Musings of an Old Sailor
By: Garland Davis
Reading an article about the USS Zumwalt DD-1000 with their rail-guns and lasers, I have been thinking about the impersonal nature of Naval engagements in this modern technological age.
Two hundred and forty-one years ago, when our Navy was founded, engagements between ships took place at “rock throwing range.” Men shoved powder and iron balls into the muzzles of heavy cannon, heaved on lines to drag the heavy bastards into position, jammed a burning slow match into the touch hole, and sent a salvo across a small expanse of ocean into the foe. Then immediately did it again, while the enemy sailors were doing the same. Masts fell, tackle and sails crashed to the deck, chunks of gunwales were thrown everywhere, and the toll in blood and bone was horrendous.
Throughout the ensuing years and wars, the range of the guns increased to the visible horizon. Instead of an iron ball, the rounds were explosive and created much more devastation. The battles were still ship to ship and man to man. Then came the aircraft carrier and its ability to carry the battle beyond the visual limit of the horizon. Now photo reconnaissance became necessary to determine the outcome of actions. Once combat extended beyond the horizon, beyond the visual confirmation of effect, naval warfare lost something.
Now destroyers carry surface to air missile capability, surface to surface missile capability, surface to sub-surface rockets, and, oh yeah, they still have a gun. Once submarines made high-speed transits by diesel-electric on the surface and submerged to stalk its target using battery power. Once in position, they would fire a four torpedo spread and then enjoy several hours of depth charge evasion. Today’s submarines are comparable to FedEx or UPS, designed to deliver packages of devastation to multiple destinations.
Sailors of our generation grew up on the farms of the countryside or the streets of the cities. We played baseball and football in the fields and pastures or the streets and parks. Our first jobs were on the farms or in the stores and bodegas. The biggest technical innovations of our childhood were the advent of broadcast television and the transistor radio, a radio that one could almost fit in one’s pocket.
Today’s generation of sailors cut their teeth on computers and video games.
Us old half-baked coots are barely limping along on the periphery of this technology, understanding it less and less the more we become involved with it. We grew up in a world of highly personalized adventures where the good guys won. We knew it because we saw it on Victory at Sea and the Silent Service and the News Reels at the Saturday movie. I realize now that this was “chum” to draw us to the Navy recruiters.
There was no G.I. Bill nor free college education either and no we will “kiss your ass” and treat you with kid gloves.
No, in the sixties, they gave you forty some bucks every couple of weeks, they fed you and clothed you, gave you a free airplane ride to San Diego or Great Lakes, and opened up a world of adventure and unique wonders.
My view of combat sailors stems from the gun line and the Vietnam war. General quarters and shooting all night and refueling and rearming the next day. Sweating and laboring through the days and nights broken by brief visits to one of the fleshpots of Asia.
I feel fortunate that it was that way during my Navy time. I was old fashioned. I grew up on tales of John Paul Jones, Horatio Hornblower, Richard Bolitho, and Jack Aubrey, fighting, boarding and winning by pistol and cutlass. Victory at Sea and Silent Service was akin to flypaper that sucked in a hillbilly daydreamer from Western North Carolina.
I wonder, do high school girls dream of sweating as the first loader on a three-inch gun. Do they ever write, “Manning a five-inch thirty-eight-gun turret in the blank that reads “Occupational Preference? Did they ever roam the highways searching for enough empty soda bottles to buy a movie ticket? “Operation Pacific” is showing! Do they linger at the beauty parlor to hear some old gal tell about rough days in the service? Do they tell sea stories that can be categorized as “no shitters”? Now they are on all the ships and will soon invade the last bastion of the male sailor, the Fast Attack Submarine. And I wonder if they really understand the “Call of the Bluejacket.”
I do know that women in Repair II It will make pissing down the forward bilge sounding tube during General Quarters an interesting event.