Unexpected Beauty

captn-ed@ix.netcom.com (V. E. MIKKELSON MD )

I was a 23 year old Ensign with less than three years of Navy duty behind me. I was single, and had only fifteen months of foreign duty, and was thus low on the list for discharge when the war had officially ended some eight months earlier. Because of the rather precipitous demobilization of what had been the most powerful navy ever seen, I was Gunnery Officer on a troop transport, normally a job given only to officers with much more rank than I possessed. The ship had been sent to Sasebo, Japan, to pick up some 1,500 American troops who had been on occupation duty, and who were happily bound for home and discharge. We were headed for San Francisco, and were somewhere near the middle of the central Pacific. I was Officer of the Deck assigned to the Eight to Twelve watch. When I relieved the man on the preceding watch at the usual 19:45, it was already quite dark. I immediately noticed that the ocean was heavily loaded with the micro organisms responsible for phosphorescence. This was obvious because the sea was almost covered with waves which were "white capping" under a rather stiff breeze. As each wave broke, it seethed with bright green phosphorescence.

It was an altogether beautiful night, with scattered fluffy clouds racing across an otherwise clear sky, many of them trailing rain, a phenomenon seen frequently in the Pacific. It was an awe inspiring sight which I was enjoying immensely, but it was made even more spectacular by the appearance of a nearly full moon rising just off the bow. As the moon rose to about 20 degrees, I noticed what I first thought was a spotlight beam rising off the port quarter (the left rear of the ship). As it lengthened, it became obvious that it was not a spotlight beam.

The strange phenomenon I was viewing was a rainbow generated by moonlight! It was being formed by moonlight passing through rain trailing from one of the fluffy cumulus clouds. The rainbow was composed of the standard colors, but they were softer and paler than those generated by direct sunlight. They were what I can only describe as pastel. I was truly entranced. I have seen many of nature's beauties, but none have ever impressed me so powerfully. The other members of the bridge crew were similarly affected, and we simply stared at this sight. It was rarer than I realized at the time.

I have spoken with many sailors with much more "sea time" than I have ever experienced, but I have never encountered another person who has seen it. I considered waking the Captain, and suggesting that he come up on the bridge to view what I felt was a rare and beautiful sight. Had I realized just how rare it truly was, I would have wakened him. At the time, I feared that the Captain, a veteran four striped Annapolis graduate, would have seen it before, and would have had this brash young Ensign for breakfast. In later years, I have also realized that it was a very fleeting event, and even had I wakened the old man, it would have faded before he could have even reached the bridge. Its beauty will haunt me for the rest of my days.