-Bailey Island, Maine, September 11, 2015.
I came to Maine in October 1977, ten months after I turned seventeen. I had been through Navy boot camp in Orlando, naval aviation maintenance school in Millington, Tennessee, and P-3 Orion familiarization training in Jacksonville, Florida. After all that schooling, I was ready for a permanent duty station. I had not given Maine any thought before that other than in grade school when I read a book that told of the “rocky coast of Maine” in words and pictures. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a life-defining moment for me, though a boy of seven or eight wouldn’t know of such things.
After completing my Navy technical schooling, I received official orders transferring me to Patrol Squadron Eight, VP-8 at Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine. The base is closed now, a victim of post-Cold War downsizing of the military, but VP-8 still flies, patrolling the oceans, and projecting America’s military might to all points of the globe. Operational issues didn’t worry me too much at seventeen, though; Maine became a playground for me when I was not working or deployed somewhere overseas.
One of my favorite places was, and still is, Bailey Island, a lobsterman’s workplace and tourist attraction. Bailey Island was little known by outsiders in 1977, but Sailors knew of it and my friends brought me here. I fell in love with it. I came here alone quite often to clamber around on the granite cliffs jutting from the ocean, gaze out over the Gulf of Maine, and think about my future. I wondered where I would be in 20, 30, 40 years, who I would be, what I would become. Would I be successful? Rich? Happy?
I’m doing that now, or reminiscing, more accurately. In fact, this very granite sofa I am sitting on has been polished by my blue jeans thousands of times since I first took a seat in this grand theater overlooking my future and my past. 1977 began the play “My Life,” and 2015 continues it, bookends it in a way.
I look back over the last 38 years and a lifetime of memories flashes through my mind. The places I have been, the things I have seen, the people I have known, the people I have loved, the ones I’ve lost. What I have become.
The question before me tonight, as I sit on the rock where I began thinking of my future all those years ago, is would the Willy Pennington of 1977 be satisfied with the Will Pennington of 2015, his accomplishments, his successes, his happiness?
Yeah, Willy would be pleased.