On The Line 7.1

by Steve on December 8, 2009

Back to 6.4

Ted’s body healed much faster than his soul.  He couldn’t help feeling responsible for Mac’s death.  If only he had pulled the ejection handle sooner, as soon as he felt the stick slam against his leg he knew deep in his gut what was happening.  And yet he had delayed, just a fraction of a second but that could have made the difference.  He knew in his heart that he could have initiated ejection sooner.  He also knew that any number of possibilities could have conspired to kill his friend regardless of how quickly the ejection occurred.  Death was a very real part of flying jets off carriers.  He knew it.  Mac had known it.  The possibility of death was something that every aviator lived with.  The thought resided in the deep recesses of the brain and every so often reminded its host that it was still around.  The reminders might be gentle in the form of a rough landing or minor emergency.  They often took the form of a nasty Case III recovery at night in bad weather.  Such a flight would cause a gut-check in even the most experienced, hardened aviators for they knew in their bones they had just cheated death once again.  The rudest slaps took the life of a friend.  Those were the tough ones especially when you had been sharing the same cockpit.

Even with no planes aloft the deck of the carrier was a busy place.  The usual noise that Ted associated with the flight deck was missing as he allowed the sun and sea breeze to play over his body.  It felt good to be out in the air as he moved stiffly around the deck watching as maintainers worked on their jets.  Most were so engrossed in their work that they didn’t notice the officer but several stopped to speak with the survivor.  Others simply acknowledged him with a respectful nod, aware of the demons that occupied his thoughts.  Ted walked to the bow and leaned on the last Hornet parked in the line chained down along the port bow cat.  The minimal exertion left him tired but it felt good to be up and moving again.  Alone on the bow he closed his eyes and listened to the hiss of the great ship cutting through the water.

“I’m so sorry, Mac,” he muttered to no one.

He shifted his weight and felt the familiar pain shoot up his spine.  The Doc was concerned about possible spinal compression as a result of the violent ejection and Ted wasn’t arguing the point.  He knew something was wrong, something that could spell the end of his flying.  All the other aches and pains were slowly improving but not his back.  The warmth of the sun helped or so he thought and the sea air was a refreshing change from the lifeless air within the ship’s spaces.  He stretched carefully and felt some of the tightness begin to loosen.  As he made his way back toward the island he noticed Commander Hart talking with some of his men as they worked on the engines of an S-3.  The skipper saw Ted coming and smiled.

“Damn it’s good to see you moving around.”

“Thank you, Sir, it feels good to get out here.  I’ve been cooped up way too long,” Ted replied.

“Mind if I walk with you?”

“Not at all, Skipper, as long as you’re not looking for a race.”

Both men laughed, forgetting their grief for a moment, glad to share something that felt normal again.

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