Sailor Since Four

I joined the Navy when I was 17, fresh out of high school and plucked from the far reaches of a diminutive, low country town named Darien, where the biggest industry was crabbing and the wild Georgia shrimp grew plump and succulent, fed by the nutrients that flowed abundantly from the Spartina marshes and estuaries.
I loved small town, simple minded people where a handful of friends spent time sitting in each other porches, making baskets, boiling peanuts and tossing football.

From time to time, they would be a celebration, a family birthday, a milestone anniversary or when their beloved Bulldogs just kicked the living s*** out of 'Bama or Ole Miss, or LSU or their arch-rival Gators.

Normally pop would get the pot of hot water boiling, steaming the red potatoes until they were tender and the skin just melted off in the sizzling Georgia heat.  Next came the smoked link sausages, a full bag of crab boil seasoning and four pounds of the freshest wild Georgia shrimp bought off the city docks earlier that morning, the fleet of shrimp boats hoisting its nets wide with pride in the early morning mist.

And I loved the sea -- raised on a 40-foot yawl for most of my childhood existence, I was naturally drawn to the peace and calm solitude.

Now I wanted to see the sea and travel to ports where only story books showed.

Born in Hong Kong in the late 60s, while the war in Nam was still brewing, I knew all along I was destined to roam free. When I was four-years old and having a blast in this bustling urbanity, I remember vividly the night my mother woke me and my sister up as if our lives were suddenly on the brink and my future on the balance. Our bags were already packed and we sneaked out of the flat that we knew and called home; my father was somewhere around, sound asleep, unbeknownst of our clever escape as we were also unbeknownst of the fuzzy horizons that lay mysteriously ahead.
For the first time, I had got to know an American, who became my father, and we pulled anchor at the wink of dawn. Our first destination to be followed by a string of remote, exotic destinations was Manilla and this is the city where I thrilled the shores and chased the gulls and was graciously presented a name by the local filipinos that stuck with me till this very day -- "Chito".

After sailing extensively throughout Southeast Asia to the likes of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, to the most remote reaches and beaches in the Philippines, we finally set anchor in the port that would become our home for five years -- the Lion City of Singapore.

Then when I was 12-years old and spoiled by unstructured, unschooled lifestyle, my family decided we had reached our critical juncture in life--we shipped the boat and purchased a one-way ticket to the US, reaching new shores, new hopes abound. 
But we were sad to let go -- we loved this city, the food, the friends, the culture -- every single and social bit of it. And we were sad, outrightly downtrodden, when we had to reluctantly wave goodbye.
With all the excitement and adventure, you would think we would settle down in a major metropolis with lots of culture and festivities somewhere along the eastern seaboard or western shores.
However, we rested our weary and travel-ached bones in a quaint, backyard town of Darien, population 1,500, where we learned to live slow and enjoy the Golden Isles sunset along the saltwater marsh and we promised never to sail the high seas ever again. 
We loved our country and my mother, my sister and I became proud, naturalized citizens and upon graduation from high school, I decided to break our family promise of dismissing the seas so that I could give something back for the country that gave me great hope.
My first duty station after boot camp in frigid Great Lakes, Michigan was initial training school in Dam Neck, Virginia Beach to become a radar operator aboard the fast frigate, USS Francis Hammond (FF-1067) stationed in Yokosuka Japan. It was a small ship of barely over 200 and we were one, tight family who embraced our new culture and country with respect and admiration.

This duty station was also the most family-oriented -- a chance to get to know my mother's family who resided in Kobe, Japan. They had not gotten to spend much time with my mother since she left Kobe to Hong Kong in the early 1960s to be with this charming, seductive man who would become my father.
And it was from an opportune port visit in December 1986 in Hong Kong that I got to visit my father for the very first time since I was four. We talked as if it was our very first time to hold a conversation, we cried and he asked me about the night that we slipped off never to be seen or heard again for an eternity.
It was a tear-jerker and too emotional for the likes of a budding, 18-year old Sailor who wanted to spread out and stretch his wings. We said our hurried good-byes as the ship was preparing to weigh anchor hoping to unite again, and not having to wait another 14 years to do so, but knowing deep inside that the days were numbered and there would be more port visits in other distant lands between here and now.

I did return to Hong Kong later, much later in my career, that I was already a commissioned officer, this time aboard a sprawling aircraft carrier (USS John C. Stennis), but it didn't matter much anymore -- my father died just a year after I visited him, I always pondered whether he had waited for this time to cherish memories and to bury the past before he had to go -- his soft, tender ashes scattered like seed somewhere along the South China Sea and my memories clung on distant and long hoping never to fade.

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