Arriving and Leaving

by Mike Hemming

"Watch this one," Wes said, "Green as grass with hayseeds in his hair, but they never look back."

Yes, as we went down the pier to our new boat, seabags on our shoulders, boot camp blues with E-2 stripes on, we never looked back. There was nothing behind us and everything was in front of us. A new boat, a new life, qualification, living and learning was ahead. We wanted the boats and we got them, now to prove we deserved it.

We walked toward black submarines, to supposed adventure, to learning, to growing up. Not ever knowing why we wanted to, but doing it anyway. We did grow and learn, the adventure came too sometimes, and most times we survived it.

We made friendships that defy explanation, city boy and country kid, bonded even today by the Dolphins they wore. Made brothers somehow inside a submarine, a brotherhood that lasts to the grave and beyond.

A cold December wind whips my bell-bottomed gabardines, sea bag on my shoulder above an E-6 crow, walking down the pier.

Behind me the COB says to the watch, "They always look back. They move on, having a new life to live, but they will always look back at this one."

At the sea wall, I turn and look back... The nest of subs looks the same as the first time I saw it. It has not changed, but it will. I have changed and its time to move on. That life changed me, I am forever a submariner. Today as I look forward I also look back, to friends and a life like no other.

Shivering in the cold, I turn, passing a young sailor heading down the pier, orders in hand, I watch until he reaches the brow. He never looked back, I smile, they never do. Until later.