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 a while that took some getting used to; I really thought he had lost the load for sure, but it all panned out, in the end.
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 a while, 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.