It was after 2 am and the officers of the Norfolk, Virginia-based guided missile cruiser were far from home. In Gdansk, Poland, finishing up the last port on a series of “show the flag” international naval cruises around the Baltic States, we were at last observing a Navy tradition. In old days when officers’ commissions were printed on parchment paper, newly-promoted officers would take their shipmates out in order to “wet down” those parchment commissions. In modern times, it’s tradition for newly-promoted officers to spend an amount equal to their first month’s pay raise on a party for fellow officers. This last port before steaming back through the Kattegatt and Skageratt to the North Sea, through the English Channel, and to home saw my credit card among the three on the bar, as I had just gotten my first promotion in the Navy.
It was getting late and the night was going on. Well past one, the owner of the bar heard that it was a bunch of American naval officers in his back room. Appearing at the door, he picked his way through the happy crowd until he found Captain Davis. Reaching him, he asked his permission to address the assembled wardroom.
In halting English, this Polish man explained that his grandfather had given his life resisting the Nazis, his father had given his life resisting the Communists, and he, for his part would be, in his own words “forever grateful to America for its unflinching devotion to the cause of freedom”. Raising his glass to us, he announced that the whole night’s tab was on the house. He stayed with us, in the back room of his own bar, eating and drinking and laughing and partying even until the first pinks colored the sky.
Tonight I find myself not in a bar but instead in a hotel room. The hotel is full, but the days of all-night revelry are long gone. We’re too old for this stuff anymore. We’re professionals. We have proposals to write, training to do, families to attend, and Lives in a Day to document. It’s a quiet night in this business hotel, filled to capacity with weekend warriors from out of town. In one room you can hear the cable news. Someone else just walked out to get ice. A third just had Chinese delivered. Tomorrow will be another day of training and preparedness, before heading for home.
Pray for us, that all who serve, in any capacity, may never flinch in the devotion to the cause of freedom. Pray for our leaders, that they keep the hard-won gains of those who gave so much to attain them.