“The stars in a pitch-black night sky a thousand miles out to sea are breathtaking. It’s easy to see how religions were born The majesty is overwhelming.” Pop Eye would have never transverse these haunts but perhaps he should have, for this is a rousing tale of our present day military sea man attached oiled down at the gaps with plenty of humor, charm and a rumpus beat. I think of the lightness of heart I had along with the respect for the crew when I first road the pages of the classic ‘No Time For Sergeants’ many years ago. And there’s this kid’s thirsty fascination with riding submerged on the submarine that even the several sub hunt movies have yet dissolved. It’s all here in The Sea Stories of T.D. Euwait, a ripping ride with Richard Brotbeck, ‘dolphin’ designated submarine sailor. We take our hats off to the piercing determination that moves this tale through choices, training, travel, exotic foods, roasts and frozen steaks, and plenty of pot and fights and yes, women. Breathing the nuclear sub’s metallic air, engaged in seaman tasks listening to sonar, Shore Patrol duty, even the final engaging brig scenes, the truth is that “Submarine patrols are long and tedious… You need some comedy once in a while to keep everyone loose.” And occasionally you wonder if the sea has this much water in it, for the easy rippling humor flows nonstop.
Perhaps it’s the matter of man who Richard represents. His dad took the family from its Midwest Missouri origins to Guam where he served as an FAA flight standards officer. It’s the late seventies and Richard forages with fellow seamen, the new ones, who yet to have seen war in a culture of American rock, drugs and motorcycles. Across waters, over lands, they were able to advance the much-fabled innocent, sweet, anti-communist American nonchalance while equipped with the most powerful of the instruments, “wire-guided acoustic-sensing torpedoes, nuclear warhead tipped ballistic missiles, a nuclear reactor.” They had machines producing copious gallons of fresh water. The missiles stations had the near genius ‘weird scientists’ while crew-cut bunches of sailors pursued practiced care to manage the “boat”. Cramped quarters, manufactured air, fire watches, roving shore patrol duty, a spam fondness, ‘monochrome green explosions’ with garbage, the wonder of seamanship is all here. Not a thing’s missing from Popeye’s Brotbeck sightings that could be called out of his sight.
He was initially trained in Groton, Connecticut at the Basic Enlisted Submarine School (BESS). The love of the New England small town never leaves Brotbeck, where he eventually returns to retire. Frank Zappa, Queen, some group called ‘Journey’, there’s more training near San Diego, jungle motorcycle riding, Liar’s poker, pool, and shifts between Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island, Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach, and his familiar second home, the Navy’s refitting quarters at Apra Harbor, Guam.
Being part of “America’s Drunkest Generation,” its ongoing spectacular competition between weed and drink; the pages flip through large flying roaches, unqualified chief petty officers, destroyer escort duty, a Dante-like Olongapo, Philippines, bar knockouts, becoming of age via an Aussie woman, the Indian Ocean and wildebeests and astonishing orgasms in Kenya but no Kilimanjaro. Shellback Day passing the Equator, Jinhae, South Korea, ‘cleaned, painted, and lubricated,’ tarp and tackle, throwing line and chain, the artist in Richard, the t-shirt designer, has so many marbles on his plate, one does wonder of his plunge into the brig, solitary at that, at the end of the tale. Five years a navy man, an ‘evil genius’ of astonishing creative character, was it merely weed or the chaotic thought of not being allowed passage to his father’s funeral who, with his brother, flew B17s in WW2? I don’t know, but over a richly written tale, Richard Brotbeck manages to recoup his good military status and now grows foodstuffs while tendering word craft on his New England farm. From this seamanship arises an admirable man who, in “The Sea Tales of E.D. Euwaite,” you get to like a lot, very much.
Richard Brotbeck (Author), John Nebraska (Illustrator), Nessa Shields (Editor), Joe Cavallo (Photographer), Jim Herold (Photographer), Rick Macionis (Photographer)