When Larry’s logging job ended that summer of 1974 Bob and I bought our first team of horses and for the next six years we cut timber with them all over Southwestern Maine. “The trick is to go light and often,” Larry advised us. “You can break a good horse’s spirit before dinner and then where are you?” Barney and Nigger (changed to Nicker) were “long in the tooth” when we bought them but we had some good years before they retired.
I remember the day my Dad and Mom met these horses for the first time. Marty and I had decided to get married shortly after arriving in our neighborhood. So we invited my folks up in May for a small family wedding. The weather was still cold when they pulled into the driveway of our farm for the very first time in their Buick station wagon.
I had been up early brushing and combing Barney and Nicker’s tails and manes. We had bought the team real cheap because they had been starved the previous winter and rescued by the SPCA. They had scabs on their haunches and their ribs showed but I was as proud as punch as my dad walked over and patted Barney’s dusty rump.
“Looks like real potential” he smiled trying his hardest not to have a heart attack on the spot. The sky was grey, our house was grey and my hair was turning grey. As we stood there trying to make the best of the situation, I heard the unmistakable growl of a “beater” car coming down our road.
We have a tradition here in Maine of buying the cheapest and roughest car you can find to get you through winter. When spring comes, you drive it out on a back road, roll it into the woods, unscrew the plates and walk home. You could always tell the arrival of winter because folks would ask each other, “got your ‘beata’ yet?”
The first guest to our wedding this cold May morning drove his smoke belching, muffler dragging ‘beater” past our driveway, then backed up, had his female passenger roll down the window and then peer across the frontseat at us. Beer cans fell to the road as he opened his car door and made his way falteringly towards my mother and father.
“Jesus Christ,” he said to my father with the most authentic down east accent you can imagine. “Where did you get them gawd damn horses?”
He made his way over past us, his tobacco stained wool shirt standing in sharp contrast to my father’s Brooks Brothers overcoat. I knew what my father was thinking. ‘Here was a real Mainer about to give us his impression of this logging team.’ He was enthralled.
“This one over here,” our new friend observed holding Barney’s mouth open for my parents to look in, “he’s still breathing but that black one, I don’t know if he will make it past noon.” Laughing out loud, he wiped his chin with his sleeve and with the elegant stroll of a man who has piled more than his share of pulpwood in a lifetime, made his way back to his ‘beater’ and was off down the road, never to be seen again.
Barney and Nick worked with us for eight years before they retired. We went to buying this ‘older’ type of logging horses because they fit our budget and because they were gentle and experienced. But after about 20 years of these “long in the tooth” horses my wife and I began to wonder what it would be like if we started from scratch and bought some young colts. It couldn’t be that hard. After all, we had been kicked, stepped on, dragged around and bitten at least as many times as our neighbors. Some of that must translate into wisdom.
So we bought two chocolate brown colts about nine months old named Nick and Willie, half brothers from the same stallion. They weighed about 400 lbs each and were easy enough to lead around. But at 16 months they passed the 1000 lb mark and were in and out of trouble every day, just like two half-ton kids.
Willie ended up in the vet hospital dehydrated, heat stroked and with a fever of 104. Two months later I found him wrapped up in some fence wire. As we slowly introduced them to farm work I could not fail but be impressed by the fear that especially surrounded Willie. We’d be walking through a pasture and a squirrel would pop out of a hole in a stone wall and Willie would jump like a jack in the box and bolt ahead, nearly trampling me to the ground.
We sought advice from a host of characters. Some told us that Willie just needed a harder workout to settle him down. Others suggested a more aggressive and painful bit in his mouth. But no matter what kind of bit we used or how tired he was, he always seemed ready to bolt at the drop of a hat. This behavior continued on unabated for eight years.
