|STONES OF GRAY|
|By Commander Edward L. Bookhardt, US Navy, Retired|
|I stand in solemn reverence, alone, – yet, not alone – gazing out over the rolling green fields marked with row upon row of carved and polished… Stones of gray.The warm May breeze, softly brushes my face on its journey across the placid expanse of this hallowed place. Setting in motion the red, white and blue colors of the starry banners which have been placed with loving care beside the resting places of those we have come to honor.
All seems still, except for the muted sounds of fluttering flags, accompanied occasionally by the melodious solo of a mockingbird perched atop a nearby stone. The stillness brings a sudden chill, which shakes my very being. A feeling of helpless concern for my own mortality creeps over me. I sense a deep loneliness, yet I am not alone.
The familiar sounds of military commands and the rustling of ceremonial formations suddenly interrupt my somber thoughts. The bugler’s haunting strains of “Taps” brings me to rigid attention and I salute… each note echoing through my soul as a misty glaze fills my eyes. My once gleaming uniform, as the features of my aging face are now showing the inevitable wear of time…not unlike the weathered gray stones that surround me.
For a brief moment, beneath this beribboned breast beat a brave and proud young warrior’s heart. Filled with the magic memories of bygone times in far-off lands. I pull myself up, to stand just a bit taller as we who have assembled pay homage to our fallen kindred.
Many who came on this Memorial Day have now departed. Once again, I stand alone, but I am not alone, for my comrades remain in silent steadfast ranks. Each proudly mustering for their eternal watch. I turn to go, then pause, turn again and salute once more… the mockingbird as in some ceremonial “fly-by” spreads its feathery wings, then gently rises to float effortlessly on the warm May breeze across the emerald field of starry banners and Stones of Gray.
The traditional male sailor was not defined by his looks. He was defined by his attitude.
His name was Jack Tar. He was a happy go lucky sort of bloke. He took the good times with the bad.
He didn’t cry victimisation, bastardisation, discrimination or for his mum when things didn’t go his way.
He took responsibility for his own sometimes, self-destructive actions.
He loved a laugh at anything or anybody. Rank, gender, race, creed or behaviour, it didn’t matter to Jack.
He would take the piss out of anyone, including himself. If someone took it out of him he didn’t get offended. It was a natural part of life. If he offended someone else, so be it.
Free from many of the rules of a polite society Jack’s manners were somewhat rough.
His ability to swear was legendary
Jack loved women. He loved to chase them to the ends of the earth and sometimes he even caught one (less often than he would have you believe though). His tales of the chase and its conclusion win or lose, is the stuff of legends.
Jack’s favourite drink was beer, and he could drink it like a fish. His actions when inebriated would, on occasion, land him in trouble. But, he took it on the chin, did his punishment and then went and did it all again.
Jack loved his job. He took an immense pride in what he did. His radar was always the best in the fleet. His engines always worked better than anyone else’s. His eyes could spot a contact before anyone else’s and shoot at it first.
It was a matter of personal pride. Jack was the consummate professional when he was at work and sober. He was a bit like a mischievous child. He had a gleam in his eye and a larger than life outlook.
He was as rough as guts. You had to be pig headed and thick skinned to survive. He worked hard and played hard. His masters tut-tutted at some of his more exuberant expressions of joie de vivre, and the occasional bout of number 9′s or stoppage let him know where his limits were.
The late 20th Century and on, has seen the demise of Jack. The workplace no longer echoes with ribald comment and bawdy tales. Someone is sure to take offence.
Whereas, those stories of daring do and ingenuity in the face of adversity, usually whilst pissed, lack the audacity of the past. A wicked sense of humor is now a liability, rather than a necessity. Jack has been socially engineered out of existence.
What was once normal is now offensive. Denting someone else’s over inflated opinion of their own self worth is now a crime
By Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired
It was a dark drizzly afternoon when I arrived at the Main Gate of the sprawling Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia. The taxi driver reeking of body odor, booze and stale cigarettes, muttered cabs were not allowed on base and pulled to the curb on Hampton Boulevard a half block away. It was my first trip to Norfolk so I accepted he wasn’t blowing smoke.
I grabbed my gear and tossed a five in the front seat. Snoring expletives of sailors being lousy tippers, he squealed off to pick up a couple he had spotted as possible fares before dumping my dumb ass. I squared my hat, threw my seabag over my shoulder and struggled through the traffic to the Marine sentries at the gate. I showed my orders and told them I was reporting to the Receiving Barracks for further transportation to Cuba.
