USS Mars Was There, Part One

USS Mars Was There Part One

April 1975.

By Glenn Hendricks

We returned to Sasebo in, I think, February, after an IO cruise. We were scheduled for an extended maintenance period in our homeport. We pulled things apart that needed work, sent stuff off to the local Japanese shipyard for things we couldn’t fix ourselves. At the time Sasebo didn’t have a whole lot of repair capability if a tender wasn’t in port so we worked on everything ourselves. It was a hell of a learning experience and for the first time in a while, I didn’t feel like a Janitor’s Mate. Breaking down equipment, repairing it, putting it back and making it work was a lot more interesting than scrubbing deck plates and shining brass while on throttles.

We didn’t worry much. Lots of time to fix stuff and an extended port cycle as the Vietnam drawdown continued. There were some news reports in Stars and Stripes about sporadic violations of the ceasefire near the DMZ and Armed Forces Radio ran occasional stories for the air-conditioned space people. In the hole, we didn’t get the radio.

In order for our helo pilots to get enough flight time to stay current, the CO authorized liberty flights to Pusan, just across the straights. It was an hour flight to the small US Army base in Pusan and often they gave enough passes out to require two flights. You put in a chit and if the Chief wasn’t pissed at you and you didn’t have duty over the weekend you would fly out on Friday around 1200 and return on Sunday around 1500. I&I in Pusan, cheaper than Sasebo and nearly as gnarly as Subic. At least around Texas Street. But that’s another story.

Sunday when the helo landed the crew chief hopped out of the bird and ran over to the hungover crowd of sailors. “OK, listen up. Snipes and deck apes on the first bird. Move it, people. We’re getting underway tomorrow. The second bird will be here in 15 minutes.”

He was greeted by a whole lot of “WTF dude?”. He went on to say, “Shit hit the fan and we’re going to Subic in the morning, the need snipes and deck apes to get shit bolted up”.

The flight back was weird. Everyone was wearing the Mickey Mouse ears and the Sea Knight was way too noisy to hold a conversation. One ratty copy of Stars and Stripes made its way around the compartment, it didn’t say much except that those sporadic violations were turning into something way more serious. Most of us thought that we were going to be going back into Vietnam in a big way. I was glad I wasn’t a Marine.

I had married buddies who lived on the economy an didn’t know what was going on. I asked the MPA for permission to go and let them know. He told me to get going and get my ass back ASAP. I found my MR buddy and we got in touch with a couple of others. We all went to the EM club with their wives for a farewell dinner (and a couple or 5 beers) and I made it back to Mars in the late evening.

We did manage to get underway on that Monday morning. My evaps weren’t put together yet but we had all the parts and were making feedwater by noon and had both online before we knocked off that afternoon. The following four days to Subic was spent putting everything together, Deck and Stream Team were greasing the cables and making sure we were ready. Stores apparently were busting their asses figuring out what all we were going to be taking on. The holds were pretty much emptied out to prepare for the extended port visit.

Once we arrived at Subic we tied up at the Marine Terminal per our usual. They didn’t have shore power at the terminal, so we were on Auxiliary steaming watches while the locals and the SKs loaded us up with frozen and fresh food and dry supplies. The pace was frenetic, one guy said he hadn’t seen anything like it since 71. I don’t remember exactly but it seems like it only took us 72 hours for a full loadout. The loadout ran during daylight hours and shut down before sunset.

Subic was busier than I’d seen in the past. The Oriskany was in and had all her fixed-wing aircraft removed. Cubi Point NAS was wingtip to wingtip with fast movers. We heard that the Enterprise had already been in and had left a day before we arrived. The Blue Ridge was there along with her escorts. We pulled out unescorted (as we always did) and sailed west to the Tonkin Gulf packed to the gunwales with food, supplies, movies, and mail. And a whole lot of confused sailors.

See, while we were all busting ass, we had no clue one about where we were going or what we were going to be doing once we got there. Rumors were rampant, the weirder the better. The fact that we took on additional ammo for the 3 inch 50s didn’t do much to settle us down either. The Engineering Yeoman set up “Rumor Control Central” in the Log Room on a grease board. He wrote down the latest rumors and kept us up to date on the scuttlebutt going around the ship.

The news from Saigon was bad and getting worse. Even to our eyes, it was clear that a rout was taking place in Vietnam. Fighting was happening all across the country and there were reports of NVA tanks taking part.