That eighth winter Willie, Nick and I were working up back on the hill behind the farm cutting pine logs for lumber. One afternoon Marty came up to join us. I had the horses teamed up and was backing them to hook onto a hitch of logs. I asked Marty to hold the reins while I hitched the load to the horses. Somehow Willie’s left rear leg stepped over a part of his harness and as I leaned over to fix it, this same leg shot backwards, knocking my hard hat off my head and sending it flying into the woods.
I scratched my forehead, turned and went to fetch my helmet while Marty stared speechless.
“It’s Ok,” I said “he only got the hard hat.”
I watched as her concern turned to incredulity, then to anger.
“How long has this been going on,” she asked. I tried to shrug it off but she would have none of it. “That kick could have killed you.”
“Yah, but it didn’t,” I replied, knowing already that I had lost. She dropped the reins and headed down the hill.
The following winter I was cutting wood on another of our woodlots with my friends Tim and Jeff. They had a logging tractor called a skidder taking out some of our bigger logs that the horses couldn’t pull and Willie and Nick and I were handling the smaller wood. It was a big deal for me to be working with these guys because back at the farm most everyone on our crew was female.
So it was doubly frustrating on day two when around mid-morning Willie and Nick refused to go back into the woods, even when I threatened them with a switch. I checked to make sure they weren’t going lame or getting sore in the harness. Just then Marty showed up to see how things were progressing. I had smartened up over the year and started appreciating how well she could read the horses. So I asked her what she thought was going on. She had me turn them again and head up the woods path and into the forest.
“Well, what do you think,” I asked after a few minutes of watching the horses not move.
“I think I know what’s going on,” she said. “They are not having any fun.”
“What does fun have to do with this?” I replied with a frustrated, mocking voice.
“If you have to ask me that, then I am afraid that I can’t be much more help,” and with that she turned and headed home.
Now I was stuck. I felt like a fool in my own wife’s eyes and I clearly wasn’t holding up my side of the log production with Tim and Jeff. I felt so helpless. Willie was clearly getting worse as he grew older. Maybe I should just give up on them both, sell them to some Amish farmers and go and find a nice broke team. Why did I have to get stuck with a 2000 lb brown eyed, terribly stubborn and complicated horse? As we turned down the logging road towards home Willie took the lead and it was all I could do to hold him back from a run.
My self-pity subsided the next day and I got up my courage to ask Marty for more help. After all, we had been together for a long time now, over 30 years. Sure enough, when I asked she jumped right in.
“I think that you need to start over again, right from the very beginning,” she said.
“How long will that take?” I queried. “Can we get things straightened out in few days?”
“No,” she said, rolling her eyes. “This is going to take more like a few months.”
Well I just about jumped up in the air in protest. I needed to get back to support Jeff and Tim. Marty just didn’t understand how vital I was to the success of that harvest. Fortunately a neighbor arrived in the driveway and I had a chance to cool my jets for a few minutes. I looked out in the pasture where Willie was chewing on some hay. He certainly was a beautiful four-legged animal. I knew deep down in my heart that if I could just get my pride under control that this whole thing might work out.
“OK,” Marty said as she returned. “Here is what I recommend that we do, starting tomorrow. “
So the next day, following Marty’s instructions, I walked up the hill behind the farm where the pasture meets the woods. It was now early January and we had enjoyed a few good snowfalls. The horses liked to come up here and eat their morning hay and get far away from me and the work I had lined up for them. Everyone in the small herd was watching my advance and ready to move off at a trot if I got too close.
This time, however, I brushed the snow off a tree stump, sat down and did nothing. I was quiet, eyes shut, motionless. After 20 minutes I got up and, without looking at the horses, walked down the hill and out of the pasture. The whole thing seemed like a total waste of time but a man can handle some pretty stupid feelings when he’s at the end of his rope.
I returned the next day and the day after. Marty kept telling me to have no expectations as to what might happen, just keep it simple, sit down, show no interest in any of the horses, then leave. Some days, especially the warm and sunny ones, I was totally with the program. But other days were hard, especially the ones when I kept reminding myself that it was I who had been working with logging horses for the better part of my adult life. Marty, God bless her, she rode at Camp Teelawoocket when she was 12 and that was that. Those days I began to backslide. But for some reason I kept my mouth shut and did as she suggested.
