It has been twenty-five years since I put on a naval uniform to go to work, and I seldom dwell on the twenty-five years I did just that, but yesterday, in the most unlikely of places, I found myself reflecting on my career, not from the perspective of accomplishments, but sharing some knowledge with fellow sailors.
I was in one of LA’s large casting studios, auditioning for a senior golfing duffer with about sixty of my fellow actors. I overheard one of them mention to another that he had been a submariner and, when I found myself waiting on a bench near him, I said, “Did I hear that you were in the navy?” He was, and as we talked about duty stations (I was in New London, CT near the time he was) a third actor, there for a Daily Soap audition asked me what I thought about the relief of Captain Owen Honors from command of the USS Enterprise.
My thoughts were that the punishment probably exceeded fitting the crime, since he was making an effort to improve morale, using a closed-circuit television presentation, while at sea, to a captive audience with a presentation never intended to leave the ship. An error in judgment certainly, but we all make mistakes. My questioner, it turns out, was himself called to task for an event in the 1970s that has come to be called The Tailhook Incident. This was an annual celebration in Las Vegas where primarily naval fighter pilots gather with fellow aviators to share stories of carrier landings and release testosterone. The particular year he was referring to was the last of the events, reported by a curious press and costing several flag officers their careers. His room was not one of the more egregious; he was only serving margaritas, but he was called to testify in Congress.
As we talked he shared how his GI Bill worked out well for him and how his pension supports his acting career. We branched on to discuss how the surprisingly few career officers now find benefits being changed halfway through a career. How small the pool of qualified candidates, how limited are the duties and opportunities of service, and how fortunate we were to serve when we did, in spite of the fact that the country was so opposed to the Viet Nam conflict.
There were at least twenty years difference in our ages and yet for a few minutes we were discussing a moment of common experience and it felt nice. It reminded me that one of the fringe benefits of staying with acting is meeting some interesting people and finding what we have in common with complete strangers and new friends.
Life is indeed good!