The dreaded announcement came through the 1MC: River City. If being deployed in the middle of the ocean isn’t bad enough, try being deployed in the middle of the ocean with no comms.
The unfamiliar sound of a V-22 Osprey overpowered the sound of normal flight operations. The updates kept rolling through; starting from the flight deck down to the hangar bays, everything is secured. The rumors start to flow through the grapevine. You can hear the whispers and feel the electricity in the air. Nobody has any information, but everyone knows.
We got him.
It was the only email that was fired off before comms were shut down. The surveillance screen of the flight deck runs 24/7 on all screens throughout the airwing, but today they were all blacked out. The only channel working was CNN. The feeling was odd. We didn’t know anything that was happening except for what we were watching live on TV. We were there, yet we knew nothing. Every sailor was glued to a screen, reading the ticker and waiting for the headlines.
The rumors were confirmed: We got Osama bin Laden and his body is on our ship. The entire ship erupted like Times Square at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
I ran down to the aft part of the ship and poked my head out of a hatch leading to the flight deck. There were two MAs standing guard that immediately turned me around and told me to get inside. Before I reversed course, I got a glimpse of two men dragging a body out of the helicopter.
The worst part about securing the hangar bay was that the chow hall was on the level beneath it — and the only access to it was through it. Starving, we sat around snacking on Snickers from a Costco pack my mom had mailed to me. When the next rotation shift came on and asked us what was happening, we jokingly told the new shift to line up down by the hangar bay because they were letting us hit bin Laden’s body with wiffle ball bats. I also told them to tell the MAs that they were there for the wiffle ball party and that Petty Officer Kim had sent them.
We weren’t hitting him with bats, but the next shift must have really asked about the wiffle party because a few minutes later, I was called into the ready room and getting chewed out by the chief’s mess about never taking anything seriously and being a bad example to the younger guys. My division chief was an inch away from my face, screaming. I could practically taste his lunch. I guess chow was only secured for E6 and below.
We were told, “officially,” that the body was prepared in accordance to the Muslim religion: wrapped in a white garb, buried on his right side, and oriented northeast to face Mecca. Off-record, we were told that they verified his DNA and they tossed him over the side.
Officially, no country would accept responsibility of the body, so it was laid to rest at sea. Unofficially, I think we didn’t want his burial site to become a martyr’s shrine.
Either way, the mighty back-to-back World War champions found the world’s foremost hide seek expert. If you can’t beat him, kill him.
* Editor’s Note: This article was updated to clarify that the sailors weren’t actually hitting Bin Laden’s body with bats. Petty Officer Kim jokingly said the line to the next shift.*