Then on one day during the third week something very special happened. I had been sitting, more like dozing on my stump for the allotted time and was just about to get up and walk away when I felt a warm breath on my left ear. I turned slowly to face Willie’s nose. I raised my right hand and stroked his chin. All at once an unexpected rush of emotion coursed through my body. Tears came to my eyes. I slowly rose up, sighed a deep breath and made my way down the hill towards home.
The next day the same thing happened. Willie showed up at my side, laid his huge head on my shoulder and this swelling of emotion again rose up in my body. But this time, as I stood up and stepped down the path, Willie stayed hooked on to me like a magnet, following my every step.
We crossed the brook, turned at the barn and headed for his stall. I instinctively walked toward the harness area to find his halter. Just then Marty came out of the house and peered at me from the woodshed.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I am about to put on his halter.” I replied.
“Please don’t do that. Just pat him on the head and reward him for following you.”
So I did just that. I scratched behind his ears and walked away.
The next day I went up back, sat on my stump and after a few minutes, I felt the warm breath again on my neck as Willie came over to say hello. Again he followed me up to the barn and this time I gave him a good brushing.
One week later after visiting the field several times with a halter in my hand, Willie let me slide the smooth ropes up over his ears and around his chin and with a slack halter rope drooping from his chin to my hand he followed me to the barn. I would stop, he would stop. I would walk again, he would follow. We passed the wire fence he had wrapped himself up in when he was four. We passed through the field where he and his brother had run away with a mowing machine. And now he was walking by my side, his head low and relaxed, connected only by a slack halter rope. But as we crossed the bridge over the brook, everything changed.
All at once his nose shot up, his head turned to look into the far distance and as a chipmunk skirted up an oak tree 50 yards away, a bolt of fear vibrated through Willie’s body and all 2000 lbs of him jumped into the air and came to rest inches from my feet. His body trembled and he prepared to run. My instinct kicked in and I grabbed the halter rope and yanked his head towards me.
“Go ahead,” I screamed in a panicked voice. “Run over me, you son of a bitch”. But Willie didn’t move, just looked beyond me into the forest.
Slowly a deep rumbling began deep down inside of me. My eyes filled with tears and I began to sob like an old motor that had not run in a long time. It came first in fits and starts but soon I was forced to bend over while my inner soul retched out some powerful anguish. For several seconds I was barely aware of Willie’s presence. But then I felt the rope in my hands. Like following a lifeline in a blizzard I made my way towards him and putting my arms around his neck and hugging him as tightly as I could, I embarked on some serious grieving.
In my mind I saw a small boy on a beach with his mother. The weather was sunny but the mother was ever vigilant, nervously pacing back and forth by the water’s edge while her young son played in the waves. Then I saw this same woman, standing by her kitchen window as she watched the rescue workers carrying her dead husband out of her life forever.
I had never come to terms with the extent to which fear controlled my mother’s life. Unwilling to travel, afraid of new restaurants and constantly on guard for new diseases that might invade our house, she managed to see her life and her loved ones through a prism of fear. I had spent my life unwilling to forgive her for this fear, the demon that had robbed her from me. I had been unable to appreciate what it must feel like to live with this emotion 24-7. But here on this bridge on a winter afternoon Willie had opened a new door for me, had given me a very short but powerful preview of a life ruled by fear. For the first time in my life I found myself crying for my mother.
I don’t know how long we stood there. But when I finally let my arms go from around his neck, Willie breathed in deeply, dropped his head to face me, and let out a long sigh.
“I am starting to get it,” I said to his huge brown eyes. “Don’t give up on me and I won’t give up on you”.
