Chipping Paint

Chipping Paint

By:  Garland Davis


It was the fall of sixty-two.  I had just finished a one-year hiatus at NAS Lemoore.  It was a new base and they hijacked a group of us out of boot camp for a one-year special shore duty tour.  That meant they needed mess cooks and coop cleaners.  I did manage to get into the galley as a cook striker.  It just meant that it took a year longer getting to the real Navy.

I remember walking down the pier at Triple A Shipyard in San Francisco with my seabag on my shoulder looking at the USS Vesuvius AE-15.  Thus began my illustrious Naval career.  I was a little short of Admiral Lord Nelson, Captain John Paul Jones, or Admiral Halsey.  I was more on a par with Popeye the Sailor and the Cracker Jack kid.  Some of the best years of my life.

I had hoped for a sleek Destroyer or a stately Heavy Cruiser, but I wasn’t that disappointed.  She was gray and she had guns.  Looked like Navy to me.  I correctly recalled the proper method of boarding a ship.  The OOD took my package, annotated my orders and had the Messenger lead me to the Ship’s Office.  A short time later a BM1 with a Master At Arms Badge came and led me away to the Deck and Operations berthing.  He told me that I would be in First Division, to unpack, stow my locker, get into dungarees and report to him on the main deck forward of the superstructure.  Doing this, I ended up in a gear locker with a chipping hammer trying to chip many layers of paint off the bulkhead while another sailor was chipping one of the other bulkheads.  I am amazed that I can still hear after that afternoon.

I managed to convince the command that I was more valuable in the bake shop and galley than I was chipping paint and pulling lines and shortly afterward ended up in the Galley and not too long afterward was advanced to CS3.  It only got better from there.

Since I retired things haven’t always gone well with me.  It doesn’t matter how much I tried, I still have the vocabulary of a lower level hole snipe with crotch rot and the crabs. I broke the habit of carrying smokes in my sock and then lived long enough to give up the habit.

I still like to drink beer.  And I really love to do it in the cheapest dive I can find usually with an over the hill bar hog begging me to buy her a drink.

I no longer yell, “Put some metal in the pneumonia hole!” when someone leaves a door open.  I still drink my coffee black, hot, warm, lukewarm, morning, noon, and night.  I like it dark and strong.  I have lived for days of rough weather on whatever we could put together and black coffee.

I do my damnedest to keep my mouth shut when visiting one of our old ships that have been turned into a museum while someone who never went to sea explains how they could do fifty knots and fire one hundred round per minute from each gun.  I just move along in the line with an amazed look on my face like the rest of the tourists.  I think that is the mellowing of old age and the fact that my wife has me saddle broke and pussy whipped.  Who cares?  It wouldn’t be any fun embarrassing some volunteer sea scout by making him look silly in public.  The kid is fine company when you think back over the list of liars, bullshit artists and third-degree horse shit weavers the Far East Fleet produced over the years.

I still get a little misty when I hear “Anchors Away” or smell fresh baking cinnamon rolls.  Every now and then I tell a civilian to “get squared away”, or “Pop the Son of a Bitch between the running lights.”  They look at me strangely.

When it is really hot, I can see Bob Burns coming up out of the Engine Room soaked with sweat and saying, “It’s hotter than two mice fucking in a wool sock.”  My neighbor’s daughters know that two mice in a wool sock means hot.  I never told them what the mice were up to.

I still sleep spread out to keep from rolling out of my rack in rough weather. I really miss the awesome spectacle and the majesty of really heavy weather.  The roller coaster ride, the rolling, and pitching.  That was the closest I ever got to God.  He knew it and so did I.

I always know where my glasses and my pants are in case we go to General Quarters.

I am a creature of habit.  The after CPO Berthing on USS Reeves was cold enough to hang meat.  Now I cannot sleep without extreme air conditioning.  My wife has taken to sleeping in the guest bedroom.  She says she cannot sleep in a reefer.

Most of all, I miss the guys who lived through it with me.  I missed meeting a shipmate in a passageway and being greeted with, “Dave, did your mama have any kids that lived?”


“Dave, don’t take this personally, but you are one ugly bastard.”


“Dave, do you get along with your wife’s seeing eye dog?  She must be blind if she married your ugly ass.”

And, there were twenty-eight more years and seven other ships.  There were fourteen years in Japan or homeported there and there were three WestPac cruises out of Pearl Harbor.

And, suddenly, it seemed, it all came to a halt.

Once each year I muster with some old shipmates in Branson, MO. A bunch of ex-sailors, some of the best people a person could ever be privileged to call shipmate.  Men who are almost, if not more, deranged than I am and we live that life again in the stories, half-truths, and outright lies.

And it all began with me chipping the paint off a bulkhead in a deck force gear locker.