On a remote island in Ketchikan, Alaska , Neal was guarding a fishing trap. The old cannery tender would stop by 5 times a week to braile the salmon. The dip net rose over his head and dropped thousands of scales over him. Neal was at least 20 miles from any civilization or people. He was the sole guard of the trap and had lived on the Island for almost half the summer already, but he planned return home to Seattle after the summer.
Neal was only 18 years old, already a World War II veteran who sailed through both Atlantic and pacific waters. Most of his time as a Merchant Marine was spent travelling though the Caribbean. It wasn’t until years later when he turned 72 that he learned the Merchant Marine had the highest death rate over all of the branches during WWII, and the highest rates were recorded in the Caribbean.
While he carefully selected his salmon for dinner an eagle sat on the tall snag and waited for Neal to give him a piece. Neal believed the eagle was his friend, and thought he preferred the way he cooked the salmon.
“He liked baked Salmon the way I did it. I took my time picking the one I wanted, as if color mattered.”
While Neal ate his dinner he thought about his time at sea. The $3 tattoo on his arm was a reminder of the nights he spent on the ship, with no lights so as not to be seen. Miles away from shore, the stars in the pitch black reflected on the water creating the illusion of floating in outer space. He had only gotten the tattoo on his arm in case someone were to ever find his body.
“The crew can be just as dangerous as the enemy.”
Neal pulled out a poker chip out of his pocket and flipped it around in his hand. Another memory crossed his mind. He had been having a winning streak against other crew members on the ship. Some even threatened to toss him overboard. He thought they once passed a lifeboat with skeletons in it but it was too dangerous for them to stop and get a closer look.
The ship Neal was on was an aviation gas tanker which supplied fuel to fighter planes. Occasionally the deck held the fighter planes while at sea…