A Mine!

During Desert Storm, the USS okinawa was the Senior ship of our Amphibious Group. Being the Senior ship, she was leading a a couple other ships in a single file.

My job as a Signalman was to send and receive messages visually by flashing light, semaphore (if the other ship was close enough to see that), and by flags (during daylight). In order to maintain an open line of communication, you had to constantly watch the ships in your visual range in order to see if and when they would signal you. This made for some boring nights. Certainly we watched more than we communicated.

On one particular cold night, I took first watch aft to monitor the following ships for signals. This was the more desired watch, especially on a cold night. The perfect perch because there was a large storage box to sit on next to ships exhaust stack but lower down from the stacks opening that kept us from inhaling copious amounts of exhaust. It would get so warm there that within a few minutes you would remove your jacket for comfort. I was the watch supervisor so naturally I took this choice position first. To be fair though, we would rotate positions every couple hours.

I was at this aft position when one of the most harrowing nights I had ever had in my navy stint begun to unfold. An hour or more into my cozy perch, one of my watch mates from the forward position came running to my aft position. Excitedly he told me that an object floating off our starboard bow appeared to be a mine! The forward watch position had an optical device designed to detect chemical/biological releases. It also had an infrared filter that we used more frequently. I followed my shipmate to the forward position where a third signalman was tracking the object with this optical device. I looked into the device and saw exactly what they saw. I can still see the image now. It haunted me for years later. There in the field of view was this sphere with spikes reaching outward. If you ever seen WWII navy movies, you have certainly seen this same image. The sphere appeared to be 5 to 6 feet in diameter, bobbing in the calm waves, about one half mile from our ship. I rushed into our office we affectionately called the signal shack and called the Bridge on he the ships intercom system we knew as the bitch box. (I’m not making this up. That’s what the navy calls it.) I quickly relayed the information to the Officer of the Deck (officer in charge that runs the pilot house of the ship, the Bridge). I don’t remember the officer’s name, but incredibly he denied my request to illuminate the object with an unfiltered searchlight. I wanted desperately to warn the ships aft of us. Instead he asked for me to describe the object! After quickly describing it, he told me that the mines being used by the Iraqis were nothing like the WWII type of mines. I went back to the aft position and tried to call the ship behind us with a filtered signal lens. I passed the information unofficially using an operator to operator, informal message. Basically a signalman to signalman conversation. Unfortunately,  morse code via flashing light isn’t very fast. An above average would be 12 words per minute. Gut wrenchingly slow with such an urgent message to convey. All during the transmission I was half expecting an explosion. I held my breath. The response I got from the other ship was that they couldn’t see it. As each agonizing minute went by, I figured the chances improved for the following ships to miss it. To my relief, all ships passed safely.

After my service, I had often replayed the events of that night. Mad at my self for not disobeying orders and illuminating that object unfiltered. I kept recalling the image I had seen in the viewer of that optical device. Did I really see what I saw or did I trick myself into seeing what was explained to me? Since I was so worried about this all these years latter, how much more difficult would it have been had one of the ships took the hit?

Fastforward about 6 years later to 1997. AOL was the popular internet access via dial-up. One of the first things I did was to look up images of Iraqi naval warfare mines of Desert Shield/Storm. And there on my screen was an image of a Navy Seals practicing on deactivating a mine that eerily resembled similar characteristics of the object we saw that night.

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UGH!

 

 

 

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Breakfast With Ted

It is kind of funny now that I look back on some memorable moments I experienced in the Navy. As I review my list of blogging inspirations, I am noticing a strange parallel to Forrest Gump. Take this story for example.

IN 1987 the USS Okinawa was on duty in the Persian Gulf escorting merchant vessels through the Straights of Hormuz. Apparently Iran was threatening to commandeer Kuwaiti merchant oil tankers and we were stepping in to ensure their safe passage. This cruise kept us away from home during Christmas of ’87. It was after we were on station for a few months when Senator Ted Kennedy arrived on our ship late afternoon. He stayed the night. The following morning as I went to the galley for breakfast I sat at the first available table to scarf down my helping of powdered eggs with Tobassco. (Strange that. There never seemed to a shortage of Tobassco while other items were substituted with local products. Like regular cows milk substituted with goats milk.)

It was somewhere between the first and third scoops of eggs that I noticed three civilians in suits standing around the table I sat at. They each had the clear plastic ear piece in place. Aware that I may have selected the wrong table, I stood to make my move to another. Then one of the suits spoke and said that the Senator was coming down to have breakfast with the troops and it was not necessary to move.