When I first joined the USS Lloyd Thomas she was birthed at the Charlestown Naval Shipyard in Boston undergoing structural repairs. Being Deck Officer meant that I was in charge of a rough and tumble group of men, some a good deal older than I, who were responsible for scraping the rust off her hull, repainting her, then washing her decks, welding her cracks, then scraping and painting some more. When I was not on board I was sharing an apartment in Cambridge, working with my friends to protest the war and explaining to their friends why my hair was so short.
Within weeks of my arrival on board the ship the Executive Officer, second in command to the captain, asked me into his office for a friendly chat. He suggested I put a little more effort into my public demeanor, i.e. trim my curls, polish my shoes, and press my uniform. I tried to tell him that being in the Navy was not really my idea. He told me that I had better shape up because we had just received orders to proceed to Newport, R.I where we would join with a convoy and head to the Tonkin Gulf and the war in Vietnam.
“Folks over in Nam won’t cut you much slack so get your act together!” he smiled.
Several weeks later we left Boston to join the larger squadron. It was then that my captain over my suggestion signed the combat ready form for the 5 “ gun barrels, I had a college friend who was on the sister ship to the Lloyd Thomas birthed just down the pier so I took a stroll over to see Ed. It was on a Friday and as it happened he was in his stateroom getting ready for a short weekend leave to see his folks.
“Do you know,” I asked him “what would happen if our 5 “barrels cracked while we were doing fire support?” Ed had been at Harvard with me, we had done a summer intensive Naval ROTC training together and both our parents were 100% Boston Irish.
“What are you up to now?” he asked, looking at me over his glasses that were perched at the end of his nose.
I explained what had happened on the Lloyd Thomas.
“Well, what do you plan to do about it?” he followed up.
“That depends on the answer to my first question”, I replied. It turns out the Weapon’s Officer of Ed’s ship was still on board. Ed asked Lt. Jim to join us and when he did, Ed presented him with my question straight up, no explanation.
“Well, said Lt. Jim, “first you have to understand that what you are shooting from the 5” barrel is not your standard bullet that comes out of a rifle barrel. These projectiles are filled with explosives that are timed to explode when they are about 8’ above the desired target, sending out shrapnel in all directions to tear body parts off the enemy.”
“Just imagine if the projectile accidentally explodes prematurely in the ship’s gun barrel itself. A new barrel is designed to direct the shrapnel forward to harmlessly fall into the ocean or on the deck. An old barrel with cracks might be technically unable to accommodate such a failure. The explosion could be directed backwards into the gun mount where a firestorm could result with heavy casualties”.
“Now remember, I said technically,” Lt. Jim added. “Thank God I have never seen that happen”. I thanked Lt. Jim for his thoughts and he smiled and departed.
“So now what?” asked Ed. “You know Pete, probably nothing is going to happen over there. If you make this a big deal, you are going to find yourself eating a ‘ration of shit’. This is not Social Relations 101. These captains are keen to get over there so they can have the Vietnam Commendation Medal pinned on their chest. They are not going to take very kindly to your concern for detail”.
Actually Soc Rel 101 had been one of my favorite classes in college. I took it during the fall of my junior year when I was just about flunking out. For the first time I found students and professors who were willing to put aside the pretenses of an Ivy League education and wrestle with the emotional and sometimes spiritual issues that faced all of us. I had been spending more time protesting the war than studying and my grades reflected this. I scrambled to try and climb out of the bottom quarter of my class from where my draft board would send me to the Army. I already knew a classmate of mine who had died in Vietnam. Joining Navy ROTC ensured that I could stay in school. Graduation was still two years away. I would worry about the war then.
The day after my talk with Ed and his roommate, I found myself ringing the doorbell of well-kept brick home in the nearby town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. It was on a ridge, one side sloping east to a view of Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod and to the west over rolling fields filled with sheep. I remembered that when I was a young child I had come to a nearby monastery with my father to visit a Franciscan monk who had a border collie that worked these very sheep. As I stood wondering if the monk were still alive a pretty middle aged woman in a tartan skirt opened the door. She was the wife of the Squadron Commander of our Pacific bound flotilla.
