Nelson's reverie was broken by the sight of two familiar young men, one light
and one dark, striding purposefully down Grayling Ave towards Morton Hall, the
Base gymnasium. A wry smile crossed his face as Lt. Lee Crane and Lt.
Charles 'Chip' Morton, well matched in height and stride, walked with parade
ground precision in perfect unison down the paved road. You can take
the boys out of Annapolis but...he thought with amusement. As
the two Lieutenants paused to talk in front of the gym, Nelson pondered their
latest achievements. The junior officers had repeated their
accomplishments from the Submarine Officer Basic Course in the much more
challenging Advanced Course. Crane was again named as the Honor Graduate
and Morton again received the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Award
for distinction in the field of electronics and information technology.
Nelson's deep blue eyes twinkled as he reflected that these two bright young men
were well on their way to becoming exactly what he needed to bring his greatest
dream to fruition.
Crushing the butt of his spent cigarette under the heel of his dress shoe,
Nelson exhaled slowly, continuing to watch from his unobtrusive spot under the
oak tree. Crane seemed to be trying to talk Morton into or out of something,
waving his slender, elegant hands for emphasis. The blond was evidently not
convinced, shaking his head stubbornly, arms crossed in a gesture of defiance
despite his friend's obvious pleadings.
Nelson frowned at the thought of the possible mischief the two might be
planning, well aware of the many pranks that were attributed to the devious team
of Crane and Morton throughout their four years as roommates at the Naval
Academy. Of course, the two had been clever enough that all the incidents were
alleged and never proven, but Nelson was certain of their culpability. He
watched with curiosity as Crane smiled and put a hand up to squeeze Morton's
shoulder. The blond officer sighed deeply, a wry smile briefly crossing his
handsome face as he patted the hand resting on his shoulder. Morton turned
towards the stairs that led up to Morton Hall while Crane took a watchful pose
at the bottom of the stairs.
Nelson's eyebrows rose in surprise as he saw Morton fiddle with the door a
moment, then head inside the building. Though the dark and deserted gymnasium
certainly wasn't a high security building, Nelson was sure that the door must
have been locked. Intrigued, Nelson wandered down Grayling Avenue towards the
building in question.
"Good evening, Admiral." Crane saluted crisply as Nelson drew near.
Returning the salute, Nelson grinned at the oh-so-innocent face Crane
presented him. "As you were, Lieutenant." He looked from the angelic face of the
dark haired young officer to the shadowy building that had swallowed up his
friend. "So you're covering for Morton again, eh, lad?"
"I... I'm not sure what you mean, Admiral. I’m simply meeting Chip for a last
dinner together before we're both off to our new postings and this is one place
that easy to find." Golden eyes shimmered with sincerity and virtue as the young
man nervously twisted his Academy ring.
Nelson simply raised a disbelieving eyebrow at Crane, who had the grace to
blush and snap back to attention. "Sorry, Sir. No excuse, Sir."
Shaking his head and chuckling, Nelson said. "Oh, don't worry, lad. I think I
have a pretty good idea of what's going on here. Just stay right where you are
and continue keeping a lookout and I'll deal with Mr. Morton." He patted the
younger man's shoulder and headed towards the door.
Crane, worried for his friend, dared to protest, "But sir, he's just gone
Whirling back to glare at Crane, Nelson growled. "That was an order, Mister!"
Satisfied that there would be no further interruption from the now motionless
officer, he turned around quickly, hiding a broad smile as he headed up the
stairs. He gently opened the unlocked door and entered Morton Hall, closing the
door carefully behind him so as to not alert the young officer inside to his
Moonlight streamed through the bank of windows set high around the perimeter
of the main gymnasium hall, casting alternate patterns of light and dark across
the well worn wooden floor. The typical gymnasium scent of sweat and musty old
socks permeated the still air, stirring memories of the many athletic endeavors
that the old building had observed. Remaining quiet in the shadows beside the
door, Nelson looked around the cavernous room for the wayward Lieutenant. He
finally spotted Morton standing in front of the hall's dedication plaque, the
moonlight illuminating an unexpected look of sadness and reflection on the young
man's usually composed face. He watched as the blond officer ran one hand gently
over the name of Cmdr. Dudley "Mush" Morton for whom the hall was named.
"You forgot to lock the door behind you," Nelson's deep voice rumbled quietly
from out of the shadows. He suppressed a grin as the startled Morton gasped and
jumped at least a foot straight up before freezing into an almost painfully
Keeping his voice gruff though his blue eyes twinkled, Nelson stalked slowly
around the petrified officer. "Now, what possible reason could an officer of the
Navy have for breaking and entering..." He waved a hand around, indicating the
large hall. "...a gymnasium? Hmm?" He stopped in front of Morton, planting his
feet apart and resting his fists on his hips in a posture calculated to
intimidate even the bravest of junior officers.
"Sorry, Sir! No excuse, Sir!" Morton gulped, fixing his eyes on a point just
to the right and above Nelson's shoulder, his usual expressionless mask slipping
into place over his now pale features as he tried to straighten even further.
"Oh, relax before you sprain something, Lieutenant!" Nelson chuckled as a
bewildered Morton fractionally loosened up his stiff pose. "I'm pretty certain I
know why you're here." He gestured towards the dedication plaque. "Commander
Morton was a relative of yours, wasn't he?"