So we sailed west.


Stand Down – A Book Review

Stand Down – A Book Review

By Garland Davis

This book, written by an ex-Army Officer explains how Social Scientists have degraded the readiness of our Armed Forces to fight a war. He explores actions taken by political appointees and bureaucrats forcing their views on the military leaders that led to a reduction in readiness.

Those of us who were on active duty in the seventies, eighties, and into the nineties experienced the beginning of a change that culminated during the Obama administration. The author of Stand Down tells of Army training where vehicles weren’t used because there was no money to effect repairs in the event of breakdowns. He tells of Obama’s Secretary of the Navy who concentrated on shipbuilding to the point where there were no funds to repair or update ships. And there was a marked lack of trained personnel to operate the ships. This same SecNav approved untested technology in the building of USS George H. W. Bush and then after the Elections had the temerity to publicly blame the Trump administration for his own actions.

An excerpt from the book: A General recounted interaction with Pentagon civilian appointees that took place when he was in a senior command position:

They asked us what we thought the impact of the new transgender policy would be. And we completely, all the leadership said, “it’s a major readiness issue and it’s going to detract from readiness… And they told us in closed-door sessions, ‘Hey, look. This is going to happen, you have got to figure out how to have it make the least impact you possibly can but this is going to happen. We can’t stop it. You can’t stop it.’”

The author explores the growing number of civilian instructors from academia, with leftist ideas, in the military academies, leading to a lapse in Military Discipline among the cadets and midshipmen and its impact on future leadership.

here are many more examples of how Obama appointees have done irreparable damage to our armed forces. Many senior officers have left the service or been retired because they couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the leader. President Trump has winnowed the ranks of the go along to get along sycophant senior officers and political appointees. Unfortunately, the Civil Service civilians in the Department of Defense who believe in and facilitate the Obama party line are still in place.

A thoroughly informative book that explains the what, why, and how our armed services are in a poor readiness condition. Should be required reading by all cadets, midshipmen, and attendees of the various Officer Candidate Schools.  Not a pleasant read…but I highly recommend it.




by: Garland Davis

From growing up a farm boy’s life,

From home onto Asian shores,

Moving into the world and a sailor’s strife.

Once back learned I wanted more.

Thirty years I followed a sailor’s star,

Through both a hot and a cold war.

Tho my time at sea is done,

I still seek that just beyond the horizon.


Eyewitness to history: Who was Elton C. Fay?

Very interesting read…


Eyewitness to history: Who was Elton C. Fay?

Elton C. Fay, was an Associated Press reporter who covered the Pentagon from the days of World War II to the Vietnam War. His death was recorded in a common obituary and stated that he died at his Silver Spring, Md., home after a long illness. He was 81. (September 1, 1982)

I originally got interested about him when I found the article below about the hectic days before the Nautilus was completed. But the more I researched, the more I realized what an interesting life he had. There is not much available about his private life other than some social events recorded in the newspaper archives. But it was his work with the military that made him such an interesting person.

Fay was one of only a few reporters who was briefed before Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s bombing raids on Japan in…

View original post 1,508 more words


Duck Tape

Duck Tape©

By Garland Davis

The Base

Face it. Someone at COMNAVVIETNAM fucked up!

The Seabees went up a waterway named Duc Tap and built a beautiful Riverine Support Base. I tried to find the Duc Tap waterway on a map once. I think the only place it existed was in the jungle among the myriad of waterways in the Mekong Delta.

There were two piers, a barge with a machine shop was towed in. An air-conditioned barracks sufficient to house permanent personnel and the members of the boat crews were built. A galley mess hall was constructed with up to date equipment and a storage building and cold storage for ample food items were in an attached building. A power and generator section was built across from the pier. The jungle was razed for a quarter of a mile outside the concertina wire perimeter. A company of ARVN (Army of Viet Nam) troops was detailed to provide security from the Viet Cong guerillas. A nice little base.

The permanent cadre of the base consisted of a Navy Lieutenant as OIC, an Ensign as his assistant, a Chief Engineman, about twenty Enginemen, Shipfitters and Machinist mates. They were there to repair engines and boats as well as operate the power plant. There were three cooks, a couple of Storekeepers, a Corpsman, and a yeoman.

