When I was 17 years old, my father took me and my brother, Vernon, on a barge in the middle of the East River. He was a diesel mechanic who made sure the equipment was running properly on the barge. I believe the personnel on the barge were repairing or maintaining some pipeline that runs at the river bottom.
A short time after being on the barge, it started to tilt to one side and was on its way to sinking. There are legs on the barge that hold it stationary and the legs on one side started to collapse. The warning alarm was sounded and it started to get scary but because we were with my father, I felt that nothing bad was going to happen to us. I don’t think my father was that confident about that, though. He made sure that we were equipped with lifejackets in case we wound up in the water. He didn’t have one. He always made sure he took care of his kids first.
It seemed like out of nowhere, tug boats came from all over the place to the rescue. The tug boats managed to keep the barge afloat and the barge “legs” were straightened out and once again anchored it.
I remember telling my friends about it that day. They were captivated by the story. Phil Norwich, an older guy in the crowd, particularly enjoyed the story. Phil and I traveled to Fort Hamilton together. I was sent to US Navy boot camp from there. He was on his way there to take a physical because he was reporting for the draft. It was during the Vietnam war in 1970. Phil thought he was going to get a physical and return home before they inducted him. It turned out that he was inducted that very day into the army and never got to go home. I didn’t find that out until months later because we were separated there.
Phil was sent to Vietnam. Luckily, he came back unscathed. He went to college afterwards, fully taking advantage of his military GI Bill education benefits. He became a photographer. I haven’t seen him in years. I hope he’s doing well. I have no idea where he is.
If I had not gone into the Navy at 17 years old, I would have wound up being drafted the following year because my birthday came up as #8 in the lottery. I probably would have wound up in Vietnam, as well. I didn’t join for any particular reason, other than I wanted to get away from home. I had something to prove to my father, I suppose. We were constantly at battle with each other. Funny thing is he was the person I missed the most when I was away. Early enlistment just may well have saved my life. I guess I’ll never know.
Anyway, seeing this barge on the East River as I crossed over the 59th Street Bridge on my bicycle, brought these memories to mind. I just wanted to share my thoughts.