A Corporal pointed toward a cluster of gray weathered World War Two structures off in the distance that appeared as uninviting as the weather. Rather than wait on a shuttle I decided to walk so I could get some fresh air and shed my travel weariness. Plodding along the wet sidewalk, heavy mist drifting in from Chesapeake Bay began to shroud the area…
Duty transfers always make me blue. Leaving family, shipmates and the security of the known, brings a feeling of melancholy. On the other hand, anticipation of the new, the unknown spawns an addictive exhilaration…thus, screwing-up one’s mind! Seriously, such times of transition and uncertainty are very stressful and I believe affect most career sailors similarly. Anyway, it was good to have a few moments alone, in the rain to sort things out and get one’s head on straight.
The Personnel Yeoman processing my orders indicated I would probably be around for a couple of weeks as MATS [Military Air Transport Service] had a substantial backlog. With that I could expect a job assignment the following day. I was sent to one of the “X” Barracks for berthing. The next morning as the only First Class Petty Officer at muster I was given a badge and put in charge of barrack berthing assignments by the Chief Master at Arms. He gave me a couple of helpers as transient manpower was plentiful.
A day later a First Class Mineman about my age checked-in. His name was James “Johnny” Walker he was on his way to the Naval Station, Trinidad for duty. I gave him a cup of coffee and we chatted awhile. I assigned him a bunk next to mine and invited him to the EM Club after work for a few Blue Ribbons. He smiled and agreed to meet me.
We hit it off and became instant friends. Over the next few days we made the tour of Norfolk’s East Main Street, patronizing such infamous watering-holes as: The Krazy Kat, Ship Ahoy, Red Rooster, Rathskellers…the list goes on …we hit them all! We were young and draft beer was twenty-five cents!
Monday morning the CMAA walked in the shack, poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the desk. He pushed his hat back on his head and propped his feet up. He looked at me with a steely gaze and said, “How would you like to take a scenic all-expense paid train ride?” Puzzled, I looked at him, and before I could speak he shot back, “I need two mature POs to chase an AWOL in Kentucky. I knew you would volunteer as did your beer-drinking buddy, Johnny Walker. They’re cutting your orders now. We’ll issue you Shore Patrol gear and travel vouchers, etc…you will have six days to bring a moony lovesick piss-ant back to me. I will brief you and Walker in an hour. Go get your shit together…”
“Okay, here’s the scoop. You’re going to pick up one: Zachariah Longstreet. Apparently some older country folks like giving their kids Biblical first name, hopefully he’s no kin to the Civil War General. This kid is a nineteen year old Seaman Duce from Pikeville, Kentucky. That’s where he is now in the local slammer. There’s some milk-fed farm girl over there that apparently gave him a taste of poontang on Boot leave and he can’t stay out of sniffing range. He came aboard a month ago for assignment to a tin can, which was at sea…here a couple of days then he disappeared.”
Rummaging through his desk drawer, he continued, “The Sheriff over there in Pikesville, who was a Navy man during the war, called that he had him and we picked him up. The Skipper gave him two-weeks restriction but he hauled-ass the next day. He’s back in Pikeville, that’s where you boys come in. You’ll take the train to Charleston, West Virginia, then bus down to Pikeville. Fair warning, this kid is a runner so keep the cuffs on him except to let him eat or take a crap. If you wish to spoon feed him and wipe his ass then you can leave the cuffs on the whole damn trip! I want him back here to do some brig time and ship his horny hillbilly ass to sea!”
We kept out Shore Patrol gear in our suitcases so we wouldn’t be in an official capacity on the train. After boarding and casing the cars for female passengers, we settled in one of the less crowded coaches. I enjoyed the rhythmic click of the rails and drifted to thoughts of family, looking out the window at the rolling Virginia countryside and picking train lint off my melton-cloth Blues. Johnny, meanwhile working a crossword puzzle found in a crumpled newspaper asked, “What’s a six letter word for an Ethiopian antelope?” Turning from the window I sarcastically quipped, “Johnny Boy, I don’t know dick about Ethiopia…”
Before I could finish, he shot back, “Damn, you’re good Eddie, that’s it…DikDik!” Standing, I grinned, “Well damn…I only said one dick, but if that helped, aren’t I the smart one! Now that I’ve dazzled you with my intelligence lets go to the Club Car for a brew!” Brushing my Blues off it dawned on me…DUH! Speaking of intelligences, what the shit are we doing in these damn lint grabbing sacks when we have our gabardine tailor-mades? JOHNNY, WE ARE THE F%&KIN’ SHORE PATROL…whose going to write our ass up? He laughed and pushed me toward the exit.
