The Hat

The Hat

By: David ‘Mac’ McAllister

Hello, I’m his hat! I spend my days now sitting on his desk, nothing more than a reminder of glory days gone by. Ah! But it wasn’t always this way; pop the top of a cold one, come along side and let me spin you our yarn.

I remember when I was just a pup, brand new, that would have been when he was initiated as a Chief Petty Officer back in 1974. Man, what a day that was. We had not met yet; however, I watched from afar as he fell in with the other new Chiefs in preparation for the reading of the CPO Creed. He was the only one there in dress blues without a hat.  Standing there, he looked like a sore dick; that is until I was placed squarely upon his head by his sponsor – a gift from his messmates. Atop his head now, with pride, we grew together a quarter inch taller than anyone else in the room.

We got drunk that night, the first of many drunkex’s we would share over the years. The next day he was torn as to whether I should be enshrined in a place of honor as a piece of memorabilia or put to use. He decided that the best way to honor those that came before and those who had given me to him was to wear me. So our journey began as Shipmates.

He was never a ball cap person, so I was worn daily. I remember he was asked once “Why don’t you ever wear a piss cutter” to which he replied (to my satisfaction): “ If I wanted to wear a fuckin piss cutter I’d either still be in the God Damn Boy Scouts or I’d get a fuckin sex change and be a Wave”. So for the next fourteen years, we were inseparable and I was his prime scraper.

I was proudly decked out with the fouled anchor of a Chief Petty Officer. Later he added the star of a Senior Chief Petty Officer. Then he really screwed with my military mind and placed an Officer’s crest on me. Got to admit that for awhile that took some getting used to; I really thought he had lost the load for sure, but it all panned out, in the end result.

As I aged I guess the first thing to go was my sweat band. It became brittle, cracked and deteriorated due to being repeatedly wetted and dried out from sweating during long days in the hole. One night he flipped me over and performed surgery on me. With his Buck knife, he clipped out my sweat band and threw it in the shit can. Got to admit it smarted a little but I felt much better afterwards and I sat a little lower and in a much more intimate manner upon his head.

Soon my cover stretch band started leaving rust stains on his white covers. That wouldn’t do, so you guessed it – more surgery. My stretch band was unceremoniously jerked out and joined my sweat band in the shit can. After that, my covers hung limply over my headband and gave me an appearance of a WWII bomber pilots cap with a McHalesk continence that sort of complimented a McArthurian nuance.

The piping on by bill was next to go. I guess I just couldn’t take that constant bill shaping he was always doing trying for that perfectly non-regulation look. Not being one to give up on a garment, he would blacken my exposed cardboard edges with a magic marker and, as in the immortal words of Admiral Butcher, we “Pressed on Regardless”.

My Khaki cover grew stained with oils and sweat; my chin strap lost its golden luster and took on a more verdigris appearance. My headband lost its elasticity and became droopy. With scissors, needle and thread he performed more shipboard surgery trimming and sewing me back repeatedly to his weird perception of perfection. As the years past I was referred to as salty.

I was autographed by shipmates and became a sort of who’s who muster list: Don O’Shea, Russ Enos, Don Barnett, Gene Gain, you get the idea. Many wore off over time and were replaced with others; all indelible forever within his and my memory.

We steamed the seven seas and visited ports and places that most people don’t even know exist. We saw our way through MTT’s, PEB’s, REFTRA’s, 3M Inspections, Command Inspections and all the other myriad of shore duty shitheads that would come aboard our home and feeder to help us. We put engineering red E’s and Damage Control DC’s on ships stacks and bridge wings and then turned em gold out of spite.

I have sat squarely on his head for inspection, on the back of his head in comfortable go to hell relaxation and at a jaunty give a shit angle when ashore. We have been shot at and missed, shit at and hit and better for it. We’ve stood engineering watches, bridge watches and watched over 5,000 sunrises and sunsets. I have been the center of wanted and unwanted attentions; however, through it all, we remained the best of Shipmates.

I remember one day I was kidnapped by an XO and taken prisoner and held hostage in his stateroom. He showed up demanding my return to which this particular XO said that he was going to throw my scruffy ass over the side. I remember as if yesterday, he slowly closed the XO’s stateroom door and in a very calm voice explained that I had more time at sea than the XO had in the Navy. That we had been shipmates since he had become a CPO and if the XO was dumb enough to throw me over the side the XO had better ensure his rescue swimmers PQS was signed off as he would be going in after me. Needless to say, I was liberated post hence.

In the strictest of confidence, he has told me that when he finally crosses the bar he will be cremated in the same uniform he was born in except he’s taking me along for the ride; our ashes to be scattered together at sea by sailors that never knew us – yet sailors none the less.

Nowadays I live a comfortable existence in retirement. I sit on his desk off to one side much as I used to, when not on his head while we were on active duty. Every once in awhile, late at night when the light of the day has faded to darkness and the household is asleep, whisky in hand, he will slip me on, lean back and close his eyes as we sail together once again through those days of a gone by era, with shipmates of yesteryear, across those stormy seas of war and peace.

