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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Way I See It – Youth is wasted on the young

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It was 1987, and all of us young, junior Navy Officers were bellied up to the bar at the O’Club, in Naval Air Facility (NAF), Japan. Dressed in our Mess Dress Summer Whites, with our one or two medals hanging forlornly on our puffed-up chests, underneath our Wings of Gold, we watched in horror as our Commanding Officer, Skipper Bill Young, danced to Starship’s “We Built This City.” The Skipper’s uniform, in contrast to ours, was bedecked with about four rows of medals and ribbons. Sitting atop the rows, was the Navy Cross; the US Navy’s second-highest military decoration awarded for extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force. This medal is second only to the Medal of Honor.

We were “nuggets,” a few of us just making the rank of Lieutenant, probably averaging 26 years of what we no doubt felt were amazingly full and storied lives. Our Skipper, on the other hand was knocking on 42 years of longevity! Yes, he was a combat hero; an accomplished pilot with over a dozen rescues; a great leader; a tough, but fair Commanding Officer…but c’mon! Dancing in public at his age? We were mortified! After all, carousing, drinking, smoking cigars and especially Terpsichore, is the purview of young Naval Aviators. Not a “seasoned” warrior, breaching the gates of Middle Age. As we Young Turks commiserated about Skipper Young’s not so fantastic tripping of the lights, it never dawned on any of us that we would be in his (dancing) shoes someday.

Fast forward to St. Paddy’s Day 2024. Renae and I found ourselves at a favorite local watering hole. After a little bit of liquid lubrication, we were on the dance floor, thoroughly enjoying our version of Fred and Ginger, but probably looking more like Seinfeld’s Elaine – especially to the 20-somethings sitting on their barstools looking at us in their own combination of disgust and pity.

It’s been over two decades since I was Skipper Young’s age at that O’Club, yet I can’t count how many times Renae and I have taken to the dance floor. I’ve danced on top of bars, bar stools and pick-up truck beds. I’ve danced with Renae, with strangers and alone. I’ve led and I’ve followed. Once the Happy Feet start, there’s no holding them back! Renae and I have cut more rugs than an Empire Carpets’ installer. We’ve danced on beaches, hardwood floors, beer-soaked sawdust and in polished ball rooms. One thing we’ve never done, though, is given a horse’s patoot what the youngsters huddled in the corner of the room think of us. Their sneers go unnoticed as we enjoy the music, the missteps and the successful, but very rare Dancing with the Stars sashay moment.

I’m sure Skipper Young felt the same way back in 1987. But we were too young to know any better. Don’t be surprised if you feel a tap on your shoulder the next time a good song comes on and you hear me ask, “May I dance with your date?”

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P. Araya
P. Araya
Pablo Araya grew up in Naperville and enjoys writing about his experiences in the Navy, the FBI and growing up in the best town around. Contact Pablo at boblow9913@gmail.com.
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