by: Garland Davis
Life gets weird when you try to take it seriously.
Beat someone to death with a fire ax, get convicted, and sent to prison you will end up with a room, your own rack, a window, fresh air, regular hot showers, movies, and television. In addition, with the current state of American justice, you would be out in eighteen months to two years.
If you rode old Fletcher, Gearing, and Forrest Sherman class tin cans and old swaybacked Cruisers out in Asian waters, you got very little of that. People in prison were living a lot better than you were. Hell, they probably got enough blankets and didn’t have to steal them from each other to keep from freezing to death or didn’t have to wear a kapok jacket to keep from drowning in their own sweat.
Also, they never missed things. They had radio, TV, newspapers and were kept abreast of things happening in the world.
We couldn’t. Oh, the Radiomen got news sheets sometime with shit that no one cared about, you know, the scores of soccer matches in England and who won the polo game. The kids begging for Pesos or trying to get you a date with their sister in Olongapo knew more about what was going on in the world than your average Asian sailor.
We lived in a world where day and night were controlled by watches, painting, and cleaning, general quarters, refueling, rearming, another watch, and was that midrats or breakfast that I just ate. If you were a seaman or fireman life became damn near meaningless because everything you did was controlled by an entity know as Petty Officer. And, somewhere, we lost our link with the civilized world. In short, the world passed us by and we were content with that, we had found a new, more exciting world.
For most of the sixties, I lost touch with baseball. It had been one of my passions growing up. I started losing my excitement for the game when the Dodgers left Brooklyn and I was getting closer to seventeen and could enlist. During most of the sixties, I have no idea who won the series, what happened to Old Gold cigarettes and what happened to those latex girdles, you know, the ones that were impossible to get past in high school. And when did they stop making that ugly assed Edsel. I remember when Kennedy was shot. I was in Subic and Vesuvius sortied with the fleet. We were ready in case the Russians had been involved. I read about the first man on the moon a month or so after the landing although someone had told me about it. I remember hearing about and then becoming very involved in a place in Indo-China known as Viet Nam. How, why and when is still fuzzy as hell.
They told us that the economy was poor. The only thing we knew about economics was if you spent money on a short time, then you had less beer money and vice versa and that the operators of the ‘slush funds” were greedy mothers.
You would come into Subic and find yourself dining on monkey and San Miguel in some dive and someone would say something like,
“Hey, shipmate what do you think of Muhammad Ali?”
“Who the fuck is Muhammad Ali?”
“You know, the heavy weight boxing champion.”
“I thought Cassius Clay was champ, when did this Ali character kick his ass?”
“No, Clay and Ali are the same.”
“I’ll take your word for it, honestly, I haven’t got any idea what you are talking about. Hey, honey give us two San Miguels here”.
“Jeezus, man where in the hell have you been?”
“At sea, out on the ocean… Ask me anything about dirty laundry, water hours, sweating your ass off, powdered fucking milk and seagull shit and I’m your expert.”
It’s not that we were stupid and totally unconcerned, it was strictly a matter of access. If you grow up living in a metal box, the only thing that matters is when the son of a bitch who opens the lid shows up.
Then someone would ask, “Any you guys ever heard of a place called Vet Namy or something like that?”
“Nah, where the fuck is that?”
“I got a letter from my Mom. She says that the Commies are trying to take it over and that Ike signed a thing that said we would help them and Kennedy sent some Army dudes there. It’s over here in Asia some fucking place.”
Then the Chief would come in with his cigar spreading ashes and say, “Hey, it ain’t here by the geedunk and it ain’t in the mess decks. Knock off the bullshit…toss them soda cups in the shitcan and haul your worthless asses topside before I plant this brown shoe in your rectum.
We averaged nineteen in age. You are expected to be dumb at nineteen and not know what is happening in the world. Hell, everyone expected you to be unconnected. You could make Third Class and have no fucking idea how a zipper worked.
The first time back in the States after a Tour in Asia or a protracted WestPac cruise came as a rude awakening. When you left for the Pacific Rim, George Jones was an icon in country music and Elvis was the king of Rock and Roll. The first day back in the “world” your friends asked if you had heard the latest Beetles. This left you wondering, “why the fuck would you be listening to a bunch of bugs?”
Then your best bud from High School comes in with his hair down below his ears. You immediately offer to loan him a few bucks. He really must be a loser if he can’t afford a haircut. Then you see other guys and think that you must have missed something somewhere. You were wondering, “is every dude I know queer.”
When you left for the orient all the dudes had flat top haircuts and girls wore bras, saddle shoes or penny loafers, and smelled sweet and were saving the pussy for their future husband. By the time you returned to the states, guys had hair hanging half way to their asses. The girls were going barefoot, without bras, wearing dirty tie-dyed skivvy shirts, smelled like an Olongapo pisser and would fuck anyone who could stand the smell.
You found yourself hoping that the Tincan you had orders to in San Diego would be leaving for WestPac and recall that you were overjoyed to learn that it was to be forward deployed to Yokosuka.
After spending eight years in Asia, you never caught up. Never understood poor personal hygiene… Looking like bums… War protesters… Psychedelic anything… Dope… Gene McCarthy… Hubert Humphrey… Gremlin cars… A whole lot of stuff. I’m still twenty fucking years behind.
But the Navy gave us a home, shipmates who would become closer than your family, and a load of great memories of tough times spent in conditions that only we could understand. Asia sailors, in the words of John McCain, understood the concept of serving a cause greater than one’s self.
Somehow, the world changed. We didn’t. We couldn’t.
A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.