One of the advantages of aging is developing memories. Like with all, some good and some bad. Fortunately for me all of my naval memories are wonderful because I’ve chosen to forget the bad. This is a choice we all have to make. Although my enlistment was short compared to many of you, my fondness for my only ship is strong.
She was “born” in 1945 and ”passed on” in 73. Not too bad an age for a ship, but not a lady. To us, her crew, she was home. Served her country in Korea and Vietnam and was ”scrapped”. for razor blades, they tell me.
I was never a plank owner or part of a decommissioning crew, and I’m glad about the latter. I guess we all want to be part of the birth of anything. Young, fresh, just starting out, bright and shiny, and ready to go. Decommissioning, no? Call it what it is, a death. The no longer needed phase of existence. I’ve been to too many funerals over the years and think that would be the same.
I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s very emotional. Whatever ship you served on is special in your heart. Some of you guy’s rattled off names and numbers like football signals. From the Bonne Dick to the Big O, the JFK to whatever. They weren’t ships; they were home. They were families of brothers and later sisters traveling the world with you.
Wherever I go near the water, I always catch sight of a vessel and wonder where she’s been or going. Any Navy vessel talks to me. Major harbors stateside home one of the old girls or guys of the sea. Look at any battleship or carrier anywhere, and you swell with pride. It might be a museum or tourist attraction now, but it used to be home to us.
Red lead and Navy gray are two of my favorite colors… Go Navy!
From the time I was three until my father’s premature death when I was twelve, I spent my summers at my grandparent’s farm in Yadkin County. My GrandPap farmed a couple of acres of tobacco, milked a cow and two goats, raised a couple of hogs and of course there were the two mules, not to mention Granny’s formidable herd of free-range chickens. There were a half dozen cats who kept the property free of vermin and when Granny wasn’t looking, baby chicks. GrandPap always had, “the best coon dog in Yadkin County” and a bunch of pups in training.
GrandPap also, as he put it, “squoze” enough corn to fill the three jugs that lasted him through the year. I once asked him to teach me how to make “likker,” but he refused, he said, “You don’t need to know nuthin’ about that stuff boy.”
My other grandfather was more accommodating. I never made moonshine. I have seen it done and know how. Farming tobacco is arduous work. Making moonshine takes a close second, what with slipping around, hiding from the law, and the physical labor of setting up a still. But that is not the story I am here to tell.
The summer I turned twelve, GrandPap drove down to get me the day after school was out. On the way back to Yadkin he told me that there was a fellow sharecropping on the next farm. He had a girl my age and they had a deal for swapping work. In other words, they would help each other with their tobacco. The girl and I were a part of the deal. She would work in GrandPap’s fields, and I would work in her dad’s tobacco. He added, “If it’s all right with you.” As if I had a choice.
They had set their plants earlier and they were getting up to hoeing size. The next day, after breakfast, animals milked and fed, and armed with a hoe I stood looking at the river wishing I were Huckleberry Finn going on an adventure on the Mississippi instead of having to hoe tobacco.
There was a boy coming up the lane, dressed as I was in overalls and a floppy straw cowboy hat with a Hopalong Cassidy deputies star printed on the front of it. He was carrying a hoe. I rightly surmised that this must be the girl from down the road I would be hoeing tobacco with today.
She walked to where I was standing and said, “Hey, I’m Junebug, well my name is June, but everybody calls me Junebug. I guess we are supposed to work together hoeing today. Daddy said we have to do your Pap’s today and our’s tomorrow.”
As much as I hated my nickname, I introduced myself as “Buster.” Up until now I had kept my interaction with girls to a minimum. They were lifeforms that seemed to cry for no reason and would tattle on you for making them do it.
That summer Junebug and I hoed tobacco, topped, and suckered the stuff, wormed it, primed it, cured it, and packed it down after it cured.
After the initial awkwardness with each other, we developed into an efficient team. As we worked, we talked of the things we liked and disliked about school, teachers, books, we had read, songs and singers, and what we saw for our future. She wanted to be a nurse and I, of course, was going to the Navy.
June, somewhere along the way, I stopped calling her Junebug. I also noticed that she now called me Dave or Davy. That’s what the fellow at the store called me. He had misunderstood me when I told I’m my name was Davis. He thought I said, David. In those days, I didn’t much care for Garland either. I guess she sensed that. I don’t believe I ever told her so.