Seconds after this conversation, Sen. Kennedy arrived in the galley and chose to sit directly across from me at the table. I was dumb founded. All of my 20 years of knowledge poured
forth and I heard myself saying to the Senator  “So how are the Celtics looking this year?” (Way to go genius!) He was very kind not to point out that I had not asked about world events, our mission, what it is like to be considered American Royalty, any swimming lessons since Chappaquitc. (Okay, that last one I did think of but was wise enough not to ask). The moment came and went. True to thinking quickly on my feet and being quick minded, I choked. Then, while sitting there contemplating the next profound thing to say to the historic senator, he took a helping of his own powdered eggs and proceeded to converse with a mouthful. To my horror he actually lost some small morsels of egg and it landed into my plate!  The added social infringement completely destroyed any chance of me recovering from my before mentioned command of the English language. In truth I think I momentarily lost any recollection of English as I focused on the very morsel freshly spat onto my plate. Hungry but with no sense of appetite, I sat politely and did not eat another bite.

And as my apparent doppelganger Mr. Gump would say, “That’s all I got to say about that.”

Daughter

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She is marrying the love of her life. A surprise to her family and to her as well. She has fallen madly and deeply for another woman. All of my preconceived notions and ideas of my daughter’s wedding are already going “not as planned”. A woman? She never once gave the inclination that she was romantically interested in women. Her past romances scattered with the broken hearts of young men. Why would I expect anything different? Then an additional surprise. Her love is transwoman.

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As a parent I searched frantically through a faulty memory. Where did we take this left turn at Albuquerque? What specifically occurred to my daughter to “make” her this way. Then it occurs to me. She is exactly what I hoped she would be.

As a parents often do, we always want the things that will bring happiness to our children. We want them to grow to be independent, loving, kind, and charitable. But do we really want them to be independent? My answer has always been “yes” but I really didn’t fully grasp what that “yes” implied. Now I do.

Independence means that she forms her own ideas and opinions on politics, even if they do not conform to mine. Independence means that she thinks for herself, discerns her own perspectives on a range of social issues and religious beliefs even if they are complete opposites of mine. In short I really do not want her to parrot my beliefs. I want them to be her own. It is up to me to look past our differences and love her for the daughter she is and has become. I find it refreshing too that her choices challenge me to look more closely at my own beliefs.

Then I’m aware of another notion. She has kept these two worlds separated. The world of her childhood that includes a conservative Catholic father from the world she has found her independence in the LGBT community. The courage she had to muster to announce who she is finding herself to be. The courage her bride mustered to tell my daughter who she is. Through it all, Love remained, steadfast and true.

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I met my new daughter-in-law two days before the wedding. She is WONDERFUL! intelligent, witty, hilarious, and obviously loves my daughter. How could a parent not love someone like this. She is more analytical which compliments my daughter’s free spirited leap before looking approach. At a diner I catch a shared glimpse between them that communicates understanding without saying a word over a topic that I know my daughter has strong opinions about. I soon forget my daughter-in-law is trans and see her for the person she is. It’s her personality that makes this easy.

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She has become exactly what I had hoped for. All my worries of the woman she would become are being put to rest in the story being told to me by a dear friend of hers at the wedding reception. He tells me that my daughter swooped in at a moment of chaos. Like a modern day Mary Poppins she righted all the things that appeared to spin out of control. His partner was seriously ill in a hospital. His son needing to be picked up and brought home for the evening. He was torn and in a moment when he was needed in two places at once. My daughter arrived at the home after her friend brought home his son. She tells him to go to his partner’s bedside and she would take care of everything else. He leaves and she does.

My daughter’s kindness and willingness to immediately involve herself in her friends lives touches me. Her genuine concern for others while springing into action to ease his anxiety while comforting his child with the best level of routine she could provide warms my heart. Yet I find the most pride in the fact that she doesn’t pander for recognition or praise by reciting this moment to other friends or family. It’s the hallmark of genuine love.

Sarah Sept. 2013

I have discovered a wonderful woman. True to her passions, comfortable in her own skin, and courageous. I see her and she is my daughter.

 

Timothy William Romei 03/11/1968 — 10/08/1990

Tina, Thinking of Tim and your family this Memorial Day. Util that beautiful reunion, God bless you and yours.

Start Close In

October 8, 1990 was the day my life was split in two; before and after. That was the day my beautiful oldest son Timothy Romei, a corporal in the US Marine Corps, was lost in a helicopter collision over the Gulf of Oman with seven other young men during Operation Desert Shield. I can remember the moment as if it were yesterday. Below is a piece I wrote several years ago just to stop it from running so constantly through my brain; it so clearly describes what it was like.

