Copyright© 2014 by Old Man with a Pen
I have played fast and loose with the Ranger's Timeline. I know it, you know it. I don't need to be called out because of it. I was on the Ranger CVA 61. Even found my picture in the Cruise Book. I don't remember the picture being taken. Finding me was a surprise. So ... what you're reading is fiction ... will always be fiction ... the people existed ... but what I write NEVER happened.
You might think that. I couldn't possibly say. Old Man with a Pen Sept, 5 2014.
Please. Insert laughter and pauses as you see fit.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to present the next presenter. He wouldn't take no for an answer. Ladies and Gentlemen; the President of the United States."
The hush was immense, and then the President stepped out on stage. The crowd went wild. No one had any idea Eisenhower was even in California, let alone at Berkeley ... and to make a presentation?
He fussed with his Doctor's bonnet, "I haven't worn one of these since I won my dissertation and graduated Ph.D., an army helmet it is not.
"I first heard about the two I am here to see when they scored over 200 on the IQ tests. They have been watched, although I doubt they knew it. When I discovered they learned to fly at 13 and had enough money they didn't need bribing, I arranged for them to do a little flying for the United States of America.
"A little flying ... thirty-six hundred hours. They were in the air constantly for everything but the snow season surveying the Lake Michigan bottom and Lake Huron shore line. In the process they uncovered a Soviet Spy.
"When they lost their first aircraft they managed to obtain five aircraft that didn't exist in inventory. One of those planes was drafted ... but ... there wasn't the skills needed in the service. We high Mucky Mucks are hidebound creatures. When we need a skill that is unusual we draft it," Ike looked out over the assembled Seniors, "Soon after the aircraft was inducted ... so were the children. Serving at the pleasure of the President and didn't know it. They showed initiative, resourcefulness and perseverance. Exactly what the Military expects. Masters degrees at 15 and today we celebrate their achievements by this ceremony.
"It was time for me to meet them, but they sloughed my hints and suggestions. That is hard on a General. We are used to our suggestions being posted as orders. They didn't come. Every year they didn't come.
"The mountain refused to come to Muhammad ... so Muhammad came to the mountain ... and I want to congratulate them on a fine dissertation and defense.
"Lieutenant Commander Grace A. Austin, United States Navy Reserve, has been on active duty for almost four years. Her teaching skills and her devotion to country has been exemplary. Come forward Commander, I am so pleased to be allowed to present this Degree to you. You earned it."
He began applauding and the audience stood and emulated him. She shook the hand of the President, took her Parchment and made to move off the stage.
"No, no, Commander. Stand.
"Lieutenant Commander David J. Austin, United States Navy Reserve, like his twin sister, has been on active duty for almost four years. He has matched the ideals of his sister. Come, come, Commander, no hiding. I am happy to present your Doctoral Degree to you.
The applause for me was as loud and long as the applause for Grace.
"Lieutenant Commanders. It does not often happen that the Commander in Chief of this great country is allowed to promote excellence. It is my understanding, Commander Grace, that you rank your brother by one day, and you have never let him forget it."
That brought laughter from the crowd.
"Commander David, I understand you and Grace were born 15 minutes apart over the midnight hour of the Eighth and Ninth of May ... and you celebrate the Eighth and Grace celebrates the Ninth. We can't have twins infighting.
"Lieutenant Hjálmtýsdóttir. Front and center.
"Lieutenant Junior Grade, Black. Front and center.
"Commander Grace, Lieutenant J.G., Black will perform the honors.
"Commander David, Lieutenant Hjálmtýsdóttir will perform the honors.
"Remember ladies, at exactly the same time.
"Lieutenant Commander Grace Austin, Lieutenant Commander David Austin. You are out of uniform. Ladies ... proceed."
Relieved of our gold Oak leaves, the girls inserted silver in their place. At exactly the same time.
Grace stuck her tongue out at me.
We were presented "scrambled egg" covers.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Commanders David and Grace Austin."
Lots of applause.
