On Fighting A War, Or, The Best Christmas Ever

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Lots of people enlist in the military, many more marry into it.
Others are born into it.

I’m one of those.

I was literally born into the Navy. So literally that my place of birth is the Portsmouth Naval Hospital.

Before I was nine, I was stationed at Portsmouth, Virginia, Jacksonville, Florida, and Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco. That’s where my Dad was transferred to a destroyer being converted from an older design, the USS Somers (DDG 34).

I remember attending the commissioning, and strangely enough, the one memory of that event that really stands out was meeting a Rear Admiral who had, my Dad told me, risen through the ranks from seaman to admiral.

I remember because my Dad made sure to point out that even though he had been an enlisted man, he did not have a Good Conduct Medal. That may have been the first time I learned iconoclasm can be a good thing.

We had been in California for about three years at that point, and every night my Dad would “come home from work”.

This was about to change.

Ships are not based at shipyards after the work is finished, so it was again time to move, this time to Naval Station Long Beach, California. (Ironically, the Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island now occupies the site. But I digress.)

I have not set a time to this story, and it’s time to do so.

We are now in the year 1969. Man will be landing on the moon in a month or so (and I’ll be allowed to stay up late to watch it on TV), and we’re fighting the Vietnam War. I am 9 going on 10.

So that’s when my dad left for his first “WestPac” cruise (the Western Pacific, for those of you not Naval); and that’s the first time I understood what having a parent gone for 6 months means.

It sucked that he was away.
It sucked being home.
I don’t remember ever crying because he was gone-he was just gone.

Probably the worst part of all this was not knowing when he was coming back-and the fact that 6 months to a 10 year old is a huge piece of your life.

But that all passes, and eventually he came back.

And then left. And came back again.

Now it’s summer of 1972, and we’re on a new ship, the USS Goldsborough (DDG 20).

In October they left for Vietnam, once again, to do what a destroyer does on duty. The third Christmas in a row Dad was to be gone.

What does a destroyer do in Vietnam? Basically sit off the coast and toss shells on shore at enemy positions. Pretty boring duty, I’m told, unless they shoot back.

Wanna hear a story of cultural adaptation? I heard this after one of the cruises, and never forgot it.

Apparently my Dad’s ship was tied up at Subic Bay (in the Philippines, again for those not Naval) next to a Philippine Navy ship which needed electrical repairs, and a volunteer from the US ship was sent to assist.

Courtesy requires the ship to express its appreciation, and the sailor (an enlisted man) was invited to dine with the Captain and the officers of the Philippine vessel in the ship’s wardroom.

Dinner was apparently quite good, and the Captain announced he had a special treat in honor of the occasion. In walked the steward, I was told, bearing a plate of eggs.

The sailor watched in shock as the officers each opened their eggs, slurped out the liquid contents, and ate what appeared to be a tiny bird from inside.

It turns out the eggs in question are known as Balut-and there is a tiny bird inside. Balut, as it happens, is a fertilized duck egg containing a near fully developed embryo in the shell. (Check out the picture here. Warning: the sensitive among you might choose to pass on this and the next link.)

As you might imagine, his unease grew with each passing moment, as the tray bearing the eggs drew ever closer. What to do? As a brave American fighting man, he knew he had only one choice-eat the egg.

To refuse might be considered an insult; and he was a guest on a foreign ship, after all.

With a slurp and a will of iron, he did his duty.

The Captain looked down the table and asked: “How was it?”
What could he say? “Very good, Sir”

The Captain looked back at him and uttered the words he would come to dread: “Well, in that case, let’s have another.”

I am told the second egg had a different...texture...than the first.
An unexpected sort of crunchiness that was absent from the first experience.

Nonetheless, he was able to gulp it down.

As he looked around the table, he noticed a strange look on the faces of the Philippine officers. Unsure if he had committed an error of etiquette, he looked questioningly to the Captain, who was staring back with a look of wonder on his face.

“I guess it is true what they say about you Americans” he said to the sailor.

“What do you mean, Sir?” was the perplexed reply.

“Well, I heard Americans had iron stomachs, and it must be true” the Captain responded, “the crunchy eggs, like yours...we don’t even eat those in the Philippines.”

