Remembering ‘The Rock’

Adak4

Remembering ‘The Rock’

‘You Are Now Entering – and Leaving Adak National Forest’

The trees were eighteen inches high when planted on the tough tundra plot. The young men were pleased with their efforts. They made a special trip to Kodiak for the saplings – I forget the number of trees that they bought, but they covered less than an acre of the island’s land.

The island of Adak in the Aleutian Islands was (is) a barren and cold wasteland with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Bering Sea on the other. There were a lot of pet names for the island but ‘The Rock’ was perhaps the most favored. Beauty of course was in the eye of the beholder, and I suppose there was some beauty to behold in watching the Pacific waves crash into the rocks along the islands’ eastern flank. I suppose as well that the Bering Sea conjured up images of Russia, and, after all, the city of Vladivostok was visible from Attu, the last island on the Aleutian Chain. There was beauty in the sun that made an all too infrequent appearance. For those few precious moments, moods shifted and there seemed a palpable cheerfulness in the air.

I was in Section Three of the three sections that governed our small piece of paradise we called ‘Radio City’. Radio City housed 150 men and was isolated and some miles from the Naval Operations Base (NOB), a much bigger facility with dependents quarters and many more activities…where we only had beer, NOB had any drink order anyone would want – in relatively fancy and lush surroundings.  Each section at Radio City worked three shifts and took a couple of days off – an evening shift 4:00PM to Midnight, a morning shift 8:00AM to 4:00PM, and a night shift Midnight to 8:00AM. Each section had its bar – or, Gedunk – manager and its snack bar manager. There was an arts and leather crafts hobby room, a small library, and a photography room.

Some of my Navy School buddies arrived on ‘The Rock’ prior to my arrival so they got the ego trips of showing me the ropes and getting me drunk on green beer my first night aboard…my great upheaval of which caused quite a stir later in our barracks. Being the popular fellow that I was, I was appointed to the beer bar management team – well, more or less…I bartended and got to stay after closing hours, helped clean up the joint, and stayed in the ‘hideaway bar office’ all night drinking with my buddies, telling jokes, pausing, getting a little sad when we talked about home, our girlfriends and/or wives.

So, you get the drift of the routine… The radio work – the ‘di-da-ditting’ and other prime duties – was interesting and kept us busy during our work shifts. It was during those days off when we got a little crazy – as in drunk and rowdy, creating issues that didn’t really exist, then fighting about them – just temporary insanities that were fabricated and fleeting. Actually, there was a camaraderie that came during that Naval tour of duty, and, years later, I’m finding myself at times thinking about Mel Smunk, Billy Oaks, Billy Barrett, and so many other of my drinking pals whose images are locked in my memory vault. We forged an alliance that saw us through some tough days, weeks, and months. We saw the withering will of many take them to the edge of some awful darkness. ‘The Rock’ could do that to you, and maybe some of that wasteland dreariness and loneliness made us less or more of what we became later in life.

As much as ‘The Rock’ left its bitter green beer taste I can still look back with a fond recall of some chaps who made my life bearable. And I wonder where they are now. Are they still among the living? Do they remember as I do those long nights of drinking, of consoling one another, of the dreams we shared, and the long walks back to the barracks and a fitful sleep? Do they remember some of the made-up incidents just to get our juices flowing – like, the time the story was made-up that a group of naughty girls were flying in from the states to give us special service? We even began to believe our own made-up story. Do they remember how many times we wrote in a letter home that ‘There’s a girl behind every tree’ on Adak?

Okay, no girls, no trees (except for the planted saplings that have maybe grown tall by now), just tundra, cold gray skies, and a small piece of an island called ‘Radio City’ that either added to our growth as men, or, took a piece of us to which we cannot put words. We saw no real war on Adak, but we did some play acting and maneuvers. And, we did see a little bit of hell in the uncaring snows, tundra, williwaws, and in the unrelenting repetition of days…just one hundred fifty men emotionally counting the days when they would leave ‘The Rock’ for home.

If you’re still around, guys, I’m thinking of you here in ‘Twilight’…

Billy Ray Chitwood – February 14, 2015

Thought I might mention one of my titles which in some ways is shameful, and, hopefully, in other ways, soul cleansing. The title, What Happens Next? A Life’s True Tale looks back on my days of romance and my search for a deepening faith. It is honest, true to my memory, and perhaps touches on some important parts of each life. Hopefully, you will give it a read and an amazon review.

What Happens Next - 9

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NOTE: My other six blog awards of which I’m very proud do not appear in this post in consideration of space.

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8 thoughts on “Remembering ‘The Rock’

  1. Adak sounds quite a place to be stationed Billy Ray, bleak and unwelcoming and yet you all left her with a gift. I hope the trees are still there and after all this time thriving. Maybe Adak really does have her forest now.
    Hugs

    Like

    • You’re correct, Olga – not the same… Great setting for a psychological novel – so many human elements to consider. I’ve spent myself to some extent in this area on a couple of other books…doubt if I have the depth and talent to give justice to a full-length novel. Looking back, I guess Adak was not so bad, but, at the time it was not a place for phobia people… Thanks, dear Olga, for your comments.

      Like

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