 It’s Monday morning, October 8, 1990.  Rudy and I are sleeping in.  Two more days of vacation before I go back to work.  The phone rings.  It’s my sister.  She asks if I’ve watched Good Morning America.  I tell her no, I’m still sleeping.  She said they announced that two helicopters from the USS Okinawa, Tim’s ship, have crashed.  Eight killed. …

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Remembered

On Memorial Day I am always mindful of an incident that occurred on October 8th, 1990. It was during the Desert Shield portion of what later became the Desert Storm offensive maneuver. I was a Signalman in the United States Navy aboard the USS Okinawa (LPH-3) .  This is my account of the event as I remember it nearly 24 years later. Any errors are completely mine and mine alone.

The Okinawa was an amphibious class man of war. Her main function, a helicopter base at sea for the Marines. She looked very similar to an aircraft carrier. A flat top that covered her entire width and length with a superstructure slightly aft of amid ship on her starboard side. My work station was on the upper level of this superstructure. From there I had a “front row seat” of the Marines helicopter flight operations.

I was the Watch Leader of a three man team on the midnight to noon watch. As Signalmen, it was our duty to send and receive ship to ship messages using primarily Morse code via flashing light. It is a nonexistent duty in today’s Navy.

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In the pre-dawn hours of October 8th there was not a ship to be seen. We had other ships (US Navy) in the vicinity, they were just beyond the horizon. Without any ships in visual range, I sent my team down to the galley for breakfast. The seas were calm and peaceful in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman. Two Huey helicopters were warming up on the flight deck for a very early morning flight exercise. It was still dark and they both were going to use night observation devices to navigate with for acclimation. These were usually goggles that the pilots would wear in order to see while flying with lights out. These early models worked well but did have a distorting visual effect and took some time in getting use to. Soon after their Huey’s pre-fight checklists were completed the pair lifted off and were soon out of visual range. After their departure, a calm silence returned. All that could be heard was a gentle breeze in my ears and the rhythmic “swoosh” of Okinawa’s bow gliding through the Indian Ocean’s lazy swells. It was the last time we would ever see them again.

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Huey (UH-N1)

A little while later, I went to the starboard side of the superstructure to hoist the stars and stripes. It was our custom to bring the flag down during the night to save on the wear and tear of our flags. We ensured that it was hoisted again before dawn. Just as I was tying off the lanyard and still facing the bulkhead, I saw a flash of light reflected against the bulkhead. My initial thought was that some Marine just snapped a picture outside, violating the Navy’s “darken ship” policy. As I made my way back to the “Signal Shack” to log the time I hoisted the ensign, I overheard on the ships intercom CIC (ships Combat Information Center) telling the Bridge that they had just lost contact with the two Hueys and no longer saw them on their radar.  It was then that I reported to the Bridge and CIC that I had witnessed a flash of light off our starboard. CIC confirmed hat was the relative direction they were last seen in.

The Okinawa and a couple of other US Navy ships spent the rest of the day searching for the crews and aircraft. I was in one of Okinawa’s motor whale boats assisting in locating and retrieving debris. In our boat we hauled in flight helmets typically worn by helicopter crew. (Helicopters typically kept extra helmets and head gear onboard). I also remember hauling in a first aide kit. The Okinawa was the primary recovery ship and all items found were brought to her. Late afternoon the search was concluded. No sign of the pilots or crew members were ever recovered. I recall seeing helicopter pieces being reassembled in the hanger bay like an NTSB investigation. A portion of helicopter’s main body, several pieces of propellers, (none longer that 6-10 feet), all laid out on the hanger bay deck. It was obvious that the destruction was utterly catastrophic. It was later concluded that the two helicopters collided into each other.

In a flash of light eight men perished.

Capt. William D. Cronin USMC 29 yrs old
Capt. Gary S. Dillion USMC 30 yrs old
Capt. Kevin R. Dolvin USMC 30 yrs old
Capt. William J. Hurley USMC 27 yrs old
Sgt. Kenneth T. Keller USMC 27 yrs old
Sgt. John R. Kilkus USMC 27 yrs old
Cpl. Timothy W. Romei USMC 22 yrs old
LCpl. Thomas R. Adams USMC 20 yrs old

WRITE!

“write”

There it is again. That persistent craving. You could set a clock by it. Every first morning of my weekend as I brew my first cup of joe. There is something magical about mornings for me. I always prefer sunrises to sunsets. That quiet moment when your thoughts begin to gather.

“Write.”

Just as quickly as that little craving arrives, it’s sinister, repressive sibling comes along and begins to reason with me. I suddenly think to myself that I have nothing important to say. Surely no one would waste their time to read my ramblings. Then just as quickly as this debate starts, it’s over. Another win for Creativity’s repressive sibling, Doubt.

“Write.”

Not today! Today I will give in without a care. I’m going to start this blog. Share my thoughts and perspectives unsolicited. Throw it out there with no apologies and see what comes back. Get ready cyberspace. Hear my bytes!

“WRITE!”