The Grey Lady and the Sailor

by Mike Hemming

Standing there, he hears the voice again that came from so far away after all these years,

"You came."

It is the same voice that called him to this deck when he was young.

"Yes I came, I heard your call. I didn’t realize it was you at first. Why did you call me?"

"I called all of you. You came as some of the others will too. I called because my time is at an end now... I will be cut up for scrap. I was hoping to be sunk in the sea with the others, but it is not to be."

"Yes but why me? Why not one of those brave men that fought the Japanese with you from your days of glorious battles. My time with you was just long training and cruises to nowhere. We had fun... But there was no glory in our Cold War."

"Your wrong. There was no glory in their war, either. Just sinking ships by gun and torpedo or being sunk by depth charge, mine or gun. Until the war was over, our story couldn’t be told. Then it was lost, in atom bombs, nuclear power and aviation."

"I called you because you men kept me alive. I was built to last 7 years, to defeat the Japanese war machine. But because we were needed and you and men like you sailed on me, I lasted over 28 years. Good years, they were... Filled with young men, that cared for each other and me. Men that worked, played and sailed hard, and we won that war too, in the end. Not for glory, just for our country."

The sailor thinking, smiles and answers,

"Yes, they were good times, weren’t they? The world was our oyster on 100 bucks every 2 weeks."

Then frowning, he says,

"We lost our share too Cochino, Stickleback and men in ones, twos and threes to fire, drowning and accidents. Men that lost fingers, hearing, chunks of time and marriages doing what we did."

"Yes you did. Nobody ever said submarining was a safe business. But you men did well, training each other to do the job right, all the time. You should be proud of yourselves."

"You should also think of the things they asked us to do, changes and things added to our jobs. Radar Picket boats... Now there was a program well named, Migraine, and Regulus, firing rockets from our decks. And the guidance boats... For them having to get even closer to the enemy coast was dangerous too."

The sailor thinking says,

"Yeah, and making boats into troop carriers like the Sealion. Then adding snorkels and learning how to use them, always in danger of hydrogen gas and flooding the engine rooms."

"Then came the Guppy conversions, our finest hour, with beginning to learn all about high speeds submerged and what can go wrong there."

The sailor says,

"We were always ready. Cuban Missile crisis... Patrols off Russia, Korea and Vietnam even... Following the bad guys, we did it all. Until the nukes were built in sufficient numbers, we were the workhorses of the undersea fleet."

"Yes, you men should be proud of yourselves, I'm proud of you."

"Look across the harbor... Those young men on that new boat, they are you. My kind has changed... Faster, deeper, quieter, longer times submerged... But don’t think those men are different. Whatever lives in you, lives on in them and the men that will follow them."

Then the sailor knows he will never hear her voice softly call to him again. He hunches his shoulders in the cold... Stuffs his hands into the pockets of the foul weather jacket with its shabby collar, stains and faded ship’s patches. The jacket, smelling strangely of mothballs and an odor like no other, is his armor and shield that protects his memories from floating away.

Turning inland, back to where he came from, so long ago... Remembering the first time he heard her call, he smiles softly thinking of her last words.

"Remember to honor those among you that didn’t return. Memories of them carried in the heart, will last longer than stone or bronze monuments."

"For when there is no need for us any more, there will be no more man."