Listening to the Voice of the Veteran through the My Life, My Story Program

What do you want your care team to know about your story?


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Does your doctor know that you are a caregiver for your parents? Or ever since that helicopter hard-landing you really hate to be in confined spaces? Maybe you have developed a great relationship with your primary care provider, but now you are starting over with a new specialty provider?

Staff at the Prescott VA learn to document Veteran My Life, My Story events through a filmed interview.

Staff at the Prescott VA learn to document Veteran My Life, My Story events through a filmed interview.

What should your care team know about you besides your medical history? VA’s My Life, My Story program provides Veterans the opportunity to share their experience and story with VA, in a short narrative that is uploaded to the VA records system. This story is accessible by all VA providers assigned to the Veteran. The program creates the opportunity for clinical care teams to get to know their patients better, while also letting the voice of the Veteran have more input in their health care. The aspect of storytelling creates a strong connection between providers and Veterans that lead to better clinical care.

VA staff and trained VA volunteers conduct interviews with Veteran patients and write brief stories about the Veterans’ lives. After obtaining consent from the Veteran, the short 1,000 word story is uploaded to the VA system for the Veteran’s care team to review.

Once the interview concludes, the volunteer transcribes, edits, and synthesizes the information into the short, first-person story. The story is read back to the Veteran to receive feedback and make any necessary edits. Once the Veteran approves the final version of the story, they receive copies and it is uploaded to the medical file. Some facilities even video-record the interview.

In 2013, the My Life, My Story program was developed at the William S. Middleton Memorial VA Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2018, The Veterans Experience office recognized the program as a best practice and has begun training VA facilities nationwide. Since then, 33 facilities have implemented the program, and that number is growing fast as more Veterans have requested the program at their facility.

The Northern Arizona VA Health Care System in Prescott, Arizona was recently trained to implement this program. Mary Dillinger, the Public Affairs Officer shared, “I am excited to roll out My Life My Story at NAVAHCS because our Veterans should know their story matters and our staff cares.

Author

Tim Hudak

  joined the VA in December 2013 and is on the Veterans Experience Office team. Tim, a Chicago-land native enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. As an intelligence analyst he deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 in 2006 and 2008. After the Marine Corps, Tim used the GI Bill to earn a degree in Intelligence Studies from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and co-founded the university’s first student Veteran organization. Tim is active in many Veteran organizations.

Comments

  1. Debra Cox    

    I’m in charge of MY life. You give us less than 20 mins to speak. ( 10 of which you’re not listening) toss us meds that mess us up and toss us out. Today you referred me to 3 measly sessions with wet behind the ears interns.. I’ve had more trauma happen before they were even born. No thank you. I will figure something else out. I have no choice if I want any normalcy in my life.
    Saving myself..

  2. Debra Cox    

    Just got back from my visit. Always the same.
    They never listen.. Want you to take a damn pill and want to make sure it’s not something “in your blood” causing your PTSD. Damn! Just listen to me, is that to hard for you people to comprehend?
    Evidently it is. I leave more stressed and frustrated than before I walked in.
    You’re not helping us, wake up!

    1. Debra Cox    

      Pills aren’t always the answer to everything.
      Tried them, they made me feel like a drooling zombie. Why can’t you just be honest with me about why you want my blood. You ask me the same question every time I see you. Do you use drugs? NO I DON’T! Do you feel like killing yourself? NO I DON’T! Do you use meth? Are you deaf? I have a heart condition! No I DON’T!
      Sorry, still frustrated from my visit..

  3. stanleyshack    

    I DID NOT SAY THAT BEFORE. unless YOU HAVE ME MIXED UP WITH SOME ONE ELSAE , OR UYOU MAY BE REPLYING THAT SOME ONE ELSE SAID THE SAME THINK

  4. stanleyshack    

    WHY DOES THE va HEALTH CARE HAVE SATURDAY HOUR. when DID NOT STOP FIGTHING ON SATURDAY. THE MILITARY IS A SEVEN 24 MHOUR OPERATION. if ITS GOOD ENOUGH FOT THE VETERAN , WHY NOT FOR THE va HEALTH FACITLITIES. ? tO LAZY, TOO CHEAP TO BUZY? ALL OF THE ABOVE .

  5. Brian Blackwell    

    I wonder if my story should be told ?? ON March 28 I was completely cleared through the VA as a cancer patient to be good to go after severval complaints of my health. 4 days later was admitted to emergency room with pneumonia and large tumor in my R lung which had mastesized to my liver and 7 other spots throughout my body. yes this is the va care I have been given !!

