Thirty years ago two of my friends died in the crash of Ranger 12 on the U.S.S. Nimitz. They were Cryptologic Technicians Interpretive Third Class Craig Rudolph and Patrick Price. I talked about the story in a previous edition of Commotion In The Pews. Please take a read before continuing.
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Glad you’re back. Most of my friends from the Navy, who constitute most of my friends, knew these guys. Our group was very small, very select in terms of unique skills and clearances. As a result, when that plane went down, people across the globe shed a tear. From Adak, Alaska to Diego Garcia, someone in that Naval Security Group unit knew one of those guys.
Their deaths had a world shaking impact on their families. We were part of that family. On the 25th, many of my friends wrote blogs and posted on Facebook about the loss of this group of men. I did not.
Frankly, I had been dwelling on it for the last few weeks. Every year this anniversary brings to the surface a lot of emotions for me. Mainly of loss. Not only did we lose those guys thirty years ago, but my friend Pete checked himself out over a decade ago. He was with me on my first submarine mission when the deck of the Nimitz became the last sovereign territory of the United States where my friends touched the face of the Earth. Their next stop was the bottom of the Mediterranean. The bodies were never recovered.
Now, three decades later I finally got to have a drink with my friends. I’ve written about it for years, but on the 25th, at about the hour they died, I walked into the Spot Bar in Saint Paul and bought a round for my friends.
If you’ve never been in the military, or a cop/firefighter/EMT etc., it’s probably hard to understand this tradition.
You honor your friends by buying them a drink. You place their name next to the drinks. You make sure the bartender knows that the seat is theirs until closing time. I had a sip of beer and an Ouzo with my friends. It was good. They were guys who’d enjoy a Hamm’s and a shot. Especially since every spook I knew drank Ouzo when they were deployed.
After hoisting my glass, and downing my shot, I bid farewell to my friends until Memorial Day. I’ll think of them in the meantime. Can’t help it. Friends from my youth are getting thinner on the ground, thicker around the middle.
I left the bar in darkness and cold. It wasn’t just winter that enshrouded me: it was 1300 fathoms of sea water and thirty years of memories that they would never share.
Freedom doesn’t come free.
Thank you, Ranger 12. And all the rest who have paid the ultimate price to give us freedom.
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