“Hey! C'mon, you guys. Let's go down and shoot some buckets. We're burning light here, and I have some money to win back. Get up!”
It was another beautiful, bright, sunny day, off the coast of North Vietnam. The USS Shangrila was slowly cruising along through the calm, emerald waters. Today was Sunday, a 'stand-down' day for the crew. There was a bar-b-que on the flight deck for the six thousand plus men on board. A lot of them were tanning on the flight deck. It was very hot and humid, as usual, but a strong little breeze kept the heat just below stifling.
Stew had just came down to the operation department's compartment to see if any of the electronics technicians wanted to play some B-ball.
“Go away! Let us sleep!” Was about the only answer that he received from most of the men who were in their bunks.
“Okay, you're on.” That was Danny Brown. He was always ready for a challenge.
“Hope y'all have a lot of money. A dollar a basket; first to thirty with a two point lead, wins. Okay?'
“I'm in too.” Terry answered.
“I'm coming too.” John called out, as he jumped out of his bunk. John's family name was Blanke, so he had been dubbed 'Zero' from the first day he came on board.
So, the four young men played basketball for several hours in the hanger bay of the aircraft carrier. They were like brothers, a family. Stew, Danny, Terry, and John. They were all twenty, except Danny, who was twenty-two.
A few nights later, as Stew was refueling a fighter, his gas hose split open and JP5 jet fuel spewed all over him, two other men, and the flight deck. A few seconds later, there was an enormous fire. The night became day for some terrible, long minutes, as the fire raged.
Terry didn't recognize him, as the medics carried him down to the sickbay. Only later did he learn that the charred body passing by him in the corridor on the stretcher, was Stew. He died two weeks later. The two others survived with minor injuries. Stew was twenty, had been married a year, and had a six-month old baby boy. He had two months of active service left to do.
At night, in the Pacific Ocean, there is a plankton that rises to the surface. They are phosphorescent, and make any disturbance in the water appear to glow. Terry was watching the 'glowing' wake of his ship as they cruised along in the moonlit night. The trail stretched to the horizon, behind the ship. It was another warm, beautiful night. He was praying and talking to God.
“God, why did this happen to Stew? He was a good man who would give you the shirt off his back, if you needed it. And his family. The pain they must be suffering. Please let me know that he is in Your hands now.”
At that moment, a shooting star flashed across the sky.
He remembered Genesis 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.'” Terry knew that God was watching over them and that He had chosen to 'turn off' one light here below, so as to allow a bright star to shine in the dark sky.
“Hey Stew. We love you and miss you, buddy.” Terry smiled and went back inside.
Stew was a young black man, from San Diego, and Terry, just a young white kid from a small town in Illinois. They were friends.
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