Next morning before leaving the Chicago Limited in Charleston we donned our tailor-mades, white belts, leggings, armbands and nightsticks. I was feeling good and walking tall! Those Pullman berths can really rock a guy to sleep. We caused quite a stir around the depot and bus station, or at least I though we did. Sailors were a rarity in that part of the country; particularly decked out SPs. We got a lot of lookers and basked in the brief notoriety. I even developed a John Wayne swagger! Ah me, every sailor needs a little attention now and then. After boarding the bus my elation quickly vanished as we stopped at every frigging cow-pasture, crossroad and gas station on Route 119 before finally reaching our destination late in the day.
Pikeville, Kentucky was a typical small town; one major thoroughfare lined with trees and brick-front stores. Across from the bus stop was the Sheriff’s Office easily identified by two black and white 1950 Fords with stars on the doors, whip antennas, bubble-gum lights and chrome sirens parked on the curb. Checking our uniforms as we crossed the street, I wondered what the Sheriff would be like. TV and movies stereotyped country sheriffs as fat sloppy hayseeds. We were about to find out…
Sheriff Floyd Cummings was a nice looking man in his late thirties. He was clean-shaven with light brown thinning hair, chiseled features and a sharply creased khaki uniform. A tan Stetson hung over a pistol belt on the hat-rack near his desk. When we stepped into the neat reception area he sprang to his feet. With a broad pleasant grin and an outstretched hand he came toward us; “Well I’ll be diddly-damned if you fellas aren’t a sight for these old Kentucky boy’s eyes! Hell, I haven’t seen a real sailor since I was mustered out in 46! I was a Gunners Mate on the Cruiser Detroit during the war. Damn! I miss it! Wish I had stayed in, but I guess you hear all the vets say that when looking back on their youth.”
He paused for a moment, “Now stand there and let me look at you. Damn, you boys are sharp!” We smiled and introduced ourselves. He pointed to a couple of oak chairs and without asking poured a couple of mugs of black coffee and handed them to us. He sat on the corner of his desk, reached over and took a swig from a stained mug, paused then his mood turned…
“I got young Zack back there in a holding-cell. I knew he was over-the-hill again as soon as I saw him driving his daddy’s truck down by Ford’s Branch. That’s his home. It’s about five miles from here. When he couldn’t produce leave papers I canned him. His daddy and I are friends. He understands my actions, just couldn’t turn his son in. Hell, I was instrumental in Zack going into the Navy. I had to get him out of town before things got nasty. He was a football star in high school. All the young fillies were after him, especially the County Commissioner’s daughter, Sara Lynn.”
Standing, he moved to the window, “The Commissioner gave him an ultimatum; leave her alone or he would kill him. If he’d gotten her in the family way I’m sure as hell he would have done just that. But, between us she’s the culprit, leading him on and constantly mooning over him. She was sashaying around here this morning. She is the prettiest damn thing in these hills…except, of course for my wife.” Chuckling, he went on, “Speaking of my wife, we are inviting you to have supper and stay over with us tonight. There’s no hotel here, only a couple of Mom & Pop motels at the other end of town.”
Strapping on his pistol belt, “The bus to Charleston doesn’t come through again ‘til morning and Zack isn’t going anywhere. So, we will not accept no as an answer. Bye-the-bye, I sent his uniform home to his Mama to wash and press “inside out,” a sailor never forgets that! I’ve got them in the storage locker. We’ll clean him up in the morning. I’ve tried to talk to that boy about shaping-up and facing his responsibilities, but you know what love and a little tail can do to a teenager. Hell for that matter, [laughing] what it can do to an old man! You two can go on back to his cell and check on him. I’ll give you custody in the morning. I got an appointment; I’ll be back and pick you boys up in an hour.”
In the dimly lit cell, Zachariah Longstreet dejectedly moped about like Frankenstein in one of those old black and white movies. He was broad-shouldered, rawboned about six foot three…one big overgrown kid. His long arms hanging out the sleeves of his ill-fitting prison uniform, dangled like he didn’t know what to do with them. He was handsome in the face with boyish freckles splashed across his nose and cheekbones. His blond hair and light complexion gave him a Nordic appearance. I could easily see why he was a hit with the teeny-boppers.
