The River

by Mike Hemming
 
 

The river gives birth and life. Later, the river may watch life ebb and die. This one has seen the birth of many submarines. Finally, it sees their final sad passing.

I have returned many years later... My boat is gone but for the memories. As I look down the river to the builders yard, it’s quiet now this dark starry night. Under a clear sky, the green water shows the gold reflections of the town’s light. No welder’s sparks show a hull being welded strong and tight against the sea. Like all boats, mine was born of fire, brass and strong steel. Men in anger at a sneak attack had made her real.

Later, those men’s sons would build boats to prevent an attack by another enemy that would have destroyed our world and the attacker’s world. For near a century now, this river’s work has made us strong and helped keep us free.

The men that sailed those boats came to this river. Came here to train and join the crews, to sail submarines into the seven seas. Young men, starry-eyed and brave, brought hulls alive. They studied, tested and welded themselves into a crew strong like the steel of the vessels they took to sea.

Most returned, but 52 did not... The gods of war do not always smile on all. Those men must forever remain always on patrol. Those, now battle hardened men, that did return swore that they would never forget their shipmates. The school upriver, from where I now stand, still trains and reminds young men, like we all once were, to never forget those boats and men.

Young men still come to this place to become sailors of submarines. What makes these chosen few take to this life under the sea is not known. They themselves often cannot explain it. Something inside deep in the heart and soul allows them to do it. Once done they are forever different and will always stand a little apart from the rest. Like their ships, they were built for a higher calling.

The river flows like time past me, to remind me of two other boats that never returned. The crews forever part of the sea and our history. Sadly, some day they may be joined by others, though we pray that they won’t. That is why we remember so fiercely not to forget them, so slackness will not kill submarines and men like us.

My boat did return to this river flowing eternally to the sea. Her job done, her crew gone and her career over, she was scrapped. The instant the first torch cut into her that last time, it burnt off a little piece of many men’s souls and mine. For we were welded to her and each other in our hearts. As she lived we lived. As she died, a little of us died too.

I watch a dark hull slip quietly down river to the sea in the dark red half-light of morning. No diesel rumble or the swish of parting river comes to my ears, so silent and deadly are these new boats. I raise my hand to the brim of my hat. I give solemn salute to the boats and men that this river has spawned in the name of liberty.

A thought comes to my mind as I stand by this place while the submarine passes downriver. If some of the steel of my old boat was put in this one, will that little piece of my soul that flew free join the new one?

In my waning years I know that, 'just one more time' will never be. But if part of me has joined this new boat and the river before me, I will be content in those years.

 

BACK