I have celebrated a lot of birthdays. Eighty-five, come Monday. While I am unable to name a favorite, I can tell you the most memorable.
It was July 20, 1969. My thirty-fourth birthday. I was in the middle of the Bering Sea on the USCG Cutter Resolute on an Alaskan fisheries patrol.
National fishing fleets, most notably of Japan and Russia were after the seasonal prize of Alaskan king crab. Our job was to ensure compliance with US laws and treaties. There was a new wrinkle that year. In the effort to ease long standing tension between US and Russia, as part of the new period of détente, the Russians would accept “courtesy” US boarding parties on their vessels.
As the boarding officer, I led what may have been the first such visit. We were transported by our small boat to the huge converted merchant ship outfitted as a crab processing factory vessel.
Stepping aboard after the long climb up the Jacob’s ladder, we were greeted by a Russian contingent led by the ship’s captain. He saluted, shook hands.
“Congratulations! Your man has landed safely on the moon.”
He was referring, of course, the successful Apollo Eleven mission that put American astronaut Neal Armstrong on the moon.
We had been trying to follow the news, but the Russian’s obviously had an antenna system that dealt with the fickle communications field in the Bering Sea better than ours.
There are two great stories from that boarding. I have posted an excerpt from The Russians are Coming on page three of my “writing page.”