Anchor’s Away

It was December 25, 1996. The USS Briscoe, DD-977 was returning from a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. After a long, arduous journey across the North Atlantic Ocean, we were finally approaching Chesapeake Bay. This was a beautiful site after fighting the frigid 30-foot seas of the North Atlantic for two weeks. As we slowly approached Norfolk Naval Base, I could smell the familiar malodor of the bay. Usually, this would have made my nose crinkle, but today, it was delightful. The sky was indicative of a normal day in Norfolk. It was dreary and dejected. The wind should have cut through me like a knife as I was standing at ease beside the life lines on the bow. On this day, however, the frigid air did not phase me in the least. I felt almost numb. The adrenaline was pumping the blood through my heart so fast that the frigid wind bounced right off of me.
As the tug-boats pulled and pushed us closer to the piers, we prepared to moor-up and drop anchor. Like synchronized performers, my shipmates and I came to attention, turned, and saluted the Captain, who was standing on the port bridge-wing. Then, everyone scattered across the bow to man the mooring lines. The port authority crew on the pier stood ready to receive our toss-overs. They all looked the same, wearing navy blue coveralls, blue hard hats, and black gloves. A pair of shipmates and I were manning the most forward port mooring line. We were the first to toss over. The port crew caught the toss-over and started pulling as we lowered our line down the side of the ship and into the water. They pulled and pulled until they had the end of the nylon mooring line in their hands, lashing and looping it around the bull horns on the pier. As soon as they were finished, we started pulling back on the line. It was thick, bulky, frigid, and saturated with sea water. It would tighten and loosen as the tug-boats were pushing us into the final docking block. We would loosen our grip and give it some slack. Then, it would slack too much and we would pull it taut, again. We spent quite a while see-sawing back and forth like this. Finally, we were able to start bird-nesting the line onto the mooring stacks.
All the while, I could not help but notice all the other sailors on the bow: all of them pulling and lashing their lines as if performing a well choreographed dance. Then, I noticed the people standing on the pier waiting, impatiently, for us to finish. They were family and friends of the sailors aboard the ship. All of their faces were lit brightly with smiles and excitement. Children were pointing and waving. There were so many of them buzzing around. I could help myself no longer. The river of tears was pressing so hard against the windows of my soul, that they could hold back the flood no longer. The tears trickled down my cheeks. My emotions had finally overwhelmed me. Then, all of a sudden, I heard two loud bangs and someone shouted, “Anchor’s away!” It shook me back to reality and I realized that as emotional as I was, there would be no one waiting for me here today. My family was in Alabama. The only people I knew were on this floating, metal beast. These people were not only my fellow shipmates, they were also my family here. I had grown close to them over the six months we were stuck together. One, in particular, who had become my best friend, had no one waiting on the pier for him, either. We were in the “same boat”, so to speak. After realizing that I should not be so emotional, I still felt the same. I was overwhelmingly ecstatic, not only because we were back in the U.S.A., but I was also happy for all those who would be reunited with their loved ones. I laughed at myself as I wiped the tears away. I thought myself pretty silly and hoped that no one noticed my sudden moment of weakness.
We finished bird-nesting the line and I rubbed by hands together rapidly, trying to warm them. It was so cold that it probably would not be long before the water-soaked lines would freeze and become as hard as steel cables. I caught my breath, stood closer to the lines, and took a good look at my surroundings. The tug-boats were pulling away. The port crew was putting the gangway into place; a sure sign that freedom was only minutes away. I heard the boatswain’s pipe on the overhead: attention to colors. I turned, faced astern, and saluted the flag. With a smile on my face, I walked across the bow and into the starboard break. I lit a cigarette and tried to think of things that I could keep myself busy with for the next two weeks. I was not going on leave right away. Half of the crew had to be here for emergencies at all time. I thought about buying a car and finding an apartment. Since we had been away so long, I had canceled my lease and put all my belongings in storage. My best friend, Lopez, would not be leaving the ship until the next day. He had to stay on board for 24-hour duty. I decided that the first thing I wanted was to eat a real meal. As I left the ship and walked down the pier, I noticed all of the emotional ciaos. There was a lot of crying, laughing, jumping up and down, hugging, and kissing. I saw a few of the shipmates that I had become so close to and tried to escape before they noticed me. I failed. They waved for me to join them, and so, reluctantly, I did. I went from shipmate to shipmate being introduced to family members. I kept a smile on my face the whole time, trying to hold back the tears. I was so happy for all of them.
After about a good thirty to forty-five minutes, the crowd thinned and I felt a sudden veil of loneliness shroud me. I looked around and all I could see were the gray, metal beasts. I could hear the waves slamming against the concrete pier. I felt the frigid wind blowing, even worse now, in this make shift tunnel. All of my senses became excruciatingly keen. My silent revere had blocked out all of the empty feelings I had about being back here and being alone again. I was remorseful that I no longer had the line of defense I had just a few moments ago. My revere had died out and the painful reality of being here again, alone, overwhelmed me. As the tears streamed down my frozen cheeks, I walked toward the end of the pier. As I approached the gates, I turned and took one more look. I smiled, despite the tears, and thought, “I will be back tomorrow.”