    1. Brian Blackwell    

      Stage 4 Lung & Liver Cancer !!

  6. Gerry Burnett Wright    

    I am interested in sharing my story. Check out my face book page sprayed & betrayed AO Gerry Wright, Army (Ret) Vietnam Veteran.

  7. robert shepartd    

    I am a Vietnam era veteran who has been treat by the VA health care system since 2001. I had great faith in that system for a long time. Until recently a very sad situation has befallen to me and my family. Having trust in my primary care doctor or nurse over the years. I though I was in good hands but obviously not. I had a medical history of enlarged prostate gland at an earlier age which I was not told by the primary care doctor at any yearly exam. As the years passed the primary care unit never followed up on the status of my prostate gland with a digital rectal exam or a simple blood test to check on this status. In November 2018 at the age of 63 I had my yearly exam done. I had a question that I ask the doctor why no one has check my prostate in any of my yearly exams especially at my current age of 63 years old. The doctor could not answer that question with a direct reason why but told me that part of the exam was left up to that doctor at the time of your yearly exam. So the doctor then ordered a blood test that day. After that the doctor called me back in to discuss the findings of my blood test I was told that the blood test showed high elevated levels of prostate gland antigens. The doctor ordered a consult for a biopsy to be done on my prostate. That came back positive for prostate cancer with a possibility of the cancer spreading to other areas. I as a veteran have fallen through the cracks of a failed heath care system of VA personnel who do the job half ass. Now my family and I have to suffer great greatly because of this on going mistakes. I do not worry about me but more for my family who with out my income will be living on the streets. Maybe the VA might have caught the cancer at an earlier stage to give me a better chance of a survival rate. All it would of taken was a simple blood test. I have served my country with all I had not half way. Now being left in the twilight zone for my family and I is a scary place.DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. Push the VA health care system to do the right for all VETS and FAMILIES. Signed the SADDEN ONE

  8. Michael Martin Cates    

    Hi First I seem to remember that back in 2012 I think that I went to the VA Hospital Area in Westwood Calif. and some independent Film Maker was Hired by the VA to do short Videos of Veterans and put them in the Monument in Washington DC for Vietnam Veterans! Now how would I find out about getting a Copy of What they filmed of me back then? Plus how do I participate in this Filming/and or writing of my Story of How the Service to my Country Helped me after I got out! Thanks, Michael Martin Cates ’67-’68 TET Vietnam 1/14th artillery Hdqt’s Btry. 198th Brigade Americal Division Chu Lai/ Duc Pho!!

    1. JESSE JOSEPH REALMO    

      >>>>>>>THIS IS TYPICAL OF THE VA HOSPITAL, THE DOCTORS ARE SIMPLY LAZY WHEN IT COMES FOLLOWING UP ON THEIR PATIENTS. THEY REFUSE TO GIVE VETERANS THE RIGHT INFORMATION & LACK COMPETENT STAFF TO ASSIST THEM…………………I AM ON MY 4TH DOCTOR IN 40 YRS. SINCE I BECAME A MEMBER OF THE VA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM. >>>>>>>>>>>TRUST<<<<<<<<<< IS LACKING ON ALL LEVELS AT THE VA HOSPITAL BECAUSE I KNOW SOMETHING IS GOING TO BE WRONG W/ MY APPOINTMENT………BEING DIABETIC I FIND THE DOCTORS AT THE SPECIALTY CLINIC {HANDLES ALL DIABETIC PATIENTS} IN FACT MY DOCTOR WILL NOT TREAT MY DIABETES, BUT SENDS ME TO THE SPECIALTY CLINIC FOR FURTHER REVIEW – ALMOST LIKE YOU DON'T HAVE A CHOICE – EITHER I GO TO THIS CLINIC OR MY DOCTOR REFUSES TO TREAT ME, THIS HAS HAPPEN TO ME MORE THEN ONCE. I EVEN HAD A DOCTOR WHO DELIBERATELY CANCELED ALL MY MEDICATION SO I COULDN'T GET MY REFILLS PLUS I WAS TOLD MY NEW DOCTOR WAS FROM ANOTHER CLINIC WHICH WAS A LIE, I FINALLY HAD TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM TO GET MEDICATED. THE DOCTOR THERE SAID BY NO MEANS IS THIS PROBLEM MY FAULT & IMMEDIATELY BEGAN THE PROCESS TO GET ME BACK INTO THE SYSTEM ~ CORRECTLY!!!!!!!

