Do Memories Deceive Us?

It’s a funny thing about memory: as time passes, we get a little better looking than we actually were; the water is bluer that it actually was; we took more chances than we actually did; and we tend to remember her smile rather than her frown.

I’ve been reminded of this lately on Facebook. I belong to several groups composed of hundreds of naval veterans, including a few retirees, and while I’m a stealth member, never posting anything myself, I’ve noticed that the overwhelming “mood” on these sites is one of nostalgia. As they talk about their time at sea, their recollections take on a mystical quality, and you can almost hear Bruce Springsteen singing “Glory Days” in the background.

 

Members get downright beside themselves describing how much they loved and miss the military life; about how much they enjoyed life at sea; about being willing to “leave tomorrow” on one more overseas deployment. They post memories about beautiful sunsets, rivaling the conclusion of the novel, “Lord Jim,” where Joseph Conrad wrote that “night fell like a benediction.”

They wax eloquent about coming ashore under the Aloha Tower in Honolulu and being greeted by lei-bearing hula girls; they tell of the night when they had the helm and steered their ship through the most violent typhoon in the history of the Pacific Ocean; and some of the more practical ones lament that “If I had just stayed on active duty for 20 years, I could be retired at half pay.” Almost to a man, they miss the camaraderie of and the social interaction with their long-lost shipmates.

As I read these postings, I think to myself, “These are the same people who, in many cases, hated every minute of their actual naval service, who counted the days and minutes until their enlistment was up, who would lie and feign sickness to keep from going to sea, and who literally ran off the brow with their discharge papers in their hand.

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