Monday, April 15, 2013

A World Ago: Letters Home, 1954-1956 excerpt by Dorien Grey

It's not often one has the chance to become 20 again...

A World Ago by Dorien Grey chronicles, through one young man's journal and vivid letters to his parents, his life, adventures, and experiences at a magical time. It follows him from being a Naval Aviation Cadet to becoming a “regular” sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga on an eight-month tour of duty in the politically tense Mediterranean Sea.

Learn to fly a plane, to soar, alone, through a valley of clouds, experience a narrow escape from death on a night training flight, and receive the continent of Europe as a 21st birthday gift. Climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius, visit Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul and places in-between; wander the streets of Pompeii, have your picture taken on a fallen column on the Acropolis, ride bicycles on the Island of Rhodes, experience daily life aboard an aircraft carrier during the height of the cold war—all in the company and through the eyes of a young will-be-writer coming of age with the help of the United States Navy.

A World Ago is a rare glimpse into the personal and private world of a young man on the verge of experiencing everything the world has to offer—and discovering a lot about himself in the process.

A World Ago: Letters Home, 1954-1956
Untreed Reads (April 8, 2013)
ISBN: 9781611875416


21 November 1955

Several entries in this journal have begun “Nothing new today,” or words to that effect—I would rather have every day like that than one like tonight!

The movie on the mess deck was Houdini—the story of the great magician. I was sitting crouched on my chair, the better to see over the heads of the guys in front of me. About two hundred other guys were seated on benches, chairs, or the hard steel deck, or standing in the back. The movie was approaching its climax when suddenly the squawk box blared: “Man Overboard—Port Side!” The ship swung so sharply and suddenly to starboard that benches and chairs toppled and everyone was forced to the side of the hall. The lights came on almost immediately, and everyone began filing from the room, with much confusion. I saw one of the cooks and asked where we were to go—he said we had to muster on the hanger deck; that is the only way they could tell who it was who had gone over.

The scene on the hanger deck was one of mass confusion. Many planes were parked about, and guys were running every which way, getting to their stations. A jet was on the number two elevator, evidently just being lowered—I noticed it was a very dark night—the kind of blackness found only on the ocean. An officer came running across the hanger deck, yelling for guys to push the jet off the elevator and onto the hanger deck.

Since only cooks muster on the hanger deck and mess cooks muster on the mess decks, I went below. A few moments later Nick came down, looking very pale. I asked him what was wrong. He said “You can’t walk on the flight deck without slipping.”

A jet, coming in for a landing, had missed all the barriers and smashed into a group of guys preparing to launch planes—no one knew how many were dead, or how many had been thrown over the side. The bodies were scattered all over the flight deck, all dismembered. They’d started bringing them down on the elevator just after I’d left.

No one knows yet how many are gone—we’re missing two mess cooks (guys sometimes go up to the flight deck to watch operations). Six bodies were brought down, with God knows how many injured.

Sick Bay has been calling for blood donors; there is blood in the passageways leading to Sick Bay. As I am writing this, a call came to the Commissary Office to open the Garbage Disposal room so that the stretchers can be washed. The Reefers (Refrigeration Rooms) have been opened to receive the bodies. As the muster was called, I looked at the faces around me—all silent, some very pale; a few smoked cigarettes, others looked around as each name was called, wondering who would not answer. Something I will not soon forget.

Rumors and scuttlebutt will sweep the ship for days, but we will never be told how many went over the side, or how many more died. It may be in the stateside papers, but I doubt it.

And just a few moments ago, the squawk box announced, as it has hundreds of times during flight operations: “The smoking lamp is out while fueling aircraft.”

The doctor was just in, asking for keys to the Reefers again—“We found some more gear belonging to one of them—we don’t know which one.” A destroyer just came alongside with the pilot of the plane—other destroyers are busy searching for others. Let’s hope they are all found.

I could go on, but somehow I just don’t feel like it….

Another call just came for O-blood; at least thirty guys are standing in line, from seamen to Commanders. People can be marvelous beings….   To purchase, click  



Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I looked forward to read this book when Jay Hartman wrote there was little editing that could be done because how can you edit something real and true, as Dorien's book surely is. Will read the entire piece soon.

How many crashes there may have been? Way too many...

C. Zampa said...

Dorien, that is so intense.
And such a vivid up-close look at life on board.
Looking forward to reading this.

Victor J. Banis said...

Very exciting and dramatic, Dorien - and of course, told with the same panache that would in years to come enliven those Dick Hardesty stories.

Are good writers born that way?

AlanChinWriter said...

You took me back to the flight line. I never set foot on a carrier, but we had our share of drama being on land. I love how you capture the mood.

Well done.


Lloyd Meeker said...

Dorien, you remind me again that regardless of how powerful good fiction might be, there's a quality to first-hand nonfiction that's in a different league altogether.

Well done! Am looking forward to reading my copy.

Jon Michaelsen said...

Wow, Dorien! You really know how to pull the reader in with the clutch of their throat! It's no wonder you're an incredible writer. You had me there on the ship with you, which is saying quite a bit, especially since this happened to you. I found myself immediately sad and concerned for those killed and injured.

Anonymous said...

The comments so far ave been spot on! This is intense, Dorien and I was mesmerized by it.

I'll be getting a copy.

Great job!

Joe DeMarco