Making a new friend was all Greek to me
by W. Mark Berryman
With Veteranís Day just around the corner Iíve been thinking about my days in the U.S. Navy. Thatís right, Iím a decorated, crusty old salt who served his country sailing the high seas on the BGCL, or Battleship Gray Cruise Lines.
While I never served our country during a war, I was ready if one had come along.
I was aboard a ship headed for the Persian Gulf during the hostage crisis, but the thing ended before my ship arrived. Iíd like to believe it was because they found out I was on the way, but I donít know how much fear an Illustrator-Draftsman puts in the heart of an enemy.
Yes, thatís correct. I protected my country by drawing pictures. Iím sure Americans everywhere slept well knowing I was on the job, ready to draw whatever it would take to overcome any enemy and all threats to democracy.
During one exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, we were part of a multi-nation war exercise with Turkey and Greece. A Greek liaison officer was sent to work with the squadron I belonged to.
His name was Commander Lukic and he was an officer in the Greek Navy. I was a seamen, the lowest ranking person in my attachment.
His first day aboard (the operation was to take a week) I talked to him quite a bit. I asked about life in Greece, the Greek Navy and such. Every now and then, Commander Lukic would stop me, take out a little book and open it for a moment, then we would resume our conversation. The book was a Greek-English translator. Iím not sure included Southern English, but we got by.
That evening the unit commander pulled me to the side and told me since we were getting along so well, I was to spend as much time as I could with Commander Lukic. I told him I would have probably did that without being asked but I did appreciate the assignment.
During down times, we toured the ship. I took Commander Lukic to the ships store to buy a cap with the shipís logo. We taught one another to play different card games. We discussed differences in each of our navies. If we werenít working, the two of us were doing something together.
I learned that in the Greek military, everyone starts out the lowest enlisted rank and can advance all the way through, straight to being an officer. The more rank you have, the longer your hair can be. His was halfway over his ears. When you join the Greek Navy, itís a 20 year hitch, not four like here in the U.S.A.
I learned coffee in Greece was a delicacy and over $20 a pound (and that was 1980). Most homes did not even have a coffee pot. I was able to ďprocureĒ a large can of coffee from the shipís storeroom for our guest. He said he would buy a coffee pot.
The day came when my new friend had to return to Greece and the unit was lined up just inside the door that led to the flight deck (the ship was a LPH, or helicopter transport ship). Commander Lukic walked down the line, saluting and then shaking hands and thanking each of the members of the unit for their hospitality and time.
As he came to me, he returned my salute, grasped my hand and shook it vigorously. Then, without warning, he kissed me on both my cheeks, right there in front of God and everybody. And then he went through the door, back to his country, his Navy and his family.
My commander came over and thanked me for all the free time I spent with our guest. I told him I was glad to do it. I then mentioned I had been a little embarrassed about being kissed in front of everybody like that. He told me it was a special honor in the Greek custom and that I had been singled out from the rest as someone special to him.
I replied that I understood. Inside, I was just glad he hadnít kissed me on the mouth.