|Download PDF of this full issue: v48n2.pdf (20 MB)|
A Fulcrum Moment
By Gregory Ross
Upon turning 19, I got drafted. I joined the Navy. After boot camp, I was sent to Communications Technician School. Upon graduation, the Company Commander, a tough but fair, First Class Petty Officer, addressed the entire class about our Office of Naval Intelligence clearances and that adherence to confidentiality was paramount; lives depended upon it. He called out a recruit's name, then his duty station. The first names were being sent to Europe; next embassy duty in Asian countries. He was going from most desirable to least. He announced shipboard duty and Da Nang in Vietnam. As he got down to the last three; he paused and said there are things about the Military that we do not know, that no civilian, no military personnel without "Top Secret, Eyes Only" clearances are privy to. The three of us, now very nervous, have the "Eyes Only" designation. Deadly serious, he dismisses the rest of the class, closed, locked the door and announced, we were being sent to a very Top Secret, first of its kind, duty station on the moon.
You might not believe we could have been that gullible, but it was 1967, the infancy of the Space Age, our mean age was 19, and you were not in that room. He said it was a three-year deployment, obviously without leave, that we would be able to communicate with our families but, only by mail, delivery of which would be very slow. We can not tell them of our whereabouts. He goes on to say, in case of a dire emergency, we can communicate by voice, and it is only a twenty-five-second delay between transmissions. Then he laughed.
It was quite a surprise when he smiled and softly said, "I want to apologize to the three of you. Hazing is a tradition. This is not your real duty station." Then he told us we were going to Morocco. He reminded us of the recent "Six Day War," that a Naval Vessel had been attacked by the Israelis and many ships' personnel were killed and injured, including CT's. He remarked that it was still "hot" over there and then he turned to me and said, "Ross, is that a shortened version of some Jewish name? DOD is not sending Jews to any duty station in that area." I replied, "No sir, Scottish."
Upon arrival, we were told to report to orientation at 0700 the next day. I was assigned to a unit of six personnel: five of us on our first enlistment and one lifer, Ray King, a First Class Petty Officer. He and I did not get along but, I never broke rank, always treating him with "respect." I also never missed a chance to point out his mistakes, which were numerous.
One day the Chief Petty Officer told me that as senior Seaman I was in charge since King was out with appendicitis. With no further comment, he left. I addressed the others, "I am going to ask for your help. We have a chance to show the brass that King is a waste. We know how to work together. I would like us to show up King." Everyone agreed that was a good idea. We found out that in those four months we set a record for both volume and accuracy.
I was about to make Third Class Petty Officer. About a week after King returned and the unit went back to just get the job done mode, the Senior Chief came into our spaces and called me out. He walked me to his office where the LT was waiting. They all talked about what a great job I did. They were smiling in a way that made me feel both excited and apprehensive. The Senior Chief said, "The LT went up the ranks and got permission for you to skip a grade, all you have to do is take the next 2nd Class test. You have plenty of time to study."
Then I did it. I tipped this fulcrum moment. I said, "Sir, I appreciate the offer, but with all due respect, Sir, I will have to turn it down. I am only putting in my time, Sir." My fear was that if I moved up and got comfortable, I would get sucked in. The rest of my enlistment I was both proud of myself for living my convictions and regretted the loss of money and comfort.
Gregory Ross was in the Navy, serving in Morocco, Six Day War (1967), Philippines (1968), and Vietnam, 7th Fleet, Gun Line (1969). Published in Anthology: "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace," edited by Maxine Hong Kingston.