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Reflections on Exploration
During War and Peace

ex·plo·ra·tion n. The act or an instance of exploring: Arctic exploration; exploration of new theories.

Article Title
Submarine missile launched at
Cape Canaveral, FL 1977

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Almost 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy came down to see our submarine squadron and thank us for a war that never happened. It was in Key West, the southernmost end of the US Highway 1 and less than a hundred miles from Cuba.  We stood in our dress white tropical uniform topside the old submarine.  As Kennedy walked along the Pier, my mind reflected.  When the Cuban Missile Crisis started, my boat had  passed the Straight of Magellan, around the southern tip of South America, and to the Pacific.  It took a whole month to travel around South America, and yet, on Kennedy’s word, we found ourselves back in the Atlantic in one day.  If it weren’t for Theodore Roosevelt’s dream of a 2-ocean U.S. Navy, connected by the Panama Canal, it would not have been possible for me to see the Key’s tropical sun hovering over my favorite tamarind tree in so little time. 

They are permanent heroes,
from Columbus to the Columbia shuttle, from the bottom of the ocean
to the surface of the moon.

If war were to happen, it would be here at the almost foreign ambience of Key West safely removed from the U.S. Mainland.  Now we were the warriors cooling down at the various taverns around the Brown Derby, where Papa Hemmingway recessed writing “Farewell to Arms.”  Kennedy was criticizing the Russians for trying to have a hold of the Americas through Cuba, which defied the Monroe Doctrine.  Barely out of teens, my mind drifted to another Monroe whom the President was also fond of: her name was Marilyn.

Only a quarter could buy a gallon of gas, but my submarine pay was enough to also buy a 2-year-old red and white Corvette. The extra pay was on the same scale what astronauts got paid for flying in outer space.  Like the TV show “Route 66”, I found joy in driving along that old US 1. Transforming into a lost aviator on those wide straight away taking off for the final day.  Federal highway construction provided stretch where jets could land and go in case of an all out war.  Bridges and overpass should have the dimension for the mobile silos that made driving a rally in more than a way.   Driving that American road was touching the American dream, like navigating through the country.  Submarine sailors were of a differentbreed.  War training was executed like as if it were the real thing: a submariner never heard “This is only a drill.”  We gave 100 percent even in simulation play.  We relaxed during our Liberty (off ship) and remained the reckless but romantic adventurer.  I found myself in the middle of the age of guided missiles. We joked that all the bombs would only be flying far overhead while we were safely underwater. This kind of high tech war could never be romantic; Hemingway would not be able to write about it.
Still, firm warning prevailed and the Americas were safe for another century. The Monroe doctrine sustained and the American continents were free from foreign power.  Cubans seeking freedom fled to Florida in mass defection. Though reluctant at times, the U.S. welcomed political refugees on the shore.  With the few Spanish words I knew, I found myself being called topside whenever we spotted freedom-craving Cubans on makeshift boats heading for the coast of Florida.  Everyone knew his or her intentions, but with the rote dryness of giving Miranda Rights, I had to ask “Adonde?” and “Por que?”  The answer of freedom was not assumed.  Freedom is not free.  It is simply the bounty of war: the strong’s revolution forced upon the weak.
Watching the mayhem in the sky the other day I could not help looking back when John Glenn took the first successful space flight and then rested in Key West. The best Navy Filipino Steward in the Keys was assigned to serve him. He let us in his quarters and I still have his signature. It was the beginning of a new frontier though exploration has been with us for a long time. Men could not break through Panama giant construction till medical science discovered the cure for Malaria.  It challenges us and provides discovery.  Recently, John Glenn said that if men live long enough, cancer would consume their prostrate glands. It is probably one of the most feared outcomes for men his age, so what harm is it to take a shot as the oldest man part of the exploration of the universe?  Cdr Laurel Clark started as Submarine Medical Officer, one of the few women in the Space Program who had submarine experience.  Boomer submariners could certainly share the highland tune she fell in love with while working in the icy water in Scotland misty lock. Frustration during exploration is temporary but those who perish from discovery… they are permanent heroes, from Columbus to the Columbia shuttle, from the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the moon.



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