The Gun Line and Subic Bay
By: Garland Davis
There came the point after the snipes had been on port and starboard six on six off watches for two or three weeks when they turned the lights on in hole snipes berthing to shovel the place out. The place looked like the dump. Magazines, overflowing butt kits, sour towels and a collection of dirty underwear that had started growing a new life form of green stuff.
It was at a point like this, where the ship had been on the gun line long enough to miss a couple of stores on loads, the evaporators were acting up, and the boilers were demanding an inordinate amount of feed water and of course water hours was mandated. Water hours meant infrequent or no showers, no fresh laundry (as if anything other than the CO’s and XO’s clothes could ever come out of the laundry categorized as fresh).
It began with an itch in the crotch and a funky smell from the armpits. Once you were down to your last clean shirt, you outright stunk. Or most of those of us who worked up in the world did. Miraculously those mangy, greasy hole snipes exited their little slice of hell each watch clean and smelling of Dial soap and Right Guard Defunk. Their clothes were even reasonably clean. Could it be that the very people responsible for making and storing water for the comfort of their betters, i.e. us, were hoarding said liquid for their own nefarious purposes?
I am in a position to answer that question. Having been one of the few people with a commodity that hole snipes were willing to trade for, fresh bread and cinnamon rolls, I became privy to their clandestine shower and the steam hose used to clean their clothing. Only their shirts and pants. If there was a snipe who wore skivvies, I doubt if I ever met him. Which raises the question, are the female snipes in our squeaky clean new Navy wearing skivvies?
After two months of this life of deprivation and hardship with daily rearming and refueling and the infrequent stores on loads, sometimes, you even got ice cream, you learn that the ship has been extended on the gun line for an additional month. It is at this point that your best friend Thompkins’ face starts to look so stupid that you just want to knock it off his head. And what’s with BM2 Patterson? All you said was, “Good morning, Pat.” That didn’t rate his reply of, “Fuck you, Davis, just fuck you.”
So you gritted your teeth, took a deep breath and endured it for another month. And finally, the day came when the ship was detached for transit to Subic Bay. The short transit of the South China Sea took almost as long as the ninety-day gun line period.
The morning of entering port, miraculously the Sea Detail fell out in clean, neat dungaree uniforms that had been hoarded for the event. The evening before, white uniforms and civilian clothing had been removed from the deepest reaches of lockers and inspected in preparation for liberty. The previous morning the Disbursing Officer had held a special payday so crewmembers could draw off all the monies they had “left on the books” for this special port call.
As soon as the ship was tied up and word passed through the ship that fresh water was coming from the pier an orgy of ‘Hollywood and Hotel” showers began.
“Hurry up in that shower, you been in there half the morning. No jacking off, I’m next, and I don’t want to be slipping and sliding. It’s hard enough walking without this mother fucker rocking and rolling.”
“Hey does somebody have a razor blade that I can borrow?”
“Let me use your Rat Guard man; I don’t think this Lifebuoy can cut through the stink I built up after three months of water hours.”
“Jones D. L.? Whose skivvy shirt is that man?”
“I don’t know, got it out of the Lucky Bag. What, you writing a fucking book?”
“Maybe someday. Who knows?”
Nah, who’d give a shit about reading a book about a bunch of idiots? Besides, no one would believe it. Once upon a time I lived among people who volunteered to live like enslaved primates in metal boxes, with lousy shared sleeping conditions, crappy food, oil flavored drinking water. Then the whole thing rolled and pitched around like a warped agitator in a washing machine. And they did all this for less money than it cost to buy a couple of Happy Meals. Nobody would read crap like that.
When the Goddesses of Hygiene, Payday, and Liberty in Subic looked down and blessed the residents of an old Forrest Sherman tin can all was right with the world.
It was also good to live amongst men who were right where they wanted to be. No one kidnapped and drug them off to San Diego or Great Lakes. They weren’t victims of the Selective Service Board. They were volunteers. Most of the world didn’t know they were there, out on the far rim of the Pacific, willing to do whatever necessary to keep nasty people with strange political ideas from your hometown.
They were my Shipmates, some of the finest Goddamned men who ever lived. It is an honor and a privilege to have known and served with such men.