“Hello”, I said with as much courage as I could muster. “My name in Peter Hagerty and I am an officer on a ship here in Newport that is part of your husband’s squadron. I was wondering if I might have a word with him.”
I was warmly welcomed in as if I might well have been a college friend of one of her children. She invited me to sit in a sunny room with copies of Turner and Constable paintings hanging on the wall. I knew these artists because my Uncle John had been an art collector. She offered me a cup of tea and assured me that her husband would be down shortly. This was not going to be as bad as I had thought. I smelled a roast of beef cooking in the kitchen.
All at once the Commander of our destroyer squadron was standing in the doorway.
“Good afternoon Mr. Hagerty. How do you like Portsmouth?”
Well that was the cue for me to talk about how I had played soccer against a school just down the road. And I brought him up to speed on my visit to the Portsmouth Priory and of course I told him how much I appreciated the romantic influence of Turner and Constable. He joined me for tea and I soon felt that we were becoming the best of chums. Then all at once I heard the sound of my own voice and slowed to a stop.
“So how can I help you on this Saturday afternoon?” he asked kindly. My host was dressed not in military attire but in summer weight wool pants and a light blazer. He could have easily been the Commodore of the local Yacht Club.
“Well sir, I am the Deck Officer on the Lloyd Thomas, a ship in your squadron and as you know part of my duty is to make sure that all my crew and the equipment we operate are in safe condition.
“I was asked by my captain to certify that our 5 inch guns are combat ready. During an inspection, I detected problems with the barrels of the forward gun mount. When I reported this, he refused to address this concern and signed the combat readiness sheet over my objections.”
My host reached into his coat pocket and took out a pipe, lit it and filled our corner of our bright little room with smoke.
“In addition I recently learned of the dire consequences that would result should these barrels be compromised during firing.” The volume of smoke increased.
“How long have you been on the Lloyd Thomas?” he asked.
“Just under a year,sir.”
“Very well. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will discuss it with my squadron staff and I will let you know of the outcome as soon as possible.”
The meeting was over. I made my way to the door and we shook hands good-by. No invitation to stay for lunch but in any case I hoped that I might see him again. I truly enjoyed meeting him and his wife.
Monday morning came along and my country jaunt to Portsmouth had already taken a back seat to the pressing issues being discussed at 8:00 am staff meeting. I stood at ease and listened to the Executive Officer’s work orders for that day. Unexpectedly one of my enlisted men appeared. He politely interrupted the meeting.
“Excuse me sir,” he announced to the Exec. “There are some men here to see Mr. Hagerty”
“What men” queried the Exec, slightly amazed that anyone would want to see me.
“Sir, they say they are from the Squadron Commander’s office”.
I was excused and as I made my way to the upper deck I was pleased to think that my new friend the Commodore of Portsmouth was so fast acting. I was surely on the way to meet his staff and give my report first hand.
Standing at the gangway of our ship were two burley military policemen with very serious and somewhat nervous expressions on their faces.
“Yes, that’s correct”
“Sir, we are under orders to escort you off the ship now. Please come with us.”
Something in their tone just did not sound like they were escorting a valued member of the Naval Service to the Commander’s staff meeting.
“Let me just get my briefcase, I have some notes I would like to bring with me.”
“I am sorry sir, but we are under orders to escort you off the ship. We must leave now.” Out of instinct, the older of the two found his hand going to his handcuffs. He stopped however and slowly tried to regain his composure. Something started to smell like a ‘ration of shit’. Before I was to leave with these men I needed to let my fellow officers on board know that something was up.
I turned to the quartermaster who was standing nearby on the gangway, checking everyone who came and left the ship. He happened to be in my division and a very smart young man.
“Pomerantz,” I beckoned. “I am being escorted by these two men off the Lloyd Thomas. Would you kindly take down their names, ranks and serial numbers and report that to the Captain?”
“Yes sir,” said Pomerantz smartly. Then I turned to our two guests.