Ike said, "It is my understanding you are off to New Zealand to take up teaching posts at the University of New Zealand (Dunedin)" He laughed, "It's my understanding it's winter down there. Dress warm. And while you are 'down under' it is my wish that you represent the United States as ambassadors of good will.
"Do your best to make them speak English will you?"
"Please meet with me for a few minutes after the closing ceremonies." He stepped behind the Podium, took out a prepared Graduation Speech and began...
"The Class of 1959 has a unique place in history..."
That over, we met with the President. Daddy, Uncle General Harry, and Rear Admiral John were all seated with him around an oval table. On a sideboard there was a selection of soda, and sandwiches. The P)resident took a whopping big bite out of an obviously hand built Dagwood sandwich and motioned at the buffet. We picked out tuna ... me ... and egg salad ... Grace, a Root Beer each and had a seat.
The president worked his way through the sandwich, but between bites and sips, he said, "We are worried about the idea of you two sailing off to New Zealand with three cats and I have a proposition for you. The USS Ranger, CVA61 has transitioned around the Horn and will be in Alameda NAS in a week. We will transport you. We will also transport your vehicles as assets of the US Consulate and therefore tariff free, your boat, your cars, your aircraft ... all seven of them ... if you will join her crew as COD pilots. In a month, the Ranger will be sailing to WEST-PAC and show the flag. You will deliver mail, rotating officers, enlisted men. Grace, you will be the ONLY female onboard and your cats will possibly be the first pets."
"You could order us to go," Grace said.
"I'd rather have volunteers."
"Free delivery, Grace," I said. "Tariff free."
"What happens if I have to defend myself?" she asked.
"If they're alive they fell down a ladder. If they're dead ... sharks have always followed ships at sea. I will inform the Captain."
"Yes, Sir. If we room together, I'll go."
We went, it was exciting. The COD (Carrier onboard Delivery) is noisy and slow but a nice aircraft for all that. We had guardians ... Sergeant Ortega, and Mac, our crew chief. The cats did a better job, one or the other never left Grace unguarded. My part was litter pool cleaner. A children's wading pool with sand ... first from the shores of Marin County, then from Waikiki, three fifty-five gallon food grade drums full. The cooks, the enlisted mens galley cooks, loved the cats. No matter how hard a crew tries ... there are always rats and roaches. The roaches were crunchy tidbits and they loved delivering a line of dead rats to the Captains Quarters. I don't believe he appreciated it.
We delivered the first woman marine officer, the relieving Captain, a new doctor, We hauled what was able to be found of a petty officer who was trying to fix a steam catapult. He fixed it. The COD has an immense range and, in a pinch, could haul wing tanks for ever greater range. Grace never teased ... until we ported at Ford Island. Out came the Bettie Page swim wear ... that's a loose use of the term swim wear. Grace always drew a crowd. She is, after all, seventeen. She grew another inch and passed the minimum standards for flight school. We didn't bother.
After Hawaii, we sailed south to Pape'ete and then to American Samoa.
The aircraft, suspended from the hangar deck overhead, were lowered down, checked by Mac, flown by Spad pilots to Dunedin International, tied down and left while we ferried them back in the COD. The cars were offloaded at Port Chalmers and the K5 set in the water and taken by hire to our warehouse dock.
The Captain said, "You'll be going now?"
We saluted simultaneously. We are on the same page now. He returned our salute. "The ride was marvelous, Sir. We'll be sure to mention you to the President."
"I've got to be going," he said, speaking for the ship.
"Yes, Sir. Have a good life."
We saluted the officer of the deck, "Permission to leave the ship?"
"Granted." We both saluted again.
We stepped to the gangway and saluted the flag. The officer of the deck saluted for the flag.
The Suburban was waiting at the bottom of the gangway. We both turned and looked up at the tall side of the ship. The four 5 inch 54 caliber gun mounts trained aft, the port side elevator lowered. We could see into the hangar deck ... the Sergeant and Mac snapped to and gave a great salute. We saluted, turned and loaded up in the car.
Neither one of us wanted them to see us cry.