I could feed you a line of crap about never being able to get the sea out of my blood, but that's not how I ended up in Chile--Puerto Montt, to be exact.
I'm Terry Karol. I started out life on a hard scrabble dairy farm in Northern Wisconsin. We were German expatriates that came over to the states during and just after WWII. My youngest uncle fought in Korea. My oldest uncle fought in WWII as a Panzer tank driver. He said that for years every time he smelled diesel he got a headache--Bam! Like that. He found a Mauser rifle made near the end of the war that he cleaned up, checked out and gave me for my tenth birthday. I did all I could to keep that thing in shells. 8x58 was the shell size. I still remember. When kids these days see a deer they think 'Bambi!' I thought, 'venison!' I got pretty good at hunting them, too.
On that farm I learned to weld, replace bearings, cut and thread pipe, rebuild diesel and gas engines, you name it. I remember getting a big box of old sticks (welding rods) at an auction for fifty cents. I took them home and started working on our old plow, adding metal to the blades then hand-filing them smooth until they looked like the pictures in the implement catalog. I came home from school one spring day and dad burst through the door looking for me. I wondered if I was going to get my ass beat for something again. He said, "What the hell did you do to the plow?"
"I fixed it?"
"By hell you fixed it! It cuts like it's brand new!" He grabbed mom by the hands and danced her around the living room. I'd never seen him so enthusiastic. Some things you don't forget, and the times I really made my dad happy I could count on my fingers. That was one of them.
There wasn't much future for me there on the farm. It had been losing money for years. Mom and dad weren't getting any younger and farm work will suck the blood and youth right out of a person when the weight of a big loan rides on their shoulders. When I graduated high school they sold the place and bought a little house in-town, in Stevens Point (Wisconsin). I had been thinking pretty hard about what to do with myself. I had a good head on my shoulders. If I read something once it stuck. I talked to the military recruiters in town and decided to go with the Navy. I got a hand full of things to read and memorize like rank insignia, guard duty stuff and Miranda rights. I read 'em all twice to make sure that I could recite all of it cold. I showed up on time for the bus wearing boots, jeans, a sweat shirt and a barn coat. I had fifty bucks in my pocket and a one-inch rock in a sock in case anybody got stupid. We took a bus from Stevens point to Antigo to Green Bay to Fond du Lac to Milwaukee to Great Lakes Naval Base.
In eight weeks I went from Smurf to Seaman. (Your first issued clothing is a dark blue set of sweats, hence the term Smurf.) I didn't want to sit in front of a radio all day so I politicked to pick up a MOS for IT--the guy that keeps all the communications and other electronics running on board ship. It gets you heavily involved in damage control. I did all right and kept my nose clean. Well, mostly. I hung out with a bunch of unsavory bastards that I got along with just fine. We went out on the weekends throwing knives at defenseless targets. I learned how to pick a pocket back then but I did it best when drunk. I got posted to the Arleigh Burke as an E2, then as an E3, then as an E4. I'd been in a little over seven years when I made E5. The chief said passing review boards just didn't happen that fast when we weren't at war. At my rating mostly I filled out paperwork and did system tests. If I got lucky I was able to go climb around to find out where some other poor bastard had screwed something up, pitched a fit and made 'em fix it, followed by a two-hour classroom lecture on failsafe procedures and the management of critical systems aboard ship.
We were out in the Med when a we got caught out in one heller of a storm. When a destroyer pitches and rolls you know that the weather is rough. We got hit on the antenna mast by several good lightning shots, then a super bolt hit us, fair and square. It took out the ship's radars including the Aegis close-defense system and the eye-in-the-sky links. We were running blind with our pants down. It was an all hands evolution to get the radar units dropped and new modules lifted in place with a crane, then bolted in and wired up. I was working in the super story with my ass hanging out in the breeze when another big bolt hit. I had about a second to realize how a squirrel felt while bridging a 10 KV line.
I woke up below decks covered in gauze and goop. I'd been flash-fried over a good portion of my skin but it only went deep where I'd been either touching metal or where the current ran to discharge. I was thankful as hell that I hadn't been resting my weight on the hatch with my hips or I'd have left my dick stuck to the metal frame as a discharge point. As is was I lost a good third of my intestines and got some pretty deep scarring on my left arm, from armpit to wrist. I kept my eyes, thank God. I got med-evac'ed to a hospital ship, then moved to USAISR in San Antonio. I have to say that they did one hell of a job on me. I don't have to wear a colostomy bag and I've got about 70% motion back in my left arm. Once they got me that far though, I guess it wasn't cost effective to do much more. I got shown the door as an E5 with a 50 percent medical discharge. Oh, I got a pretty little piece of stamped metal with a colorful ribbon to wear, but that won't even buy you a cheese sandwich in Wisconsin.
I was 29 when I went back to see mom and dad. I couldn't stick around. They saw all that scarring the first time I took my shirt off and freaked. Mom screamed, curled up on the couch and cried. She wouldn't stop crying. She wouldn't touch me. Dad just looked pained and tried to calm her down. I packed my bag and quietly headed elsewhere. Anywhere else but there...
With my skills I found a job working on surveillance camera systems--installing them, tuning them and upgrading them. I worked for a company out of St. Louis that catered to banks, jewelry stores, high-end warehouses and law enforcement. The Navy taught me that I could live in a refrigerator box if I had to, and even like it. That's pretty much what I had on board ship for seven years. I had bought a king cab long-bed Ford F-250 and had an old slide-in camper in the back. I was able to keep it in the fenced-off company lot up near the building. I kept it plugged into the building power for light, cooking, heating and cooling. I ran buckets of water out to the fresh water tank occasionally and when the black water tank was full I drove down to the sewage facility where, for ten bucks, I could empty it and flush with clean water. I had a van filled with tools that the company loaned me. I drove from Dubuque Iowa to Memphis Tennessee with stops in all directions out to over 200 miles from the Mississippi. With my experience I got a lot of the bigger planning jobs and pulled down a decent paycheck--a lot better than I ever dreamed of getting in the military. I was there for some eight years, socking it all in the bank. I kept watching that balance grow. Once a year I'd buy CDs because they had a better rate of return than my savings account. I kept a about ten thousand bucks tucked away in a lock box in the camper because that's what dad always taught me--not to keep all my eggs in one basket.
I kept up with my stretching exercises and PT. It wasn't to lose weight. I had a hard time keeping weight on, my guts being the way they were. I just wanted to stay limber and a little muscular. I'd done a little hand-to-hand while in the military and once out I joined a dojo to keep my situational awareness and reflexes.
All that security got yanked out from under me. I knew that the economy was bad, but Jesus Christ! The company folded, locked the doors and turned out the lights. Bam! I came back from a service call to find the lights out, a foreclosure sign on the office window and the gates locked up tighter than a bull's ass in fly season. I was not amused. However, I was not stymied, either. A short trip to a hardware store netted me a cut-off saw, a pack of metal cutting discs, a pair of heavy gloves and a full-cover face shield. I also picked up a new padlock. My service truck stocked a little Honda generator in it and a contractor grade (read, high amperage) extension cord. Within ten minutes the old lock was history and my new lock was installed. I drove my work truck into the lot and secured the gate behind me. I maneuvered my pickup and camper into a place where they couldn't easily be seen from the road and taped a piece of floor carpet over the window closest to the road to keep anyone from seeing light coming through my window. The basic building services were still on such as power, telephones and Internet. Being mid-March the snow was pretty much gone for the season but there were grimy mounds of it still piled up at the edge of the yard. There it would sit until it melted on its own, at least a month later.
.... There is more of this story ...