Final Week in Paradise

13 03 2011

Some conveniences just weren’t available on Sand Island. When the Coast Guard crew on Sand Island needed a haircut, for example, we had to take the boat to JI since we had no barber shop…that is, until I mentioned in conversation that my grandfather back home was a barber. Everyone just assumed that if you have a barber in the family, then you must be able to cut hair. Hey, I have a surgeon in my family, but you wouldn’t want me to remove your appendix!

Price and Bill the Barber of Sand Island. "Hey, anyone can cut this style."

 

But, I gave it a try and soon became the barber of Sand Island. There was only one problem with that…there was no one to cut my hair. Since we were tucked away on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, away from civilization, away from military protocol, away from anyone who cared how long my hair was, I just let it grow, along with my beard.

Now, pan forward several months. As I was entering my last week on Sand Island, looking a bit like Sampson from the neck up, I was so excited I don’t think I slept all week. It was during that week the Commander of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District came for a visit. In preparing for the admiral’s inspection, I spent about 10 minutes carefully tucking my hair up underneath my Donald Duck Coast Guard hat. And while our commanding officer had no concerns about the length of my hair, our executive officer didn’t share his indifference. Just before the admiral passed through the ranks, the XO gave the order to uncover…remove our hats. With a fifteen mile per hour wind to my back, as soon as I removed my hat, my hair blew down into my face. I honestly didn’t see the admiral as he walked passed me.

The admiral and me.

 

Following the initial inspection, he made another pass. This time he stopped at me, shook my hand, asked my name and how long I had been there.

“Eleven months, three weeks and one day”, I proudly replied.

To the XO’s disappointment, the admiral wasn’t concerned about my hair. He simply congratulated me on my impending departure and never said a word.

Knowing I had a flair for creativity, the CO relieved me of all duties and asked me to spend my final week on the island on a project of my choosing that would help crew morale. I built what we called the short-timer’s board. It consisted of hooks on which each crewman hung a card with his name. As each week passed he moved his card up until he reached the very top position. At the top was a poem which I wrote; and, while I cannot remember what I had today for breakfast, I can still recite that poem which I wrote over 36 years ago.

The Short-timers Board

 

Imagine that

Only one week left.

I’ve finally done my time.

I’ll step upon that plane this week

and leave this rock behind.

I’m going back into the world,

I’m happy to report.

Don’t worry, Coastie,

The day will come

When you will be this short.

So as I bid to you farewell,

I leave with you these words.

In my personal opinion,

Johnston Island is for the birds.

So long!

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