My boat had been sold to the Brazilians. There were still eight months left on my military obligation. My daughter had been born while I was submerged on station off the southern coast of Cuba. By the eight-month anniversary of my wedding, I had been in my home port fewer than six weeks. During those six weeks, I had spent every third night aboard the boat. When I filled out my dream sheet for my next assignment, I asked for shore duty. They did not give it to me.
They did give me an assignment that they called "shore duty". They sent me to be a crew member of the research submersible Trieste II. Jacques Piccard had built it to U.S. Navy specifications, and it was capable of exploring the entire ocean bottom. While I was there we used the shallow-water configuration, which could submerge to "only" 20,000 feet, and could explore only 96% of the ocean bottom.
It was quite interesting. And it was defined as "sea duty" for an enlisted man and "shore duty" for an officer. So my tour of shore duty was on something that went to sea.
The terms of my standard agreement with the Navy required that I give them six months notice if I planned to get out of the service after my initial four-year obligation. So, a month after I arrived in California to report to the Trieste, I resigned.
The next six months were busy. We did lots of unusual and interesting things. During my last week with the Trieste, I worked eagerly to get them ready for the next exploration that they were to perform. Several of the crew members were good friends, and I stayed in touch with them afterward. And I cast off their last line as they went to sea on my last week in the Navy.
For years, since I finished with school, my Navy had been the Navy of small ships, of small crews, and of a bureaucracy that existed only at the other end of the message wire or mailbox. On that last week, I went back to the Navy that I had not seen since my training days. I reported to the U.S. Naval Station, San Diego, to be processed out of the service.
There were lots of offices. There were lots of buildings. There were lots of steps to be taken. There was a long checklist. There were colored stripes on the floor to lead me from one clerk to the next, down the hall, up the stairs, out the front door, across the street, or wherever I needed to go next. The only difficulty was in remembering which color stripe I needed to follow this time.
There were procedures to be followed. Some things were not stamped in the right box, so I had to follow the stripes back to where I could get the thing re-stamped properly. Other things were not spelled correctly, so I had to retrace my steps for remedial typing. People yelled at me a lot. I did not care. I did wonder how much they yelled at enlisted men, given the amount of abuse that they gave me, a salty Lieutenant who knew the ropes.
It took two full days to get all the papers straightened out. Some physicians with the bedside manners of drill sergeants examined me to be sure that I was in good health and could not file any medical claims with the VA. An old, old mistake in my service record was discovered. It concerned my first week in submarine school, years earlier. They tried to tell me that I would be prosecuted over that, but they were too bored to follow through with it.
Finally, they gave me a form DD-214 which showed that I had completed my obligations to Uncle Sam. I signed an enlistment contract for the Naval Reserve, and they discharged me from the U.S. Navy. Now I was Lieutenant F. G. Charlton, III, USNR (Inactive). I could no longer look down my nose at reservists.
At 1530 hours on the second day, they told me that I could leave, that it was all over now. At 3:31 p.m., I walked out the front door of the Personnel Office. My only plans were to drive home and take off the uniform for the last time. As I walked toward the parking lot, I heard a bird sing.
I stopped for a while and listened to the bird.