  9. Glenn Lego    

    Ever since I almost drowned in the swimming pool at Great Lakes Navy Boot Camp, I shy away from deep water. I hate swimming and I don’t ever want to take a pleasure cruise at sea. The ship I was on would go dead in the water several times. It was a salvage ship built in World war 2. And was a poor excuse for a Navy ship

  10. Claudia Blackler    

    I have always felt strongly about interviewing family members and members of the community…maybe because I was a library director in a small town for 18 years. Here is my interview with my husband Stephen Paul Blackler Sr. 9/12/1939-11/11/2019:
    MY NAVY YEARS

    Stephen Paul Blackler SR

    I was 17 years old and I signed up and sworn in at the Manhattan Naval Recruiting Office. That evening we were put on busses and were transported to Bainbridge Md. Naval Recruit Training Center. I was there for boot camp. I had leave between boot camp and Va. so I went home and took Peggy, Donna and Gary to visit relatives of Peggy in Plymouth/ Plimpton, Ma. When I left boot camp I was an Engineman Apprentice (E2) I was then sent to a shore base at Little Creek, Va. for amphibious forces. While there I took the Naval Course for Engineman (E3). During the three to four months I was there I came home to Far Rockaway and Richmond Hill every weekend. I was a driver and therefore did not have to pay the owner burned the candle on L.I. on the weekends and down in Va. during the week. We also had a compliment of four riders paying $5.00 each to cover gas and tolls. I would leave the base on Fri. afternoon bring the car across the ferry to the Va. Peninsula and drive up ocean highway which is Rt. 13 to Delaware, across the bridge and Jersey Turnpike to Manhattan where we unloaded our four riders. The owner took over the driving and would drop me off Van Wyck and Grand Central Parkway. I would walk to the K&H Bar and Grill to catch a ride from my Dad. If he wasn’t there I would continue on to his house at 109th Ave. and 134th St. Richmond Hill where he lived with his third wife, Peggy and son, Gary and daughter, Donna. Saturday mornings I would borrow a vehicle from my Dad and go out to the Rockaways to visit friends and family and stay with my Mom, Freda, and her husband Stan. Sunday afternoon I would return the car to Richmond Hill and transport myself to Manhattan for the trip back to Little Creek, Va.

    While at Little Creek my job was to clean the space that my division lived in. There were 16 cubicles with 16 beds and lockers in each cubicle. I considered this good duty. I could get my Fridays free as soon as I was done and it was inspected. Other jobs required you to work until 4 PM. That is why I took the car after lunch across the ferry and the owner and four passengers would meet me when they got off the ferry. There was always room for passengers.

    On the last weekend there I knew my tour of duty was up the fist of Sept. so the last day weekend of Aug. I had duty. When I found out that I would be going aboard ship on Monday I paid someone to take my duty so that I could go home one more time before being shipped overseas. During this time I found out I passed the Enginemans test E3 but it would not take effect for a month or so. There are four areas in the Navy: WHITE is Seaman was deck crew, radio signal people, stores, cooks, medics, etc. RED is engineering: boiler tenders, sheetmetal workers, damage control people, welders, and enginemen, which are what I was striking for. BLUE is Airman: (none on our ship). Flight crews, flight mechanics, and all things to do with aviation. GREEN is construction battalion (also none on our ship): bulldozer operators, bridge builders, road builders, etc. of which my father had been during his time in the service.

    I went aboard ship with my seabag and an awful lot of questions. I was assigned to the engineering spaces. One compartment above a second compartment. The compartments were about 15 foot wide, 26 foot long and they had five sets of four each frames which I had to attach a piece of canvas with a line to make it taut and put my two inch thick mattress and pillow on. I was home! Aboard the USS Westchester County LST 1157.
    The Navy classification was Landing Ship Tank, which we call a Large Slow Target. Maximum speed was 14.4 knots attained with all four main propulsion diesel engines V16’s.

