How Deep the Ocean
type story hereHow Deep the Ocean
Harry O’ Grady had only been out of Boot Camp, San Diego, for five months and was ready for the open sea. It was in his blood all the way back to his great grandfather and now he would have his chance to show that he had what it takes. He had been around water all his life and had his first sailboat at the age of fourteen. The Puget Sound was his playground in Washington State and he knew it was only a matter of time when he would sail the seven seas.
When Harry reported on board his very first ship, his heart felt like he was at home. It didn’t take long for him to learn the ropes, so to speak. He could chip paint with the best and make his bunk up like he had been told. His shoes were shined to perfection. The uniforms were clean and ready for anything they would have him do. He could see his great grandfather in his dreams and he was pleased. He had been told that they were soon to be underway to the islands of Japan. There they would ready the ship for Korean patrol, as the “Police Action” was near its end.
That morning came and the sailors on the pier let go the lines as the ship begin moving slowly towards the open sea. The men looked sharp standing at quarters lining the rails in their white uniforms. She was a proud vessel with all pennants flying, the flag of our nation high above the rest. Each stood at attention as they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and the captain blew the ships horn. They were notified that they might not return for six months to a year.
Six days out and the Destroyer ran into their first typhoon of the season. Harry had the 2000 (8:00 PM) to 2400 (Midnight) duties as the starboard lookout. He had been told to report any and all things that he sees or thinks he sees. It was hard to keep his mind focused on the sea with the ship taking water over the bow and dousing him on the open bridge. There was suppose to be other vessels with them as they made their way toward Mid-Way Island. But he had seen only one since the storm started. It was to be a long watch with the misery of standing wet the whole four hours. He kept telling himself that if his great grandfather could do it, then so could he. Besides, how wonderful his bed would feel when he got off duty. The bow went under and the sea again poured down on all on the open decks. After the first two hours, he visualized that hot shower and the warm pad. At the third hour, he thought, just to get dry would be a pleasure.
The watch was relieved and Harry started below. He was forced to hang on to anything he could, as he made his way down to the main deck and through the long passageway. The ship was rolling and pitching in every direction. When he reached the end of the passage and was about to go down to his quarters one deck below, the hatch on the portside opened. Somehow the handle that held the hatch had shared off and swung open. Harry worked his way over so he could close it. The ship rolled to port and took the young sailor out on the open deck. He fought to hang on to anything he could grab. The waves were crashing down the deck with every roll the ship took. It was like a hand grabbing at him, trying to pull him to his doom. As he slid out of reach, he could see a sailor grab the hatch from the inside and close it. His screams went unheard, as they were swallowed up in the wind. The waves rolling down the deck now grabbed him and shoved him into the netting at the stern of the ship. Every time the ships bow rose with the next wave, the stern would go under. Harry went under and when he surfaced, he saw the stern light leaving him behind. He fought with all he had to stay above the waves. His mind ran in circles as he tried to stay afloat. The next wave took him up to its crest of sixty feet and pushed him down into the trough. All the time he tread water he tried to think of the things that he had been taught at boot camp. He was alone and there was no chance of help on the way. Oh what can he do? It’s his life! If he is to be saved, he had to put his skills to work Now!
As he struggled to stay afloat, he remembered. At the crest of the wave he took a breath and went under. Pulled his pants off and tied the leg openings shut and came up for air. On the crest of the next wave, he pulled his pants high over his head and filled them with air. Now he had a floating devise that could hold him up. It worked so well, he thought that he should have patted himself on the back, if only he had the strength. As he rose with every wave, he could not tell where he was, nor could he see any lights from the ships. He was alone in a vast ocean in the middle of a black night.
“Man Overboard,” “Man Overboard.” Squawked the ship’s speakers, as the report came to the ears of the captain. “Come About,” were the orders as the captain received the information about the young recruit. The helmsman spun the ship’s wheel hard to port and the big vessel made its turn. “It has been six hours from the time he left his watch. In this storm there isn’t much of a chance,” he said. Orders went out over the airways to the rest of the flotilla and the full search began in earnest. Through the rough seas the whole flotilla turned about and headed back the way they had come.