Nelson was pleased to see Morton relax even further as he realized that the
Admiral wasn't going to flay him alive. "Yes, Sir. He was my uncle as well as my
godfather." Morton paused a moment as a blush crept up his neck, easily visible
even in the pale moonlight that shimmered through the windows. "It's become
something of a tradition of mine to pay my respects on my last day I'm at
Groton, sir. But we've been so busy with graduation and administrative concerns
that I couldn't get here while the gym was still open. I have to ship out tonight after
dinner and this was the only way I could think of to..."
The admiral's upraised hand stopped Morton's confession. "I
understand, lad," he said softly, smiling at the obvious relief on Morton's
face. Turning away to give the young man a moment to compose
himself, Nelson gazed at the dedication plaque. “He was quite a hero,” he mused, rocking back on his heels. “One of the top three sub drivers of WWII...
an aggressive commanding officer who brought a new level of combat skill to the
Pacific submarine fleet..." He gave the hero's nephew a calculating glance.
"That's quite a legacy to live up to, lad."
"Yes, sir, I know," came the soft reply. Nelson saw a mischievous twinkle
behind Morton's calm mask as the young man said, "I think that Lee is more like
Uncle Dudley than I am. Aggressive leadership is his middle name." Emboldened by
Nelson's chuckle of agreement, Morton clasped his hands behind his back, and
dared to continue, "Actually, my Aunt Harriet said that the bravest thing Uncle
Dudley ever did was to take the Commander of the Submarine Forces in the
Pacific, Admiral Lockwood, to task for the horrid performance of the Mark 14
torpedoes during one of Wahoo's war patrols."
Nelson threw back his head and laughed heartily. "Now there's a man after my
own heart! Not afraid to take on the brass for what is right." He saw Morton's
not-so-subtle glance at Nelson's relatively new Rear Admiral shoulder boards and
raised an eyebrow. "I guess I am the brass now," he said with an impish grin.
Morton briefly returned the smile, opened his mouth to speak then hesitated,
nervously running a hand through his short blond hair. Hoping to encourage the
usually taciturn young man to continue, Nelson laid a gentle hand on his arm.
"What is it, lad?"
The Admiral watched as Morton took a deep breath, obviously gathering enough
courage to drop his usual mask in the presence of a superior officer. "It was
losing Uncle Dudley that made Dad so reluctant to accept my going to the Naval
Academy," he admitted. "He didn't want to lose his only son to the Navy like
he'd lost his brother."
"I can certainly understand his point of view," Nelson paused a moment,
cocking his head as he thought, "But I remember seeing him at your graduation.
He seemed quite proud of you then."
"You didn't see his face when I told him I was selecting subs as my service
assignment, sir!" Morton winced at the memory. "But Mom was able to convince him
that he had no argument for keeping his son out of harm's way, when he himself
was a career Chicago firefighter."
"Your mother had a very good point," said Nelson with an amused snort.
"She usually does, sir!" Morton's smile faded as he reached out once again to
lightly touch the plaque. "Everyone thinks of Uncle Dudley as a legendary war
hero. But, through the eyes of my father, I see the man behind the legend.
Though he died when I was only three, my father loves to tell tales about the
mischief they used to get into growing up. Those stories help me see the man who
simply wanted to be the best sub driver possible, not for glory but for the sake
of the country he loved. I can see the beloved brother that my father still
"I'm glad to hear that, Chip," Nelson laid a gentle hand on the taller man's
shoulder. "It's vital for us to remember that heroes are not just faceless names
on buildings or the two dimensional images depicted in newsreels and history
books, but real living people with strengths and weaknesses...hopes and dreams.
People with families and friends who loved them deeply. True heroes are found
whenever ordinary people do extraordinary things, not for glory or recognition,
but because they must be done and there is no one else to do them."
Morton nodded in silent understanding. Nelson turned him around and pushed
him towards the door. "Now lad, let's go and relieve Lt. Crane's mind. I'm sure
I've seen him peeking in the door's windows, making sure I don't shed too much
of your blood."
The two men walked out of the building, replacing their covers as they
emerged. Morton carefully locked the door with a small tool he slipped quickly
into his jacket pocket. Nelson was pleased to see Crane in the exact same spot
he'd left him, his keen hazel eyes carefully inspecting his friend for any
obvious signs of damage. "You may stand down from your post, Lt. Crane. Your
cohort in crime is un-bloodied." he chuckled. Crane relaxed, exchanging wry grins
Turning his attention back to the blond officer, Nelson said in a mock stern
voice, "Don't make a habit of breaking into government buildings, lad, even if
it is for a good reason."
"Yes, Sir! I mean, no Sir. That is... thank you, Sir!" Morton snapped to
attention followed immediately by Crane.
Nelson smiled and reached out to shake each man's hand. "Good luck on your
postings, gentlemen. I know you will do the Navy proud. Now, both of you get out
of here before you get into more trouble. Dismissed!"
Returning the flawless Annapolis-worthy salutes, Nelson grinned indulgently
as the two young men spun on their heels and marched away. The two waited only
until they got a respectful distance away before breaking into a run, laughing
and pushing each other towards the car park behind Morton Hall.
Raising his eyes to the starlit sky he murmured softly, "I believe they'll
both do us proud, Commander Morton." The brisk night wind rustled in soft
agreement as Harriman Nelson lit a cigarette and strode off through the peaceful
night towards a future that was looking more and more promising.
A few of the resources used:
CDR Morton & the USS Wahoo
Naval Submarine School at Groton