When I was in the Navy, I was stationed, among many other places, in Brunswick, Maine, and Barbers Point, Hawaii. At both duty stations, there were places overlooking the sea that I frequently visited to relax, take photos, and swim or scramble around the cliff faces. In Maine, that place was on Bailey Island at a place along the cliffs called The Giant’s Stairs. There was a granite outcropping shaped like a sofa where I used to sit. In Hawaii, I sat on the rocks at a favored spot at Yokohama Beach on the Windward side of Oahu.
In both places, the salt breeze filled my head, the sea crashed against the cliffs and the shore, seagulls swooped and cried in the sky, ships sailed over the horizon, and airplanes
filled the sky with criss-crossing contrails. I fell in love with both spots and visit them as often as I am able. I would call them places that were, and still are, important aspects of my life.
While sitting on the rocks and gazing out to sea, I often found myself in a reflective mood, thinking about work, home, family, my future. It’s funny, but I distinctly remember times at both places, as though I were sitting there now, when I wondered where I would be in thirty or forty years, what I would be doing, who I would be married to, if I would be happy, if I would be satisfied.
Satisfied. If I would be satisfied with my life.
Yesterday, I found myself thinking about my life and what has given me the most satisfaction. It wasn’t a difficult question to answer. I was both an enlisted man and an officer in the Navy, and I still work for the Navy, now with the Civil Service. As an enlisted man, I maintained aircraft, mostly the P-3 Orion (for 20 of my 27 years on active duty), an anti-submarine warfare aircraft. As an officer, I directed the maintenance on aircraft. I guess most people would think earning a commission as an officer would have given me the most satisfaction. No, not really.
What gave me the most satisfaction was “swinging wrenches,” performing the actual hands-on maintenance. I maintained the structure, flight controls, hydraulic systems, landing gear, patched her skin, painted her surfaces, and washed her bones. I replaced her windshields, tires and brakes, crawled inside her wings to fix fuel leaks, patched her fiberglass nose and stinger, stenciled my squadrons’ insignia on her vertical stabilizer, rigged her flight control cables, and removed and replaced her ailerons, flaps, and stabilizers. I left a lot of blood on the Orion; a lot of her blood is in me. I wrote about Orion once; you can read it here.
Someday, as I draw near my last breath, someone will ask what gave me the most satisfaction, and I will tell them:
I maintained the P-3 Orion. She was my life.