Night aboard 'Blue Ghost' recalls past sailors
BY PATRICK HUBBELL
June 5, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.
The nation celebrates Memorial Day and D-Day close together.
Memorial Day puts me in mind of all the things going home means. D-Day is the day we began to take Europe back from the murderous regime of Hitler and the Nationalist Socialist Party.
Homer sang of the exploits of gods and Greeks. Odysseus was trying to go home. All the trials he had to face were taken literally but are now taken as metaphor.
D-Day puts me in mind of the time I spent the night on an aircraft carrier. At 10-hundred hours April 25, 2009, I boarded the U.S.S. Lexington in Corpus Christi, an aircraft carrier sent to the Pacific Theater during World War II. With me were about 20 other Boy Scouts from a local troop along with hundreds of others for an overnight stay. I didn't volunteer for this mission. I was deployed by a superior officer - my wife.
This was not a typical Boy Scout campout. For starters, I didn't have to pitch a tent, blow up a mattress or unfold a cot. No logs, no fire, no checking for spiders under the seat in the outhouse and no flashlights to guide the way. Best of all, I rested in air-conditioned comfort. In fact, it was a lot like sleeping in a museum, with one small exception.
Men died in this museum.
This U.S.S. Lexington, the fifth U.S. Navy ship to bear that name, was slated to bear the name of U.S.S. Cabot, but after Japanese torpedoes sank the U.S.S. Lexington, CV 2, this ship took the name to carry on the torch of the revolutionary spirit. According to the information provided onboard, there is always a ship with the name Lexington in continuous action. This U.S.S. Lexington was attacked twice. In 1943, she sustained a torpedo attack that killed crew members in the chief's quarters. In 1944, a kamikaze pilot flew into the island structure, killing others.
She sinks beneath the deep blue seas each evening, all hands aboard, only to reappear each morning on the horizon.
The U.S.S. Lexington, or Lady Lex, was also called the "Blue Ghost" because she was painted dark blue and was the only carrier not to wear camouflage. Tokyo Rose had to continually revise her reports of the demise of this ship. It's an aircraft carrier large enough to hold six football games. It was a floating city with every conceivable amenity a city offers: a medical center with X-ray machines, three dentist's chairs, a barber shop, post office, library and a game room.
Unfortunately, the game room was located directly above the sleeping quarters, and the ship is, after all, made of good American steel, which conducts sounds remarkably. The flight deck is three floors up, but I will never know if the sound of airplanes hitting the deck is enough to wake me up. The bunks were comfortable enough, but you're just one man among others, and there may be one above and one below you, amplifying the snore volume.
Still, I slept soundly enough. The air-conditioning was a nice feature that wasn't available for all the sailors floating on that tub during World War II. Plus, I was reasonably sure I was going to wake up safe and sound the next morning, something not assured for the man who was sleeping on my bunk 60 years ago.
On Memorial Day, we honored the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
They left home because their country called them. They were drafted, or they signed up. However they ended up in uniform; they went. For the young soldier in the battlefield, going home means outfacing the well-greaved Aechaeans at Troy, so he can go back to his beloved wife and children back home in Ithaca. Some didn't return. But they are going home, too. Please, God, be merciful to them.
Patrick Hubbell lives in Victoria and is a Spanish teacher in the Victoria Independent School District.