It was the middle of the night without a moon on the open Atlantic waters on the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) in 2005. The chill would waft right off the water into my face and clothes. We needed jackets, and my friend had a beanie. We were standing the aft (back of the ship) lookout watch and it was the least exciting watch of all the watches I had stood. I guess that’s why they let two people stand it together.
I can’t remember what we were talking about, but at about the exact same moment, we pointed in the water and noticed a greenish glow coming from the water. It looked stationary as we rode past. We didn’t hear any screams but immediately thought the same thing. It could have been a chem-light, which is something the air crew will wear encase they get blown overboard by jet exhaust.
“Do you want to call it in?” he asked.
“I am not sure. What are your thoughts?”
“Let’s do it. What if it were one of us?” He looked unsettled as he spoke.
I picked up the mic, “Bridge, Aft Lookout.”
Bridge said, “Aft Lookout, go ahead.”
I raised my voice slightly, “Man Overboard. I repeat. Man Overboard.”
Within a few seconds I heard the 6 short whistles come over the loudspeaker, thanks to the Boatswainsmate on Watch, which would have been our supervisor.
5,000+ people were awaken and scurried about the ship in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone made their way to the hangar bay for muster, which is when we find out if we are missing anybody. This process should take about 5 minutes, and then they decide if they are going to launch the boat to go after the person in the water.
A high ranking officer came to our watch station and had us relieved. He said, “We are going upstairs to discuss what happened.”
A knot formed in my throat from suspense. “Yes, sir.” We both said.
Once up in Officer Land, they split us into two separate rooms. They must have started with me, or recruited the help of another officer.
“So, Seaman Wagenseller, describe to me what happened just before you called in ‘man overboard.'”
“Sir, I saw what looked like a chem-light in the water. My shipmate on watch also saw it. We didn’t hear any screams, but we discussed calling it in for about 30 seconds. In short, I concluded that I would rather call it in and be wrong, than not call it in and be right.”
“I see.” He said.
“Excuse me.” As he got out of his chair and left the room.
After about 5 minutes they came back.
“Everyone is accounted for, and you are free to go to bed. Thanks for doing the right thing.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” I stood, waved, and headed back to the Forecastle, where my bunk was located. It was a hell of night.
***So I discussed this with my wife, and she mentioned that there might have been someone in the water, but it wasn’t someone on our ship, so we didn’t go after them. I decided to think her for another reason to have PTSD. She laughed and said, “I am sure if it was a person they would have gone after them.” I said, “Whatever,” as I rolled my eyes going up the stairs headed back to my office.
Wagen, over and out.