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‘Because he’s my shipmate’

Published: Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 12:16 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 12:17 p.m. CDT

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I am a United States Sailor.

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me.

I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world.

I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with honor, courage and commitment.

I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.

If you served in the Navy prior to the 1990s, you may not have heard of the Sailor’s Creed. But today, everyone from the lowliest E-1 to the Chief of Naval Operations himself knows and understands these words and their meaning.

The Sailor’s Creed was only just being drafted when I received word that I was being sent home with a medical discharge. So, I wasn’t required to memorize it in boot camp, either.

But I believe those words are true of almost every man or woman who puts on the uniform. And, from time time, I am reminded of just how true those words are, even after they stop wearing the uniform.

I left boot camp on New Year’s Eve and my flight wouldn’t land back in Des Moines until well after midnight. In fact, I celebrated New Year’s twice in mid-air that evening.

Both times, I did it in First Class.

The first time, there were four of us in uniform on the flight, and no one had purchased tickets for First Class. So, the flight attendants asked the other passengers if they would be offended if we sat up front.

No one complained.

On the final leg of my trip home to Iowa — the seventh of my connecting flights that day — found me to be the only military member among a small group of red-eye passengers. There were several in “business class” — on a small plane, that’s what they call First Class — and a couple of us in “coach.”

It was a short flight from St. Louis, one of those where you barely get to your cruising altitude before you’re descending again. But the moment the “you’re free to move about the cabin” message went out, one of the flight attendants asked me to come up to the front of the plane.

There, I was met by the captain, who proudly told me he was a former Navy pilot. He shook my hand, thanked me for my service, and proceeded to have me sit down with the First Class crowd.

No one protested, but one of the business class regulars, noting it was a “classy move,” did ask why, though.

“Because he’s my shipmate,” the pilot said with a nod before stepping back into the cockpit.

What made that moment all the more special was that I had used that very phrase just a few hours earlier.

As a future student of the naval nuclear power program, I entered boot camp as an E-3 (Fireman), and was being paid as such. That meant upon completion of boot camp, I had significantly more money than some of the other guys in my company.

One in particular was Huck, a guy you’ll hear more about in the next few weeks, who was from central Nebraska. He had a physique that would have earned him a starting spot on the defensive line for the Cornhuskers.

Which is to say he was fast over short distances, but not a long-distance runner.

We had our final fitness test earlier in the day. The first part of that test was a 1.5-mile run. If you could complete it in 11 minutes or less, you were exempted from the rest of the test.

My average time was less than 10 minutes. But I knew Huck had struggled with the run throughout boot camp, so I ran alongside him, start to finish, urging him on when his legs wanted to give out.

Afterward, the company commanders asked why I didn’t take advantage of my running time. My answer was simple:

“Because he’s my shipmate.” 

Semper Fidelis

This weekend not only included Veterans Day, but also the 237th “birthday” of the U.S. Marine Corps. If you have never observed a Marine Corps Birthday Ball, I highly recommend it.

Marines also are part of the Department of the Navy. So, in a very real sense every Marine is every sailor’s shipmate, too.

So, Bravo Zulu (well done) to all my shipmates on this observation of Veterans Day. And, as always, Charlie Mike (carry on).

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be reached at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com via email. Common Sense appears each Monday and Wednesday.

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