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Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Friend, Dave

Dave's again in the center with me on his right. We're coming into Alameda Naval Air Station after our first cruise.
Dave's the tall one in the center, with me one guy over on the right. We're at sea off the coast of Vietnam.

I'm in front, Dave's sitting next to me. We're in Hong Kong.

My shipmate for three years, Dave Elliott passed away of cancer. I knew him from the time I was nineteen years old. I will not forget him. Before the end of last year, I finally wrote down a story of an adventure we shared snorkeling in the Philippines. He enjoyed the hell out of it, because he remembered our near death encounter very well. I’m thankful I actually wrote it up for him to enjoy, after so many years of putting it off. It’s short, humorous, and true. He and I went on to share an apartment, scuba dive, and ride motorcycles all over. We kept in touch over the decades, and got together when we could. Facebook acted as our place to share pictures and videos over the last couple years. Dave enjoyed my Otter’s Point scuba diving videos, because he and I dove there so many times together. I can’t think of a better requiem than that old Clint Eastwood movie ‘Outlaw Josie Wales’ – ‘He was born in the time of blood and dyin’ and never questioned a bit of it. He never went back on his folks or his kind. I rode with him. I got no complaints’. Here's the story.

Once long ago in a galaxy far, far away I was stationed on board the aircraft carrier USS Ranger with my friend Dave Elliott, and a transient motley crew of five thousand others for three years. During our second cruise with the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, Dave spent some time back in the states going to C-School. They flew him out to join us in the Philippines where we were parked for some R&R before returning to the line. We went to Grande Island, the recreation spot owned by the Navy. It had a bar/restaurant, and all the beer, soda, and BBQ on the beach you wanted. You could check out sports gear, play short-hole golf, learn to sail, etc. They treated us right, having a place like that, and most of us took advantage of the opportunity. Dave and I were pretty competitive so we decided to mark his return to the Ranger Boat pleasure cruise by swimming around Grande Island with just masks and snorkels. We kept at about the hundred yard range from shore going around, where deeper waters meant more fish and less coral.

Dave was about fifty yards ahead of me as we were nearly three quarters of the way around. I glanced up occasionally to check my position and see if I could glimpse his snorkel sticking out of the water. I spotted him. He stood up out of the water on a rock outcropping, waving in a warning manner at me, pointing at the water. I couldn’t hear what he was shouting and continued toward him. Thinking back there wasn’t much else I could have done anyway. When I reached earshot, it turned out he was warning me about sharks in the water. Some of our shipmates were on shore fishing, and throwing the bloodied up fish back in the water, unknowing their catch and release endeavor acted as chum for unwanted visitors: sharks – lots of them.

Dave and I watched the groups of sharks spinning around crazily happy with their food discovery, knowing if we stayed in the deeper waters, we’d be bait soon. The water became shallow real quick. With around eighty yards still between us and the shore we had good news and bad news. Good news was the sharks didn’t like whipping around shredding themselves on the coral. Bad news was - neither did we. Without fins we couldn’t walk in without lacerating our feet on the razor sharp coral. We began threading our way back to shore in a direct manner immediately, picking a path allowing us to use finger tips and toes to propel us over the shallow coral bed. It was time consuming and we provided our own blood elixir to be washed out for shark appraisal.

When we finally reached shore, we started laughing, looking at each other. We looked like a couple of jigsaw puzzles with thin red coral cuts crisscrossing us from top to bottom. We adjourned to the showers and then found something with alcoholic content for medicinal purposes. I figured Dave and me aren’t getting any younger so now would be a good time to get the story down of how we managed to become shark bait for a day and lived to tell about it.  :)

Rest in peace, Brother.


RJ Parker said...

Wow brother, quite a story. So sorry to hear about your dear friend passing. It's nice to have memories to carry with you and stories to tell. Blessings bro, RJ

Jordan Summers said...

Ugh! Just thinking about the sharks freaks me out.

I am so sorry for your loss, Bernard. Truly sorry. May he swim in shark free waters from here on out.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Yeah, RJ, Dave was with me the first time I laid my 750 Honda down taking out a speed sign in the gravel on a freeway off ramp. He kidded me about it for decades, including a few months ago. He always told me when I dropped that speed sign down, he thought he'd have to strap me and my body parts onto the back of his motorcycle and race for the emergency room. Then he'd sigh in disappointment and say 'but then you got up'. :)

In those days, they only had Mercuricome antiseptic - the red stuff. Boy, Jordan, we were funny looking on the beach with our jigsaw puzzle cuts in bold red Mercuricome lines. :) His passing was rough, because he'd been fighting the cancer so long, and the treatments were the stuff of nightmares. Dave went on a final treasure hunt near where he lived in Florida just before going into the hospital the final time. By the looks of the pictures he posted he had a great time. You can bet he went out with his boots on. :)

raine said...

All my sympathy on your loss, Bernard.
It's so hard to lose the ones that mean so much to us.
But your memories of Dave are so vivid, he'll live with you for a long time to come.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

That's right, Raine, I was blessed with a memory for events with people close to me. It's been one of the most important tools I've had when writing. I'm going to do a blog in the next week about how Dave and I made it off the Ranger boat the day it left on what would have been our third cruise overseas. :) As to loss, he and I were always pragmatists. We talked about it. Our creed was stuff everything into what time you have without turning into a drunk or drug addict, and count your blessings. No one's getting out alive. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. The story of the coral and how cut up the two of you got is certainly memorable. I remember Mercuricome. My mom used the hell out of that stuff.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

My Mom was the same way, Charles, and boy, there sure wasn't any analgesic in that stuff. We used to joke that the red was put in it so when infection set in you couldn't tell. :)