old sailor.

“Well, thank you, Chief.”  I attempt to choke back my emotions.  “I too, would like to extend my gratitude to each and every one of you men.  I’ve been at this a lifetime and you are the finest crew an officer could ever hope to have under his command.  Each of you made me the officer that I am.  Thank you.  And I mean every word.  It is one thing to be the leader of men but it also takes good men like yourselves for me to be that leader.  Carry on, Chief.  Good night, men.”

“Fair winds and following seas, Sir,” they respond in well-practiced unison.  They all depart to their places.  I cannot understand their mumblings.

After briefing the Captain and a farewell toast with him, I lay to my stateroom and make my final journal entry.

     Ships anchored awaiting morning tide.  All hands present and accounted for.  All is well.

     Lieutenant William Dunlop Smithson, First Officer, Sailing Ship Oak Leaf Cluster

     This the 5th Day of June in the year of Our Lord, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-five

I doubt I will sleep soundly.  The ship turns toward the shore and again and through my portal I see the beach fires burning, lighting an otherwise dark land.  The stars are finally visible, the air crisp with a soft wind.

And Abigail’s ashen hair wisps across her face as she smiles brightly.  Her hazel eyes glimmer in the sunlight…

One more night.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2014 in reading, sailors, short story, Uncategorized, weather, writing

 

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What’s your favorite doughnut? Donut?

Yesterday, Richard and I had a little discussion about our favorite doughnuts.  I think Richard is a slight bit off but then Krispy Kreme glaze will do that to you.

Richard:  The weather is getting cooler, time for some Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Me:  What?  Um, how ’bout Duncan Donuts?

Richard:  You can’t be serious…you ain’t right.

Me:  I knows what I like and it isn’t Krispy Kreme, Dick.

Dick:  What?  Oh, I get it.

Doughnuts, man’s sweat, delicious, I don’t feel like eating a bacon cheese burger right now, treat.  As there are so many kinds to choose from because there are so many tastes to please.  I prefer cake doughnuts (more specifically, chocolate cake with chocolate glaze); Richard prefers regular bread doughnut with sugar glaze (yes, we know it’s all sugar).  Some like sprinkles while others prefer cream or fruit filling.

The one thing we agree on is that doughnuts have a place in our hearts and stomachs as much as in society–I think that should be the other way around.

I don’t remember the man’s name but many (okay, about 29) years ago a man who came from Vietnam had a doughnut shop just around the corner from my apartment when I lived in Imperial Beach, California.  I was stationed at Naval Air Station, Coronado with an anti-submarine squadron.  Most each morning I would stop for a doughnut and coffee before heading down the Strand to work.  This man, every morning was getting up when I was going to bed to ensure that some sailor (me) could have a goodie on his way to work.  Of course, it was all about me. (Ha, occasionally, I would pick up a dozen or two to share with the guys at work.)  He would say, “You want the same?  Yes, of course you do, sailor.”  What a great smile he had–he was surrounded by doughnuts.

Sweet memories.

So, what’s your favorite doughnut?

Share a doughnut with a veteran — just because they might enjoy it.

Thank you to my brother and sister veterans for your service.

Jay 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in marines, sailors, soldiers, Uncategorized, Veteran's Day

 

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Who is a military veteran?

Well, the simplest answer would be a person who was a member of a military armed forces.

We celebrate Memorial Day for the ones who gave their lives during their time of service, but Veteran’s Day is for those of us on this side of the grass…the ones who are still alive or those who finished their military service and lived.  I know, sounds a bit simplistic but that’s it, or is that it?

Do you ever wonder why someone would join the military?  Yes, we’re all not war mongers as a few would have you believe.  And a majority do not join the military to avoid jail, as some might think.  Well, some people enlist in the military for employment and benefits but again, I believe those numbers are fewer that we have been told.

This year for Veteran’s Day, do yourself a favor and talk to some veterans–grand parents, parents, relatives, they guy or gal down the street–I’m sure you can find one or two if you just look around the corner.  If you’re really curious, ask them why they joined; ask them what it meant for them to serve.  Some won’t want to talk about their time in service and at times, many of us don’t.  Just let them know that you’re not there to have them relive their experiences but you’d really like to know what is in the heart of a warrior–a soldier or sailor–someone who put most of their life (or a period of time) on hold so that the remainder of their country men and women, children of all ages, natural born and immigrants alike could go on with their daily lives free of the evils in the world that exists to take those freedoms away from each of them.

Ask them what drove them, in the beginning, to stand up for those beliefs, and why did/do they think it is so important for our country.  A dinner is nice and so many appreciate this time of thanks.  Keep in mind, most veterans would probably just like to have someone spend some time talking and sharing of yourself for a little while.  No, it’s not always easy but it isn’t hard, either.

Don’t be surprised if they tell you something along the lines of, “It was the right thing to do at the time.”

For me, I come from a family with a history of service in the armed forces.  My dad, me and my brother all served in the U.S. Navy; uncles served in the Army and Air Force; cousins in the Army, Navy and Marines, as well as, bothers-in-law.  And yes, it was the right thing to do for 23 years of my life.

In my world, it is strange to me when I meet someone who was not in the military but I meet many of these people almost daily.  Most are very appreciative of my service and tell me so…while a thankful few are not so nice but that’s their right to feel that way–I’ve been told that “You Can’t Legislate Attitudes.”

I personally say thank you to all of you who served and returned.  May the Lord grant you peace in your hearts and minds; and that He helps you know that what you did made a difference.

Jay  🙂 

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2014 in marines, sailors, soldiers, Uncategorized, Veteran's Day

 

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