My Breath Catches

October 4, 2015

The tweets and posts do not look good. I cannot bring myself to watch the live press conference (if it even aired on my local stations… But that is a rant for another post). It hits too close to home. A large debris field has been identified but they still have not located the American cargo vessel El Faro.

The Chief calls out details… One of the mates is a woman… The 3rd engineer is probably on his first or second trip since graduating this spring. Someone left toddlers at home…

“I know those thoughts. To leave the girls. To be in bad weather.”

My breath catches. I want to put fingers in my ears.

“I don’t have good feelings about this.”

It is so hard to hear him express what I know is very hard for him to do.

This is one of the top three scenarios I worry about. With the Chief sailing most of his career on the west coast I have often said that I am grateful we do not get reports of every hurricane or typhoon over there. But I do remember the reports of the super typhoon that covered over a third of the Pacific (he was on the east coast) and the satellite images of the storm featured on Deadliest Catch (not to mention footage of Jake’s near miss and even Sig’s cry Uncle in the dangerous weather) chilled me.

During the course of writing this the Chief sent me a link to NOAA.gov’s marine weather log for December 2007. He sailed through that…

I ask the Chief about EPIRB… And I almost wish I hadn’t. The reasons for why it only signaled once are numerous and the implications are horrifying. His knowledge is not as comforting as I would hope.

“I’ve lost propulsion twice.”

I actually remember the phone calls after those events. But I think we spouses do not realize the gravity of statements like that. Perhaps that is merciful.

Until a tragedy like this. My thoughts and prayers are with the 28 American families and five Polish families.


Missing American Cargo Ship

October 2, 2015

‘El Faro’, an American cargo ship was reported missing today in hurricane conditions by the U.S. Coast Guard. Search was suspended at sundown and will resume first light. My thoughts and prayers are with the crew and their families. GCaptain has been posting updates as they come in.


Where Have I Been?

September 27, 2015

What a loaded question! I’m sorry I neglected this little project of mine and I think maybe the time has come to get back to this. I felt the kick in the pants from Callie’s Mariner when she featured me as a part of a growing merchant marine blogging world in her Sept. 21st post “Shipmasters”. So if you have journeyed here from her page, let me say “Welcome!” If you’ve been a long time visitor and you just got notice that I’ve posted something, let me say “Thank you for returning!”

I did post earlier this year that I had a tonsillectomy and septoplasty back in March. What I haven’t posted is that on April 11 I ruptured L4/L5 and I underwent a discectomy, laminectomy, and spinal decompression on June 22nd. The Chief was home in March for that surgery and the trip to the ER. He returned to work the day after his brother’s wedding. He wasn’t home for the MRI or the surgeon consult. I had asked if we could wait until the Chief was home for the surgery but that was out of the question. I was allowed to complete my obligation for a long term sub job and given one week to get everything squared away. The hardest part of that experience was the helplessness I felt when the Chief had to tell me that his emergency back-up plan fell through.

Let me be perfectly clear, if an emergency occurred the Chief would have left the ship by any means possible even if he didn’t have a relief on board. I have no doubt in my mind of that. It helped that for 48 hours he was actually in port.

It is just that I know he felt a bit peeved and frustrated with the situation and I felt a bit miffed at the mother and MIL actually getting in a tiff about who would have more time with my children. T1, whether she was just parroting me or actually felt as strongly, was a bit put off by the whole situation as well–considering she really didn’t need a babysitter. I even had to ask my new sister-in-law if she would come to the hospital to help me so that my father didn’t have to (love the man but he is not the one I wanted helping me to the bathroom … I can at least joke that I’ve unintentionally mooned my new SIL).

I healed remarkably well. Because my body had been under assault for months, I have a very painful flare up of my psoritatic arthritis (PsA) and had to stop the heavy duty drugs 5 days post-op so I could at least take my Enbrel shot. I would have to wait until my doctor cleared me (and removed my stitches) before I could start the Methotrexate (MTX) again. I have been cleared to run and weigh lift again. My surgeon had to remind me that unlike his regular patients who are still sitting on the couch and taking Percocet I am going to feel more aches and pains because I AM working out, running, and challenging my muscles and nerves to work and heal. I take 800 mg Ibuprofen when things are inflamed and a muscle relaxant when desperate. I have managed a 11:30 minute mile already… next goal is to work on the second mile.

Emotionally there have been other events that have occurred in the past 10 months that I am not at liberty to post about. Those things and not having this blog as the outlet it had served as in the past made letting blogging go for a while a necessity … plus laying flat on your back and not wanting to blog using my smart phone kept me away too.

Besides Callie’s gracious mention, I also think it will be important to blog about this time in our lives. The Chief will have 25 years with his company in the spring of 2016. I’m in such denial that I added a year! (“What? No! You don’t have 25 years until 2017!”) We had made an agreement that he would try to make it to 25 years if I seriously looked for employment by then–my mother did not work a steady 9-5 job until my freshman year and I wanted to give that to T2 as well.  Right now the Chief threatens to quit (rightly so) every other day. I was called in the second week of school to do a sub job for the assistant librarian (the same one I subbed for just before my tonsillectomy). I am hoping that if she considers retiring at the end of this school year that I can apply for (and get) her job. And that thought rocks my world sometimes–full-time work for the first time in more than 15 years!

This transition time in our lives will be crucial. Many career military marriages fall apart upon retirement. The Chief and I have fabulous examples in our parents (51 years and 48 years respectively) and we have worked hard ourselves to avoid many common pitfalls. I can honestly say the Chief and I are much stronger than we were a few years ago. I will have to blog separately about some lessons learned but if you haven’t read The 5 Love Languages you really need to–it was eye-opening! Understanding the Chief’s love language during the past 6 months made me fall even more romantically in love with him after 20+ years!