    I was assigned to the forward engine room, which housed two V16-278A Supercharged diesel engines, which threw hydraulic couplings turned the starboard shaft. We also had a one straight 278A diesel engine that provided electrical power through a circuit board in the engine room. Also included was a pump that took salt water and ran it through the entire ship for firefighting, flushing, and cooling the engines. A lubricating oil pump, which would transfer oil from storage, tanks to all of my machinery as well as to purify it. Also all the piping to do the required jobs was in this room. Forward of the engine room was void space which contained two settling tanks which we would draw from one, purify the diesel oil and transfer it to our day tanks which were in one of the side bulkheads. We found out how much fuel we had by opening petcocks, which were positioned vertically on the tank. If oil came out one it was that high. We couldn’t have glass with the ship rolling. Most of my watch was spent doing that until we filled up one of the day tanks. While this was going on during our four-hour watch we would be using fuel from the second day tank. All this was done in the after engine room also. In the after engine room ran the port shaft. Access to each one was through a vertical ladder which transverse two decks. One on each side of the engine room. Our only refuge from the noise of these forty cylinders clacking away was a phone booth, which was soundproofed so that we could talk to other parts of the ship. It did not ring; a light flashed.

    When first I went aboard ship I was fortunate to be one of many new newbies so they picked other candidates for mess cooking and compartment cleaning. After one month they again were looking for candidates but I had learned enough about the engine room that the Petty Officer in charge said he wanted me in the engine room and not cleaning compartments. Shortly thereafter official notification came through that I was now an E3 and no longer a good candidate for mess cooking or compartment cleaning. One month later I was standing head watch in that engine room. I was smoking Viceroys at the time and they didn’t have them on the ship so I had to purchase a case (50 cartons).

    It took us fourteen days to cross the Atlantic from Virginia to Lisbon, Portugal our first port of call. We were there for three days. I had one of the three section liberties so I went over only once for an afternoon and evening. Naturally with my buddies we toured what we could see never loosing sight of a bar or a brothel. (I didn’t say we went in either of these places but we kept them in our sights.) We toured caves and quaint streets and had shore food. On the trip across the Atlantic we practiced and actually performed ship to ship transfers of packages, movies, personnel, and we took on fuel from a tanker all while underway. The fourteen days we received the same film three times. The 310 to Yuma which was a stagecoach western. A regular day started at 6 AM with reveille, breakfast, free time, relieve the watch, and quarters was at 8 PM. At quarters information was passed down to different crews from the officer in charge, the chief petty officer, the petty officers, and the engineman. Usually our work assignments would be given to us and status report about our spaces. My workstation was the forward engine room. My special sea and anchor detail station is the engine room. My watch station was the engine room. Higher alert (eminent danger like collision, general quarters, and attack) and normal steaming my billet was the forward engine room. The only time I didn’t have to be in the engine room was if they announced abandon ship. So in other words I never got out of the engine room. 4 PM was the end of normal shift routine pending a special call. We could write letters, talk, shower, shave, eat dinner and if we were free and not too exhausted 8 PM they would have a movie on the main deck or in bad weather in the chow hall. We stood three section watches which were midnight to 4 AM, 4 AM to 8 AM, 8 AM to noon, noon to 4 PM except Fridays at 6 PM they dogged the watch (4 PM – 6 PM and then a 6 PM – 8 PM). What that did was change whatever watch you were on before to an earlier one. Watches went on regardless of workday routine; etc. the only exceptions were special details. You were on watch for 8 hours every day and you worked from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon regardless of what watch you had.

    After leaving Lisbon we went to Rota, Spain. No liberty just fresh food, provisions, and fill up our fuel tanks. Our next port of call was Naples, Italy for three days. I went with a few of my shipmates and rented vespers (little scooters) and toured the hills of Naples. A late afternoon and evening was all the time we had. We had to be back aboard ship before 10 PM or get in trouble. Next port of call was Messina, Sicily, an island off the tip of the boot of Italy. We did some in town site seeing. You can’t really go far with the time we had. Our next stop was a make believe landing in Turkey where our ship in conjunction with other forces performed an exercise. We actually dropped the stern anchor and went as close to the beach as we could, we opened the bow doors and off loaded the trucks, jeep, tanks, artillery, and personnel plus stores for them and then retracted off the beach. One little quirk; we wound up on a sandbar when we landed and we were partially stuck trying to get off. Of course down in the engine room we could not witness any of this just heard our engines screaming trying to free the ship. At last they succeeded, however, the personnel handling the stern anchor wingless were not too fast in retracting the cable and we cut it.
    So if you have need of a stern anchor I’ll gladly tell you where it is in Turkey lying at the bottom of the ocean. This maneuver was not well received by the rest of the fleet. Practice makes perfect. We only lost an anchor this one time! This process lasted a week.

