To be seaworthy

In the early 1950's a young woman from a poor family in western Nebraska joined the Navy to escape a short, abusive marriage. Her older brothers (she was the eleventh of twelve siblings) had served in World War II and were dead-set against her joining, so she got a young cousin to drive her to Chicago to enlist on the sly.

She became a hospital corpsman and among the first WAVES to serve aboard ship. One of those ships was the USNS General William O. Darby, a troopship operated by the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS).

She met a handsome junior officer, a young man from a poor family in eastern Alabama who had served in the Navy and fought in the Battle of Okinawa. Ever after, he would joke that they had to lead him up the gangway of this first ship by making him hold on to plow handles.

They fell in love, got married, had three sons, raised their family far from their home states in places like New Jersey and the Panama Canal Zone before retiring to the old farmstead in Alabama. This is what they looked like shortly before the old man died in 2013.

Their life together was not one of sweet wedded bliss, of course. It was more like one of those ships that has its share of rust and corrosion, of crew grumblings occasionally bordering on mutiny, of close calls in storms and traffic. But the vessel was seaworthy and, like the Darby, its cargo was human, and infinitely precious to them.

Their vow was "til death do you part," and so it was. The point is not to be perfect. It is to be seaworthy.


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