So Welcome and Thank You! Here’s to a new and continuing journey!


Maritime Day 2015

May 21, 2015

Two days ago I started a long-term sub job for a middle school math teacher who took paternity leave to help his wife after her C-section. I will finish out the year for him. Let’s just say that this is in the middle of standardized testing and these students have already taken their respective math tests. AND THE INMATES ARE RESTLESS! Even with lesson plans (sadly many students mistakenly believed they were getting 17 days of free-for-all) I do have some time to fill … so I thought about my annual Maritime Day public service announcement. But this is a math class… how could I make it fit the subject? USMM.org and proponents of the merchant marine receiving veteran status have always touted that the MM had the highest casualty percentage of any service in World War II (though prior to 2006 this claim was always tempered with “2nd only to the Marine Corps”). In my search for casualty numbers and total in service I learned through usmm.org that recent research has found more data on the merchant vessels and crews lost. So I have amended my article and created a cross-multiply math problem (you could of course just simple divide the numerator by the denominator and move the decimal point over two to get the percentage…) and yes, T2 had to explain to me how it was done. (Why they thought it was a good idea to hire me, I don’t know!)


Our nation has a little-known national holiday this week: National Maritime Day—a day set aside to honor those civilians who gave their lives for freedom upon the high seas. Because members of the U.S.-flagged Merchant Marine are civilians, most Memorial Day celebrations only give cursory mention of these heroes. As a result, National Maritime Day is their day.

Established by a joint resolution of Congress on May 20, 1933, National Maritime Day is May 22 of each year. The day was selected to honor the first successful trans-Atlantic crossing by a steamship, S.S. Savannah, which set sail from the United States on May 22, 1819. The president of the United States issues a proclamation each year, calling for observance of the holiday. Each U.S.-flagged vessel is sent the proclamation, acknowledging the continued service of the men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine. On April 4, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation adding that observances of National Maritime Day include flying the American flag on homes and all government buildings.

The U.S. Maritime Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation, holds a memorial service—the only national memorial service that honors those American seafarers who lost their lives in service to their country. American seafarers have been involved in defense of the nation since 1776 to the present. In World War II alone, over 1,000* American vessels were sunk, and over 9,500** merchant seamen and officers were lost as a result of enemy action and war-related causes. Members of Congress, leaders from maritime labor and management, and government all participate in this memorial service.

*A Careless Word — a Needless Sinking: A History of the Staggering Losses Suffered by the U.S. Merchant Marine, both in Ships and Personnel, during World War II, American Merchant Marine Museum, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y., 1983 to 1998. Captain Moore’s book lists approx. 990 ships. http://www.usmm.org list includes 1,600 ships.

**Total killed at sea, POW killed, plus died from wounds ashore

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y., sends an honor guard and the academy’s Battle Standard to participate in the Memorial Service. USMMA lost 144 midshipmen in World War II. Since the academy’s founding in 1943, midshipmen have been involved in every major military action, including today’s war on terror. This makes the academy unique among the nation’s five service academies.

The U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command holds a wreath-laying ceremony also on National Maritime Day. The ceremony honors the civilian seafarers who gave their lives manning U.S. Navy vessels involved in the transport of vital supplies. It also honors the Navy Armed Guards who sailed on merchant vessels, an oft-overlooked group of servicemen.

Civilian seafarers helped to build and defend the United States. Fredericksburg began as a colonial shipping port. Shipping commerce is vital to our country’s economy. In time of war gallant seafarers have come to the aid of our armed services—delivering troops, equipment, and food, often putting themselves in grave and mortal danger. As we celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day, please remember those who served along with our Soldiers, Pilots, Sailors, and Marines. And fly the flag proudly on May 22 each year in observance of National Maritime Day.


Merchant Mariners do not automatically have veteran status. In fact the Secretary of the Air Force (not even its own branch of service until after WWII) blocked granting veteran status and rights four times!

From usmm.org:

The judge ordered the Board to reconsider their denial and the Board granted veteran status to most WWII mariners on January 19, 1988. Mariners who went to sea after August 15, 1945, serving in wartime in hazardous waters, got veteran status on November 11, 1998.

One of the arguments against granting status is the civilian nature of their job. “They get paid more.” One argument for veteran status is the hazardous conditions of war time seafaring and the disproportionate casualties the merchant marine suffered during WWI and between Aug. 1945 and Dec. 1946 (as well as other conflicts such as Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars).

To support this reason for veteran status, compare casualty numbers to the total number of personnel per branch to determine the percentage lost during WWII.

Service Number serving   War Dead
 Merchant Marine 243,000* 9,521**
 Marines  669,108  19,733
 Army  11,268,000  234,874
 Navy  4,183,466  36,958
 Coast Guard  242,093  574
 Total  16,576,667  295,790

*Number varies by source and ranges from 215,000 to 285,000. War Shipping Administration Press Release 2514, January 1, 1946, lists 243,000 **Total killed at sea, POW killed, plus died from wounds ashore


Service Number serving   War Dead  Percent   Ratio
 Merchant Marine 243,000* 9,521** 3.90% 1 in 26
 Marines  669,108  19,733  2.94%  1 in 34
 Army  11,268,000  234,874  2.08%  1 in 48
 Navy  4,183,466  36,958  0.88%  1 in 114
 Coast Guard  242,093  574  0.24%  1 in 421
 Total  16,576,667  295,790  1.78%  1 in 56

*Number varies by source and ranges from 215,000 to 285,000. War Shipping Administration Press Release 2514, January 1, 1946, lists 243,000 **Total killed at sea, POW killed, plus died from wounds ashore

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