Some of you may know that long ago (way back in the 1970s) I was in the U.S. Navy for nearly ten years. During that time, I was stationed at photo labs aboard two Naval Air Stations. The primary role for each lab was to support the photographic reconnaissance mission of the Navy’s RA-5C aircraft by machine processing the film they shot. We also provided more mundane photographic support for the entire base including public affairs and event photography, portraiture, and general lab and processing support.
Another, fortunately infrequent, task was to respond to airfield emergencies. Most of the time this involved the aircrew declaring an emergency due to a mechanical difficulty of some sort. When that happened, “crash” phones would ring across the base and sailors and civilians from the fire department, security, hospital, etc., would rush to their assigned posts to offer assistance in case of a crash.
At the photo lab, speakers transmitted the ring of the crash phone into every space and, as soon as the phone sounded, everyone would rush to grab one of the half-dozen or so still and motion picture cameras that were kept for just this purpose and then run out to the lab’s truck in order to drive to the runway. Along the way, photographer’s mates would jump off the truck to station themselves at preassigned locations along the runway in order to provide complete photographic documentation of the incident.
Most of the time these alerts turned into non-events because the pilots were able to successfully land their airplanes despite the malfunctions they experienced—but that wasn’t always the case. One day in particular, the crash phone sounded early in the morning. The photographers who responded to the call were gone much longer than usual, and it wasn’t long before we learned that the plane had crashed in a forested area a mile or two from the runway. The pilot and navigator did not survive the crash.
This is still a vivid memory for me even though it happened nearly 40 years ago. I was a newlywed at that time, still in love with the idea of being in love, and I grieved and worried for the families of the crew of that plane. It occurred to me that everyone involved—husbands, wives, children, parents, friends—began the day thinking it would end like most other days before it, with everyone coming home from their work and school activities in order to do whatever they, as a family, did on a typical evening. Sadly, tragically, that didn’t happen for them that day or on any day after that.
My lingering insight from that day was simple: to value each day and, as trite as it sounds, to not leave the house angry at my other half. I can’t say I’ve always lived up to that standard, but it is still one worth striving for.
Posted for Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe-Thursday study of the letter “I”.