The sea had a good hold on the young seaman, as it tried to dislodge him with every huge swell of salt water that carried him farther away. He found that although his inflated makeshift life preserver held him up okay. It had to be re-inflated every half an hour or so. Just about the time that he could relax a little, the air would be gone and he had to use more of his failing strength to capture more. The salt-water taste that he had in his mouth caused him great thirst. It was like a dozen salt tables had gone down and there was no fresh water to get rid of it. After what seemed like half a night had gone by, he crested the top of a wave and thought he had seen lights. Could it be that they had found him gone? On the next crest he did see searchlights playing on the waters far in the distance. “They are looking for me!” he shouted, as the wave threw him down again into the trough.
The winds started to die down somewhat and the waves grew less intense, as the night struggled reaching for the morning sun. Still the search went on in hopes of a recovery. The wave height had now dropped to twenty feet and visibility had increased greatly, but still no sign of the missing recruit. “We will carry on with the search until noon and if there is no sign. We will return to our original course,” said the captain over the radio to the flotilla.
Daylight was fast approaching and he was still hoping that he would be seen. He just couldn’t imagine himself dying at sea when he had his whole life before him. Thoughts came of his mother and father, his brothers and sister. How terrible it would be for them to hear of his missing at sea. Is it to be that he could not fulfill his dream of following the family tradition? The thirst was again causing his throat to swell; it was hard to swallow. At the height of the next wave he thought he saw some ships, his heart started to dance with hope. On the following wave, his heart dropped a beat. “They were moving away.” And on the next, they were out of sight.
The storm blew it self-out and the skies cleared. The seas became calm and the wind stopped completely. It was almost like some force had turned toward the other extreme and caused the heat of the sun to bake the surface of the water. Harry hung on to his flotation trying to save his energy as much as he could. It would be just a matter of a few more minutes before he had to re-inflate. His throat was now parched and the salt on his skin dried sticky. All that day the heat and salt tormented him to the point that he knew no one would come for him. For the next five days with his arms aching, he hung onto life. Through salt incrusted eyes lashes he saw an aircraft flying high in the heavens and thought how wonderful it would be to have a seat on the flight. To be anywhere but here. From that height, no one could have seen such a small spot on the vastness of the ocean.
The radio was just now sending the sad news towards the O’ Grady hometown. It is the hardest thing a commanding officer has to do when his responsibility turns to the family of the missing or dead. He explained the circumstances of the accident and how the navy’s efforts to find their son had failed. He explained the full flotilla had participated in the search. He ended the message with “I personally feel you grief.”
Harry was beginning to realize that all his efforts to stay afloat seemed to no avail as he continued to inflate. His mind told him to give it up and make peace with his maker. After six days hanging on to his makeshift life saving pair of dungarees, he grew weaker and his hands could not hang on much longer. “Lord,” he began. “I’m sorry for not coming to you before this.” His throat was so sore he could hardly get the voice above a whisper. “I have not always done the right things that I had been taught. My life has been one, which has been self-centered and not always looking out for my fellow man. I have now found myself in this predicament that I am unable help myself. I now ask for your help in this matter before me.” He wasn’t sure, but he felt like he had gained some strength in his arms. If only he could hang on a little longer.
A car with US NAVY on the side pulled up in front of the O’ Grady home and an officer stepped out. The husband, Timothy O’ Grady and his wife Molly greeted him at the door. “May I help you officer?” asked Mr. O’ Grady. The officer was invited into the home and offered a chair. “Thank you but no I should stand,” replied the officer. “Mr. and Mrs. O’ Grady I have been sent by the department of the Navy, to inform you that your son Harry O’ Grady Seaman Second-class, has been reported missing at sea.” After which he saluted them, took off his hat and held it to his side. He then told them what had happened that night onboard the Navy Destroyer their son had been assigned. How the efforts of all had failed and how sorry he was for their possible loss. He also informed them that the chances of finding their son were almost impossible. With that he pardoned himself and departed.
