Forty Years Gone
by Mike Hemming
Thirty, forty or fifty, the number doesn’t matter. its just a
measure of the time that has passed. It’s the faces and names of the shipmates that matter. Faces and names, names and
faces, are not always matched up. Shipmates remembered even if it’s only bits and pieces. We remember in snippets of
things long gone, until we sometimes ask in our own minds did that happen or was it a dream or a story passed on? We would
never say that out loud, for around our old buddies we always claim to remember all the good times and sometimes the bad.
They were good men that came from all over for many reasons and sailed together for a time. A
time of testing and training, for men would pass on things to you that they themselves had learned. For you were expected
to pass that knowledge on to those who came after you. It was a struggle to learn it all, sometimes. But you were learning
lessons taught by the school of hard knocks. A school that lists the names of some 4,000 men who don’t want you to repeat
mistakes already made.
There were faces of men now gone who once fought a hot war, who told you
of traditions to honor those who did not return. Men that had seen too much to even tell it all. They were fighting a hard
enemy that rarely gave quarter and so none was given back.
Faces of men that sailed through the
years of a long cold war to hold our enemies at bay. Sacrificing years, marriages, limbs and even their lives at times to
do what they thought was right. Years of stories untold even today watching the Bear and preparing for a war. Serving on boats
built to fight a hot war and then holding the line through a cold war. Until the new boats that were built for the next hot
war, a war that fortunately never came.
And faces and names of those that sailed with you and
now are gone these many years. We all say, "I wish I could see him one more time, but I don’t know where he is."
He was an old salt that guarded your back while ashore. Or a young kid that became a man when
he stood beside you and fought fire or flooding without backing down. You didn’t say ''thanks' that day,
but now you wish you had. They are all there in the time that has flown away from us.
all moved on now for better or worse. Some of them did more and some we never called upon to do more again. They returned
home and went on with their lives. Names of men tested and found to be shipmates, an honor which can never be taken away.
Faces with names that we shouldn’t have lost as we traveled down the road. A road that led us away from what we did
then as it always has to. But we shouldn’t have lost all the faces and the names for all time. The faces and names of
these special men that wanted to do something few can do. They did it for reasons unknown to themselves, sometimes much less
to others that can never understand the pride in the accomplishment of what they did.
the paths we travel meet again, we will all reconnect faces and names again. But wouldn’t it be nice to sit with that
lost shipmate forty years gone and remember that life just one more time, right now?