Looking back on a watershed moment

Looking back on a watershed moment

What did you do in your youth?  How did you spend your young adult years?  When did you know you were finally a grown-up?  What changed in you to validate the fact you were over that big hump, never to return to being a child?  Three and a half decades ago this evening I confronted my life’s watershed moment after which the way I viewed the World was forever different.  It was a character molding and career defining experience for me.  I am sitting here today pondering my thirty-five years of bonafide adulthood I have muddled through since.


A couple weeks ago I was compelled largely by media annoyance to post a detailed piece regarding my experience with refugees.  With due deference to my rationale to that post I wish to say that just because you take no interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.  That is all I am going to say about things political as this concerns something much more personal.


One basic fact of life I have discovered in that thirty-five years since the start of that salient week on my own personal timeline is that life is about relationships.  Forget about all the money you can earn.  Forget about all the property and toys you might accrue along the way.  Forget about all the advanced degrees and full-of-frills diplomas with your full name in elaborate gold calligraphy you can stack on top of one other.  All of these cannot assure you of any real sense of immortality as all will likely be forgotten about the week after your friends and family finish shoveling enough dirt on you to cover you up and place your headstone on top of you or scatter your ashes to the four winds.  You may not know it at the time but your life, the decisions you make and the actions you take can have a profound impact and touch the lives of so many others, both those who are close to you and even many who at the time may be total strangers.  Make no mistake about it, the overall metric of your existence is the number of lives you touch in a positive fashion.


When I enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 18 I had a lot of vague ideas of where I would go and what I would do in the following four years.  I had no idea how profound the coming tests of character would be or how well I would measure up to them when I arrived to cross those respective bridges.  As things turned out, I found myself in a situation near the end of the third year of my first enlistment where the responsibility I was delegated was way beyond the scope of my education and training at the time.  Not then knowing any better, the only direction I ever considered was forward.  The situation involved being the lone ship’s company member of my department, that being the Medical Department, on board a guided missile destroyer, a combatant vessel which carried a complement of some 312 officers and crew.  Initially this solo stint was only to last two weeks, from the time my outgoing boss detached on emergency leave until the time his relief was due to arrive.  It ended up lasting 33 days due to the ship leaving the Philippines for Thailand the morning the incoming boss’ plane touched down in Manila.  Had nothing extraordinary happened other than routine functions between the time we left for Thailand on 1 December and the time we returned to the Philippines the evening of 19 December 1980, my efforts would have likely netted me a Navy Achievement Medal anyway.  As fate would have it we would be forced to deal with, up close and personal, the legacy of a failed U.S. policy in Vietnam even though we may have been five and a half years removed from our nation’s involvement in any of the affairs of that country.  We would encounter and embark over 280 souls seeking freedom from the tyranny of Communist Vietnam.


There was an Internet meme circulating awhile back and I don’t recall who it was attributed to but it went, “character is judged by how well you treat those who can do nothing for you.”  If that standard were applied to us thirty-five years ago then I am proud to say we all passed that particular character test.  I vividly remember embarking all those very needy and now very grateful Boat People and although we were not able to save everyone on that boat, we saved over 260 and all have gone on to have fruitful and productive lives in the U.S. and other nations.


It wasn’t until 2008 when one of those former Boat People located me via a message board I set up and administer for my old ship’s association.  Since then there has been an outpouring of gratitude as more and more of the group collectively known as Boat 262 Community have been located.  All of this has made me acutely aware of how decisions we make touch the lives of so many.  I think of this entire ordeal as the night and subsequent week that I arrived into the universe of adulthood, the good and bad, for better or worse.  I am deeply appreciative of all those who survived who have become friends and neighbors and for the guidance and leadership of our former Captain and all my shipmates who grew leaps and bounds with me during that trying time.  Given that I am all about keeping written records and journals, this is one of those classic defining moments of my life and times.  Let us never forget how many of our fellow beings we touched and enriched by being in the right place at the right time.  Let us always remember who we are and the intangibles, ideas and concepts we stand for, promote and defend.  To all who we rescued all those years ago, I wish you all a happy second birthday!

My Navy Achievement Medal

My Navy Achievement Medal

Can Corpsman: A memoir of my enlisted Naval Service

1 Comment

  1. Drew Marquis-Ashley
    Dec 13, 2015

    Such a good read. Thank you, that was right on time!