By:  Garland Davis


There is an old joke that says, “A friend will bail you out of jail when necessary, a Shipmate will be sitting right there beside you saying, ‘That was fucking awesome Shipmate.’”

What is a shipmate you ask?  The obvious answer is someone that you served in the same ship with.  But there is more to it than that.  There are the men you met in the clubs and bars of the Honcho, Magsaysay, and the other infamous streets of the WestPac ports where we congregated.  We didn’t serve in the same ships but we were there in the same fleet, the same Navy, enduring the same hardships.  We could sometimes see and wave at each other during UNREPS.

Some shipmates were invisible and unseen.  There was always a U.S. Fast Attack Submarine shadowing the Carrier group.  We couldn’t see them but they were there. Don’t doubt that we are shipmates.

Someone once wrote, “When you hear a Sailor call someone shipmate, know it is a compliment. He is saying,” We are friends.”  Now that is not necessarily true.  We all dislike some people that we served with and wouldn’t care to have them as friends, but, they are still our shipmates and we will accord them the respect and honor of that position. I’ll often call you Shipmate because, as age descends upon me, I can’t remember your fucking name.

The term “Shipmate” sometimes has unpleasant ramifications.  A fellow once told me that when his Chief said, “Shipmate, I think we need to have a talk,” meant that he had fucked up and the Chief was preparing to shit all over his day. He told me that the Chief usually called him Seaman and later Petty Officer, but when the Chief voiced “Shipmate” it was time for a come to Jesus moment.

I have heard and have been called “Shippy” by certain people.  I guess it is a shortened form of the word Shipmate.  I dislike it and find it derogatory and disrespectful. I think “Shippy” is more of a LANTFLT thing. I don’t ever recall hearing it used by a PACFLT sailor. Please don’t use it.

I guess with all the PC nonsense permeating Washington and the Department of the Navy and with more and more females in the fleet, all male gender specific terms like SeaMAN, Damage ControlMAN, and SignalMAN, are being studied to make them gender neutral. I suspect the term shipMATE may also be in jeopardy because the word MATE connotes a marital and sexual relationship.

SIDEBAR:  You notice I didn’t use Yeoman as an example.  The term Yeoman has always had a female connotation.  END SIDEBAR

I have attended one High School reunion.  Most everyone spent the evening talking about their life after High School and their accomplishments, divorces, successes, and etc.  At Navy reunions, the talk goes to what happened in the Navy.  No one really talks about life before or after the Navy.  I have seen and had it happen to me where two old shipmates meeting for the first time in twenty years picks up and carries on the last conversation from two decades ago as if no time at all had passed.

Shipmate is more than a term used to identify fellow members of the greatest seagoing organization ever known.  It is a term of endearment and respect between seagoing men, and, I guess, women. It is a title and position that one treasures and bears proudly.



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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.