The Foolishness of Youth
Often when I tell this story, I get that look. An eyebrow will cock, a snarl will play on a face, or someone will shake his or her head in disbelief. Few people are rude enough to call me a liar. Most folks are polite enough to marvel at my story, their expressions belying their words. Though this response is disingenuous, it’s done with good intentions. On the other hand, there are family members and friends who take my story at face value and a small number accept it outright, as the God’s honest truth. To these folks I should dedicate my novel. For those doubters, who can’t believe two teenagers could get away with such an act, I have written this book.
So where do I begin? Surely, it must begin with the person who thought up this escapade: Bernie Suarez. I would never have dreamed of attempting such a foolish feat, myself. Truth be told, though, I was ready for such an adventure. I had always wanted to go to some exotic place I had read about in books. Why not Hawaii? There was, Bernie told me, a famous naval base there—Pearl Harbor, a fantastic beach, and lots of Hawaiian girls—just my kind of outing. It was only a few months until graduation, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Of course, if I had been serious about my future as many other students, it would never have been tempted. In fact, I would never have been at my naval air reserve meeting at Los Alamitos where the proposition was hatched. I was restless and on edge. Many of my high school friends were talking about college or joining the service. I was, at that time in my life, not college material, and the very thought of going off to fight a future war, such as the recent conflict in Korea, seemed terrifying. I had never gotten along well with my parents, so I couldn’t stay at home, at least not for long, and yet the alternative unless I got a job, found my own place, and bought a car after graduating, was joining up with the navy, army, air force, or marines. That day I talked to a navy recruiter I was presented with a short term solution: join the naval air reserves, attend weekly meetings, until attaining the rank of airman apprentice or higher, and then, at a time of my choosing, serve two years of active duty on an aircraft carrier at sea. So, just as there was a precondition in my mental state for letting Burnie talk me into our trip to Hawaii—the desire for adventure, there had been a precondition in my mind for joining the naval air reserves: a short term solution for my sloth and lack of ambition.
The naval air reserves in 1960 included bases such as Los Alamitos, Alameda, and Barber’s Point, all of whom Bernie and I would visit in a series of hops (flights on military aircraft), which in our case were fraudulent, unscheduled capers by two teenage recruits. Today, thanks to budget cuts, these bases no longer exist. For that matter, the aircraft carrier I would one day serve on, the USS Hornet, is a floating museum. The navy, as a whole, has changed. Sailors are treated much better now. There is more equality; in fact there are women sailors, just as there are women soldiers, airmen, and marines. When I served on the Hornet, it was all men. The only women we had on board were visiting wives, relative, and friends. Those lucky sailors in today’s navy share their ships with women. I must say things have improved for servicemen as a whole. In most ways, however, the laws and ordinances in the navy haven’t changed. If anything, because of Homeland Security and the threat of terror, the security on bases and regulations for travel are stricter…. You certainly couldn’t get away with what Bernie and I had done. We would be in Federal Prison if we tried that today.
But this conclusion is seen through the lens of time. At first, I only suspected that what we were doing might be illegal and wrong. Ironically, despite the dangers of such a harebrained plan, the meetings at Los Alamitos where the plan was first conceived were the safest place for a guy like me. I wasn’t a risk-taker. I had no desire to break the law. There was little or no stress in this stage of my intentions to join the naval air reserve. As soon as I turned eighteen, I signed up and bragged to all my friends. Though I realized it was a serious move, it seemed like a logical step for a slacker like me, far better than going to basic training to become a GI or a Marine. One day I would have to go active on an aircraft carrier. Who knows, during my inactive duty, I might even get a job, go to a junior college, and get motivated. I would have plenty of time to decide. There was no telling, considering the communist countries and unrest in the world, what dangers lie ahead, but I was better off than my pal Tommy Walker, who was going to join the Army and Sammy Stewart, who was signing up for the Marines. Anyhow, considering my options, that was a long time away. All that would change one day, but that would require another book. Herein lies one story from my life, my Hawaiian Escapade, inspired by nothing more than the foolishness of youth.