A Tender Tale

"Some try to tell me, thoughts they can't defend;
Just what you want to be, you'll be in the end!...
  ....The Moody Blues

My orders came in -- we were ordered to the east coast of CONUS - just in time to be home for Christmas. We packed out in late November - just as a mild typhoon hit the island - it seemed strange - after three years - the Proteus went to sea without me. One of the people I had trained took over CIC - test equipment pool went to another - life went on - boats were serviced - refits accomplished. My last official act aboard Proteus was the formal process of checking out. I remember talking to the XO - he thumbed through my papers - and my departure evaluation caught his eye - "Wow - looks like we're going to miss you." he observed. In one last smart-mouthed shot - I observed - "Yeah - too bad it's not good enough for a Proteus Plaque." Proteus Plaques were awarded to those individuals departing the ship who have made some significant contribution to the ship and / or the ship's mission. I had - according to this evaluation - accomplished that several times over - and then some as attested by three letters of Individual Commendation and several division and ship's commendations. But there was another rule on Proteus Plaques - no evaluation mark below a certain level during the tour. - Well - that "wake-up" call I had gotten back in 74 had done that in... I had exactly one mark below the standard. Several people had offered to intercede - now including the XO - most people felt that for someone like me who had spent the bulk of their carrer at this one command - that one slip shouldn't penalize the whole record. But I turned it down... If I had learned nothing else - it's that there are prices to pay - sooner or later - that you are repsonsibile for your actions - and that accepting a Proteus Plaque under an "exception" would be the same as cheating. I knew the rules. I had learned to live by them. I wasn't going to screw that up again. No. That last evaluation meant more than any Proteus Plaque. Several of us had talked about it already - I had come to peace with my decision - and I have never regretted it. As the day wound down - I had gathered all of the signatures required - the only thing left was to sign out at the Quarter Deck. I noticed when I went back through our shop for the last time - it seemed rather empty - but I figured with a boat just coming in - that's where they were. When I got back to the fan tail - I took my papers over to the Quarter Master's shelf - and got signed out on the deck log. When I turned around - I noticed several Marines had gathered at the Main Gangway - apparently to escort some arriving Brass. I started to head for the enlisted gangway - when a line of Officers and men -- a bunch from my division - rounded the corner and formed up between the anchor winch and the Main gangway - I know I'm sometimes pre-occupied - but it finally hit me - this assembly was for me. Talk about stunned. I turned and walked back to the center of the Quarter Deck - where several of the Marines stepped up to me - held out an American Flag - not just any Flag - this was our -at-sea Ensign that had flown from the Proteus' mast while at sea since Mare Island - folded in the traditional triangle. As he handed it to me he said: "In appreciation of your friendship, your dedication to your ship and your fellow servicemen - I present you with this symbol of our nation and our union. Semper Fi." I had once commented - how much that Ensign had meant to me - and here it is - in my hands. I did manage to get out a thank you - though I really don't mind telling - I was well-passed choked up. I saluted the Officer of the Deck - requested permission to leave the ship -I turned and saluted The Marine Detachment; the men from my division, the Ensign flying from the fantale - and made my trip down the gangway the last time. It had been 51 months since I first came aboard. In this tribute from peers, friends and comrades-in-arms - I now knew - in 51 months -- I had grown up.

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