I just returned from an incredible USO-sponsored trip to visit the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) on her final deployment. She and her crew are engaged in operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. We are not allowed to say where she is – or was – but after consulting with legal counsel I am allowed to say, in general terms, she is in the ocean.
Despite her age (over 50, but who isn’t), she is impressive. The morale of her crew is as high as any I have ever experienced, due in no small part to her incredible Commanding Officer, Captain William C. Hamilton, Jr.
During the trip, we six cartoonists drew for hundreds of Sailors and Marines, and were treated like royalty. They treated us so well – especially since everyone there was engaged in combat operations – that we felt a little guilty.
But let me tell you, we sacrificed too.
One of us got seasick, for example. Trust me – you do not want news like that to get out to cartoonists.
Since we roomed together, we had to deal with the awkwardness of seeing other cartoonists in varying stages of undress. If you have ever seen Jeff Keane of The Family Circus in a robe, you will know what I’m talking about.
Dave Coverly (Speed Bump), a dedicated vegetarian, had to fight off the sweet but powerful seduction that one experiences when first confronted with mystery meat. (I’m not sure how that ended up.)
One of us, and I won’t say who except his name rhymes with Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues), got on the wrong side of the security glass in Kuwait.
I think the other cartoonists would have done whatever they could to help, except they were laughing too hard to move.
Our President, Tom Richmond of MAD Magazine, was a tower of strength throughout the trip. But even he wasn’t immune to the shifting sands of fate.
He got pink eye.
We (and by “we” I mean Sam Viviano of MAD) had difficulty climbing down scuttles. The rest of us had difficulty fitting through the scuttles. We got lost. We tripped over knee knockers. We overate.
It was tough, I tell you.
Sure, the crew was phenomenal, and its Sailors and Marines are proud and noble representatives of the United States. Sure, they have been gone for six months already, with more sea time ahead of them. Sure, they operated together in a hostile environment as one well-oiled machine.
But come on. They are professionals.
We are cartoonists.
When any misstep – however slight – can result in a sketch to cement the moment for posterity…
Well, that’s a pretty hostile environment too.
(Thanks to Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues) for the sketches from his trip notebook – except maybe the last one.)