“Gentlemen, am I under arrest?”
“No sir, not at this moment.” Now these guys were really getting nervous. They had probably never had to “escort” an officer before and even as I tried to control my own rising fear, I felt sorry for them. Pomerantz was also quickly realizing the implications of what was going on.
After my escorts had given the quartermaster their ID particulars we headed up the gangplank and down Pier #7. Someone once had told me this pier was 6 football fields long. In spite of all the comings and goings of trucks, jeeps, and men getting ready for war, I felt that everyone on all these ships was watching our little parade.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked.
“Just a little further, sir”. Sweat was running down my back as we reached the end of the pier. I realized that my poorly polished shoes and my curls were not about to work in my favor no matter what lay ahead. I was suddenly overcome by an image of my disappearing and no one ever finding me. Just at that moment a sign on the building that we were about to pass came into focus.
Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG)
I had been to a workshop here months before about the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a set of rules that lays out the legal process in all branches of the US Armed Forces. At the time I felt it was pretty boring stuff but as I veered off to the left and up the stairs, I saw this office as a refuge.
“Gentlemen,” I said, reaching the top of the stairs and facing my alarmed escorts. “With all due respect (and I meant it) if you are going to charge me with an offense under the UCMJ, then charge me and arrest me now. Otherwise I am going in here to consult with my attorney. You may either wait out here or come inside. I suggest you do the latter as it probably cooler inside and I am sure there is some refreshment here as well.”
The tables quickly turned. My respect for their awkward situation coupled with my authentic concern for their comfort caused them to acquiesce. I was now the officer and they were the enlisted and I was making a reasonable suggestion. They chose to remain outside.
Twenty cubicles comprised the layout of the first floor of JAG headquarters. And in each cubicle sat a Navy lieutenant with a law degree. The vast majority had joined the service as combat desk jockeys. This would be the closest they would come to shrapnel and gunfire. Their days were filled with representing naval personnel involved in automobile accidents, drunken brawls and divorce. I chose the seventh cubicle on the left and introduced myself to Lt. Lowell Noteboom.
“Excuse me sir, I am in some kind of trouble and I could use some help.”
We talked for a full hour, or rather I talked and Lowell listened. I told him everything that had gone on over the last year from my gun barrel incident to getting sprayed in the face by a skunk in the garbage pail out back of my Newport apartment. When I had exhausted my historical repertoire, Lt. Noteboom stood up and walked toward the window.
“I have been waiting for someone like you to walk into my office ever since the first day I arrived here in Newport,” he said enthusiastically. “Don’t you worry; we will set this all straight.” I knew then I had an ally and a new friend and things for just a moment looked brighter than they had in a long time.
He went outside and sent the guards packing with an order that they return with formal charges. But they never returned. He gave me his office and his home phone number, told me to return to my ship and to call him every four hours to “check in”.
Back on the Lloyd Thomas life was busy. Chipping paint, checking anchor lines and covering the ever-present rust, my deck crew continued to get the ship ready for the first leg of the voyage to Vietnam. Then several days later the captain announced that we would go to sea to test our engines. After lunch in the wardroom he asked to see me in his cabin. I had not been in his stateroom since that fateful morning months ago.
“Mr. Hagerty, we have a guest on board for this sea trial. I would like to berth him in your room. You have a spare bunk I believe.”
“Yes sir, I will make sure he is comfortable”. That was it. Dismissed, I made my way below. No mention of my unorthodox visit to his senior commander. I called Lowell.
“Look Pete, it may be nothing. I regret that we will be out of touch while you are at sea but I can’t imagine anything sinister happening. You have some good friends on board, just stay close to them.”
It was now approaching early Fall. The weather had been unusually warm and I prayed that no storm systems came our way. We got under way on a Friday morning and I was on the bride watching the Jamestown Bridge pass overhead when a friendly voice announced, “Well, I guess I am your new roommate”. I turned to find a Lieutenant standing to my right.
