This Veterans Day is a bit of a milestone for me, as it will be my 40th living here in the great Evergreen State as a veteran, honorably discharged from my chosen service branch, the U.S. Navy, way back in September 1976 at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.
Sometimes I tell folks, yup, I served a full seven-year stint in our storied silent service. But Uncle Sam worked this white hat so hard that, like some old battlewagon, I had to be “decommissioned” in this naval boneyard — at the ripe old-age of 26.
When I told this to one old salt, he said I was lucky they hadn’t turned my sorry old carcass into so many razor blades. Old salts are like that. I love ’em.
Whatever it was, a discharge or decommissioning, when I left the Navy I was an electronic technician first class, ET1 (SS), an E-6. I had served all my time at sea on a Poseidon boat — the USS Benjamin Franklin (SSBN 640) — Blue Crew; a nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarine, forerunner of one of today’s Tridents.
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I worked in its navigation department. Our job was to know exactly where we were at all times, no matter where beneath the waves of the briny blue we sailed.
Oh, the sea stories I could tell! But not here, not now. Saving them for the blockbuster book I might stick them in some day. I can dream, can’t I?
No, the story I wish to tell now is about a song I started listening to back in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1969, the year I graduated from good ol’ Bayonne High and soon after enlisted in the Navy. It was released early that year, sung by Glen Campbell and titled “Galveston.”
Now the ’60s were pretty much the heyday of rock ’n’ roll in the states. And in my neck of northeast Jersey, most hot-blooded teenage boys I knew liked listening to it, not country songs. Moreover, this country song clearly alluded to some soldier cleaning his gun while watching “cannons flashin’.”
Yet for this soon-to-be-sailor about to dive into the frigid waters of the Cold War, its lyrics were highly evocative, what with all the “seawinds blowing” and “seawaves crashing” and “sea birds flying in the sun.” But when the Rhinestone Cowboy began crooning about a young lady’s “dark eyes glowing” — that clinched it for me. And this Jersey Boy has been a big fan of Campbell’s “Galveston” ever since.
During summers these days in this old sailor’s life, I like to head inland and take long, slow hikes up the scenic slopes surrounding Mount Rainier. In late July, I returned to one of my favorites, the 5-mile Skyline Trail loop above Paradise.
About halfway around the Skyline that day, I happened upon a lovely young lady with a slight Southern drawl going my way. We took turns taking pictures of each other on our phones. And when I asked her from whence she hailed, she said it: “Galveston.”
Right on cue, Campbell’s haunting refrain of “Galveston, oh, Galveston” started playing over and over in my head, as if an invisible record’s needle had been patiently hovering over that particularly dulcet passage since 1969.
I asked this pretty stranger if she knew the song of the same name sung by Glen Campbell. “Oh, yes,” she said. Then added, emphatically, that she “loved it.”
She then removed her sunglasses and there were two dark eyes glowing, straight at me — just another old sailor wending my way toward Paradise.
Yes, that was a mighty good Veterans Day prelude for this old sub sailor on that slope that day. And may all my fellow Americans be able to savor near as much — even more, if possible — on this Nov. 11.
Bill Barker of Shelton is is a proud Navy veteran, graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Postal Service retiree and loyal News Tribune reader. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org