As I said, a nice little base. The problem; no one ever assigned any Swift Boats or PBR’s to the Duc Tap Riverine Support Facility, better known to those of us stationed there as Duck or Duct Tape. All we had was a Mike boat to use for supply runs and to bring the paymaster in every two weeks.

Lieutenant Gerald Farnsworth was from Old New England society and money. He was a tall, extremely good looking individual and turned many female eyes dressed in a white uniform. A word from an uncle to a Massachusetts Senator had resulted in assignment to the USS Constitution out of OCS. After a year there another nudge had him assigned as a White House Aide. He cut quite the picture serving drinks and canapes to LBJ’s guests in a sparking set of Choker Whites or in Khaki making sure the barbeque was served on time while in Texas with the president’s party.

The influential uncle passed away but not before ensuring that Gerald was deep selected for Lieutenant. Newly promoted lieutenant Farnsworth was ordered to Department Head School with the intent of sending him to a ship as either Weapons Officer or Chief Engineer. Once the school learned that he had no experience other than as a bartender or waiter, they dropped him from the school and recommended that a shore billet be found for him or that he be separated from the service. He was offered the OIC slot in Vietnam. He accepted, hoping that a stellar war zone performance would put him back on the road to a successful Navy Career.

During his training at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California and the Language School at Monterrey, California, he discovered an affinity and almost savant ability to not only solve crossword puzzles but to create them. By the time he left for the war zone, he was creating puzzles for a newspaper syndicate and earning a substantial amount of money. A Naval career with sparkling white uniforms was no longer as important. An effort to resign his commission was denied by the Navy and he resigned himself to a year in Vietnam. In his luggage shipped to Nam were hundreds of blank crossword grids.

Ensign Anthony Jacobs, the AOIC, was from Minnesota via Berkeley where he had studied Literature, Marijuana, and Antiwar propaganda. His father refused to pay for Graduate School after he took a bachelor’s degree. Dad, a veteran of Korea, let him know that he was disappointed and embarrassed that his son was trying to avoid service. His college deferment ended, and he was on the short list to be drafted into the Army as a mud slogging private. A classmate urged him to apply for a Naval Commission. That way he could continue his anonymous antiwar writings from inside the American War Machine. He almost deserted to Canada when he received his orders to Vietnam, but the same classmate convinced him that he would be on a secure base, living in comfort, and would be even more valuable writing from inside the war. Besides the grass in Nam was reputed to be many levels above what was available in the Bay Area. This same classmate took Jacobs’ anti-war articles and published them as his own and is now a renowned Democrat Senator from California.

There was a building designated as the theatre where movies could be shown in the evening. Early on the Ensign traded the projector to a Marine patrol for a fart sack full of marijuana buds and Thai sticks laced with opium they had taken off a group of Nguyen’s after a fire fight where they had mistakenly ambushed a group of innocent dope smugglers thinking they were Victor Charlie. The theatre building was to become the base Club.

Chief Engineman Rodney Spears was a shore duty drunk. Serving aboard ship, he worked hard and ran an effective workforce while at sea. While inport, he partied hearty. His Petty Officers kept the workforce effective and covered for the Chief. His orders to the Naval Air Station Imperial Beach where he was assigned as the Chief Master at Arms and the Chief of Police were his downfall. The base never got underway and there were no loyal Petty Officers to cover for him. He lasted less than two weeks. The base C.O. was ready to discharge him as unfit to serve. The Chief broke down and begged to be permitted to serve another year to complete a twenty-year retirement. The C.O. agreed if he would complete a rehab program and serve his final year in Vietnam. The Chief had no choice and gutted his way through the rehab program. Upon his arrival in Vietnam, he discovered a beer called Thirty-Three. A fog settled on Chief Spears that would envelop him for the next year. The only thing that inspired Chief during his year at Duck Tape was creating a club where he could while away his days with his beloved Thirty-Three.

Chief wanted a club. He felt that any self-respecting base should have a club, pulled himself out of his alcohol-fueled daze and studied the instructions discovering that a Commanding Officer or Officer in Charge may establish a club and receive an initial issue of potable beverages at no cost. Subsequent issues of hooch must be paid for by earnings from the club. The chief stayed sober long enough to get the paperwork completed to establish the club, forged the LT’s signature and sent it in. Within a week a message came to send our Mike boat to the supply facility to pick up the booze issue. The boat returned with enough liquor and beer to keep us pickled for the whole year. Chief was disappointed that there was no Thirty Three in the issue but was assured a sufficient amount of Thirty Three would be provided for a carton of smokes a week. Chief happily accepted the job as Club Manager and with a few Nguyen’s to do the work sank back into his haze.