Molly felt faint and was helped to a chair by her husband. He pulled another chair up to her and sat in front holding her hands as the tears begin to appear on their cheeks. Michael, their second son came home from a job that he had been at all afternoon. “What’s the matter dad?” he asked as he stood before them. Timothy let him know what had just happened. “Please call your brother and sister for me please,” he said. Michael went to the telephone and made the calls.
The clouds begin to darken over the spot where Harry was treading water. He could hear thunder in the distance and a bolt of lighting. Soon the skies opened and the rains came down. Harry opened his mouth as far as he could, without cracking his lips and stuck out his tongue. Every drop of fresh water he could gather would be to his betterment. He was so tired of hanging on that he had put the belt on his pants around his chest to hold him up. So when the rains came, he laid his head back against his floater and let his face wash of salt. It felt so good, but he was so tired. His throat began to clear and he could now swallow once more. Suddenly there was a movement near his legs and he knew that he would be eaten any minute. So he stopped moving and slowly he tilted his head downward to have a look. There were small fish swimming around his legs. “Food” came to his mind as he slowly slid his hands along his legs. He opened the right hand very slow and waited. A small fish moved into his palm and begin checking the hand for morsels. Harry closed the hand quick and caught it. He held on with a grip of death. He had never eaten anything raw before, but then this was a must. It all took time, but he managed to catch three more.
Although his skin had begun to shrivel, his strength had gained a little. “If I can only have a little food now and then with some water,” he thought. “Who knows how long he could last.” As the day moved on, Harry found that the little nourishment that had provided him. Allowed his muscles to continue on with his lifesaving of himself. Throughout the night times when it rained, he tried to save as much strength as possible. The days was where he needed all the strength he could muster. For everyday there would be a few small fish to catch. Could it be that his prayers had been answered? Or was this just a stroke of good luck?
The currant pushed him into warmer waters and he found that he was not so cold anymore. But with the warmth came other things that he didn’t expect. Like one large Portuguese man-of-war, with its tentacles hanging below its body. With each movement of the surface water, brought it closer to him. He had heard of them, but had not seen one. The instructors had said that he was to stay clear. As he watched it move toward him he thought, “Why its just a big jellyfish and it sure is colorful.” It was about that time one of its tentacles touched his right leg and right hand. The pain shot through his extremities in a flash and he couldn’t move them. Some how he wiggled free and screamed with all that he had in him. His leg and hand begin to swell. They turned to a light purple. What was he to do?
“Oh God above,” he screamed. “Why has thou caused me such great pain? Have I been that bad that you have placed me in this situation, that I may learn? What must I do? What is it I must learn from this terrible ordeal?”
The dark clouds returned with the wind and thunder. Off in the distance, lighting would strike the surface and sent tinkles through this drifting human flesh. With each roll of thunder he thought he heard in a soft voice say, ”Be still my son, be still.” The winds pushed him away from the danger and the tinkling grew less with distance. The clouds cleared from the sky and the sun brought forth warmth once more. He began to relax a little and took a look at his right hand. All the purple color had disappeared and the same with his leg. There was no more pain.
The drifting continued on in a never-ending circle of life. One day after another, with very little brake in the routine. Rain then the fish, then the sun and so it went. On the twenty second day after the overboard, Harry raised his arms again to fill his floatation, but one leg would not hold any air. It was then that he discovered the threads had separated where the knot had been tied. And he soon realized the other one was about to give way as well.
“Oh Lord is this it for me? Will this be the last day that I know of this misery? Can you now take my life and do what you must? I am too tired to go on, so let it be now. I thank you for trying,” he muttered. “Let me be with my great grandfather, he will understand why I didn’t make it.” Suddenly there was the sound of splashing waters to the left side. Harry turned toward the sound and saw several cold black fins heading for him. “Well this is it I’m sure. But to be done in by SHARKS! Now that’s not the way I want to go!” He said and he started to kick his feet as hard as he could. In his condition, there was not much of an effort. Closer they came and soon where bumping up against his upper legs. There where so many that he just quit fighting and let it go. The air in the other leg was starting to run out anyway.
