A Thrilling Adventure
By: Garland Davis
While growing up in North Carolina, I never missed the TV shows Victory at Sea or The Silent Service. Knowing that the Navy was to be my life, I absorbed every episode. I also watched every Navy and war movie ever shown on the late show when my Mom would let me stay up late on Friday or Saturday nights. I wasn’t aware that I was being bombarded by bullshit radiation. An example is the repeated term about the Navy as a “Thrilling Adventure.”
They never told you about the poor son of a bitch who had to throw the garbage overboard in heavy seas or swabbing up the puke in the mess decks where someone was overcome by seasickness before he could get to the head. They never told us about having to hold your cup of bug juice with one hand, your tray with the other hand and trying to judge the rolls and take a quick bite and grabbing for the tray before it slid away. I have seen two or three guys eat from the same tray as it slid back and forth on the table.
And of course, during all these bull crap propaganda films, they kept the existence of working parties a secret. You probably learned the term “working party” within the first few minutes of arriving in San Diego or Great Lakes. And of course, another highly classified item was the existence of scrubbing tables and clotheslines and the daily scrubbing party.
You told yourself it would get better after boot camp between bouts of personal recriminations for putting yourself into this situation. You persevered in the belief that it would get better.
And finally, the day came. You graduated and were going home for a couple of weeks leave. It would be great to see your folks, and when Suzie saw you in Dress Blues, her skivvies would shuck themselves off. But alas it didn’t happen. Ole Brad had a new car, and all you had was your Mama’s De Soto station wagon. It was good to be home. But everything and everyone seemed smaller than you remembered.
You learned during your first WestPac cruise that currency worked better at shucking skivvies than uniforms or cars did. They didn’t tell you about that on Victory at Sea either.
Quickly boot leave ended, and you reported aboard your first ship. There you learned of many other things that the instructors may have alluded to during classroom instruction, but you didn’t remember. You had probably been daydreaming about Suzie’s skivvies.
Two of the early implements you were introduced to were a chipping hammer and a paint scraper. You also became familiar with the bulkhead or deck you were supposed to apply them to. The wire brush was waiting in the wings.
While you were becoming intimate with the tools and learning the trade of a “Deck Ape” a fellow member of your boot camp company reported from ET “A” School. He laughed at you when he saw you preparing a bulkhead for painting. He told you he was a trained technician and didn’t have to do manual labor. You had the last laugh when he was hanging from an antenna mast with a chipping hammer and paint scraper. Probably didn’t tell him about that in ET “A” School either.
They always showed clean squared away sailors in those shows. You didn’t see the dude covered in rust and paint chips in paint splattered dungarees rushing to clean his workstation so he would have time to take a shower and change into the Uniform of the Day before the cooks secured chow. Your shipmates from the engineering spaces made you appear squared away. You didn’t know what transpired down there and wasn’t interested in learning. Maybe deck aping wasn’t so bad after all.
They didn’t tell you about the chunk of canned ham you got because they had run out of Pork Chops half way through the meal. The XO was pissed about something and had held up liberty and the cooks didn’t have enough because all the brown baggers decided to eat.
They didn’t tell you about stores working parties, where you hauled steaks, roasts, pork chops, chicken, and coffee (must be for the Chiefs) aboard by the ton, it seemed. Why was it you could only remember eating ham and drinking warm bug juice from hot mess gear?
They never told you that you would share poorly ventilated accommodations with fifty or sixty others with the constant movement of people going to bed and getting up, not to mention the snores and flatulence with its associated odors that permeated the space.
They kept the secret that all dry stores from the Supply Depot came with free cockroaches.
And during it all, they told us, “It’s not a job, It’s an Adventure.”
And the day came when we realized they were right. After twenty or thirty years and looking back as the time to leave it neared, we began to miss it.
Hell yes, I would do it again! It was the adventure of my life.
Oh, by the way, no one mentioned that Leading Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers couldn’t take a joke.
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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.