Down To The Half

by David D. Hambleton

Electronics Technician First Class,

Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist,

USS LaSalle (AGF-3) United States Navy

September 12, 2001


We stood in the bright sunlight of another overseas morning, having watched through the long night as our home was attacked.  We felt the explosions; they rocked our hearts, too. 

When the whistle blows most mornings here at five minutes before eight, and the Quartermaster calls; "First call; first call to colors," people find their coffee cups and some indoor business.  Being outside at 0800, you see, means you are party to Colors - the ceremony of raising our National Ensign over the ship.  Wherever you may be on deck, when the next whistle blows and the National Anthem starts, you stop, face the fantail and salute until the ceremony is done.  The Ensign is raised while we listen to a rendition of our song with harsh audio quality.  We tend to be a patriotic crowd, so this isn't too bad once in a while, but rare is the sailor or soldier who does it voluntarily. 

This morning, September 12th, 2001, in respect to those who have passed and in recognition of the incredible times we are living, we turned out in force.  Hundreds of sailors, soldiers, marines, and civil service workers and contractors lined up on the flight deck of the USS LaSalle (AGF-3).  LaSalle is the Commander of Sixth Fleet's Flagship, from where he controls all Naval operations in the Mediterranean area of operations.  We had just begun a maintenance availability and some in-port time with our families after deployment to the Black Sea.

We lined up; enlisted and officers and civilians, women and men, races with races, religions with religions, all branches of services together.  Shoulder to shoulder, we waited in solemnity from First Call five minutes to the sound of the whistle.  Each had her own thoughts, each his own feelings.  Nobody called a formation, but we lined up in rows; orderly, respectful, and single-minded of purpose.

We do this to make a difference.  This is our part.  We volunteer for low pay, separation, and being on the front lines.  We've come out here to ensure the safety and security of our nation and our people.  Standing here, I feel a bit impotent for being here, forward deployed in Europe, when the attack came back home at our own shores.

The whistle blew and the Ensign slipped up the pole, crisp and bright, the symbol of power, against the ancient city on the hill behind.  Grown men and women, we cried, considering all the babies and husbands and wives who will miss a loved one or more today, and saluted quietly as we stood in respect.  The silence was deafening as each military right forefinger touched its tired tearful forehead; each civilian right hand covered a strong broken heart.

I was caught in the moment, it was one to remember; it was nearly an audible effect as a grim resolve settled over this crew.  Rest assured, be it grisly, we're up to what we must do.  Awaiting our orders, we prepare if we must to fight.  We prepare and we sail, ready to show our might. 

White background and stars of purity and heat, like the commitment to selflessly serve, oh strong sheet.  Red stripes prove the passion of patriots' blood, like the courage to carry carnage to desert or mud.  Blue field of past patriots' honor, our pride; encouraging us prove that not in vain have they died.

For the moment, we were there with our emotions and our minds; as the Ensign reached up to the top of its lines.  We each vowed to again earn its place atop that staff, but today we cried when it came back down to the half.