Beginnings: An Impression of a Julie Beth Wileman Painting

It’s a slow spring day steaming west in the Java Sea toward the Sunda Strait. I’m aboard the WWII-era aircraft carrier, USS Ticonderoga. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working hard sniffing out Soviet submarines in the South China Sea. Soon we’ll engage in war games with elements of the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean.

For the time being, however, there is not much for the aircrews and support to do. So taking the time to enjoy the end of a beautiful day by hanging out with some friends in a gun tub seems like a good idea. On this clear day, the Java Sea, relatively shallow and sandy, blesses us with a gorgeous turquoise color.

A low haze hangs off to the west, possibly created by the burning of Malaysian fields or the smoky drift from Indonesian volcanoes. As the sun sets into it, the sky turns fiery orange.

Just as the sun dips below the horizon, the seawater deepens into beautiful, rich indigo.

It is a scene worth remembering.

One of my comrades says something about how times like this make our efforts and separation from loved ones worth it. Transfixed, I can only nod in agreement.

As is usual on the equator, the sun sets quickly, and we sail on in empty darkness. Once more, on our 28,000-mile voyage, we are left with the bittersweet feeling that we’ll never be graced with this fantastic view again.

Almost fifty years later, Julie Beth Wileman finishes one of her earliest abstract paintings. Upon seeing it, I am transported to that lovely moment so many decades gone. I almost cannot speak. The blazing sky and the reflective ripples on the deep blue sea from that day are unexpectedly right there in front of me.

When I return from my reverie, I compliment my talented sister on her work: the brushwork, the composition, the juxtaposition of color. Well aware that what I see was not her intent, I nonetheless mention how her painting reminds me of a memory from long ago.

A year or two later, on my 70th birthday, she presents me with this work because of my comment. I am overcome.

Today, it hangs in a place of honor in our living room. Now, with every glimpse, I am reminded of two gifts in my life.