The Doc, a Gunners Mate and me, a Commissaryman (cook), were the only First Class Petty Officers. I was the senior of the Petty Officers. There was a Second Class and six other Machinist Mates there to operate the power plant and oversee maintenance on the air conditioning systems and cold storage plants as well as the huge ice making facility in a room off the galley. All the other personnel ranged from PO2 down to Seamen and Firemen mostly Enginemen, Shipfitters, Pipefitters, and Gunners Mates.

For some reason, we had access to the supply system and food stores for a base of 100 people, repair parts and fuel for the diesel was delivered periodically and the paymaster arrived on time every two weeks with the cash to pay all of us. Having little or no need for money most of us let our pay accumulate on the books.

Every time someone went to the LT with a question or concern, he would tell them, “I am busy, ask Ensign What’s his name. Don’t come to me unless it is important.”

The Ensign crouched over the yeoman’s Selectric typewriter would send them to the Chief and of course the Chief would refer them to me. That is how I became de facto Commander of the Duck Tape Riverine Facility.

One thing I learned. Nguyen is the most common family name in Vietnam. It is pronounced “Win.” Yell “Win, it’s the cops, run,” in a crowd of Vietnamese and you have a good chance of being mangled in the stampede. If you have a hundred Vietnamese in ranks and tell Nguyen to fall out, there will only be three left.

Captain, as far as I could make out, Nguyen Something Nguyen was the commander of the ARVN security force. His uncle, Major General Nguyen had secured the position for him along with the authorization to draw rations for a battalion from the American supply system. He provided the extra food to his cousin Nguyen, who was leader of the local Viet Cong unit. The Cong didn’t attack the base and he didn’t patrol against them. It was what you would call a symbiotic relationship.

Once a month the Charlie Nguyen would have his troops drop a few mortar rounds outside the wire and Captain Nguyen’s troops would fire their 50’s into the jungle and report that an attack on the base was successfully repulsed.

Captain Nguyen’s primary focus became keeping the quarter-mile area clear of vegetation. When it showed signs of encroaching on the fire zone, he would beat Lieutenants Nguyen and Nguyen, they would beat Master Sergeant Nguyen. He would beat the other Sergeants and Corporals who would beat the lower-ranked Nguyen’s and get them out there with sling blades and scythes to hack the encroaching weeds back. At one time I had the SK order a John Deere riding lawn mower to make it easier on the low ranked Nguyen’s. Captain Nguyen commandeered the mower and spent many happy hours mowing the fire zone while smoking C-Ration cigarettes and drinking the Chief’s Thirty-Three. Perhaps it was a portent that one day in the far future, Captain Nguyen would own the largest yard care company in Southern California?

With no boats to service, there was little work for the sailors. I busied myself and the other two cooks with meals and accounting for stores used. I went into the galley one morning to find two Nguyen’s cooking breakfast and my two cooks watching.

“What’s going on,” I asked.

CS3 Bruce said, “Captain Nguyen’s cousin Nguyen arranged for cooks’ helpers. All we have to do is give them is some chow. We got more shit than we can use and if we don’t clear out some of that frozen, we ain’t going to have room for the next delivery.” That had been worrying me, we only had thirty people but were receiving rations for a hundred.

I soon discovered that every sailor had his own Nguyen doing what little work the sailor was required to do.

I went looking for this cousin who was providing all the Vietnamese help. I found him in the Galley office. He explained in extremely good English that he was there to help me. In other words, he was offering to become my Nguyen. After some haggling, we settled on a price in C-Rations and frozen meats for the services of all the Nguyen’s. He told me that his cousin, Captain Nguyen had told him I was running the base.

