Monday, October 14, 2013

A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1956 excerpt by Dorien Grey

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

A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1956 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, currently being narrated as an audiobook, 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: A Navy Man's Letters Home, 1954-1956
Untreed Reads (April 8, 2013)
ISBN: 9781611875416

Excerpt: (letter written to his parents describing his being released from the Naval Aviation Cadet program)

13 July, 1955

Dear Dad

---And so ends the short & not too tragic career of a would-be Naval Aviator. The “stationery” is filched from the Jackets Office, where I am now sitting awaiting a trip to the Admiral tomorrow morning.

In a way I feel quite bad, & yet in another I am quite relieved. At least now, barring a war or act of God, I shall be sure of getting out of the service alive. And just think―a year from this October I’ll be a civilian again!

A Speedy board, I think I’ve told you, is a contraction for Special Pilots’ Disposition Board. This board is composed of the Captain, a Commander, & other assorted Lt. Commanders & such―a total of five men.

I, with five other guys, was ordered to report before the Captain at 1000 Tuesday, 12 July (the night before, I’d seen a movie called Black Tuesday). The captain’s office is located in the Administration Building―the last room on the right in the center corridor. Outside his office is a long grey bench, typical of Naval furniture design. Here we sat. One by one we were called into the office. Each guy would be in there about ten minutes, then he would come outside while the board debated his case. They then would call him back & give him the verdict.

On one side of me sat a young ensign, who would get up frequently & walk up & down the passageway on pretext of getting a drink, or looking outside at the rain, which has been falling intermittently for four days. On the other side sat a fellow NavCad whose shirt, from under each armpit to well below each pocket, was the dark olive drab of wet khaki.

Farther on down sat a guy who wants to DOR, calmly (or apparently so) reading a pocket novel. I also was reading from a book of short stories.

One by one they went in, to come out minutes later, go back in, & come out once more, giving the thumbs up signal. Finally the field was narrowed to three―the DOR, the ensign, & me. The ensign remarked “I guess they’re saving the best for last.” The DOR was next. When he came out he told us that they had been highly indignant & tried to get him to stay in, saying that “well, we made it & everyone else makes it―why can’t you?” Hmmmmmmmm. He was forwarded to the Admiral, however.

That left the ensign & me. I knew who was going to be last, but I hoped I’d be wrong & get it over with. In between the dismissal of one & the calling of another into the office, there would be a five minute interval while they reviewed the jacket (wherein are all the records of the student since pre-flight) of the next person.

Sure enough, in goes the ensign. Well, at least now I knew that I was bound to be next, since there wasn’t anyone else.

The ensign got a down―he had wrecked an airplane while at Whiting Field, & had three downs here. He was to be given a depth-perception test before being sent to the Admiral.

And then it was my turn! I was completely over being nervous by this time; either than or in that state of nothing that lies just beyond nervousness. Major Keim, a marine & Saufley’s safety officer, called me in. (“Margason?” “Yes, sir.”) From the corridor you walk directly into the Captain’s office―no vestibule or small office between. On the floor was a thick blue or green carpet. Behind the Captain’s desk, in the center of the room, were two large windows, flanked by American flags. Around the room were leather sofas & lounge chairs, with a small table or two between them. Directly in front of the Captain’s desk is a green leather lounge chair. Major Keim said “Stand at attention beside the chair,” which I did, looking straight ahead, out through the venetian blinds of one of the windows. The Captain said “Sit down, Mr. Margason,” & I sat. The Captain is a thin man, almost gaunt, with greying hair & an almost mean look about his face, which is deceiving.

Mr. Margason, you are before this board today because you have failed to meet the standard requirements set up by this field. You have received unsatisfactory marks on your F-4, F-4 re-check, & F-12. You are a below average student & show no signs of improvement….” And so on. After the run-down, the Captain said “We are going to ask you several questions―you may feel free to say whatever you wish.”

The questions came fast & furious, mostly from a Commander who sat on the Captain’s left, in the corner of the room. They started with “Why do you want to fly?” To which I answered that I always had, but there was no one reason. “Are you interested in mechanics?” I answered that I understood all the basic principles necessary, but that as for a desire or talent for taking engines apart or putting them back together, I had no great attraction.

Do you drive a car?” “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “Do you try to think in a coordinated, analytical way?” I said I tried to.

When it came Major Keim’s turn, he said “You realize, of course, that you have set a new mark in below averages in headwork?” No, I didn’t. “The record up until this time was 32―you have 38. After 16 you aren’t average, after 24 you’re far below average, & after 27 we start watching you.” The Captain interrupted to ask how many I’d gotten here at Saufley & was told six, which he remarked was a big difference. Asked why I got so many, I said that I try to do things right, & when I make a mistake, I get irritated with myself & consequently make more mistakes. Also that I learn some things slowly.

You realize, of course,” continued Major Keim, “that the Navy works on a time basis―we only have so much time we can give. Do you think you would be a detriment to the Navy?” I said I most certainly would not try to be, & that all I could do was to try my best. After more questions of a similar nature they told me to wait outside.

Rather than try to repeat the long, court-martial sounding verdict, I will say simply that I got a down. After taking all things into consideration, the facts that I learned slowly, had had bad luck at Corry, & all, they were afraid they would have to forward my case to the Admiral. One of them said “Do you feel a little better now?” And I said “Not particularly, sir.” The captain said “You have a very good attitude,” & I said “Thank you, sir.” “If you have no further questions, that is all.” “Thank you, sir,” I stepped one step backward with my left foot, did an about-face on my right, opened the door, & went out into the hall….

Your Banished but undamaged son

Another excerpt from A World Ago, view April 15, 2013
Currently being narrated as an audiobook
To purchase from Untreed Reads, click
To purchase from Amazon, click


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I hope somehow you told that officer, "Screw you, sailor boy!"

Lloyd Meeker said...

The clarity of your prose has carried forward from those letters into your fiction, Dorien. The story flows unimpeded, and with authenticity, without manufactured intensity. I was going to say, "grounded authenticity," but given the story I'm glad I didn't! lol.

I'm also put in mind of a quote attributed to Einstein: "If you measure intelligence by ability to climb a tree, a fish will go through its life feeling stupid."

Of course, the military is probably not the best place to expect development of uniquely individual skills...

Victor J. Banis said...

Dorien, that's priceless - and I think we all are grateful you didn't make it. Who knows who we'd have for our fearless leader in that event?