He looked at us with a sheepish grin and simple said, “Hi!” I told him who we were and that we would take him back to Norfolk the next morning. I asked if he was all right and had he been treated fairly? He nodded yes then turned away, sat down on his bunk and buried his face in his hands. He began to whimper how he loved Sara Lynn, but none of their families understood; he began to sob as we turned and walked away…
Talk about hospitality! The Sheriff and his wife were warm caring genteel hosts. They were childless, but had two spoiled Golden Retrievers. We sat on the back porch sipped Old Granddad and answered questions about the Navy and ourselves. As the sun was settling behind the tree-lined hills he filled us in on his wartime experiences on the Cruiser Detroit. This was followed by a pot-roast supper, chocolate cake in the parlor and a fluffy feather bed.
We awoke to the smell of coffee perking, then sent on our way after being stuffed with thick-slabs of Smithfield ham, eggs, home-made biscuits and blackberry jam!
The early morning sun reflecting off the building blinded me as the Sheriff pulled into his parking space. After a moment…there in the shadows of the overhang we saw her! The Sheriff whispered, “There she is, Miss Sara Lynn Stanton an eighteen year old going on thirty. She’s already turned her daddy’s hair white. I knew she would be here this morning.”
Sitting on the bench in front of the jail was a vision of unbelievable loveliness, a truly ravishing beauty! She had long raven hair that cascaded over her milk-white neck and shoulders…a tall girl, about five-nine with shapely legs that went on forever.
She wore a short sun-back frock that clung in all the right places. The rounded neckline showed cleavage that was exaggerated by the low angle of the sun shining on the mounds of her breasts…breasts that rose and fell with her gentle breathing.
I turned and looked at Johnny who stammered, “Holy shit, I see why the kid went over the friggin’ hill…she is drop-dead gorgeous…be still my fluttering heart!” The Sheriff introduced us. Up close, her magnetism was overwhelming. She smiled reluctantly as she gently shook our outstretched hands…tears welled up in her emerald green eyes. “You taking Zack, aren’t you?” I nodded…
I rattled the bars with my nightstick, “Okay, Longstreet the hour has come to saddle-up for Norfolk. Your unauthorized love tryst is over! You are going to face your obligations as a man and sailor. Get showered, shaved and put on your uniform… we are going bye-bye on the bus to Charleston. The rules are simple; you are going to act like a gentleman. You will speak to no one. You will not disgrace Petty Officer Walker, our beloved Navy, or me anymore than you already have! If you do, we are going to beat you about the head and shoulders with these f%&king sticks! Understand? Your girlfriend is outside. When we leave you may kiss her goodbye that’s it! Now get chopping!
The return trip was uneventful. The kid was a big pussycat and began to reflect on the error of his ways. We didn’t cuffs him until we reached the Main Gate. The CMAA was pleased to have his wayward screw-up back in the flock. Longstreet got brig time and orders to Panama. To which, the CMAA vowed to personally escort him from the brig to the aircraft.
Johnny and I made a couple more trips to East Main Street before getting our flights out. We both made the Chief’s promotion list in ’56 and stayed in touch for a while, but I never saw him again… I dropped Sheriff Cummings and his wife a thank you note after I got settled in Gitmo. They were the true “salt of the earth,” a generation that made America great! I trust that I and those that follow measure up…
And then there is Sara Lynn; fleeting glimpses of her sometime appear in wistful late night dreams…
by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
Me’n Stuke worked for Arliegh Burke. We had no gahdam idea what middle management between the skipper and "31 knot" Burke looked like or did for a living.. And frankly, didn’t give a damn. Admiral Burke was a bluejackets’ leader. He was a meat eater… Absolute King of the Jungle. He was an action man in a world of ‘All talk, no do’. Burke was the kind of individual who would hunt Bengal Tigers with a 22 and drag the dead ones home. No shark would ever eat Arliegh Burke out of reciprocal professional courtesy. Every mother in America could have no finer wish for a son, than wishing he would grow up to be just like Admiral Burke. The heart of a lion packaged in a kind gentleman who understood leadership from ‘A’ to ‘Z’. As far as we were concerned, the squadron staff on Orion were shore duty personnel… 9 to 5 useless overhead. Outside of constantly losing our pay records and hauling us up to sick bay and poking hypodermic needles in our butts, they never seemed to be doing a whole helluva lot that contributed to the ‘Big Picture’.