There was an officer’s shower and head and an Enlisted shower and head. Each shower consisted of two fifty-five gallon drums mounted above the shower stall. These were filled with fresh water each morning and heated in the broiling sun to a comfortable temperature for showering by evening. The LT and the Chief used the officer’s shower. From the color of the Ensigns T-shirt and the smell in his hooch, it was clear that he seldom used this facility. The toilets were outhouse style seats on a raised platform and the waste fell into a half drum below. The worst job a sailor could have was burning shit. There were two drums for each toilet. The used one was replaced by the empty one and fuel oil was poured in with the shit and ignited. The Nguyen’s also took over this job but instead of burning the shit, they hauled it away to fertilize their crops.

The Ensign was so constipated from smoking the opium laced Thai sticks that the only time he shit was when Doc dosed him with Kaufman’s horse laxative. He could be heard screaming, trying to pass turds as hard as the stones the pyramids were constructed of.

One morning I was wakened by yelling from the Galley. CS3 Bruce was screaming at his Nguyen. It seems the Vietnamese had added Nuoc Nam, a smelly fish sauce, to something he was preparing. “I told you, no fucking Nuoc Nam in the food. Don’t Nuoc Nam any fucking thing!” I told my Nguyen, whom I will refer to a Win1 for the rest of this narrative, to tell the Nguyen cooks no Nuoc Nam. I later learned the reason Bruce was so upset; he had pissed in the jar of Nuoc Nam the night before.

After Vietnam, CS3 Bruce left the Navy, attended Culinary Arts School and became famous as the celebrity chef who hosts the Food Network program on Vietnamese Cuisine  called “Nuoc Nam No Hands.”

The barracks were designed for a hundred plus persons. I was rousted out of my bunk by about thirty Nguyens moving the bunks and starting to build walls. I found Win1 and asked him what the fuck was happening. He said, “We are building rooms, so sailors will have privacy after we bring wives for you. I am building your room on the side of the galley, so you have more privacy. You are getting special wife, my youngest daughter.”

“Wives! What the fuck, we don’t have wives!” I blustered.

“Sailors ask me about visiting nearby village to find girls. That dangerous. I think better each sailor has own girls. Pretty soon will have thirty very pretty girls. I bring here when rooms ready. Feed girls and cost just little extra C-Rations. Girls will clean hooch, wash clothes and sleeping with sailor.”

After a couple of months had passed, I would compare Duck Tape to the fictitious San Pablo of Sand Pebbles fame. Every sailor had a Nguyen to do his bidding and a pretty young thing to help him through the nights. Captain Nguyen had moved the perimeter out far enough to create a well-manicured soccer field/football field inside the perimeter. The sailors either played football, drank, and played poker.

Win1 became obsessed with poker games and started playing himself. He rapidly developed into an excellent poker player and years later would become a celebrity in the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour in Las Vegas where he won millions of dollars. In Vegas, he met and became obsessed with a big titted blonde who was enamored by the money he was winning. A match truly made in heaven. BTW, it turns out that Win1 was the same cousin that led the Viet Kong in that area. After the American left Vietnam, he was ratted out to the communists and fled the country with his family in a fishing boat. His boat was picked up by the destroyer I was serving in.

I was selected for Chief. Chief Spears sobered up long enough to conduct a one Chief initiation of me. We all wore green utilities so all I had to worry about was collar devices and a hat device. Spears loaned me his extras until I was able to get some from the NEX catalog.

As the year wore on, I began to worry about what would happen when our reliefs were ordered in and discovered we had been fucking off for a year and misappropriating government material as well as having indigenous personnel living on the base. I could see Courts Martials for all of us. I trained some of the Nguyens to keep the accounts and do the paperwork. I scared Rodney enough by telling him that his retirement would be jeopardized if the club accounts weren’t correct. He started supervising the club Nguyen’s to keep the records accurate.

The YN had kept the correspondence up and submitted required reports. The LT would sign anything I took to him as long as I didn’t bother him with details.

As the last month approached and we began getting notification of replacements ordered in, I told Win1 that all Nguyen’s including “wives” would have to leave the base, and the barracks be restored to their original condition. Seeing the wisdom of my argument, he reluctantly complied. I ginned up a message to Riverine Forces Command telling them that Duc Tap Riverine Facility was fully operational, and boats could be assigned. Within a week three PBR’s a Swift boat and two Monitors were operating out of the base.

I stole all of the Ensigns opium laced Thai sticks and weaned him off his Opium addiction. I scared the shit out of the Lt and him by telling them in detail what could happen to them because of their wholesale dereliction of duty during their year at Duc Tap. The reliefs slowly began to arrive, and guys began leaving.

