Yesterday I attended the retirement ceremony of a good friend of mine. We served together on my last boat and he was my "boss". For those of you in the Navy you will understand why I used quotations.
It occurred to me, as I sat listening to the traditional nautical-themed recitations, that the U.S. Navy probably has one of the most unique retirement ceremonies in comparison to its civilian counterparts.
There are no gold watches given, no lavishly decorated ballrooms or dining halls and no cookie cutter speeches. Shipmates are in uniform and civilians are in their Sunday best. Well, in Hawaii it is dressed down to 'Aloha Attire', but it is reflective of the culture the sailor has drifted in during his career.
Below are some examples of the traditional speeches that are made, and although they are almost memorized by sailors who have attended many a retirement, the meaning of each speech is held close the sailor's heart and dreams of the day when a speaker will be reciting them at his retirement.
For the first time that I can recall, a retiree, when given his time to speak, did not talk about himself or his 2 decades worth of accomplishments. Instead, he talked of the people who influenced and mentored him. He thanked his shipmates and then he thanked his family for their support, understanding and patience; and then he apologized to his family.
He apologized to his children for not being there for their birthdays, the many holidays and for the lost moments when a father is just supposed to be there. He apologized to his son for not being there when he got his driver's license. He thanked his wife for being a mother to his kids in his absence and taking care of EVERYTHING while he was gone, often for months at a time.
When my friend was piped ashore, a tradition you can read about below, he then walked to his wife and honored her sacrifices as they were then both piped ashore.
The Navy retirement is both a sad and joyous event. Sad because he is leaving a life that most people cannot comprehend; leaving a life where you have 120 brothers onboard a boat, not just coworkers; leaving a life that is filled with both private self-proclaimed victories and accomplishments that are recognized by his peers in mass formation for all to see; leaving a life that has taken him away from his boyhood home and sent him to latitudes and longitudes that most people only watch on National Geographic.
The retiree is happy, strangely enough, for almost the very same reasons mentioned above. Being a submariner is the toughest job I ever hated. Even after all the bullshit of being on a boat, I see those young sonar men come up to my command for training and I think, "Those guys are doing it. They are the ones punching holes in the ocean."
As a sonar man I feel out of place ashore; my job admonishes me to be at sea, where my talents are exercised and not just talked about.
I am on my twilight tour, my impending retirement just over the horizon, with its mast head height getting taller by the day. I, too, am both excited and sad but I know that what awaits me 'on the outside' will be just as rewarding as the last 20 years.
Enjoy the recites that follow.