They pushed into him and instead of sinking, he was moving ahead at a good clip. “Hey wait a minute,” He said “These aren’t SHARKS these are DOLPHNS. Laughter came to his lips as he yelled like a rodeo bronco rider, “YA-HOO!” They traveled a long ways before he was left to himself once more. “Okay Lord,” He asked. “Now what?” There was nothing else and he was set adrift again with one leg of his pants filled with air. Only now the refilling became more frequent, as there was only the one leg and it was leaking. His efforts to stay afloat took its toll on the already tired body. The sun and salt had taken their turn in deteriorating the pants material. The threads unwound one at a time.
The water began to close over his lips and his eyes as he slipped beneath the surface. He held his arms as high as he could with his hands folded in his last prayer. When the water crested over his fingertips, the body went limp. The last of his air was leaving the nose. All was lost. The end had come…
The captain gave the orders, Surface, Surface and the vessel rose from the depths that they had been operating at for the last two weeks. Their assignment was to chart all volcanic activity around the Hawaiian Islands. This was to be their last run on this side of the islands, before they returned to port. All hands on board were ready for a little relaxation. To be in a submarine any longer than necessary was not what these civilian sailors needed. They worked for a private firm and had no desire to play the part of a naval vessel.
The tabs were trimmed and the steal tube broke the surface. “Let’s open the hatches and get some fresh air in here,” said the captain. “Aye Captain,” was the response. With the sub now on the surface, the men came pouring out for that big breath. “What the,” said one as the rest stopped in their tracks. “What we got there Campbell?” asked the captain of his first mate while looking down from the conning-tower. “I’ll take a look captain,” replied Campbell. With sub now rolling with the wave action he had to hang on to the lifeline that ran towards the bow. “Looks like we caught a big fish, captain,” yelled back the mate. “No wait a minute, here men give me a hand. Captain we have a body here and I think that he is still alive, maybe.” “Get down there men and give a hand. Take him to sickbay,” was the command.
It was touch and go as the submarine moved at top speed towards port. The ships cook also handled most emergencies so he jumped right in trying to save this wayward sailor. They could tell he was navy, from what was left of the tattered uniform that still clung to this badly beat body. A message was sent to the Naval headquarters at Pearl Harbor and as soon as their lines were tied to the pier, the navy took charge. He was carefully loaded into an ambulance and whisked away to the hospital. The next four weeks was spent bring this lad back from the dead. He thought that he must be in heaven, for the last thing he knew was the bubbles that filled his eyes before he passed out. Finally all the tubes came out of his mouth and the investigators were able to make sense out of his ordeal. It wasn’t until they received word from his ship, that they began to believe his story.
Fifty-two days after he went overboard, he was reunited with his family who had flown to Hawaii to be with him. As they sat in the visitor’s section of the hospital, the naval base admiral along with the captain of his ship came into the room. The captain walked up to him as Harry stood and saluted, put his arms around him and said, “Am I ever glad to see you again sailor. Now my heart is relieved.” “Thank you sir. I did my best to get back,” replied this recruit. He had spent more time in the sea than on it. “I believe that the admiral has something to say,” said his captain. “Seaman second class Harry O’ Grady, because of what you have been through. I want to award you this survivor’s metal and to promote you to Boatswain mate third class. After you have had two months leave with your family, your captain has asked that you be reassigned back to his ship. If you would agree, that is.” “YES SIR,” replied the new petty officer. “ “It would be my pleasure sir.” “Only this time we will tie a line to you and keep you onboard,” added the captain. With that everyone had a smile.
What ever happened to Harry O’ Grady you may ask? Well he stayed in the navy for the next twenty years and retired a senior chief. Now spends his time with his friends at the local mall telling tall stories. Of course most of his stories were of a nature that would make a good man blush. In any case, he kept everyone in stitches. Why he was so good with his long tales that he even managed to write a book, but said nothing about his ordeal on his first sea voyage. When it came to his private life, he was careful not to say too much. Although his faith in a higher power has never wavered. To call him a religious man, the comment you get would be a big smile. To this day, he carries a picture of a sign he saw high on a tree. One that he had passed many times near his home. It read…….. “Believe In Me for I am the Lord.”
Joseph Marvin McManus
14 July 2002