    The next place we stopped was off the Greek Island of Corfu. We could not pull into a dock but had to anchor out using our small boats and captains gig to ferry personnel and provisions back and forth. I was one of the personnel transported to the dock so that I could be seen by a medical dr. Aboard ship we had only a coreman that dispensed aspirins and could apply a tourniquet. The Dr diagnosed me with hepatitis and ordered me to be removed from the ship within 72 hours. So on each of the next two days I would leave the ship with all my worldly possessions, go to the airstrip, consume my box lunch and return in the evening as my priority was not as high as others. The Admirals wife and sister bumped me once. People on emergency leave also bumped me. Finally I was removed by plane to Naples Naval Hospital. When they saw my condition did not have the facilities to treat me. So I went back to the airport to a medivac flight which made nine stops and finally dropped me off at an Army Hospital in Landstohl, Germany. I was there for two months and declared fit to go back to sea. However, the ship was no longer in the Mediterranean so first was a two day train trip from Frankfort to Bourdou, France then to Naples. It was quite the trip. One other fellow was leaving with me and we acquired a chief petty officer in Bourdou who had missed getting off the train and found himself in Paris. All this sounds funny but we couldn’t speak German, French or Italian so we never knew exactly where we were except we were well aware of any border crossing where the police from both countries would come through the train and check us and our baggage. A highlight of our trip was the chief petty officer had a good stock of cold cuts, bread, cheese, wine, cognac, and real Coca-Cola. Our 16 hours to Naples was quite the trip. But I really don’t remember much of it except unlike the Long Island Railroad in Italy and France not only do they take passengers but also they take chickens, goats, and other livestock. Which was noisy and smelly. On arrival at Naples Naval Installation I was informed that I would have to go back stateside by plane. They flew me from Naples to French Morocco with a three day wait again low standby. Then on to the Azores, a one day stay. Then to Bermuda another one day stay. And finally to Charleston, SC. All flights were Military Transport Service and included box lunches. A lot of box lunches! Upon disembarking my first thought was to get a bus, train, donkey, whatever to get me back to LI. That was short lived. They put me with an escort and by train we went to Little Creek, Va. so I could be happily reunited with my ship.
    This took place around the Christmas Holidays and I was informed that after ten days the ship would be departing for California. I had the option of taking leave or trying to arrange a transfer finding my like replacement. Fat chance over the holidays. So I had a weeks vacation at home before leaving for California.

    Back on the ship one day and then we headed for California. The following day we ran into a storm off Cape Hattaras. My first bout with seasickness. It was quite the trip through the Gulf of Mexico and our passage through the Panama Canal. It was a memorable trip for a 19-year-old. When we got to a lock I could come topside and witness the rising of our ship as well as other ships. At that time I had a Navy drivers license and when we were anchored in Rodman, Panama being the duty driver I went to the base to check out a sedan to drive our Captain. They did not have a sedan, the man asked if I had every driven a six ply truck, and I lied and so he stamped my license and I drove the Captain around in a big flat bed truck.

    Our first port of call in the Pacific was San Diego Harbor. We were there for several weeks and I did get to meet my cousin Harold a few times. He was stationed on Coronado Peninsula as a Naval Cryptologist. I enjoyed San Diego and its mild climate especially Balboa Park, which is the San Diego Zoo. On Sundays if I had liberty I would go with several shipmates would go to a Mission Church. After services the priest would don civilian clothes and take us for rides in the countryside. These rides included sandwiches and sodas. One trip was remarkable and enjoyable because he took us west on a mountain range where we overlooked the great salt and sea. After our lunch and discussion about all things, not necessarily religious, he asked that we go behind a large boulder and take the cooler, which was now empty with us. To our surprise in the shadow of the boulder was snow. We made snowballs, put them in the cooler, and he drove us back to the beach and we threw them at the bathers who were enjoying 65 – 70 degree temperatures. We all appreciated these trips because it was a chance to enjoy each other’s company rather than be in shipboard life. It was a nice change!

    I made several flights up to San Francisco to visit one of my cousins, Patty Blackler. Daughter of Steve and Betty Blackler. She lived there with her husband. My Mom and I used to visit with her family on LI.

    Several months later we transferred to Hunters Point, which is just south of San Francisco. My father and a friend of his flew out on two separate occasions. It was great to see him. We made on trip to Reno, Nevada through Donna Pass, which was a two-lane highway with several places on curves that you could pull over. However, even though I was driving faster than I thought I should be at each of these curves a Greyhound or a Trailways bus would pass me by. We arrived early on a Saturday morning. My father directed me to a motel. We checked in and he had me drive him and Fred to the casino and then I could come back and sleep. Sunday afternoon after enjoying myself we peeled Fred (he was a friend and employee of John’s) off a slot machine which he had been dutifully feeding quarters to for almost 36 hours. The beginning of our trip we made a pitcher of brandy Alexander’s which we sipped throughout our trip.

