Each of us at some point in our lives have had one of these experiences. Some stranger you just met finds out...
a) you're in the Navy, or
b) you're from (insert STATE name here), or
c) you were born in (insert YEAR number here)
and that someone proceeds to say, "Oh, I once knew someone who...
a) was in the Navy," or
b) was from (that STATE)," or
c) was born (that YEAR),"
and the coup de grace is when they say, "Maybe you know him" (or her) and ask, "Do you know (insert name of person you've never met but happened to have shared the same profession, state of residence, or birth year here)."
I was in the gym the other day and happened to hear one of those conversations, but it was about a guy being in the same Army Division. It gave me a flashback though to the last time I remember having one of those conversations, but it was one that had a very surprising ending.
So there I was... (yeah, yeah, this is a SHORE duty story, not a sea story, but still...)
In the fall of 2004, I finished my department head tour as Navigator on a submarine in San Diego, and we had just moved to Ashburn. It was Halloween and I was out trick-or-treating with the boys. We ended up on the same rotation from one house to the next with a father and daughter who lived three houses down from us, so the other dad and I got to talking while the kids were going up to each house to ring the doorbell.
So through the course of our conversation, he found out I was in the Navy. "Oh, my father-in-law was in the Navy," he said.
I thought to myself, "Self, ooooooh-boy, here we go. The fact that he WAS in the Navy makes it a bajillion times LESS likely that I would know him than if he IS (were) in the Navy NOW." My response was something innocuous and please-don't-ask-me-if-I-know-him like, "Oh, that's nice."
He asked what I did in the Navy. I told him I was a submarine officer. "Oh, my father-in-law was a submarine officer, too."
I thought to myself, "Hmm, that's mildly interesting. Even so, the odds I know him are slim to none." My response was again something innocuous like, "Oh, that's cool."
My neighbor proceeded to tell me his father-in-law still worked for the Navy in San Diego. I thought to myself, "The coincidences are mildly interesting, but there's NO WAY I know this guy." He said, "Yeah, he does some sort of range safety for some weapons test range out there."
[insert cracking-whip sound-effect as my head does a double-take snapping left to look my neighbor in the eye] "Wait, say what??? What did you say your father-in-law's name was?"
My neighbor was probably thinking to himself, "Self, awww geez, here goes one of those nutty people who thinks maybe he knows my father-in-law just because he was in the Navy, too." He sorta nonchalantly said, "Washington*," as if to convey he doesn't think there's any chance I really know him.
I said, "CAPTAIN Washington???"
He said, "Yeah!"
Man, talk about a small world! Yep, I knew him alright. What are the odds?!?! He runs the SOAR (Southern California ASW Range) where we shoot exercise torpedoes. Before we go out to the range (several times per year - either as the shooter or as the target), he comes down to the submarine wardroom and gives a brief to all the officers on range safety. After you finish on the range, he comes down again to brief you on how you did.
I told my neighbor that not many people knew his father-in-law by his real name. Most people know him as "Sunshine"** because that's his call-sign on the range-control communications circuits. As the Navigator, I got to interact with him before and after our range briefs in order to schedule our times and coordinate our activities, but people still addressed him by his call-sign in face-to-face meetings.
It was quite a surprising end to what I thought was going to be one of those typical, "Nnnnnope, never heard of him" conversations.
* Disclaimer: that's not his real name.
** Disclaimer: that's not his real call-sign. Those of you who have been out on the SOAR know his call-sign and have probably met him before.