Lost At Sea On The Dark Side Of The Moon – By Jeffrey Duchene
USS Midway, Mid-April 1973.
My twelve-hour watch was over this night, but the ship had run into heavy fog.
Additional lookouts were posted, and I was sent forward to the port bow.
After I plugged in my headset, and hung my binoculars… I stared at two tabs of LSD wrapped in cigarette cellophane.
I had just moved in to a bottom bunk because it came with a large foot locker.
And upon moving in… that’s where I found the drugs.
I suppose I could have given it to the sailor it belonged to, or tossed it into the sea.
But I had decided to take… “that trip.”
I remember thinking… “well hell, the Beatles did it!”
There were three tabs, and thinking that my watch was finished, I had summoned up the nerve to try one.
A nervous excitement ran through my body as I felt… my face growing flush and warm.
And then, an intense awareness started creeping in.
I thought… “well here we go then… whoa shit, this is it!”
The stars were so many. And… so close.
I raised my arm up into the night sky.
“My God… I could run my fingers through the Milky Way.”
The sea was dead calm. The fog was thick, and down below on the water’s surface.
The ship was cruising at twenty knots.
Standing six stories above the water, it looked as though… we were sailing through the clouds!
Leaning over the bulkhead, I stared down at the bow below me curving way back, and way down.
The fog had cleared there just enough, that I could see the ship slicing through the water, and dolphins racing alongside.
With a crazy smile plastered on my face, I looked out to port and saw something that scared the hell out of me!
Two thousand yards out, there was a green glow in the fog radiating from below the surface of the water.
It was maybe… forty to sixty yards around.
Transfixed, I watched it for some minutes until the fog thickened and it slowly disappeared.
My heart was beating so hard, that I could hear the blood pumping through my neck!
I kept waiting for some word from the bridge or CIC.
From the other lookouts… from someone!
Not a sound. Headphones, were silent.
Well, as it turns out… in the coming months I would see this phenomenon a few times more.
And I know now… that it was a school of jellyfish, or some other deep sea creatures all aglow with luminescent proteins, surfacing to feed at night.
But at the time! I had thought sure that… “aye mate, it be Captain Nemo steering the Nautilus on a collision course!”
After two of the longest hours of my life, I was still “trippin like a mug” when a relief man arrived and informed me that I was now to report to the fantail, for two more hours of lookout duty.
On my way through the ship, I became paranoid and began thinking that every sailor I passed was on to me.
I saluted an officer, and my hand left slow-motion trails.
By the time I reach the fantail, we were moving out of the heavy fog and it was almost clear sailing.
I was met there by a shipmate, Diaz.
While standing there looking out at the sea, I spotted what I thought “might be” a man in the water.
A small red object in the corner of my eye, flailing about in the ships wash.
(Sailors with the red shirts are fire control technicians)
I glanced over at Diaz. He was looking out to port.
I thought… “damn! Lost at sea! I just can’t imagine it!”
Well, to call in a “man overboard,” is a very big deal.
The ship goes to general quarters, and within fifteen minutes, 3400 men are mustered.
There is probably a certain dollar amount involved as well so… one had better be right!
My head went uncomfortably numb as I reached for my mouthpiece.
I squeezed in on the button ever so slowly, until it was all the way in.
Staring off into the night sky, I could hear my own breathing going out to all stations for what seemed like minutes. And then…
I called it in… “man overboard! Starboard side!”
The ships alarm wailed.
The wash behind rose fifteen feet into the air as we went to full speed, and cut a hard turn to starboard.
I held on tight to the rail as the deck shook from the giant props spinning in the water below.
Scanning the black sea with binoculars pressed against our brows, we saw… nothing.
Diaz was in a panic! Hell, I was in a panic!
He just kept screaming out… “are you fucking sure?”
A chopper went out.
Then a short time later, they pulled a man from the water.
Apparently, he had been trying to commit suicide, and they had to knock him out to get him on board.
I guess that must be why he never thanked us.
When the fantail watch was over, we were relieved and no one was the wiser.
I went below to find a long overdue package from home waiting for me.
Mom had packed it with Christmas cookies and a fruitcake, and they weren’t even moldy!
There was a tiny little canned ham with gourmet crackers, a cassette recorder and… the front page of the Detroit News.
The big, bold headlines read… “WAR IN VIETNAM OVER*NIXON SIGNS PULLOUT ORDER.”
This drew laughing cheers from my shipmates playing cards in a corner space.
And as I read my hometown paper, catapults launched fighter bombers overhead, shaking our birthing compartment.
I then went topside.
Smoked a joint.
Went back to my rack.
Donned my headphones, and listened for the first time to Pink Floyd’s… “Dark Side of The Moon.”
In May of 73, our tour was over and we sailed on home to San Francisco, while the fleet stayed for more than a year to unleash hell on the VC.
I will not soon forget… nor will I shake the great regrets that I have, as I did play an indirect role in the killing of thousands.