I wrote this years ago, and I don't think I've posted it since.
I was a hundred miles out in the Atlantic, when the Liberty went down. It was a strange occurrence; especially since I served on the Liberty years before.
It was clear night, and the seas were near calm. We’d been fishing for over 36 hours and I finally told the crew it was time to take a break. Fishing was good, they were tired and I needed them for the next big push the next morning. I’d caught a cat nap, while they cleaned the deck, so I was freshest. I’d brewed a fresh pot of coffee and was good for hours.
What was really strange was I was thinking about the Liberty as I sipped hot coffee on the front deck and stared off to the west. We were too far to see land, and the stars shone like beacons in the still night air.
I remembered the forward guns, on which I was a gunner. I had three to help and they were the best – as far as I was concerned. We could lay down more fire than any other two crews combined. Most of them stayed, but I did my five years and left the military. I wanted to have my own boat and knew I’d never had the opportunity if I stayed.
Our chief would constantly give us a ration of crap, but we knew he only did it to not show favoritism. He had more than us to lead and morale could be bad enough without adding any other problems.
As I sat, I thought of how the 100 foot fishing boat I owned would be dwarfed by the Liberty. At almost 800 feet long and over 4000 tons, she was a big ship and well known in the fleet. First in her class, she was long in tooth when she went down.
They never completely determined what happened. Some say it was sabotage; others thought the navigation system failed. I even heard some say they laid the blame on the captain. Maybe so but since he went down with the ship, it was fool’s errand if he was up to no good.
Almost all the crew abandoned ship. With the loss of control, and definite threat of disaster, the captain called for abandoning the ship, while he stayed near the helm. The helmsman and XO refused to leave, so they were lost with the captain.
The first hint I had of something wrong was when something caught my attention on the horizon. I can only describe it as what appeared to be a huge firework rocket; climbing and a dull orange in the thick atmosphere.
Soon, the light brightened. The orange turned to yellow, then finally mostly white. The central area was fuzzy and what appeared as sparks showered from the sides. When it was halfway to the zenith, she started coming apart. What started as one light was now a myriad of lights; tumbling, burning different colors and travelling at different speeds. Trails were apparent and the huge, tumbling mess of light traveled damn near overhead as it burned in the atmosphere.
Within moments, the sounds arrived. There were booms, the rushing sound of something travelling fast and all types of other sounds, including whistles and whirring noises that made my hair stand on end.
As all this happened, I could only stare; wide eyed; my mouth hanging open. The long trail that marked the passage was a shimmering, greenish gold. It hung for minutes after the entire mess continued on toward the eastern horizon.
After about a minute, it was all over. The sound of the night and generator seemed deafening, although they were as quiet as usual. I could only wonder about what I’d seen and had an uncomfortable feeling of dread.
I sat on the front deck until the sky started lightening to the east. I didn’t want to check the radio, or wake the hands. We’d know soon enough, and that was probably too soon.
That fishing season ended that morning. Between the search vessels, restricted areas and general bureaucratic BS associated with what happened, it didn’t take any of us long to count our losses and give it up until next season.
After it was all said, and done, all the money spent was just waste. Nothing was ever determined, except the Liberty couldn’t correct a course error and burned in the atmosphere. Some said she might have made it, but the forward, lower turret (my turret) dragged the entire ship down. We’ll never know and it’s really not important any longer.
Still, every season, on the anniversary, I pour myself a stiff drink, salute the captain, and throw a wreath into the Atlantic. It’s the least I can do. He never abandoned his ship.