The Way It Was

The Way It Was

By:  Garland Davis

Sailors split over switching to a single dress uniform

This is one from the heart. Not that you probably give a shit or have any reason to, but this is the opinion of an ex-Asia Sailor who paid his dues out on the Pacific Rim riding the old worn out haze gray steel of the Seventh Fleet during a couple of wars.

One was a “cold” war keeping the commie Russians at bay and the other was a “hot” war to keep the commie Vietnamese in the north. It is the ‘two cents worth’ of an old stewburner who was once afforded membership in, what he considers, the finest organization ever assembled…The United States Navy.

I learned respect for a heritage and a tradition established by generations before me all the way back to the British Royal Navy.  I came to realize that I am a part of that which is the history of the U.S. Navy.

When I enlisted in the Navy every incoming sailor was given two books. This is Your Navy, by Theodore Roscoe and a Blue Jackets Manual

The former was published by the U.S. Naval Institute to provide each incoming prospective bluejacket a single volume history of the Navy. It was written in the style of a yarn, a salty language adventure.  The latter was a rudimentary “how to” course in becoming a sailor.

These two books and mail from home were the only permitted reading while in boot camp. Being a prolific reader, I consumed and then re-read both books a number of times during the eleven weeks I was at RTC San Diego.  Somewhere along the way, both were lost.  I have a couple of Blue Jackets Manuals, but not the one I was issued.  I don’t even know if This is Your Navy is still in print.

The history of the Navy is a legacy that we inherited and is ours to pass, unsullied to future sailors. That is an obligation, a sacred duty to ourselves, our Navy, and our country.

The uniform, the one referred to as a “Crackerjack suit” by the uninformed and uninitiated is our badge.  That uniform in earlier forms is easily recognized by sailors today as the one worn by Civil War sailors…And every succeeding generation of North American Bluejacket since.

The U.S. Navy uniform is unique. First, no other service has maintained the continuity of their dress uniform. The thirteen-button low-neck jumper blues predate anything worn by our sister services. The Navy uniform is a symbol, recognized and respected by every sailor in the world.

The Navy Dress Blue Uniform lends itself to individual expression. Many sailors took eccentric liberties in the way they decorated and wore their beloved “Dress Canvas.” Many in authority turned a blind eye to the liberties taken in the wearing of the uniform.

The white hat was an integral part of the uniform.  I was early enough into the Navy to have been issued a flat hat and had the opportunity to wear it once during a port call at Vancouver in Canada.  The white hat presented the sailor with a number of ways to display his individuality.  It could be rolled.  It could be worn with “wings.” You chose the way you preferred and just did it because sailors had always done it.

The neckerchief was another way to show your individuality.  Some sailors meticulously took a dime and painstakingly rolled their neckerchiefs until they looked like a yard’s worth of garden hose.  Lazy fuckers, like myself, would take their neckerchief to some shop on the Honch or out in Wanchai and have it rolled into a “greasy snake.” Pressed flat, it looked great and was light enough to blow all over hell in a light wind. Some tied the knot in their neckerchief regulation style at the bottom of the ‘V’ of their jumper collar.  I always liked a high knot a couple of inches above the ‘V’.

The thirteen button blue melton bell bottom trousers had a small pocket for a pocket watch.  By the time, I enlisted in 1961 it had become a Zippo pocket.  You tucked your cigarettes in your sock and folded your wallet over the waistband of the trousers under your jumper.  Every bar girl, hooker, and pickpocket knew the exact location. A real set of thirteen-button blues had no belt loops. Instead, there were a series of eyelets right above the terminal point of your ass crack called ‘gussets’ and you had a shipmate lace them up and square knot them to your size. It was ‘Navy’… Old Navy… Back then, being ‘Old Navy’ was damned important.

The only thing that went into your jumper pocket was your liberty card and I.D. card.  Anything else and it looked like shit. If you wore whites, reaching in your pocket for stuff would get it dirty.  Hong Kong tailored blue jumpers were usually made with inside pockets for securing liberty funds.  Hong Kong was the place to have the cuffs of your blues decorated.  Called liberty cuffs, the inside if the cuffs were embroidered with colorful pictures so that when you rolled the cuffs back they were visible.  I had dragons on my cuffs.

So you decked yourself out in dress canvas. You rolled across your quarterdeck… Requested permission to leave the ship… Popped a snappy salute to the colors aft and you were off to terrorize the female population.  You were a member of the greatest Navy in history and you looked like an American bluejacket. Because that is what you were.

You were what every saltwater sailing son of a bitch longed to be.  In the early 1960’s we all knew in our hearts that it would always be this way.  It was the greatest uniform of all the services of all the countries. No one would ever be so fucking stupid as to let that uniform go. We knew that our sons and grandsons would someday wear that symbol or our Navy.

At the time it was called Indo-China, nobody knew where it was. No one gave a fuck, but it was to change our lives and our Navy.  Nobody had ever heard of Elmo Zumwalt. In 1970, President Nixon nominated him, over much more senior Admirals, to become Chief of Naval Operations.  He was the forward thinker who invented saltwater mediocrity and the political correctness bullshit.  He issued Z-grams that relaxed grooming standards; permitted civilian clothing aboard ship and became the harbinger of myriad uniform changes to come.

Somewhere along the way, somebody decided thirteen button blues were outdated and for decades since have changed the uniforms to the point that a sailor now resembles a Marine.  Seldom are dress uniforms seen.  Now it is Aquaflage instead of dungarees and civilian clothes ashore instead of sharp sailors with pride in their Navy, their ship, and themselves.

I don’t know what reading material is issued in boot camp these days, probably some bullshit about how to be politically correct, and not to make sexual advances to your male or female shipmates.

They trashed the dear and meaningful for a bunch of superficial, meaningless horseshit and called it progress… Shame on the bastards.

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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.


9 thoughts on “The Way It Was

  1. I was issued in 1960 for dress blues zippered pants not 13 button, I complained and was told that was the new uniform, everyone else got 13 button, needless to say the first chance I got I bought 13 button, got razed when I got to my ship and told I was out of uniform with zippered pants , had to prove that’s all I had.


  2. Pat Needham says:

    Your timeline and mine are pretty close.. I hit G.L Bootcamp at Thanksgiving, 1959, and reported to “Frisco” in the Summer of ’60 for pre-comm. as they were finishing up on the construction of the Mahan, DLG 11. After Commissioning, and trials, She headed for Hawaii and Westpac, I made 3d Class while in Hong Cong, and the Next Day, got a surprise. The first class came to me, handed me an arm band and a night stick, and remarked, Congratulations, today you are on shore patrol. Only instruction I had was, a small map showing the location of the shore patrol office, and the 4 block grid of my “territory” to police. My welcome to 3d class… What transpired while on this is another story, another day. Garland, I REALLY appreciate your stories! Pat.


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