Thirty, forty or fifty, the number doesnt matter. its just a measure of the time that has passed. Its the faces and names of the shipmates that matter. Faces and names, names and faces, are not always matched up. Shipmates remembered even if its 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 dont 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 dont 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 didnt say ''thanks' that day, but now you wish you had. They are all there in the time that has flown away from us.
We have 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 shouldnt 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 shouldnt 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.
For when the paths we travel meet again, we will all reconnect faces and names again. But wouldnt it be nice to sit with that lost shipmate forty years gone and remember that life just one more time, right now?