A personal, intimate story of young man's experiences in the U.S. Navy at the height of the cold war
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Dorien Grey's World
It's not often one has the chance to become 20 again...
A World Ago chronicles, through one young man's journal and vivid letters to his parents, his life, adventures, and experiences at a magical time. It follows him from being a Naval Aviation Cadet to becoming a “regular” sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga on an eight-month tour of duty in the politically tense Mediterranean Sea.
Learn to fly a plane, to soar, alone, through a valley of clouds, experience a narrow escape from death on a night training flight, and receive the continent of Europe as a 21st birthday gift. Climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius, visit Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul and places in-between; wander the streets of Pompeii, have your picture taken on a fallen column on the Acropolis, ride bicycles on the Island of Rhodes, experience daily life aboard an aircraft carrier during the height of the cold war—all in the company and through the eyes of a young will-be-writer coming of age with the help of the United States Navy.
A World Ago is a rare glimpse into the personal and private world of a young man on the verge of experiencing everything the world has to offer—and discovering a lot about himself in the process.
Friday was what I consider a beautiful day for flying. I went out on a solo first thing in the morning—the sky was full of huge, billowing clouds that reminded me of mountains of whip cream. We aren’t allowed to fly through them, or even get within five hundred feet of them, but it is fun to know that you could, if you wanted to . I like to dive down toward them & then pull out & skim over them. Also it’s fun to go behind the clouds, to see what’s there. Friday I found a clear spot, like a valley in mountains, completely surrounded by huge puffs of clouds. I played around, doing my acrobatics, all by myself and having a wonderful time.
On the radio, which solo students must have turned up all the time, I kept hearing someone calling the tower at Corry: “Corry Tower, this is Charlie Baker 302 (CB are on all our planes): I am on a B2 solo and would like to know if Magnolia Field is open for Corry planes.” Magnolia Field is one of our small outlying surfaced fields, usually used only by Barin Field students, but one of the fields we always use, Summerdale, is being resurfaced, & we’d been allowed to use Magnolia in the afternoon while they worked on Summerdale. B2 students are on their very earliest solos—their second, in fact (A20 is their first—B1 is a dual, & B2 is the second solo). He kept calling & calling the tower, which evidently didn’t hear him, for it never answered. Finally he shut up, and about two minutes later, someone called “Crash! Crash! Crash! Plane down one mile southwest of Magnolia Field.” I thought “Oh, oh….” I was sure it as the poor little guy who couldn’t get the tower.
Although you aren’t supposed to go near the scene of an accident lest you get in the way of rescue operations, I headed toward Magnolia, flying down alleys & corridors between the clouds. On the way, I was kept busy listening to the radio—the crash crew from Magnolia had reached the scene…the plane was completely demolished, in at least twelve pieces…they had not yet removed the pilot…Search and Rescue had launched a helicopter from Corry Field….no word yet on the pilot’s condition….
By this time I was in sight of the field. It is a fairly large field, with four runways, arranged so that, from the air, it looks like an arrow pointing to the south. They were using the Southwest/Northeast runway, taking off toward the Southwest & Mobile Bay.
Very close to the end of the S/w runway are a large grove of trees, and beyond them, plowed fields. I had used that runway the day before, & several times just missed the trees while taking off. This guy had evidently hit the trees and crashed into the plowed field beyond. I got close enough to see the crash truck and several cars around, and the tail section of the plane lying on its side, sticking up into the air. I didn’t want to get too close & have them take my number, so I headed back to Corry in a light rain shower. On the way back I learned that it hadn’t been my radio friend but some O.I. from Barin. He wasn’t killed—just broke his hip, several ribs, an arm or two, & severe lacerations. Incidentally, it was Friday the 13th.