Last night, at a Hampton Roads Writers Open Mic event, I heard the talented D.D. Delaney do one of his skits, called “Life After War,” with his harmonica. In the skit he played taps. It prompted the following to come out of me:
When I was in the Navy, I made two cruises off Vietnam on the carrier Kitty Hawk. Hearing taps every night at 2200 became routine, just another end to a boring day. The chaplain’s prayer before taps was just as routine.
When the ship got to Yankee Station off North Vietnam, we were allowed “free mail.” That is, instead of a stamp we just wrote FREE in place of the stamp. On this particular trip, we were scheduled to reach Yankee Station at 0200 in the morning. (It took one and a half days to reach Yankee Station from the Philippines.) In typical military fashion, the announcement was made over the 1MC speaker reminding us when the ship would reach Yankee Station – and not to put an envelope with “FREE” on it till 0200 on the particular day. This announcement was made every hour it seemed. The particular chaplain who said the prayer before taps on this night had a habit of chatting with God before the prayer.
As he started his chat he said, “Well God, tonight the ship expects to enter the free mail zone. . . .”
Someone from the back of my shop shouted: “Do you really think he gives a shit?” Most of us ended up laughing as taps was played.
Later, I was a contractor on the carrier Enterprise when there was an explosion and fire off Hawaii during a training exercise. Twenty-six sailors were killed. I couldn’t get off the ship till the next day. That’s the only time I’ve seen and smelled shapeless masses in body bags. That night the mournful sound of taps really touched my heart. I’ll never forget it.