Christmas in California is odd, now that I look back on it.

Snow? Not in LA.
Cold, bitter winds? Sometimes it would get all the way down to the 50’s, which probably doesn’t impress the Chicago reader.

Nonetheless, the holiday was just coming up, and as a twelve year old I was expecting some pretty cool presents.

Well, I got one all right.

It had to be the 22nd, or 23rd, as close to Christmas Eve as you could get, midafternoon, when I heard the knocking on the door.

The last thing I ever expected to see was what I saw-my Dad, unannounced, and at least four months early, standing at the door.

Not only that, but standing there in a uniform I’d never seen before-he had made Chief during the cruise.

Even now I can see the moment-and even now it still makes me smile.

I don’t know if I could ever recreate the emotional impact of that exact second.

I am indeed fortunate that you can watch the very same thing happen to a sailor’s son from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Washington. His Dad showed up unannounced at his school, and if you haven’t yet seen the video, you need to. It’s just simply amazing. (Here’s the link to the text version of the story. Click on the “Raw Video” link for the...well, raw video. You’ll need Windows Explorer.)

As it turned out, he didn’t return to sea duty for the rest of his career.

Nonetheless, that one day he stood in the doorway was better than all the rest of the days he was home put together.

And for a kid who never saw it coming, it was the best Christmas ever.


Great story, FC.

Our lives have been amazingly similar - except for the duck egg part.


Thanks for the story.

I too have Navy in my family. One of my uncles at the beginning of WW II was assigned to a shrimp boat to protect the NC coast from German submarines.
Eventually he was Capt. of a ship in the Pacific and came home once at the beginning of the war to get married. He did not return home to Brevard until four plus years later.

Beautiful, beautiful story

Nicely told, too. I even liked the duck egg part.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

thanks so much...

...for the kind words

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Another wonderful story

Thank you FC. I really like this idea, it's sort of like sitting around a campfire and telling tales, getting to know and understand each other just a little better.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

judging from your picture...

...it better be a big campfire...

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Ummm yea, guess I need to change that soon

sort of like my "let it snow" plaque I put up about Thanksgiving hoping...just hoping.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

let it snow?

i got ya snow right heah, palley.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Thank God I was an East Coast

Sailor, never had to eat the eggs! heard about em and to this day, when I crack an egg, I instinctively look at the yoke to make sure it has not started to mature.

Balut is just Nasty! BLAAAAAA

We where to pull out for a deployment and it was to start later in the day then the normal 7am. One of the guys went to the local subway shop and got a sandwich with mayo and tomatoes on it.

The guy decided he did not want the sandwich and stuck it up in the vents "to keep it fresh" till the next day. Well, he forgot about it and it stayed up there for about a month before we refound it.

We opened the ziplock bag it was in and it about floored us. so we resealed it and "saved" it for an appropriate time.

Next time our boss fell asleep in the shop, we cracked that thing open..... We had to run out of the shop, he was so thrilled with us.

A few days later, we opened it in combat, a blue lit room with officers and "important" people work. OOOOO they where not happy with us in there either! but they did not know what or who ripped that!

On the last day of the deployment, we still had that sandwich in the shop. Gave us good entertainment for 6 months. Now thats fun!

my uncle

US Army Reserves (Retired) has a great smell story from his time in High School.

I cant do it justice, but it involves Western Pennsylvania. Memorial Weekend Break. A Locker...

And a dead possum.

Draft Brad Miller -- NC Sen ActBlue :::Liddy 44 Brad 33

"Keep the Faith"


...alberto gonzales has no recollection of those events.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

the movie "waiting"...

...is a story built around restaurant hijinks, but there's never been a military movie that covers the same ground.

these two stories, and others, would make a pretty funny film (imagine "used cars" in uniform...).

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

the entire project here today...

...was most excellent, and these "theme days" should be repeated.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

I see a YD day!

That would be wonderful ;)

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks

Hey Fake!

You got picked up at the Kos diary rescue.

Next time let us know that you cross-posted so we can get you on the recommended list?

Thanks again for joining us here and sharing your stories.

you may assume any story you see here will...

...eventually be posted there as well, as i try to function as a form of self-syndicator.

and as always, thanks for expressing support.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965