General Quarters

General Quarters

By:  Garland Davis

“General Quarters, General Quarters, All Hands Man Your Battle Stations, Now General Quarters!  Up and forward to starboard, down and aft to port. Now general quarters” This accompanied by the bonging of the general alarm.

No other words, besides shouting “Free Pussy in the Barrio” or “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater can ignite pandemonium like “General Quarters.” Grown men go absolutely crazy… Stark, raving ape shit nuts. You are still half-asleep, reaching for your pants with one hand and your shoes with the other while an idiot stampede breaks out. Men yelling “Gangway!” hurdle over you going in both directions. You do not stop to dress, just grab your shit and haul ass trying to remember if you are on the port or starboard side.

My first GQ assignment was Damage Control II phone talker’… Talker is a misnomer.  You didn’t talk, you just repeated messages either to the Locker Leader or, to Damage Control Central.  Any half-intelligent parrot could do the same.  If you look up ‘totally worthless bastard’ in any dictionary, in any language, it states, “Foremost among worthless bastards you will find sound powered phone talkers.”

You are a cross between a cigar store Indian and a ventriloquist’s dummy. Any number of first order apes could be trained for the job. I never understood how anyone in their right mind would think being that hand-puppet was a desirable position.

“Well, if it isn’t Chief Pike’s hand maiden and mouthpiece.” From one of my shipmates.

 “Hey, Dave… Is it true? Does the Chief Pike actually pull a string to make your mouth work? Do you sit in his lap when he makes you talk?”

 “Well, here he is.  Chief Pike is training him to be the fourth Stooge.  They’ll be Manny, Moe, Curly, and Davy.”

Being the Repair II Howdy Doody was a bullshit General Quarter’s station. I think they created the job to test new kids for their crap absorption capacity… To see how big a shit load a kid could haul.

The Repair II phone talker had to tie his headset cable to a phone jack in the forward portion of the mess decks near the dumb waiter from the Galley and sit at a corner table out of the way of the locker leader and plotter, but close enough to hear everything said.  No one ever invented a way to clean the inside of the mouth and earpieces of a sound powered headset… Years of accumulated earwax, sweat and loogies made them a major treat to smell.

“Repair II, manned and ready”

“Repair II, DC Central.  You are still taking too long to get manned and ready.”  You pass the word to the Chief and he gives you a look that says, “I am going to rip your fucking head off and shit down your windpipe.” 

He says, “Aye, Aye.”

Finally, the ship is manned and ready. “Now secure from General Quarters, set the normal underway watch,” is passed. 

“What the fuck? I thought we were going to have GQ all morning.”

All the gear is stowed and everyone goes back to their work stations.  I head back to my rack.  I am the night baker.  GQ fucks with my beauty sleep.

The Boatswain’s pipe and “This is the Captain, I am thoroughly disappointed with the amount of time it took to reach a manned and ready state for General Quarters.  We will keep trying until we can get it right.  That is all.”

Immediately, “General Quarters, General Quarters, etc, etc.”

Here we go again.  This time, we manned up quickly and evidently the CO is, if not pleased, satisfied.  We immediately move into the attack phase of the drill and take a missile hit in number two hold. All Repair II drills were held in number two hold.  If something happened someplace else, I figure we are shit out of luck.

A messenger comes from the scene and I pass, “Fire in Number II hold is under control.”

“Very Well,” from DC Central.

That’s all officers say. They say it all the time… I think there is a two-semester course at Annapolis where prospective officers are taught that all you ever have to say in response to anything an enlisted man reports is “Very well.”

“Captain, the cook just shot the sounding and security watch… Fire in the engine room… Mutiny underway on the flight deck… Communist frogmen are climbing the screw guards and the Pope has just been drafted by the Celtics.”

“Very well.”

After serving as Repair II phone talker for about six months, I was moved to DC Central as phone talker and a short time later to the bridge as the Captains phone talker. Here, I had a forty-foot cord and had to follow the CO around the bridge while coiling and uncoiling cord.  I also had a lot more traffic to pass.  The Captain was extremely loquacious when it came to the “Very Wells.”

After nearly a year, I graduated from phone monkey to just another serf in the kingdom and was assigned to the galley for GQ.  I could go into the issue room and nap.  That way I would be bright eyed and bushy tailed for work that night.

They always had, at least, one cook assigned to the galley during GQ.  I never understood why they could not serve the regular menu.  I know that after I had risen to a position as Leading CS/MS, I insisted on the scheduled menu.  However, for some reason on my first ship, after GQ you got soup and lousy donkey dick, hard salami sandwiches with tire patch cheese.  If you were especially lucky, the Chief CS would order up the Navy version of cold Vienna sausage.

I remember watching the movie Ben Hur on the mess decks after a day of GQ… In the flick, they had Charlton Heston, as a snipe, chained to an oar down in the lower engine room of this Roman light cruiser… This guy, he must have been the Chief Engineer,  walked up and down, bullwhipping the snipes to get them to put on more turns. 

Some guy on the quarterdeck… Marcus Aurelius Wayne, I think… Points out the arrival of the massive Egyptian fleet. It’s quiet in the mess decks … You could hear a pin drop. Then, someone yells,

“General Quarters, General Quarters, spears and arrows… Break out the Battle Stations cheese and horse cock.”


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.


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