By lex, on September 11th, 2011
Today is the day we tell our stories. You have heard it before, but this is mine:
We had left Pearl Harbor three days earlier, our weapons unloaded as were a thousand sailors and officers to make room for a Tiger Cruise: Fathers, sons and brothers, mothers and daughters, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews. They would spend the last six days of our deployment with us, enjoying their exposure to an aircraft carrier at sea.
We had returned after a six month deployment from the brutal summertime heat of the Arabian Gulf, our air wing patrolling the Southern No Fly Zone in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, getting shot at, and shooting back in that desultory but deadly way that we had by then become accustomed to. Not really at war. Not really at peace. Always waiting for the first blow to land.
The ship was aged, tired and wounded from her time at sea. We were limping home, bloody but unbowed, weary but proud. I had my retirement letter typed up, sitting in my desk drawer. I would mail it when we returned to port. We were nine years into the “peace dividend”, I had spent 21 years on the line, and history had ended. I was going to be an airline pilot.
Some time before 0500 the phone in my stateroom rang, it was the TAO: OPSO, turn on your television. You’re going to want to see this.
I was awake and dressed almost instantly. Raced into CVIC to find the ship’s intel officer grim faced. There had been a lot of chatter intercepted. We had known that there was something coming, something big. We had no idea that, like us, it was coming home.
I went by the Combat Direction Center to check on the status of our self-defense weapons. The international airways over our heads were strangely empty of traffic – no tracks at all. (When we got home three days later, the only aircraft flying were military combat air patrols over the major coastal cities, an eerie sight.) I ran up the eight long flights of ladders to the bridge, joined the Captain at his chair. Gave him the run down on intel and CDC. “Things have changed,” he told me, prophetically adding, “nothing will ever be the same.”
The morning flag meeting at 0900 was equally grim, all options on the table. We could return to San Diego, offload the civies and turn back around to sea. Pick up our weapons and stranded sailors in the mid-Pacific and join the fight. We wanted to. Eventually the word came down to us: Not this time, not you. Come home, refit, be ready. This will not be over soon.
Went into the dirty-shirt wardroom at lunch, it was filled with aviators in their flight suits, fathers, sons, brothers, mothers and daughters, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews. There was a stunned silence, no one knew what to say. There was nothing to say.
There was a simmering anger.
I don’t remember much else about that day but this: At its long end, I returned to my stateroom, sat at my desk a half an hour in silence, removed my retirement letter from my drawer and ripped it up. I would never, as it turned out, become an airline pilot. In the great scheme of things, it was no great loss.
This one was, as were the 2995 just like it. Read it, please, if you have not already.
I am not over it.
And the fathers of this crime may be mostly dead, but they are entirely unforgiven.