The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for October, 2020

Tacked Man

I looked up on a cool spring day, but the sun was nowhere to be seen.  In its place, sat a round steel hatch, closed and latched against the world above.  

Had I been on the other side of that hatch, I still wouldn’t have been able to see the sun, though I would be beyond any man-made structure.  400 ft of seawater still would lay between me and the rays of light, and the air my life depends on.

Suddenly, that thick steel hatch seemed a rather frail defender.

Nonetheless, my face reflected a defiant confidence, an unspoken ease born not of safety, but of knowledge, and faith.

Under my uniform, a silent twin trickle of blood seeped into the cotton of my undershirt.  It was hidden by a slightly bent and battered set of Dolphins, the measure and mark of the Submariner.  Pinned to my chest scarcely an hour previous, blood trickled from the holes in my chest where the backing pins had been hammered into my flesh by my shipmates congratulating my passing the last of the rigorous benchmarks to qualifying as a full-fledged member of the Navy Submariner.    I felt no pain, though the next day would reveal a deep purple around the imprinted marks I would prize for the rest of my life.

I gazed intently at that hatch in triumph.  I had beaten its intimidation.  I was no longer a prey of the Sea.  I was a hunter in my own element.

This last weekend, I have once again stared into the eyes of some of those men with whom I served 30 years ago.  We greeted each other, spoke, laughed, almost cried at times as we engaged in unsupervised shenanigans, reminiscing, tales of hilarity and horror common to our experience.

But behind each pair of eyes, whether in somber remembrance or the hilarity of jokes only we together would understand, each man present bore the same marks of the Sea, of the knowledge of what always (usually) lay beyond that hatch.  Over that awareness, like a cloak against the cold of night, lay an icy confidence in each other, in a knowledge put to the test in that steel crucible, in an unbreakable brotherhood, rested a smile reserved for that other common brother of our our craft, death itself.

There is a look, a presence in the eyes, that to those who have not looked upon the thousand hazards, the subtle, deadly details of submarine world, utterly unrecognizable.  But to we who have seen the inside of submerged, closed main hatch, it is forever unmistakable.