Summer of '64
We’ve been in Jacksonville for over a week and it’s been one of the best vacations
ever with another week yet to go. Dad brought us here with Mom for a vacation
while he does his two weeks of Navy training that he has to do every summer. Along
with me, the oldest, there’s my three sisters and one brother. The youngest, Teddy Bear, we left at home with Aunt Helen. She had a baby just his age and said that taking care of two was the same as having
we are going to visit a ship. Dad gets the morning off and one of the things
he can do is get us on board an aircraft carrier. He says it’s not an official
tour. He has a buddy who will show us around but we have to be good and stay together.
We all pile into our blue station wagon, anxious to see the boat.
, “It’s not a boat,” Dad says, “It’s a ship and I taught you
better than to name something the wrong word, okay?”
Sure Dad, we reply. We’re very happy to
have Dad with us this morning because he’s been so busy with his training that we only get to see him at dinner or a
swim with us if it’s warm enough at night.
place where the ships are is called Jacksonville Naval Air Station. Dad shows his Navy card to a sailor in white at the gate
so we can get in. With a salute, the guard opens the gate and we drive onto the
base. We salute too and the sailor smiles and keeps his hand to his forehead
until we turn the corner. As we wind our way through lots of long low buildings toward the water, Dad finally shouts, “There
Where?” we all want to be the first to see her. “Over there behind
that building,” Dad points straight ahead. But all we can see are what
looks like weird antennas.
“Is that it?” and Dad patiently replies that those are indeed the ship’s
antennas and radar equipment. I’m distracted by my brother Dave’s
elbow pushing in between me and my sister to get a better look. But since he’s the only boy and we are going to see
a ship that my brother really wants to see, I let him squeeze in next to me at the passenger window in the back seat.
she’s here in front of us. Dad said that all ships were “she”.
Huge, gray, taller than any building I’ve ever seen. The chains that tie
her to the docks are thicker than the trunk of the old maple tree in our backyard at home.
For a while we all just stand in the ocean breeze looking up and up at the letters that say she’s the U.S.S.
Saratoga that Dad says means United States Ship Saratoga.
an aircraft carrier, kids. Jets take off and land on her while she’s in
the open water. Kind of like a floating airport,” he explains.
there planes on her today, Dad” Becky asks.
we see one land? That would be great!” I can’t imagine any plane
I’ve ever seen landing on a ship. Those are huge so planes on this ship
must be pretty small.
isn’t there a gangplank? Don’t they have one on this ship?” the youngest, Mary, asks.
smiles over his shoulder at Mom and shakes his head. He’s the first at
the top of the steps and is greeted by a man who is dressed differently than the first sailor at the gate. This man is wearing a matching tan shirt and pants, work boots like Dad has and a hat with a bill on it
but isn’t a ball cap. The two men salute each other and then shake hands.
“Follow me, and stay together.” The man tells us.
We wind through corridors and up more sets of stairs, all five of us sandwiched in between
Dad at the head and Mom at the rear to keep us from wandering off. Pretty soon
we step through a door and are once again outside. Hands instantly shade our
eyes as we adjust to the brightness of the beautiful summer day. Dad introduces
Mom to the man while we get oriented.
this is Mike Weaver. We’re doing some of our classes together.”
and Mike shake hands quickly so she can return to her watch over the five of us.
Becky! Stay together and don’t go near the sides.” She yells at me
and my sister who’s a year younger then me.
we say with disappointment.
asks Mike to give us a quick tour and we all gather around him, our necks craned to look at this very tall friend of Dad’s.
kiddos. The first thing is that the Saratoga is an aircraft carrier and was put
into service in October 1955.”
squeal in delight. “I was born in October 1955. She’s nine years old too!” It was fun to know the ship and I had something in common.
asked, “When’s your birthday?”
you’re older than the Saratoga by six days. So you have seniority here.” Mike laughed.
didn’t know what seniority meant but it had to be important.
led us around the ship to the towers, the command center, through huge hangars where some men were working on a plane and
finally back outside to the deck where we walked to the end that had Saratoga’s numbers painted on it. It was a giant zero and a nine or a six depending on which way you were supposed to look at it. I could
have laid down on them crosswise and still the paint would have been wider than my height.
I guessed that they were this big so the planes could see the numbers from way up in the sky.
Mike and Dad make plans with Mom to meet up with Mike’s wife later, Becky and I decide to check out the view of the
water over the side of the ship. We casually walk away from the little group
to do our own exploring.
stay away from the sides.” Mom warns and we nod in agreement.
we don’t listen to her and walk directly over to the side which isn’t all that far from the adults and the other
kids. I lean over first, Mom’s words echoing in my head, knowing that if
we fell, we’d be in big trouble and in more ways than one. Becky joined me in leaning over, fully expecting only the
ocean water to be below us.
our innocent eyes met something totally unexpected. In rope mesh hammocks two
men lay stretched out in the hot summer sun. And, they are naked! Instinctively, we pull back, wide eyed we look at each other and then lean over again. Our giggles are muffled behind our hands but are still in earshot of the men who make no attempt to cover
themselves. They just wave to us.
“Becky! Carrie!” Mom comes up behind us, dangerously close, and we back away before
we get caught. “Didn’t I tell you to stay away from the side?”
backs are turned to the men in the hammocks and I hope Mom doesn’t discover what we’ve discovered. “Sorry,” Becky and I reply moving toward her trying to avert her attention.
Mom is a smart one. She must’ve seen us giggling so she walks right past
us to look over the side just as we did. Becky and I know we’re in for
gonna catch it, but I don’t care. It was worth it.” I whisper to Becky who nods in agreement.
comes up to us and we wait for our punishment or her words of anger but for the second time today we get a surprise. She walks right between us, splitting our little twosome and heads toward the rest
of the group. Becky and I look at each other and shrug our shoulders, puzzled
why we didn’t get in trouble.
won’t tell your father if you won’t,” she says over her shoulder walking just in front of us.
“Gee.” I wonder aloud.
“Okay.” Becky says in disbelief.
rest of our summer vacation goes by uneventfully. But whenever anyone mentions our tour of the U.S.S. Saratoga without fail,
either Becky or I say, “The view over the side was great!”
And Mom smiles.