May 3, 2013
May 3, 2013
It is not often that I write a post dedicated to a friend who is still alive. This one life, however, is probably one of the most incredible stories that I know of. I could call him my personal Forest Gump except that he is no way mentally challenged. But he has, however, the same innocence, dependability, and trustworthiness of him. He also is from the same neck of the woods as Forest.
My tale starts some 40 years ago. I had been on my ship, the USS Durham, just long enough to get my feet set in the Navigation department. We knew that a few of our guys would be leaving soon so their would be some billets to fill.
A short fellow out of deck showed up in the bridge one day. He had bright eyes and an equally bright crooked smile. He stood behind the helm, holding on to it and looking around the bridge. "This is where I want to be.", he announced, "I want to be a Quartermaster". "Where you from?", I asked, "You sound like an Okie.". "I am from Alabama!", he proudly proclaimed. But it was too late....from that moment on, he was Okie.
The reference to another close by southern state did not faze him. He wore the moniker with pride. The whole ship came to know him as Okie but his real name was Ray......Raymond Alphonsus McCaffrey III.
I got a hold of our leader, QM1 Davis and helped direct Okie to the proper channels and before we knew it, he was one of us.
Okie was the quickest learner that I have ever met. He seemed to not just listen, he absorbed. He had an uncanny way of focusing on whatever was in front of him. He accomplished every task without complaint and always with that same crooked smile and good attitude.
But he didn't just stop there. After he had perfected all of our rate, he began learning rates around us. You would often find him up on the signal bridge learning the flags and semaphore.
I loved listening to stories of his youth. How he never brushed with toothpaste until he joined the navy (he always used baking soda) or how he taught himself how to golf with his Uncles left hand golf clubs out in the field out behind his house. I wonder if he still golfs left handed? When he recalled some old story, his eyes would light up with excitement as he would share.
Unlike some others who would brag or embellish their experiences attempting to be someone that they only hoped they could be, Okie was and will always be.....Okie. That was the way that he was and if you didn't like it, that was tough.
While Okie was very bright, he was also very innocent in his thoughts. I remember talking with him once of Judy being from Australia. I jokingly stated that I could not live there as they did not have color TV. "Why don't you just take your own.", he stated with a smile.
He also while able to focus well on a particular item sometimes faltered a bit while doing more than that. I remember him coming down the ladder (stairs) between decks with five gallons of deck grey paint. I was on the port bridge wing talking with the captain. He had asked me a question that I needed some help on. "Hey Okie!", I called out. "Yeah?", he returned. Except his focus was now on me and off of the five gallons of paint that now slipped out of his hands and came crashing down on the deck below. The captain looked at Okie, the paint, and then at me. He just shook his head and walked away.
I always enjoyed hanging out with Okie off of the ship. For one thing, I knew that I could trust him and knew that he always had your back in any situation. He was always willing to try something new and was willing to accept anyone that was around him. He had no enemies nor do I recall anyone who did not like him.
At the end of our first Westpac, Okie and I decided to room together. It was an easy one for me, I knew that I could count on him and trust him. The rooming turned out to be quite an experience.
I recall coming into the kitchen one morning to find him putting raw eggs into a glass of scotch. "This is the breakfast of champions!", he proclaimed.
And when football season came around, nothing got in the way of him watching his team...the Alabama Crimson Tide. He would plant himself in his chair with a bottle of beer and some chips and with every major play, he would jump up and scream, "Roll Tide!". His Tide seemed to be his biggest love.
He joined a local semi pro baseball team and I would go down and watch his games. At one of them, I stood next to scouts from the Cubs and Giants who were watching and evaluating the players. Okie's batting stance was one of squatting down way low. It made his strike zone extremely small and I assume he walked quite a bit from it. Both of the scouts laughed when he first came up to bat. "I have never seen anything like it." one of them explained. But he opened their eyes when he got on base with consistency.
I moved out just before Judy arrived back in town and we met a woman in our apartment complex who claimed to be a witch. She was a pretty strange character and she asked me if I had any single buddies that might be interested in going out. As a joke, I set her up with Okie. I laughed with Judy and joked on how long Okie would last with her. But I had forgotten one thing.....Okie's character. He treated her with the up-most respect and she loved her date with him. When I asked him about it, he only stated, "Well, she was a little odd but we had a good time.".
We were on operations off of the coast of Southern California. A radio report came in and stated that his father was very sick and that he needed to rush home. A helicopter took a worried Okie off of the ship. We were all concerned for him and were amazed to see his bright and smiling face standing out on the end of the pier as we arrived back into port. "It wasn't my dad!", he announced, "It was another Raymond Alphonsus McCaffrey!"....now imagine that!
After I got out, Okie and I stayed in touch for a bit but then I moved out of town and we lost each other for a while. Then, sometime in the 80's, we somehow got back in touch with one another. I really don't recall how it happened. But Okie was back in Alabama and was managing a valve company.
He explained how he happened to be where he was. It seems that after he got out, he worked for a plumbing company for a bit and then he fell into an opportunity. As I recall, he stated that he used his plumbing knowledge along with his knowledge of electronics learned in the navy. He met an ex football player from the Dallas Cowboys who was trying to start up a business. The two of them went together on a valve company, Southern Valve. The partnership brought him into another love, football. He was invited in with Coach Landry when they would evaluate players from college each year.
I am not sure what all happened between him and his partner, but Okie started up his own valve company in the 90s called Quality Valve. You can see his bright eyes and same crooked smile on the webpages of his company.
Furthermore, you can see some of his accomplishments there.
I noted a couple of things from his website. He puts his picture at the bottom of the contact page and he deflects the reason for his success to his crew. He stated that he is just lucky to be allowed to steer the ship. When I read those words, I still see the same young man standing behind the helm of ours.
Okie has become extremely successful down there in Alabama. He has a beautiful wife and kids, lives in what we would call a mansion, has a house on the lake, and is able to follow his other love, The Crimson Tide, where ever they play with Miss Kathy by his side.
He has been all over the world touting his company and the good state of Alabama. I sent him an email last week with links to my facebook pages of my recent encounters with my team, the Oregon Ducks. He sent back stating that he needed Miss Kathy to help him look at them. He stated that he does not facebook, twitter, or any of those sorts of things. "Hell", he said, "I wouldn't even email if it weren't for my company. I am still just a down home country boy from Alabama."
A down home country boy from Alabama that the good states Chamber trusts to go all over the world for them. Why? Because they see the same thing that I saw in him 40 years ago. In fact, they are sending him and his son to South Korea and China next week. Way to go, Okie! Your shipmates and old friends are very proud of you!