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.
Submarine missile launched at
Cape Canaveral, FL 1977
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.