A Herculean Task


The Amphibious Assault Ship U.S.S. Guam LPH-9
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I will share a somewhat embarrassing Navy story with you. I was a third class petty officer serving aboard the USS Guam LPH-9 as an air traffic controller. We were in the southern Mediterranean Sea after just leaving Alexandria, Egypt headed for Naples, Italy, I believe. We were all sitting around relaxing when Captain T. A. Stanley called down to CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) for a volunteer to hop aboard a helicopter and fly into Athens, Greece on a special mission for him. I knew that Athens was not a scheduled port of call on this tour so I quickly volunteered to go. If I went I would be the only enlisted man who would touch foot on Grecian soil. I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this. And what was this special mission which held such great importance to the captain, you ask? It was to purchase a copy of the New York Times and deliver it to the bridge! I jumped at what I thought would be an easy task and one that could earn some brownie points. I immediately made my way to the flight deck. The helo pilot only had one instruction for me as I boarded, he warned me that we were flying into a highly secure air base (I think he actually said “top secret”, but I’m not sure now), but he definitely said these words verbatim “Don’t take any photos while you’re on the tarmac”. He told me I had one hour to look around and then get back to the helo with the newspaper. I nodded, took a seat and strapped in.

Athens, Greece with Mount Olympus appearing in the background
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I’d never taken off from a ship before and as we headed for Athens I was awed by how small the ship seemed out in the vast ocean, practically nothing. I surveyed 360 degrees and could see nothing but ocean and that tiny little ship in the middle of it all. Still in awe as we landed, I stepped onto the tarmac, looked up, saw Mount Olympus rising into the sky before me, and without thinking I couldn’t resist… I lifted my camera and snapped a photo of “the home of the gods”. Almost immediately sirens began to sound, lights began flashing, then a little yellow jeep with red lights flashing came toward me. Two military police jumped out of the jeep, hustled me into the back seat and carted me off to their headquarters. My camera was confiscated and I was detained and interrogated for exactly one hour. I was finally released after they assured themselves that I was not some type of foreign spy. I boarded the helicopter, minus a camera, film and a NEWSPAPER! Once we landed back aboard ship, I dejectedly returned to CATCC expecting the captain to personally come down and skin me alive. Instead of balling me out, he called down and personally thanked me for a job well done, he had his paper and was very please that I had accomplished my mission. I was perplexed, but never admitted that I’d actually failed my mission and didn’t get the paper he’d wanted. A little while later the pilot came down and explained that he’d seen me being picked up by airport security and knew I wouldn’t be doing any newspaper shopping any time soon, so he picked one up for me and delivered it to Captain Stanley in my name. So, if you are out there sir, thank you very much for your good deed and the great story my kids have heard a thousand times by now.

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