Officers talked a lot about ‘Big Picture’ stuff… I think they dabbled in it on a kind of ‘Nibble around the edges’ basis. If there actually was a big picture, it never reached Hogan’s Alley on Requin, that’s for damn sure.
Speaking of big pictures, in 1959 if some clown had come down Pier 22 with a forty-foot high photograph of the squadron commander on a sixty-foot pole, every E-3 topside would have said,
"Who’n the hell is that?"
If he turned up on ‘What’s my Line’ and we could have won two weeks at The Waldorf-Astoria with the Playmate of the Month, we would have still been stumped.
We knew he existed because several times a day some pea brain on Mother Onion blew a damn bos’un’s pipe and announced to a world that could have cared less,
"Subron Six arriving…"
But as far as we were concerned, he lived in the same nether world with the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and other folks we had never met or seen.
We saw the Atlantic Sub Force Commander, Vice Admiral Elton W. Grenfell… He was a good egg. I don’t have any idea what he did for a living other than sit around in a room jam-packed with four-stripers and think up weird stuff for submarines to do.
One time he came aboard. We knew he was a big cheese because the COB underwent a fast pop religious conversion and had us take down all the nekkit lady pictures, including the really great one of Janet Pilgrim in a lace nightie taped to inside of the after battery head stall door. An admiral wearing three stars could have had a mammoth attack of the green apple quick step and still there was no way in hell he would have gone in there. Didn’t matter, the COB always won. We spent half the damn night turning to converting our clubhouse for seagoing idiots into the best imitation of a Sunday school we could come up with… And for the rest of my enlistment, whenever I was parked on the aft head in the after battery, I stared at the little pieces of tape that outlined where Janet and those 44 DDs peeked through that flimsy white nightie had been, and cussed Sublant.
The Admiral came. He had porked up a little since he tied knots in Tojo’s tail and he had a sizeable pack of staff toadies nipping at his heels. They formed us up in dress canvas, including mess cooks. The standard drill, two ranks of stationary seagull crap targets aft of the sail. The Admiral gave us the mandatory ‘You men are doing one helluva job for The U.S. Navy’ speech… The one where the duty messcook always has that ‘What in the hell is he talking about?’ look on his face.
"Yes sir gentlemen… Wish I could fill you in on the big picture and you would understand how vital your individual contribution is."
Always big picture bullshit… It always came by one-ton loads. After the speech, the Admiral came down each row of bluejackets and spoke personally to each one of us. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. You can’t help liking an old smokeboat bastard who makes you feel like he really wants to shake your hand and say something to you.
He asked me if there was anything I would like to ask him.
"Yes sir… Is there any way you could work it so the geedunk truck would take Canadian money?"
He looked at me like I had three heads and a tail and moved on. The COB looked at me like I was a total idiot.
Here was my idea… At some time or another, every ship based in Norfolk put into Halifax. When it shoved off, the bunk locker drawers were loaded with left over Canadian money roaming around in them. Canadian money in ’59 had a par value greater than U.S. money. In sizable amounts, the difference could add up. If the roach coach took Canadian money, it would substantially increase sales because it would be the only place thousands of bluejackets could dump the stuff. The navy mobile canteen folks would get a boatload of it and make out like Chinese bandits on large amount exchanges.
But if an E-3 thinks it up it’s gotta be stupid… Not ‘big picture’.
After we broke quarters, the COB came over shook his head and said,
"Next time the admiral shows up, I’m locking you in the paint locker."
I’m not sure that at nineteen the big picture matters much. Political alliances change… National identities change… Enemies come and go. You figure all that out much later in life. ‘Big pictures’ never remain the same… Maybe they are not really ‘big pictures’ at all, just snapshots of moments in time.
At nineteen, the Russians were the bad guys. All targets were designated Ivan…They rode boats hauling ordinance destined to be parked in your backyard. They were vermin and you were the Orkin man. A boatload of Russian boat sailors flooded at 350′ was a cause for celebration. That was that much less ordinance available for package delivery.
Recent events make clear that somewhere between nineteen and sixty the big picture got refocused and things changed. But we were young… Didn’t have time for anything resembling the big picture. Beer was a buck a pitcher at Bells… Slim Jims were a dime and on a lonely night if you were lucky, a barmaid would take you home for a hot shower and a late breakfast.
