The Smoking Lamp Is Now Lit

The sounds of the engines began to sound like conversation,muffled, yet meaningful. The distance from home hit him. A distanceso large it could be easy to get lost in, even for the Navy’slatest fighter aircraft. He felt acutely that he was, worlds awayfrom his beginning.The forced draft blowers whined in unison, just below him, asthe flight operations began. He could feel their vibration on thecold bulkhead his sleeping rack was bolted to. All that iron, onthe water, being furiously pushed away from all that he loved andwas familiar with. He felt it in the pit of his stomach.There would not be a real morning. A recording of reveille wouldsound as the lighting snapped on, with that odd squeaking sound ofbare feet on immaculate linoleum installed on a steel deck.Conversation wouldn’t start right away. The sailor’s etiquette ofunloading men stacked in shelves three high would work itself outfirst. But the quiet wouldn’t last for long.This day there would be quarters on the hanger deck for fourmain machinery room. Usually the “black gang” (engine roompersonnel) headed down the steep stairs called a ladder that endedup in the unbelievably hot engine room that held two boilers andthe number four main engine.The boiler tenders and machinist’s mates weren’t much fortradition and not used to forming up for inspection. Ray Searlesheld a greasy concoction of bacon and bread he swiped from the messdecks as he was on his way to the hanger bay. As he took formationit was behind his back and he was on the next to the last line ofmen. As the inspection team headed away from him he would eat thesandwich, as it came closer sweeping across the formation towardhim, he would stow it again behind his back, assuming the group’s”parade rest” instructions.Behind him a small spot of grease formed. He timed hisconsumption of the greasy mess perfectly. Finishing it just beforethe officer stood before him and then moved on to the next man. Thesailor behind him watched closely, admiring Searles’ rhythm as hesyncopated with what would have otherwise been a dull exercise.The observer was focused, wondering what would happen to thedaring sailor and the sandwich that was beginning to smell so good.And all he could think of, thousands of miles from home and next tobattle ready fighter aircraft was, why didn’t I get asandwich?