“Jack Braiden” he smiled and stuck out his hand.
“Pleased to meet you sir,” I replied.
“Let’s forget the ‘sir’ if it’s alright with you. I live in up state New York and am in the Naval Reserve and I am doing my two weeks active duty so I am barely a ‘sir’.”
I liked Lt. Braiden right away but I remembered Lowell’s cautionary advice so I kept calling him ‘sir’ in any case. My morning watch ended as we passed Martha’s Vineyard and we went down to the wardroom for lunch. Because Jack had no apparent assigned duties, he ended up hanging out with me, helping where he could. He thought nothing of running an errand for me and I found myself relaxing and looking forward to his presence.
The weather was holding and the early fall nights at sea were spectacular. We ran into the New Bedford fishing fleet off the Grande Banks and their lights lit up the dark ocean like a remote city on the prairie. I was on the bridge on Saturday standing my midnight to 4 am watch and was surprised to have Lt. Braiden join me.
“Can’t sleep on nights like this,” he said. “Never was much good at sleeping at sea. What got you into the Navy?”
He had an easy way of getting me to talk. The ocean was calm and we just had one radar contact we were following that was 12 miles off the port bow. I told him about growing up, then about Harvard and how I went there because it was the only place I got in. He thought that was hysterical.
“This guy from Harvard,” I explained, “he came to interview the students at my boarding school. It turns out that he was an alumna and wanted to see what the campus looked like after 20 years of being away. Because I was one of the few in my class who hadn’t applied to Harvard, I was chosen to take him around. We went to his old dorm room, the hockey rink, and the chapel. He told me stories of his time there, just typical stuff but not building himself up at all. In fact he was pretty modest. It turned out that we had similar interests and so we got along real well.
“Then he tells me that he sees a lot of him in me and says that I could go to Harvard if I wanted. Of course I was complemented that he said this but didn’t think much more of it and we finished the tour and went to supper.”
“Then three weeks later a letter arrived at my school and it was signed by this same guy. His name was Fred Glimp and he turns out to be the Director of Admissions. He writes in the letter that I have been selected to go to Harvard the following year if I want. Of course my parents flip out because their ultimate dreams have been met.”
“It never really occurred to me not to go there. I mean I hadn’t even applied. So I ended up going by default when my other college applications were rejected.” Jack hunched over with laughter.
The night slipped on. I was happy to pass the 12-4 watch talking with my new friend. Over the next three days we talked a lot. My guard would sometimes go up in the cool light of the morning but as the days drifted along I came to look forward to these “casual conversations” around the ship. On some level I was eager to find someone with whom I could share my fears and frustrations.
The last morning we were at sea we talked about the war. We were back by the stern of the ship and I was supervising my men getting ready for the ship to enter port. I finally decided to tell him of what had happened with the 5 inch guns and what I might do if push came to shove. I told him how I had secretly and illegally traveled overseas to England and France several months prior while on two weeks leave to see if I could handle the idea of deserting. I found I could not. I saw him draw back into himself. Maybe I had misread him. Perhaps I had crossed a line and for a moment had lost his respect.
“Look Peter,” he said. “Thank you for sharing your stories with me. I have truly enjoyed our conversations over the last few days very much. It is clear to me that you are sincere in your beliefs and your concern for the safety of your men. But in the end it doesn’t matter what I think. You have chosen to enter a very dangerous situation and you have to be very careful from now, especially choosing what you say and to whom you say it. Be very careful!” He shook my hand rather formally and was gone.
I was busy with my crew for the remainder of the morning as we entered port and secured our ship to the pier. I was also watching out of the corner of my eye for anyone on shore that might be looking for me. When I finally got to my bunk, my roommate was gone. When I called Lowell and gave him an update, he did a search of Naval Reserve officer personnel and no Lt. Braiden surfaced. He told me that we were now to resume our daily check in’s and not to leave the base for any reason. Fear once again became my daily companion.