’31 knot Burke’ could shuffle around the big picture and we had complete faith in him.
If Grenfell ever showed up again, I had some other ideas to bounce off him like moving the damn dumpsters on the pier closer to the nest, robotic chipping hammers and paint scrapers, and putting a couple of gals on the boats as Backscratchers Mates.
Women on submarines. At nineteen… Single… And a long way from home… Not a bad idea.
by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
I saw a piece in a popular magazine awhile ago. It said that the United States Coast Guard had ceased to teach Morse Code. With all the super techno whizbang communication equipment around these days, I guess ‘dits’ and ‘dahs’ are looked upon as primitive communication.
That’s a damn pity because there is no more comforting sound than the rythmic slap of the signal light shutters. Watching a competent signalman operate a signal light, to me beats watching a concert violinist or an Olympic medal-winning ice skater.
There was something about nighttime steaming, transiting the open expanse of the world’s oceans and exchanging seemingly meaningless flashes of light that in truth, were an exchange of clear, concise messages. The signalman and the gentle click of the signal light shutter louvers…
"Sir, that’s the J. W. WEEKS, DD-701."
"Very well. Ask them if LT Al Timberlake is aboard… I went to the academy with Big Al."
"Yessir, he’s aboard… LT CDR now."
"Very well. Tell them to relay my compliments and tell Big Al that ‘Short Stack’ passed him during the midwatch."
Little messages exchanged in darkness. Communication between members of America’s great saltwater family. Those fingers of light always made me feel that I was a part of a big organization.
Things that were so much a part of our life, have gone out of existence in the ensuing years. They tell me that torpedomen and quartermasters have joined gunners mates in the lost ratings of yesteryear.
I know nothing lasts forever and that there’s nothing worse to subsequent generations than an old bastard reliving cherished memories of the past. But with the navy looking to boost its recruiting, it might be beneficial to revisit some of the things that were so meaningful to the bluejackets who manned our ships long ago.
Tradition is a valuable asset… Not that to honor tradition, you have to set aside technological advance… Not at all. But many of the ‘sailor skills’ are being discounted. Consider this… In battle, when you lose power and your computer-generated mo-jo is lost, or your batteries run out… Or the enemy detonates some hootenanny that scrubs your database… Will there be anyone who can take a legitimate sextant observation?
What happens if the bad guys find a way to negate satellite positioning? What happens to the poor bastards bobbing around in a lifeboat with a signalman and an operating flashlight?
How can you call a man an American bluejacket who can’t tie a bowline or read flags? At some point, you stop being a bluejacket and become a technician. That’s a sad fact, but a fact, nonetheless.
The navy used to sell salt water adventure. It used to fill its recruiting offices with posters of smiling bluejackets visiting exotic ports… Ships at sea… Extolling the qualities found in elite service like submarines.
Now, you see posters promising monetary incentives, education benefits and pledges of high-level technical training. It is not an ‘All for the Navy’ navy, anymore. It’s a ‘What’s in it for me?’ navy. You can see the effect on the boatservice… Interchangeable crews… That’s like a shared bride.
Somebody needs to reinitiate the concept of ‘a lad and his boat’. I see nuclear power sailors with the names of a dozen boats embroidered on their vests. How can a lad develop love and loyalty to twelve boats? Simple answer… He can’t.
We need to figure out some way of reconnecting men with ships. We need to develop, to reestablish the relationship between sailors and their ships. We need to shitcan the term, ‘Get my ticket punched on such and such a ship.’ I find the term ‘ticket punched’ repulsive. I rode with men who truly loved the ship. She has been ours for better than 45 years and will continue to be until the day we leave the planet. It is sad that with the ‘interchangeable parts’ commands of today, a boatsailor doesn’t develop the love we were given.
But, as I said earlier, there’s nothing worse than a nostalgic old coot who’s out of step with the march of time… An old sonuvabitch whose era has come and gone.
But you can’t fault a man who loved his service… The men… His wardroom… His boat. An old bastard who can still hear the gentle slap, slap, slap of the bridge signal light shutters.
I am a Sailor, gone now from the sea and the ships and the Shipmates that I served with. I miss them all. In this blog I’ll feature writings from Sailors contemporary to my service, writing which strike a chord with me. If you’re a Sailor maybe those writings will jog a memory or two with you also. Come back often.
