This is the transcript of a speech I gave at the first annual Asia Sailor WestPac’rs Association reunion at the Clarion Hotel, Branson, MO in April 2013:
Out on the Pacific Rim
By: Garland Davis
“… And if at times our conduct isn’t all your fancy paints, remember single men in barracks don’t turn into plaster saints.”—-Rudyard Kipling in Tommy
When old sailors get together, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to what valve did what… The “Can you name the gin mill?” game… “Whatever happened to the old asshole Mess Deck MAA? You know who I mean. Whatzisname?” “You remember the bargirl with the big boobs who fell in love with the pretty boy radioman off the Dicky B. Anderson?” Pier numbers… Phone numbers… Hull numbers… Bar names.
Somewhere and at some point, some son of a bitch tells the first lie… Then it begins. The “Can you top this” bullshit. Amateurs don’t stand a chance. Like the preliminary fights, it all leads up to the main event when certain liars swim out and eat the little fish (If anyone tops Mac’s ‘Disco Chief’, there’s gotta be a Pulitzer prize in it). I told my bride of going on 48 years that in the wonderful world of sea stories, Mac is a major league crown contender. Love his stuff… Brings back great memories… The priceless stuff that lives in the dark corner of your memory locker (According to my friend’s daughter, most of it should stay in a dark place and never see the light of day).
Too true. At the pay rate of nonrated men in the early 60s, no one should be too damn surprised that we didn’t devote a lot of our time to opera, polo, golf, and downhill skiing. We also never developed a proper appreciation of fine French wines, classical art and classical music, unless, of course, you consider screw cap Akadama, a Budweiser naked lady calendar, and Country Music songs to qualify.
There were no better places than those found on the Honcho in Yokosuka, Magsaysay in Olangapo, Wanchai in Hong Kong, Bugis Street in Singapore, or Soi Cowboy in Bangkok. You could get into these places without white tie and tails. Hell, you could get in bare-ass naked if you had the correct currency. There were no debutante balls held in these joints… unless you counted the cherry-boy signalman who got his first BJ at Marilyn’s… And you didn’t have to push your way through paparazzi to get into the Samari.
Being asked to explain your actions at 18, forty years later to your friend’s daughter after she inadvertently read some of the crap you have written is the damnedest delayed action fuse on the planet.
“You mean my dad did this stuff? The man who told my boyfriends they would be boiled and eaten if they so much as hinted at possible monkey business?”
Same guys… Not that we have matured a hell of a lot. It’s just that the research we did while serving in the Far East brought us face to face with the entire spectrum of monkey business. There is no one more prim and proper than a reformed whore.
How do you tell someone who stayed home, married his high school sweetheart, became a deacon at the Baptist Church, and was the local chairman of the United Whatever’s Fund, that despite the stories he heard, we were really good guys? We didn’t spend a lot of time at the preacher’s house. We were volunteers…We served our country out on the far Pacific Rim… Paid our dues and earned the right to enter a voting booth without a disguise.
When the boys and girls of the anti-war hippie days were acting like traitors and idiots, we were out there on the Rim. I missed the early Beatles… Went to sea when the President was assassinated… Missed the first trip to the moon… Somewhere along the way, I became all too familiar with the Indo-China that became Viet-Nam… new NFL teams appeared out of nowhere… They quit making Ipana toothpaste and Old Gold cigarettes… Some genius invented the birth control pill and Johnny Carson replaced Jack Parr. Just part of the price Asia sailors and maximum-security convicts pay… Isolation from the western world allowed us to call ourselves dues payers. All of us who wore a Navy uniform can be damn proud of that.
All this chest pounding over ‘Winning the Cold War’ is probably more of that hocus pocus, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t’ foreign policy horse shit. But, one thing we CAN say, “On our watch, no commie bastards slapped us with a God Damned sneak attack and we kept the free world safe enough that the only things our recently graduated high school pals had to worry about were blouse buttons and three-hook bras while at the Drive-In.
Being a WestPac sailor wasn’t easy. Just being accepted by the men whom you would call ‘Shipmate’ for the rest of time, became an honor in itself.
This asiasailor.com website and the Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association FaceBook group are blessings. They permit me to once again find men I can talk to, who understand and give a damn. You spend all your time learning your rate… Learning the Navy language… Gaining pride in yourself and what you do… Making friends… And then, all too soon, it’s over. You retire and wander around in the world of ‘Who gives a fuck?’ people with no one to talk with. Kind of like spending twenty or thirty YEARS learning Japanese and then moving to Oslo, Norway.
Thanks guys for allowing me to help build this tree house, so we can hold ‘NO CIVILIANS ALLOWED’ meetings, tell socially unacceptable tales of old shipmates, old girlfriends, past deeds and chase the fireflies of our better days through stack gas and sea spray. Trying to tell our story in Sunday school language makes about as much sense as applying moisturizer to an alligator’s ass.
We are getting fewer and fewer, like old Ford Model A’s… They are not making the damn things anymore so every time you lose one, the herd is thinned by one.
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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.