By Garland Davis
A sailor leaves the Navy and retires to the promised “better life. No longer arbitrary bedtimes and waking times, no more sweepers, eight o’clock reports and no more fucking midwatches. Some who know him are jealous and others are pleased, but those of us who preceded him wonder if he knows what he is leaving behind. We already have learned that there is a different world and there is no other world that can compare with the Navy.
I’m sure we have all heard the old joke that says a good shipmate is one who will go ashore when his buddy has the duty, get a blowjob, come back and give it to him. That’s carrying camaraderie a bit far, but there may be some truth there in this new more diverse Navy of the twenty first century.
But all joking aside after the lifetime of special friendships and the camaraderie one experiences as the member of a ship’s crew one will find himself longing for those ships, those experiences, and above-all, those shipmates. There is a special fellowship among sailors that doesn’t exist among our sister services.
After we shuck the uniform for the last time and store it in a foot locker or a seabag in the far reaches of the attic, even if we throw them away, we wear them in our imagination every minute and every breath of our remaining life.
Even if we rise to a prominent position in this new life, in the background there is still pride in knowing that in our hearts, we are a Seaman, a Petty Officer, a Chief Petty Officer, or a Captain. That is the identity that lives within us.
When we “retire”, we are not just leaving a job behind, we are leaving an entire way of life behind and we strive to rekindle the friendships and the camaraderie we once knew. A cursory check of Facebook groups and Navy websites finds numerous ship and Navy reunions around the country. Sailors searching for that which was once the core of their lives.
Sure, we have countless civilian acquaintances (friends), but we haven’t shared the same experiences with them that formed our relationships with our shipmates.
A civilian friend will take offense if you don’t contact them for a long period while a shipmate will greet you as if the years haven’t passed and will pick up the conversation you were last having just where you left off.
A civilian friend will become uncomfortable if you cry. A shipmate will understand and cry with you.
A civilian friend will borrow from you and conveniently forget the debt. A shipmate will return whatever is borrowed as quickly as possible.
A civilian friend knows little about you and isn’t interested unless you can benefit him. A shipmate knows your dog’s name, your kids, and could write a book with direct quotes from you.
A civilian friend will leave you behind if that is what the crowd is doing. A shipmate will stand with you regardless of what the crowd does.
A civilian friend will reluctantly bail you out of jail. A shipmate will be sitting right there beside you, exclaiming, “That was fucking awesome Dude!”
A civilian friend has shared a few experiences with you. A shipmate has shared a lifetime of experiences that no civilian could ever dream of…
A civilian friend will take your drink away when he believes you have had too much to drink. A shipmate will look as you stumble around and say, “Sit down and drink the rest of that before you spill it.” Then he’ll carry you back and put you safely to bed.
Those of you who served at sea and at war in the Navy, I consider shipmates. It is an honor to be one of you and I am humbled to be in your company.
If you have a chance, go to a ship’s or unit reunion and relive the camaraderie of your time at sea.