Unbelievably, Chief Spears “wife” had dried him out. He turned everything over to his relief and left with the girl in tow. She was pregnant and he was able to marry her and eventually get her an Immigrant’s Visa to the states. They were living in the New Orleans area and were both killed by Hurricane Katrina. Their daughter is a Neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins.

The LT is a college professor in New England teaching English. He is known as the premier writer of Crossword puzzles in the United States. When his father died, he inherited more money than the crew of a Heavy Cruiser could spend in a Subic Bay seventy-two hour liberty.

The Ensign returned to Berkeley where he pursued a graduate degree for one semester and then sunk into the hard drug community of San Francisco and was found dead in an alley of an overdose.

Me, I completed twenty years and retired in Hawaii with my wife, Win1’s daughter and our twin girls.

Duck Tape was a place and time that shouldn’t have happened and couldn’t have happened in a sane world. But there was nothing sane about Vietnam or that war.


Turd Chaser

Turd Chaser

By Garland Davis

This story was told to me by a Shipmate one evening over drinks. I may have some of the details wrong, but the gist of the story is here.

I was a brand new Fireman on my first ship, an old WWII can. I skated out of mess cooking by landing the job of cleaning the Snipes berthing and head. The compartment PO was an MM2 who gave me a worklist each morning and checked on me a few times per day. The job was relatively easy, sweep, swab and do the other tasks MM2 gave me.

It was a pretty busy morning until after the XO’s messing and berthing inspection and then MM2 kinda let me skate. The XO started at 1000 and usually didn’t make it to Snipes berthing until 1045. The biggest problem was the head. He checked the sinks for shavings from razors, for shit splashed under the lip of the toilets, and piss spots on the outside of the urinals. After I learned what he looked for, I could concentrate on that and waste less effort on the other stuff.

And there lies the problem. I had a training lecture that morning and got started on cleaning about a half-hour later than usual. I dumped the trash and gave the compartment a quick sweep down and swab and went into the head. All the sinks, pissers, and shitters were stainless steel and easy to clean. I did the sinks first and gave each pisser a quick flush and brushed them out with a soapy water solution and wiped down the outside. I refilled my bucket with hot soapy water and went to do the shitters. I scrubbed the first two, flushed them and wiped them down.

I went to do the third one and there it was. The largest and longest turd I had ever seen. It was at least a foot long and must have been at least two inches in diameter. That must have wrecked some dude’s asshole. Had to be a fuckin’ BT. One end of the thing was up on the back of the toilet, the middle of it floated in the water and the other end of it was on the front above the water. I hit the flush and the water flushed, the middle of the turd sunk a bit and then floated back into position.

About that time, the word to commence XO’s Messing and Berthing Inspection was passed. MM2 came in and asked if I was ready. I showed him the gigantic Mud Monkey in the shitter. He flushed it and, again, nothing happened. He said, “I better call R Division and get Turd Chaser down here.”

A few minutes later a fireman known as “Turd Chaser” or “TC” showed up. Now TC was the biggest, dumbest, most unkempt career Fireman to ever unplug a shitter. The heels on his shoes were the only reason his knuckles didn’t drag the deck when he walked. He came through the hatch and hit his head. Maybe someday he would learn to duck. He was carrying his badge of office, a toilet plunger with strips of dried toilet paper clinging to it, over his shoulder.

“You got a shitter plugged up?”

“Not exactly, look,” I said as I showed him the massive turd. He looked and reached out and flushed it. Again, it hung there while the water flushed.

I asked, “What do we do about it?”

He said, “It’s only shit,” and reached down with his hands and broke it into smaller pieces and flushed it away. You got any other problems?”

“No,” I said not believing what I had just seen.

He walked over to the sink rinsed his hands, wiped them on his dungaree pants and said, “It’s almost time for chow. The cooks got hamburgers and French fries today. I want to get in line.”

I like hamburgers and French fries, but I skipped chow that day. I didn’t eat hamburgers for years until I got past the nauseating thought of TC breaking up that turd with his hands and then holding a hamburger and eating it.


Navy Hymn – CPO Verse

Navy Hymn – CPO Verse

Trivia: What is the Navy hymn and what’s the origin of the song?!

