By: Garland Davis
They were the engineers who made the steam, the electricity, the water, ran the auxiliary machinery and made the ships go. They were the MM’s, BT’s, EM’s, EN’s, HT’s, IC men, MR’s and some that I have probably forgotten. They took on the fuel that they turned into the steam that moved the ship and made the electricity. They inhabited the lower levels of engineering spaces, crawled through bilges and other tight places into which only an idiot would enter… Sweating, joking and cussing the whole time. They tore clothes, skinned their knuckles and burned themselves with steam and hot water. Through cold northern seas and the sweltering tropic oceans, they kept the ships moving and the machinery operating.
They were not all greasy apes with an oily rag in one hand and a stolen crescent wrench in the other. They were intelligent young men with pride in their spaces and the jobs they did. The brightest of them ended up as doctors, lawyers and college professors. I knew an ENFN that went on to earn a Ph.D. and was involved with the Space and Shuttle programs at Jet Propulsion Laboratories.
They were usually referred to as Fuckin’ Snipes by their fellow crewmembers. They were Snipes because they wanted to be.
They happily tended the machinery of their hot, noisy world. They crawled through small nasty places. They were shocked, pinched and thrown about. They were wet and cold, wet and hot, wet and oily. The humidity of their spaces was always at one hundred percent.
They routinely worked around the clock to get a piece of machinery fixed that some officer had just told them would take yard birds and naval engineers to repair. However, they fixed it anyway and sent a “fuck you” off to the naval engineers. During these marathons, they lived on “black gang coffee” and baloney sandwiches eaten with greasy hands. They smoked cigarettes only half way down before forgetting or the smokes became too nasty to smoke from the oil on their fingers.
At times, they did their work with the delicate skill of a surgeon and at other times with the force of pry bars and large hammers. They often lifted extremely heavy weights in spaces too small for the number of men needed to do the job safely. They stuck their hands in places where wayward electrons might be waiting to kill. They were contortionists having to get in the most awkward positions to fix things placed in stupid places by those brilliant naval engineers and yard birds. “Fuck’em.”
They wore their badge of office with pride. The torn, greasy and acid-eaten dungarees… their hands always black with grease in the pores and cracks of their knuckles.
Shipmates in the “Basement.”