The Box in the Attic [January 2007]   ©Mark Zen

 

As I pulled the box down from its resting place, I wondered what I would find in this long hidden treasure chest. This was the only unmarked box in the stack I was cleaning out of the attic. I pulled the lid from the box and found I was staring back at one of my two best friends in the Navy, Eddie Randle Jr. He was wearing his “Cracker Jacks” uniform in front of an F-18 Hornet, the Navy’s premiere fighter jet. Eddie had just become a Third Class Petty Officer, a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in any other branch of the services. He worked hard for it and was very proud.

Two years earlier, Eddie had done his first “Med Cruise,” (Mediterranean Deployment) and become a seasoned sailor. I met him when I reported aboard the USS Coral Sea. The bunks, ‘racks’ were stacked three high, so as low man on the totem pole, I got the top one. The middle is prized by most, being the easiest to climb into. The bottom was the next best, as you didn’t have to climb to get to it. Eddie showed me the correct way to get in and out without pissing off my rack-mates, one being him, using two small built-in steps and an overhead pipe. Putting a footprint on someone’s rack was a very bad thing, right behind kicking a shipmate in the face, chest or groin climbing in.

When I got to the fleet, I was 25, the same age as the First and Second Class petty officers. I was an E‑2 (Enlisted Grade 2), they were E-5’s and E-6’s, and had been in the Navy for six to eight years. Eddie was 22 and a real ‘old salt,’ having just come back from the ships’ last cruise. He was a streetwise guy from Miami, who knew most of the crew; they all respected him. He was always good to his word. Eddie showed me the ropes, taught me how things worked and then watched me for a while. Both of us worked hard, earning each others respect.

He taught me how to drive forklifts; I told him about the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. I learned Miami isn’t as scorching hot as I imagined, so I described how, due to high altitude, cars barely drove over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, the highest continuous paved road in the world. Eddie had seen quite a bit around his home, but I found there was something he hadn’t experienced before. Not until 01:00 Saturday, January 17, 1987. We were loading cargo for an upcoming Sea Trial when he stopped working. The crane had just dropped its load onto the freight elevator and I was heading straight for it on a forklift. All of a sudden, Eddie stopped signaling directions. He was still staring into the sky as I walked up to him, though I didn’t see anything.

Then he said “Wow Mark, I have never actually seen it snow before!”


Third Class Petty Officer Eddie Randle Jr.


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