By: Garland Davis
“May I a small house and large garden have;
And a few friends,
And many books, both true.”
― Abraham Cowley
The greatest thing about reunions, whether they be of ships, associations, crews, or WestPac sailors is the opportunity to renew friendships with old shipmates and find the old, long forgotten memories of a time when the future was something that would take care of itself. We all had dreams and plans to become a Master Chief like the one we admired or to leave the Navy, get rich and marry a beautiful girl and we would live forever. Reunions have a way of deep-sixing that bullshit. The wives have kept their youthful good looks, but your old shipmates have taken on a load of barnacles and appear to have missed a few yard periods.
So you end up with are a bunch of old farts wearing “I am a Veteran” t-shirts and Navy Retired ball caps who spend a hell of a lot of time swilling beer and saying shit like,
“Hey, any of you remember the pretty boy Radioman from the old Dicky B. Anderson? I can’t think of his name… You know the one that the bar girl in Kaoshung fell in love with. Skinny kid…Called him Lover Boy after that. He had that old three wheeler in Yoko…Couldn’t bring it on base. He used to pay the Mama-san of a bar down by Shiori Station to let him park it in her alley.”
“Yeah, I remember him… Can’t remember his name… We called him ‘Sparks’… Good kid… Always good for a loan until payday.”
That’s the only kind of immortality worth a shit … Old shipmates remembering the good times from a time long gone. Hell we were all idiots. We went to sea and to a war, in old rusty craft, built for and worn out in a couple of earlier wars. Moreover, there is not a son of a bitch amongst us who would not do it again.
We never gained that level of sophistication that other folks who had far less international travel experience had or pretended to have.
Wine is a good example. Most of the stuff we imbibed came with a screw cap and was vintage “Last Tuesday.” It usually tasted like the waste from a pulp paper plant and actually tasted better when you puked it back up. Not one of us ever had a corkscrew… If a bottle of wine had a cork, you drove the son of a bitch into the bottle with a Phillip’s screwdriver and watched it float around until you had drained the jug’s contents.
Have you guys ever had the duty and shared a cup of coffee, that was fortified with something questionable that a shipmate had picked up ashore and smuggled aboard? How many of you have ever brewed or attempted to brew shaft alley beer, raisin jack, lower level wine, and etc. to actually come up with a product that either worked as you expected, made you sick, or gave you the shits? Hell we drank stuff that they cannot even make today. Anyone answering in the negative will probably grow a larger nose.
A benefit that the modern Navy has that we didn’t is the Surgeon General’s Warning… You know, the one that says, “This Shit Will Kill You”, on the label. Hell, it was a crapshoot. We found out what would kill you by dying.
Another thing…Second hand fucking smoke. The smoke at the evening movie in the mess decks got so thick that you could hardly see the screen. We didn’t give a shit about a little smoke. We lived in an environment filled with high-pressure water and, steam lines, electrical cables. We lived on an unstable platform that could suddenly heel over. Our home was made of metal and was floating in water. The dumbest son of a bitch in the world knows that steel doesn’t float.
At reunions, you recall all that stuff with men you shared it all with… No one else would believe it and if they did, they wouldn’t care. That is why writing this shit is so much fun. It’s a shame that there wasn’t someone with the proper writing skills to write it how it happened instead of some old Stewburner writing it as he remembers it. We lived in a special time. There was still a sense of professionalism and camaraderie among us. We loved our ships and our lives. Of course we bitched about the things we were required to do, but in hindsight would do it all again and in the same way. I guess someone could say that we never did anything spectacular…We know we did our jobs… Better than anyone other than us will know.
Was riding worn out haze gray steel out on the rim, fouling fishing nets, wearing out barstools, scaring fish, fighting one war and training for another that we never had to fight worth all we did.
Well, we were the ones who did it. No one made us…No one came to get us… No one drug us out of polite society forced us to do it. We were all volunteers and it was often shitty duty… That’s a truth. We kept our ships and our equipment serviceable… We did our jobs and were a proud group… We served with men we came to respect deeply. We all may be dumber than a Pop Tart but we can still recognize damn fine men when we see them.
It would be great if someone wrote our story, not as a Cold War or Viet Nam story but as a tribute to the life we lived and the happy-go-lucky bunch, we were. The days before the Navy became managed instead of led, before the new “book taught” and “leadership school” professionalism took away the life we lived and loved. Now the only ones we can share our stories and experiences with are old beached sailors like ourselves and broken down, over the hill bar girls. It’s a fuckin’ shame.
A long time ago. We were young… That’s fuckin’ it! We were young.
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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.