P.O.D.

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USS WILLIAM H. BATES (SSN 680) tied up pier-side in Diego Garcia, B.I.O.T. circa 1983, reminding us that freedom is bought with nothing less than the sacrifice of our veterans.

(Originally posted on www.ssn-680.org for Veterans day 2018. and revised for www.coldwarboats.org)

Veterans Day…

You called. You called for aid, for someone to stand in the gap. You called in war, because the enemy was at the gates. You called in peace, because the price of peace is eternal vigilance. You called because there was no alternative…

We answered. We all had our reasons, but we answered the call. We put on the uniform. We kissed our wives and sweethearts goodbye, and walked across the brow to take up life on a 5500 ton, 300 foot long, nuclear-powered submarine. Most of those days we had no idea when, or even if we would return. Often we didn’t know where we were going until the hatches were closed and sealed, the boat was submerged, and we were well underway into our next mission. But we answered.

We didn’t count the cost. We didn’t ask how much, or how long, or why. We just went. We left our homes, and endured months and years of physical and mental training to prepare us to fight. We surrendered our rights under the Constitution and lived under the Uniform Code of Military Justice because we learned that practicing democracy is not effective in defending democracy.

We trained, and drilled, and trained and drilled some more, sometimes to the point of exhaustion and collapse, because we learned the hard way that you bleed in training so you don’t bleed in combat. We often spent 11 months out of 12 at sea, because submarines are not meant for the comfort of the harbor, but the danger of the deep blue, and it would not be prudent to let the enemy bring the fight to us.

We voluntarily gave ourselves to the service of the U.S. Navy, without regard to the impact it would have on our life, our schedules, our plans, our careers, our families, or our future. We even offered up our very lives, gratefully spared, so that we might be here today to celebrate Veterans Day, and not remembered under a slab of white granite on Memorial Day.

We spent very little, if any, time thinking about these things. We simply answered the call. We groused and complained, because that is what sailors do, but we did what had to be done, every single time.

One hundred and twenty of us lived together in a submarine 300 feet long and 30 feet in diameter. We came from every corner of the country. Alaska to Florida, Hawaii to Maine, and all points in between, and some points across the sea. We found that where you were from mattered little compared to what you could do for the mission.

We represented every strata of our economy and culture. Wealthy, poor, single, married, inner city, upscale suburbs, rural farms and ranches. We found that financial situation and the community you were raised in made no difference at all provided it had taught you respect, responsibility, integrity, and all the things that build a reliable character.

Every race, color and creed worked side by side. Black, mocha, cappuccino, brown, tan, bronze, golden, pink, ashen, white, albino, and every shade in between, which meant precious little, because we all bled red, froze blue, and a few minutes on the surface in a confused sea turned most of us green.

College degrees, high-school diplomas, and self-taught polymaths lived and worked side by side. If you had knowledge and information, you shared it because your survival might depend on it.

Religion and spirituality? We ran the gamut. From atheist to Bible-thumper, Christian or Jew, agnostic or animistic, we were learning that we had much more in common than we had that was different.

We lived in a crucible. It wasn’t easy, but we had no choice but to make it work. It molded us into a sophisticated weapon, merging man and machine into a single mission-oriented entity. Our character was forged on the anvil of submarine hull metal under the hammer of crisis and conflict, and tempered by the depth and breadth of the indifferent and unforgiving sea.

But we answered. We didn’t do it for glory, and certainly not for the money, thin as it was. We each had our reasons, and we are proud to have answered the call. We didn’t do it for thanks, or the veterans discount, or free meals on Veterans Day, or even the reserved parking spot, though we are appreciative and flattered that you would remember us in this fashion. We probably could not even have articulated why we we served back when we were serving. It was just simply the thing we had to volunteer to do.

Today we look back and perhaps we see more clearly. It strikes many of us that we did what needed to be done then so that all of us, not just us veterans, but each person who calls him or herself an American could live with the same opportunity that we shared when this adventure called life started for us. The opportunity of freedom to choose, freedom to succeed, freedom to live as we desired, and perhaps most importantly, freedom to say what we think. Our forefathers said it more succinctly in the Declaration of Independence - they sought what we defended - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today we see a country divided. A country that struggles to find its lost national identity, once a country of opportunity and a beacon of hope to those that were poor and oppressed. A country that, despite all this, is still those things, even though our reputation is tarnished and stained. And we grieve.

We swore an oath, to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that oath, as is often tritely said, has no expiration date. An oath that requires us to speak up for which we paid such a high price. It is not sufficient to sit idly by while our freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness is denigrated by those that would divide or destroy the country that so many have given so much to preserve.

So to close, I would ask simply this. If you truly are thankful for your veterans and what they have bought you, and I suspect that deep down, you are, then live as if that is the case.

Simply live a grateful, thankful, life.

Live every day with gratitude, in everything you say and everything you do, for the men and women of this country that, sacrificing everything, put their lives on hold, and sometimes gave them up that you, yes, even you, would have the freedoms, the prosperity, and the rights and privileges that you do.

We have done what you asked us to do. We answered the call.

It is now up to you to carry this forward.

Earn it, with gratitude.

 

 

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U.S. Naval Institute News

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