    After our yard period in Hunters Point and many days and nights of liberty in San Francisco we departed for the western pacific. Stopping three days in Hawaii, three days on Midway Island where the water was 40 foot deep you could see the fish swimming on the bottom. Our commanding officer was what was called a maverick. He came up through the ranks as an enlisted man and then a commissioned officer. He was very stern but fair. He was Lt. Commander Donald Stromb. At one point after a very hot voyage he received permission to stop the ship and allowed us to swim in the space between the bow doors and the ramp. All watches were allowed to get a quick swim. Of course, those that weren’t swimming or on watch was patrolling the railing with carbines to ward off sharks. The Pacific was a far better place to be than the Atlantic in that it was warmer and the weather was certainly more favorable.

    Our next stop was in Naha in the Philippines where we took aboard Philapino troops for an exercise. We never did have that exercise because the Chinese Communists sunk a Nationalist Chinese LST that was given to them by the US Navy. We were sent in as a peacekeeping force along with other ships to try to avert escalation. While we were in Naha our Commander allowed all the crew to go ashore for two hours at different times to go to the enlisted mans club or church…but only on base. As it turned out my turn coincided with the closing of the enlisted mans club so the Commander found out about it and ordered the club to stay open with the door locked for our two hour break. We all returned to the ship in his boat. He went out of his way for us, which was appreciated.

    Some of the ports of call we visited in the Western Pacific were Kaota, Sasabo, Hokiodo, Japan, and one port in Korea where we witnessed the local fisherman bring a whale up on a whay (large sloped dock). They proceeded to harvest the blubber, etc. from the whale. They cut big slabs and it was shipped somewhere else to render the oil. We were sent out from Japan to try to outrun a typhoon but failed and spent three days caught up in it. The seas were so rough we lost one truck, one trailer with a horowitz (gun) on it and many 55 gallon drums of fuel which all went overboard due to the rough weather. We again stopped for three days in Hawaii on our return to the California. We were in the Western Pacific for a total of six months.

    When I arrived back in San Francisco I arranged to transfer to the Requisite which was an AGS 15, (hydrographic survey ship). It had been a World War II minesweeper in it’s past life. The ship was going back to the East Coast South Philadelphia and, therefore, closer to my home. We deployed to the British West Indies and set out civilian shore parties on heretofore-uncharted islands so that their position could be fixed. Some islands were unoccupied and some had natives living on them. My job was to maintain the engines of our ship, which acted as a supply ship for the civilian surveyors who we landed on these islands to set up their equipment. All of the islands had a reef surrounding them and we had to enter and leave the reef only at high tide to land, pick up and supply the shore parties. On one of our voyages in a small boat I was the boat engineer. We missed the tide and were unable to return to the ship and had to spend the night on shore. We anchored the boat and I volunteered to contact the shore party so that our ship could be accessed of our situation. I found it very awkward to walk on the coral so I decided to swim up a stream. As I approached the shore party they all started yelling and waving their arms frantically trying to get me out of the stream because, I later found out, there were barracuda swimming below me.

    We spent several weeks in and around Guantanamo Bay, Cuba while Fidel Castro was banging his drums. We were then told the ship was going to return to Philadelphia and into mothballs. The government had another idea and we went on a seven month cruise across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Indian Ocean, and spent six months mapping the Persian Gulf. The crew was not issued any shore leave while in the Persian Gulf but they did allow us two weeks of rest and relaxation in beautiful, downtown Karachi, Pakistan. What a hellhole. I have no good memories of that spot other than the fresh food at the enlisted mans club. We retraced our steps back to Philadelphia and the ship was then decommissioned. During this process I continued to live on the ship making many trips back home weekends. It was during one of these weekends my Dad took me to visit my half sister and brother, Donna and Gary, who were staying with the Norton’s at their summer home in Salem that I met Claudia.

    During the time the ship was being decommissioned my three years, eight months and 27 days (kiddy cruise) was over. If you enlisted before the age of 18 you would get out prior to your 21st birthday.

    Having seen different people and how they lived I was able to more fully appreciate what this country had to offer. I was able to use the skills I learned throughout my life.

    I might have lost my late teen years but the life experiences I gained certainly more than made up for any loss. I never regretted the time I spent in the Navy and I still find myself reflecting back on those years.

    Stephen Paul Blackler Sr
    February, 2001

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