It was the summer of 1986 and I’d just completed my Naval boot camp in Orlando, Florida. When I enlisted, I intentionally signed up to be a Chaplain’s Assistant. The reason was to gain an understanding of what it was like to be enlisted and to get a better understanding of what being a Chaplain in the Navy might entail.
Looking back, it was a good decision because I did learn a lot that summer about enlisted life and the role a chaplain plays with helping them. When boot camp ended, I was flown to my ‘A’ school for training. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that my training would be at Treasure Island in San Francisco which I later found out had quite a history.
Treasure Island is a man-made island in the middle of the bay between Oakland and San Francisco connected by the Bay Bridge. It had been used by the US Pacific Fleet during WWII to help service ships, training, and even for air support. When I arrived in 1985, the base had seen a long history of use by the Navy and still carried a strong heritage of Naval pride.
Training consisted mainly of admin skills and working in the chapel. For this naïve young kid raised in Michigan and living in Tulsa, OK, San Francisco was a whole new experience and the view from the island was, by far, the best anywhere.
Because of the regulations at the time, we were required to wear our uniforms off base as well as on base. So, when we took the trip to the city for a day of site seeing with our dress whites on, well, let’s say we drew a lot of attention for the locals…
Having dove head first into the military world, I wanted to look the part. So, I purchased my aviator glasses and jacket (think Top Gun and Tom Cruise style). I then went to get the official, ‘flat top’ hair-cut. The barber was a funny guy from the Philippines who had been cutting hair since the Vietnam 60s days. I asked him for the Navy ‘flat top’. He said, ‘Yes, we make you look like aircraft carrier!’ Sure enough, he did and gave me the ‘military look’.
That ‘military look’ didn’t go over too well, however, when I returned to civilian life at ORU. When the girls saw me walking their way, they strangely turned the other way…
Since this is my final day with the family in California, I thought I’d take the long way from my hotel to their home over the bay to make a stop at Treasure Island to reminisce a bit. I knew the base was decommissioned and the city has been using it for public events, but was surprised to see just how far the base had been run down. Over the years, the homeless made it a home and gangs have used it for sharing their art.
Fortunately, the city has recently decided to allow for investors to turn the island into a modern complex and construction has already begun. In just a few years, it may be quite the tourist attraction.
The feeling I left with as I was driving away from the island was one of closure. Life changes and, even though the memories we hold may seem like they were yesterday, today can be a whole different world. Going back to those places where we have those memories may be helpful and it may cause unnecessary pain.
For example, I was also planning to stop by my old apartment where I spent several years getting over a painful experience in the late 1990s, but everything in my gut told me it would only open up some of those memories again and not to go there. So, I didn’t and am glad I didn’t.
It’s not always easy to know whether visiting a place from the past will be a healthy memory or not. For me, Treasure Island was a good memory and one I found closure with today. Yet, my old apartment wouldn’t have been.
Tomorrow, I’ll be heading back to see the Mrs. It has been a challenging yet rewarding weekend with my loved ones. My view of life as I knew it has morphed and I now have a new sense of direction ahead. The road won’t be easy for many of us, but I know we can get through it together with love…
Wishing you a blessed week ahead my friends,