I’m also a "ham" (amateur radio licensed operator), primarily active on HF (160-10) with a preference for CW. Look for me in any contest, but especially in the November SweepStakes.
Previous calls KG6AQI (Guam), WA0PQF (Minnesota), WB9DLL (Wisconsin), WB4GXH (Virginia), and WB0WFF (Minnesota).
In the summer time I turn the radio off and go fishing for walleyes. My QSL card design shows a view of my mental treatment center, otherwise known as Lake Vermilion, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota.
While watching a morning sunrise across the lake, I can see all the way to heaven.
My partner and best friend in all of this is K0CKB. Colleen and I are blessed with 5 grown/married children and 14 grandchildren, good health, and the time to enjoy our lives.
73, de Hans, K0HB
by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
In the old gravel-gut boat service, your only link with the civilized world was via the radio shack. A cubby hole on Requin aft of the scope wells in the control room… It was the home of the spark shufflers.
If you were in tight with a radioman, you could get ball scores. Sewer pipe sailors lost touch with the teams they followed… A hazard common to submarine sailors and people who take a moon walk and miss the ride home. Actually, we lost touch with just about everything. In the war movies when they come across some guy who claims to be an American, they ask him questions only an American could answer. If they had picked me up and asked me anything but (A) The names of Roy’s and Gene’s horses (B) Who won World War II and (C) Blaze Starr’s bust size, I would have been one ‘up the creek’ sonuvabitch. Hell, we didn’t know Jack Kennedy was the president until we snorkeled a day later.
Only a complete idiot would make a bet with a radioman. Chances were, the radioman had the final score before you tossed your wampum on the mess table.
I remember one great night brought to us by the spark pushers in the radio shack.
We had finished whatever nonsense they sent us out to do and were making turns for home. The Old Man opened the showers… Guys were bumming razor blades and rooting around in side lockers for something that would pass for a towel. Next thing you know, the foo-foo juice came out. Now there’s a myth that all smoke boat sailors eventually bought into, sooner or later… Aqua Velva was never meant to disguise poor personal hygene. No matter how much of the stuff you poured on a dungaree shirt you had been inside of for two weeks, you were still one disgustingly foul smelling sonuvabitch. You could spray French perfume on an engineman with a fire hose and buzzards would still circle around the bastard when he went topside. But I digress…
A group of us were sitting around in the crew’s mess drinking coffee and ragging guys heading fore and aft. A radioman came in and told us we were in for one helluva good laugh. He monkeyed around with the RBO and patched it into something in the radio shack.
For those of you who never had the pleasure of riding diesel boats or other seagoing steel-hulled garbage scows, I must explain something here.
You could make phone calls from a ship at sea. Here is how it worked. The radioman would raise someone ashore called a ‘marine operator’. Then the radioman would give the marine operator the name and phone number of whoever the bluejacket aboard ship wanted to call. The marine operator would then place a collect call and when the party answered and accepted the charges, the marine operator would form a radio link with the ship and ‘Bill the Bluejacket’ could talk to his sweetie.
From sweetie to the marine operator was private and confidential… From the marine operator to Barnicle Bill, it was up for grabs… Great evening entertainment.
"Poopsie, is that you?"
"Yes ducky doo, it’s me."
"You miss me, peach blossom?"
"Oh yes… YES, darling!"
"Miss me a lot?"
"Oh, I miss you soooo much I can’t wait to hold you and…"
"Okay darling… Are you going to meet the ship?"
"No sweetheart, I parked the car in the pier head lot… Keys are under the mat."
"Why aren’t you meeting the boat, sweetheart?"
"Oh, it was supposed to be a suprise… If you must know, the kids are spending the night with the Webbers. I bought a new nightie and I figured we’d break it in tonight."
The animals would cheer,
"LET’S HEAR IT FOR MAMMA AND HER NEW NIGHTIE!!"
And so it went. Bluejackets phoning in after six months in the Med… Great entertainment.
"Darlin’ can’t wait… Just you and me and a can of Crisco!"
We heard it all… It was great… Laugh after laugh. A very memorable evening… Best and cheapest fun we ever had on Requin.
There were times… Moments that we took for granted and that passed with little notice. It’s funny how they come back late in life when you have the time to reshuffle your memories… The collected moments that constitute your life.
Radiomen linked us with the world. Another thing we just took for granted and that was so damned important looking back. Never thanked them… Should have.
Great guys, all of them.