Enemies to Friends — Back in the late 80s and 90s, when I was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, I was given the amazing opportunity to see different parts of the world and meet people from dozens of nationalities. I wanted to get the most out of my adventures and be a good ambassador for the United States, and I would venture out into the local bars and pubs whenever I could.
One of my most memorable times was when I was doing a tour in Panama near the Panama Canal at the beginning of 1989. Many evenings, I would head into Panama City to enjoy the nightlife. The Panamanian people were very friendly and inviting. Because Panama is literally the Crossroad of the World, you could find visitors and sailors from around the globe.
On this night, my friend and I were having beers at one of the bars. He started talking to a young lady, and his attention was on her. I ended up starting a conversation with two guys to my left. It turns out they were Russian sailors on liberty from their ship. I knew the Russians were in port because (having a Top-Secret Security Clearance), my supervisor advised me that if we had any contact with Russian nationals, we were to report it. I had no idea I would be sitting next to two “enemies” carrying on a casual conversation.
These two guys were about my age (22 at the time). We talked about the women in the bar, the other countries we visited, and what our jobs were in our Navies. The conversation turned to the geopolitical situation. The USSR and the USA were adversaries, and through propaganda from both sides, we were taught to be distrustful and maybe even hate the other side. I don’t know if it was the beer we were drinking or the fact that there is a brotherhood amongst all mariners, but the three of us found out that we didn’t understand why our governments could not get along and why the Cold War even happened. How many times can a country blow up the world with nuclear weapons? We discovered that we were all very similar and had much in common. We shared pictures and stories about our families. We agreed that our countries were not really that smart for allowing our differences to prevent the two superpowers from doing good in the world together.
After a couple more rounds of beers, we all sang and danced on the dance floor and had a great time. We all ended up closing the bar and hugged and said goodbye to each other, knowing that we could not maintain any communication after and would never see each other again. We departed knowing that we were richer and better people because of the night and that we would never forget our few hours together.