ANSWER: The Navy hymn is “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

The song known to US Navy Sailors as the “Navy Hymn,” is a musical benediction that long has had a special appeal to seafaring Sailors, particularly in the American Navy and the Royal Navies of the British Commonwealth and which, in more recent years, has become a part of French Naval tradition.

The original words were written as a hymn by a schoolmaster and clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. William Whiting.

Rev. Whiting resided on the English coast near the sea and had once survived a furious storm in the Mediterranean. His experiences inspired him to pen the ode, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

In the following year, 1861, the words were adapted to music by another English clergyman, the Rev. John B. Dykes, who had originally written the music as “Melita” (ancient name for the Mediterranean island of Malta).

Rev. Dykes’ name may be recognized as that of the composer given credit for the music to many other well-known hymns, including “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Lead, Kindly Light,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and “Nearer, My God to Thee.”

In the US, in 1879 the late Rear Adm. Charles Jackson Train, an 1865 graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis was a Lieutenant Commander stationed at the Academy in charge of the Midshipman Choir.

In that year, Lcdr. Train inaugurated the present practice of concluding each Sunday’s Divine Services at the Academy with the singing of the first verse of this hymn.

The hymn, titled “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” is found in most Hymnals.

The words have been changed several times since the original hymn by Rev. Whiting was first published in 1860.

The original first verse is below. Also a Verse for Navy Chief was also added in recent years:


Eternal Father, Strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep;

O hear us when we cry to thee,

for those in peril on the sea,


Eternal Father, bless Thy Chiefs

Who guide and lead with firm beliefs

In Courage, Commitment and Honor bright.

Strengthen with Thy holy might

Those who wear the anchors of the Chief.

O, guard them, Lord, where’re they go.


The history of the bosun’s call

The history of the bosun’s call

By Lea Edgar, Librarian and Archivist, Vancouver Maritime Museum

I first became interested in the bosun’s call in an unconventional way. Coming from a landlubbing family, my first experience with the little whistles was with the characters Admiral Boom and Mr. Binnacle in the film Mary Poppins. Mr. Binnacle, in traditional Royal Navy fashion, wore the whistle around his neck on a chain. I was always intrigued by what the whistle sounds meant. Fortunately, working in a maritime museum has afforded me the opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the whistles.

Although somewhat outdated in modern navies, the bosun’s call (also known as a pipe or whistle) has almost always been a symbol of position and a tool for communicating orders at sea. The call’s history may even stretch as far back as Roman times when a type of whistle was used to keep the rowing rhythm on galleys. However, its first documented use was on English ships during the crusades in the 13th century. Whistles were useful because they could be heard over noisy seas. Up until 1562, the Lord High Admiral wore a gold whistle as a symbol of his rank. At this time, it was known as the “whistle of honour.” Whistles used for ordinary command were issued in silver and each officer had his own decorated with designs such as ropes and anchors. After 1671, it became known as the “boatswain’s call.” The boatswain (or bosun) was the officer in charge of rigging, sails and sailing equipment. The whistle was named after him because he needed to issue orders more often than other officers.

Over time, the bosun’s call became a standard in naval and military ships all over the world. Each vessel had an officer who knew the various call codes and who was in charge of using the call to whistle commands. It was also sounded at certain times of the day to mark daily chores and for ceremonies. Today, its use is primarily ceremonial — for example, it is played at Evening Colours. Occasionally, the traditional bosun’s call is accompanied by other flourishes such as voice commands and announcements or sometimes even a gun salute. In modern navies, the bosun’s call is the badge of office of the Chief Boatswains Mate, Quartermaster and Boatswains Mates. In North America, the Sea Cadets seem the most determined to maintain the traditions surrounding the bosun’s call, such as Piping the Side.

These whistles bear a distinctive shape and the design has remained almost unchanged since medieval times. There are five main parts to the structure of the bosun’s call, most of which have nautical names. The gun is the mouthpiece, the keel is the leaf, the buoy is the metal sphere with the hole on top, and finally the shackle is the ring.

It takes practice and skill to control the sounds the whistle makes; however, sailors found themselves with a lot of time at sea to master the little instrument. Using the fingers and the hand to manipulate the flow of air, the whistle is capable of a full octave range of 12 notes. Nevertheless, the use of the bosun’s call did not generally take full advantage of its musical range. Generally, orders used high-low and long-short patterns. The instrument is played by using the palm and fingers as an extra sound chamber. The larger and more open the chamber, the lower the pitch. One may also vary the pitch by lowering each finger.

