By Alfred W.
Possible the proudest achievement of my life, my moment
of highest living, occurred when I was nineteen. I was aboard the USS
COLLETT off the coast of Hong Kong. We were in a typhoon. All hands had
been below deck most of the night. I was called to the bridge at 0200 to
take the helm. Everything had been rigged down above deck for the typhoon.
We were running in front of it at under fifteen knots, yet the destroyer
tore along as it buckled and pitched. The large swells were about 1/16 of a
mile apart, and the wind snatched the large wells and slammed them on top of
The destroyer was almost unmanageable, rolling her
superstructure under to starboard and to port, veering and yawing anywhere
between southeast and southwest, and threatening when the huge seas lifted
under here quarter to roll us over. Had she rolled over, she would have
been reported lost with all hands aboard.
I took the helm. The Captain was inside the bridge as
no one could be outside. He watched me for a time. He was afraid of my
youth and feared that I lacked the strength and nerve. But when he saw me
successfully wrestle the destroyer through several bouts, he ordered up to
the bridge for a sandwich and copy of coffee. Fore and aft, all hands were
below decks. Had she rolled over, not one of them would ever have reached
the deck. For several hours I stood there alone at the helm, in my grasp
the wildly careening destroyer and the lives of two hundred and fifty men.
Once we plugged bow first under a large wave, tons of water were upon her.
I checked the roll indicator and saw it go to a reading of at least 85
degrees. At the end of five hours, sweating and played out, I was
relieved. But I had done it! With my own hands I had done my trick at the
wheel and guided tons of iron through a few million tons of wind-driven
My delight was in that I had done it – not in the fact
that two hundred and fifty men knew I had done it. Within the year, all the
men aboard had forgotten; yet my pride in the duty performed was not
diminished by half.
I am willing to confess, however, that I do like a
small audience. But it must be a very small audience, composed of those who
are willing to chance adventure. I have a feeling that I am justifying my
environment. But this is quite apart from the delight of the achievement
itself. This delight is particularly my own and does not depend upon
witnesses. When I have done some such thing, I am exalted. I glow all
over. I am aware of a pride in myself that is mine and mine alone. It is
organic. Every fiber of me is thrilling with it. It is very natural. It
is a mere matter of satisfaction at the adjustment to the environment. It
is success. Life that lives with adventure is life successful. The
achievement of a difficult feat is successful adjustment to a sternly
exacting environment. The more difficult the feat, the greater the
satisfaction in its accomplishment.
Thus it is with the young sailor who leaps forward and
volunteers to unload a gun that has misfired. Once the sailor began the
task, his environment became immediately savage, and savage the penalty it
would have exacted had he failed and the projectile had blown him away.
Of course, the sailor did not have to run the risk of
the penalty. He could have remained at his General Quarters station at the
helm in a sweet and placid environment. Only he was not made that way. In
that swift sea breeze moment he lived as he could never have lived at this
As for myself, I am proud to be that individual who was
able to rise to the distant sound of a drum and meet the occasion with