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April 22, 2009
There I was...By Greyhawk
Hot on the heels of "the guy who talks to SEALs in Virginia" comes the "report I got from a guy who got it from the parent of someone who was there."
That qualifies the email floating around from a crew member of the Boxer as an urban legend. But there are reasons to believe the source is authentic - though details therein conflict with the official version of what happened and with other details in the same account.
An example of both sorts of inconsistencies: the author says he heard (from a location where he couldn't see anything) four shots fired. He says Captain Phillips jumped into the water and drew fire from the pirates, prompting two SEAL snipers on the fantail of the Bainbridge to each fire twice. Note the number of shots he heard doesn't equal the number he says were fired.
But as with other aspects of his account, details beyond "heard four shots" would have to have come from other sources - fellow crew members or even the first news reports. (Which he in turn reports watching.) Such details fall into the category of "scuttlebutt" - which is another term for "urban legend".
But he later recounts seeing the lifeboat up close, including the four holes in the starboard side from the rounds fired by the snipers. Those were indeed tricky shots from the fantail.
Want a reason to believe? The earliest version I've seen of this was posted in a (very much non-military) chat room on April 15th - the day a communications ban on the ships involved was lifted by the Navy - and it includes the sailor's name and rank. I'm awaiting a response to an email I sent (two days ago) notifying the right folks that it was out there and requesting an official debunking of the story but as yet I've received no response. That implies "not important".
Add in that this story was forwarded a few times before it appeared on a message board (it's on several now - here's one from April 16th without "gruesome details", the description of four holes in the life boat, or the sailor's name) and you can't assume anything within it was actually written by the original author - or that said author was who he claims to be (a very junior enlisted sailor). Even if the original author was "real", that consideration along with his combination of first hand account (some of which may be embellished) and unsourced rumor presented as fact makes this a "war story" (yet another term for urban legend). Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine has several. Buy 'em a drink some time and you'll hear as many as you want.
This is the first-hand account from a good friend's son onboard the USS Boxer.Final observation: "never in a million year is he sixteen" - I wonder what he meant by that? Having seen photos of the pirate he appears pretty much as I expected, with age indeterminable partly due to malnourishment. Our narrator claiming in-person witness doesn't clarify.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 22, 2009 2:02 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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