 

David “Mac” McAllister a native of California, now resides in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Mo. Having served in Asia for the majority of his 24-year Navy career, he now divides his time as an over the road trucker, volunteer for local veteran repatriation events and as an Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association board member and reunion coordinator. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about his experiences in Westpac and sharing them online with his Shipmates.

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An Officer and A Gentleman

An Officer and A Gentleman

By: Garland Davis

I met a few bad officers and many good ones.  I recall two who were really fucked up and tried to pass off their screw-ups onto their enlisted subordinates. There was an ATF, home ported in Pearl.  The leading Commissaryman and Supply Division LPO was an MS1.  He told me that in the absence of a Supply Corps Officer, one of the other ships officers is assigned a collateral duty as the ship’s supply officer.  The Communications Officer, an Ensign, was assigned as Supply Officer. The ship was in a yard overhaul and scheduled for REFTRA afterward. 

Division officers were told to update their Watch Quarter and Station Bills.  The Ensign did so and failed to assign a cook to the Galley as a GQ station.  The CS1 went to the Ensign and told him that one of the cooks should be in the Galley for GQ.  The Ensign jumped down his throat, telling him, “I am the Supply Officer, I will decide on GQ stations, you are just a cook and have nothing to say about the manner in which I run this division.” My friend gave him an Aye Aye sir and said no more.

During REFTRA, GQ was scheduled twice a day for the first week.  The first day at sea, GQ was passed shortly after 08:00.  All the cooks left the Galley and went to their assigned stations.  GQ secured at 10:45 and “Dinner for the Crew” was passed at 11:00.  There was nothing prepared for dinner.  The Ensign storms into the Galley and confronts CS1 telling him that he is being placed on report.  The steward comes and tells CS1 that the Captain wants to see him.  He explained to the C.O. and XO what had occurred.  The Watch Quarter and Station Bill was immediately re-written by the CS1 and the Ensign was relieved of all duties and sent ashore by the CO.  I guess this was the proverbial “Last Straw.”

I am all too familiar with another incident.  It was after the CS and SD ratings became the MS rating.  As the senior MS, I had duties other than food service.  The Wardroom Mess Attendants and non-rated MS’s were required to clean stateroom and carry officer laundry to and from the laundry.  The officers made their own bunks and stowed their gear.  I had the responsibility to conduct periodic inspections of staterooms for cleanliness.  I had been tasked by the XO to report to him the officers who were not making their bunks and were leaving their gear adrift.

The ship was scheduled for an SRF Yokosuka availability after an IO deployment.  We had about two weeks to Singapore, an operation with the Aussies, and a stop in Subic before Yokosuka.  All divisions were to have work requests ready by departure from Singapore.  The CPO Mess and the mess decks were crowded with Chiefs and LPO’s writing work requests for needed work.  No one wanted to be writing work requests instead of enjoying liberty in Singapore. We completed the deployment and entered Yokosuka.  SRF came aboard with approved jobs to be completed.  There were no work requests for R-Division.  The Cheng was upset and called the Ensign R-Div Officer on the carpet.  The Ensign had taken leave in Singapore and had met the ship on arrival in Yoko.  He told the Cheng that he had instructed the HT1 to submit the work requests.  The HT1 swore that he had submitted the work requests to the Ensign prior to the ship’s arrival in Singapore.  There were a number of us that recalled the HT1 sitting in the Mess Decks writing work requests.  The Ensign charged HT1 with dereliction of duty and he was reduced to HT2 at Mast.  He swore that he had written the work requests and submitted them to the Ensign. .

A few days after Mast, I was inspecting staterooms.  In the Ensign’s room there was an extra two drawer filing cabinet lashed to water lines and a wire-way.  I told the mess attendant to untie the cabinet, move it, and lash it to the foot of the bunks.  When we moved the file, a sheaf of papers bound together with a large paper clamp fell from behind it.  I looked at them and realized that they were the missing R-Div work requests.  I carried the work requests to the XO and told him where I had found them.  The XO and I went to the CO’s Cabin and explained it to him.  The CO immediately reinstated the HT1.  As for the Ensign, The captain put him on the pier. I have no idea who was on the receiving end of that transfer, but I sure felt sorry for the poor bastards.

The rest of the officers that I recall were first rate. They were professional and competent. I have been proud of the quality of individuals, officer and enlisted, with whom I rode Haze Gray Steel in the Pacific Fleet. This is not patronizing bullshit… At this stage of the game, honesty doesn’t bring special liberty or constitute ass-kissing.

There were two kinds of officers… The ‘engaged’ and the ‘disengaged’. Some officers, for very understandable reasons, maintained their distance from those of us who berthed below decks. To them, the old adage ‘familiarization breeds contempt’ or at the very least an erosion of awe and respect forced the situation.

