Copyright ©2011 by Ralph Couey
The sea is seductive. It holds an indescribable power over the soul of a human. It is a place of awesome beauty and fearsome power. Yet, at dusk when the sun’s dying rays appear to sink into its depths, it also inspires quiet reflection and deep emotions. As author Kate Chopin put it,
"The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."
Standing on the deck of a ship, you look around you and behold a perfect world of water, unbroken from horizon to horizon. Beneath you lies a tower of water many hundreds, or even thousands of feet deep. At night, far from any polluting light source, the sky is crowded with stars. As the bow cleaves the water, tiny creatures are stirred up in the wake, giving the foam a glowing phosphorescence as it trails out astern. During the day, you are struck by the sheer size of the planet you inhabit; at night, the majestic infinity of the universe awes you. Either way, you feel very, very small.
But under your feet is a steel deck. The engines are turning and the Captain is on the Bridge. In the middle of incomprehensible vastness, you find comfort in the solidity of your ship.
A mass of haze gray steel floating on the water. That’s what most people see in a Navy ship. But to a sailor, it is a vision that ignites strong emotions.
To outsiders, the love affair between ships and sailors is a mystery. You have to understand that a ship is not an office building. It is a workplace, to be sure. But it is also the vessel that carries sailors across the trackless seas to places of wonder and duty. They work there, sleep there, eat there, and if necessary, fight there. Some die there.
A ship becomes real; it…she…acquires a soul and a personality.
In the first episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” an aged Dr. McCoy is finishing up a tour of the newly-commissioned Starship Enterprise. At one point, he says…
“Well, it’s a new ship. Got the right name, though.
You treat her like a lady.
And she’ll always bring you home.”
To all who served aboard her, USS Ouellet was never just steel, machinery, and electronics. She was real; a living presence that protected us as we cared for her. It was in the very truth of the idea, a symbiotic relationship. That same affection stays with us to this day. If the Royal Thai Navy were ever to make a port call to the U.S. west coast with a certain frigate, it is that same affection that would draw us, streaming across the country, irresistibly homing in on a set of decks and bulkheads that still resound with the echoes of our youth.
USS Ouellet was our ship; our gray lady. Until the day we die, we will carry with us in our hearts a vision; a picture of a perfect day. A ship knifes through the waves, a bone in her teeth and a boiling wake behind. The paint gleams, the brass glitters, the very picture of her crew’s pride. She took us across the seas, carrying the flag, and
’s commitment to freedom to stand in the face of tyrants and despots. She stood into ports mysterious and exotic, taking us to places of countless adventures. From her decks, we saw the world. America
And she always brought us home.
Tonight, we rejoice in friendships that never diminished in face of distance and the passage of years. Tonight, we salute each other for the service we rendered. We stand together, as we did those many years ago in affection and honor.