There are some special effects the bosun’s call can make. These include the warble and the trill. The warble is made by moving the hand quickly from the high position to the low. The effect resembles the song of a canary. The trill is made by vibrating the tongue while blowing, much like rolling the letter R. There are many commands the bosun’s call communicates. One is called the still. This sound calls all hands to attention, orders silence or announces the arrival of a senior officer on board. The still is simply one high note held for eight seconds and ends abruptly. The carry on is played after the reason for the still has been completed. It is a one-second high note, followed by a one-second low note.

An important ceremony involving the bosun’s call is “manning the side.” During the ceremony, a party of sailors (known as side boys) pipe aboard flag-rank officers or important guests. This ceremony originates during the days of sail. When the weather was too rough for the use of ladders, a visiting senior officer was hoisted aboard using a bosun’s chair. The side boys were directed in hoisting the chair by the bosun using his call.

Although more sophisticated methods of issuing orders now take precedence on board naval vessels, the bosun’s call still survives on tradition. Symbolism and ritual are maintained and encouraged by many organizations such as the Royal Navy and the Sea Cadets. Because of this, the bosun’s call is still used and is not merely a museum artifact. So, the next time you are watching Mary Poppins or perhaps visiting a naval ship, listen carefully for the sound of the whistle.

Lea Edgar started her position as Librarian and Archivist for the Vancouver Maritime Museum in 2013. She can be contacted at




A tourist walked into a pet shop and was looking at the animals on display.

While he was there, a Navy Chief walked in and said to the shopkeeper…….

“I’ll have an Seaman monkey please.”

The shopkeeper nodded, went over to a cage at the side of the shop and took out a monkey.

He fit a collar and leash, handed it to the Chief,saying…..

“That’ll be $1000.”

The Chief paid and walked out with his monkey.

Startled, the tourist went over to the shopkeeper and said…….

“That was a very expensive monkey. Most of them are only a few hundred dollars. Why did it cost so much?”

The shopkeeper answered…….

“Ah, that monkey can clean heads and passageways, perform routine maintenance on ship or hangar fittings, troubleshoot and repair complex avionics systems with no mistakes,well worth the money.”

The tourist looked at the monkey in another cage……

“That one’s even more expensive! $10,000! What does it do?”

The the shopkeeper tells the tourist…..

“Oh, that one’s a Petty Officer monkey; it can instruct GMT, CSTT, PRT, DC, 3M, PQS qualify the Seaman monkey and even do some paperwork. All the really useful stuff,”

The tourist looked around for a little longer and saw a third monkey in a cage of its own.

The price tag around its neck read $50,000. He gasped to the shopkeeper……

“That one costs more than all the others put together! What on earth does it do?”

The shopkeeper replied……

“Well, I haven’t actually seen it do anything, but it says it’s a Master Chief.”


Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. CAPT, USNR (Ret)

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. CAPT, USNR (Ret)

If you are either of a certain age, or a movie buff, you might recognize the name, Douglas Fairbanks… senior and junior. This father and son were known, probably the civilized world over, as swashbuckling, devil-may-care, movie stars. Senior, born as Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman, was a silent star and made numerous films in which he brandished swords, wore pirate costumes and, generally was all over the place, jumping and escaping from his enemies.

The family name became Fairbanks when Ullman abandons the family and the mother covered up their paternal Jewish ancestry. Junior was an up-and-coming actor in his own right and when Senior died, he became the unofficial “king” of the daredevils in the movies. He was a pal of fellow actors like Cary Grant, with whom he starred in “Gunga Din.”

A little known fact about Junior is that he was active in World War II and practically ran something called Operation Dragoon, and the Beach Jumpers. Fairbanks was commissioned as a reserve officer in the United States Navy when the United States entered World War II and was assigned to Lord Mountbatten’s Commando staff in the United Kingdom.

In March 1943 he proposed the Beach Jumpers, whose mission would simulate amphibious landings with a very limited force. The Beach Jumpers would lure the enemy into believing that theirs was the principal landing. During his time in the Navy, he was awarded the US Navy’s Legion of Merit, two high honors from France, and one from Italy. He stayed with the Navy and eventually retired as a Naval Reserve Captain.