Looking back, I find that to have been bullshit. Through the hindsight of my almost seventy-two, years, I realize that I respected ‘engaged’ officers the most. An officer who was not above dealing with subordinates on a personal level. An officer who would extend the hand of personal friendship and lead by virtue of the reciprocal respect generated by the concept of working and living as a team. The idea that someone has to ‘call the shots’ principle you learn on baseball diamonds and football fields of elementary and high school. Things you learn from Boy Scout leaders and Safety Patrol Captains your own age.

An ‘engaged’ officer is one who does not feel that having a cup of coffee in the CPO Mess or the crew’s mess or visiting a sick sailor in the berthing compartment will forever scar them with a scarlet letter or the unforgivable sin of fraternization with the untouchables. You never forget that kind of leadership.

You remember the time everyone on the ship was out of cigarettes during operations in and out of Viet Namese ports with no chance to buy smokes and the Warrant who passes his pack of cigarettes around, smiles and says, “You guys will probably get lung cancer from this.”

“Aye Bosun, we’ll try like hell. I’m buying the first one when we hit Sattahip”

“If that’s the case, Stew, I’m drinking it.  Now let me tell you about Barcelona.”

Then there was the time you are laying on your back in the Naval Hospital, Yokosuka with IV tubes in your arm a catheter stuck in the end of your dick and a drain running from your nose.  You have had one-third of your stomach removed because of peptic ulcers that came close to killing you.  You knew that the ‘Old Man” didn’t have to come visit you. That a man in his position must have things a hell of a lot more important in his life than visiting some ‘flat on his back Chief Stewburner  in a place, stinking of ether and alcohol.

There were other very fine officers who would not have done that for a variety of very valid reasons, but you do not get a great feeling when you recall their names and faces.  You just remember they were damn competent officers, good men who chose to keep their distance and maintain some kind of mystical social separation.

I am not one who cared for or resented an arms-length relationship with certain individuals who took their meals in the Wardroom. I believe that if a man is honest in his belief and conducts himself in accordance with what he feels is correct; then good men are obligated to accord him respect.

We have all seen officers’ hats on tables in exotic locations, not normally frequented by preachers (although I have bumped into a few Chaplains in some rather strange places.) We have seen coats with shoulder boards hanging on hooks in certain establishments. You know those that sold intimate companionship with the meter running. I am sure each of us has assisted an officer back to the ship when he was “under the weather.” It all came down to a shipmate helping a shipmate.

When our DD-214s turn yellow, our hair turns gray and we start scheduling yearly prostate exams, we all become family and on a first-name basis. We piss in the same head, eat at the same tables and wear the same kinds of obnoxious “old man’s clothes.” We tell lies and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and laugh.  Laugh about things nobody else will understand. We introduce the women in our lives to each other and we are family.

And, you know what? The God Damn world maintained its scheduled rotation and did not fall off its axis.

 

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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.

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Why I Joined the Navy

Why I Joined the Navy

By:  Garland Davis

When I began the third grade, the class made a weekly trip to the school library.  The first couple of weeks were spent learning about the library and how books were cataloged.  By the third week, students were expected to check out a book and read it.  Most of my classmates were searching for books with lots of pictures, large words and a low number of pages.  I was looking through the shelves for a book that interested me.  I found a book with an engraved picture of a sailing ship on the front.  I decided to check it out.  It missed all of my contemporaries’ criteria.  There were no pictures, the words were small and there were over a hundred pages.

The teacher was examining each student’s selection.  She took the book I had selected and told me that it was too advanced for a beginning reader.  I told her I wanted to try to read it.  She relented and permitted me to check it out.  She told me that she wanted a book report.

The name of the book was “John Paul Jones.”  It was a biography written for, I suspect, teenagers.  Almost from the beginning, I was transfixed by the story of Jones and the beginnings of the Navy.

I knew from the moment I finished that book the Navy was going to be my life.  During the ensuing years of waiting for age seventeen, I read, literally, hundreds of books about the Navy and about the sea.  I sailed with Horatio Hornblower, and Captain Aubrey.  I was at the Coral Sea, Midway and Savo Sound in the many books I read of WWII.  I learned knots, semaphore and Morse code in the Boy Scouts.  I made it known to my family and friends that the Navy was for me.

A month before my seventeenth birthday, I went to see the recruiter.  I was tested and taken for a physical. The paperwork was prepared and my mother signed permission.  I was offered the choice of Great Lakes or San Diego for recruit training.  I chose San Diego.  Since reading of the Navy’s war in the Pacific, I wanted to go as far west as possible.

I left Winston-Salem for Raleigh on my seventeenth birthday where I was sworn into the Navy.  The next day, I reached the Recruit Training Center, San Diego and began a thirty-year adventure that ended much too soon.

 

To follow Tales of an Asia Sailor and get e-mail notifications of new posts, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above, then click on the follow button.

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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