The summer was winding down. Soon I would be going home. Her father had found a job in Virginia working in a shipyard and had made a deal with GrandPap to sell his tobacco. They would be leaving for Portsmouth the same day I went back to Winston-Salem. We spent the little free time we had in those last few days walking along the river together, holding hands and talking, both avoiding the subject of leaving. We said goodbye that last evening as the sunset.
The last morning, I was loading my clothes and stuff into GrandPap’s car when she came hurrying down the lane where I had first seen her. Only this time she was wearing a dress and there was no mistaking her for a boy. She came to me with tears on her face. She placed her hands on either side of my face and kissed me, then turned and ran back toward her home.
My first kiss.
GrandPap saw the kiss. I was sure to be in for some teasing after he told the story. He never told it. All he said was, “Boy, you orta keep up with that girl, she’s a good one.”
Probably should have followed his advice but I was fixated on something just over a Pacific Ocean horizon.
Trivia: When did the nickname “Crackerjack” for a US Navy Uniform originate?
The term “Crackerjack” actually refers to Navy Cracker Jacks or the Enlisted Service Dress Blue uniforms worn by enlisted Sailors E-6 and below.
Though the term “Crackerjack” is also deemed as a term referring to excellence, the association with Sailors began when the Cracker Jack company (candy popcorn) introduced their mascots “Sailor Jack and his dog, Bingo” on their boxes. They were first shown on boxes in 1918.
Sailor Jack is shown, even today, on Cracker Jack boxes wearing the definitive dress blue uniform synonymous with US Sailors. Crackerjacks are the single, most identifiable uniforms to recognize a Sailor.
During the mid-’70s, there was an experiment, and the Navy temporarily removed crackerjacks for a period in favor of a uniform similar to what officers and chiefs wore.
In the end, there was a lot of opposition, and when Ronald Reagan became President, traditional crackerjacks were reinstated. In the late ’70s, they became an optional uniform. The Navy started issuing Crackerjack in boot camp again in 1982.
Something went wrong! I looked in the mirror this morning and didn’t know who was looking back at me. Do you guys look at your cruise books or old photographs of you back in the Navy? Does that look like you?
The hair I had is halfway back on my head, and it’s either grey or white depending on how I feel. What grew up there is now growing out of my eyebrows, ears or nose, and it isn’t pretty.
My svelte body now looks like a bear ready for hibernation. My chest has settled to my belly, and my bicep muscles are hanging. My anchor tattoo looks like a gourd, and mom looks like wow.
The eagle-eyed lookout with hearing like a bat is now blind as a bat and can’t hear farts. Glasses? One pair for distance and another for reading. Tried bifocals but couldn’t adjust. The hearing aids are itchy and expensive and the wife tells me what I need to know.
Found out there are only two kinds of drivers, the old farts creeping in front of me and those bat-out-of-hell kids flying by. Where the hell is a cop when you want one? The wife won’t go in the camper anymore. Said if she wanted to cook on vacation, she can stay home or take a cruise. Besides that, she enjoys the sound of the ice maker in the motel. Sold the boat. Found out there are only two days you enjoy a boat, the day you buy it and the day you sell it.
Now I go to bed when we used to leave the ship for liberty. My get up and go has got up and went. It wasn’t like this when we were aboard. They don’t have Storekeepers anymore; now they’re Logistics something or other. I wonder if I’m too old to reenlist? ♫Anchors aweigh…♫
The young Fireman, right out of Machinists Mates’ “A” School, reported aboard a couple of days before the departure for six or more months in the Western Pacific. The Destroyer would participate in a Battle Group evolution with the carrier where the aviators qualified and requalified. The group would make a port visit to Pearl Harbor eight days after leaving San Diego.
The Fireman was busy helping get everything ready for the deployment. He loaded stores and cleaned areas in the Engineroom where the civilian shipyard workers had not cleaned well enough to meet the Chief’s standards. He learned that he would stand messenger watches once they were steaming. The Petty Officer assigned to train him walked him through his watch stander duties. He was assigned watches under the supervision of a qualified watchstander.
He was excited the morning they were to leave. He really wanted to go topside and watch the getting underway, but he was kept busy by the self-important FN assigned to train him to stand messenger.
The other guys in the Engineroom swore he turned green when the word was passed to “Single Up All Lines” and was at a full-blown puke by the time “Shift Colors” was passed. By the time they cleared the bay, he was sitting in the lower level, dry heaving into a bucket.
He received advice to eat crackers, which brought on a bout of heaving. Sailors being sailors, an MM3 showed up with a bacon sandwich he had purloined from the Messdecks and proceeded to eat it in front of him. More gagging and dry heaves. By the end of the watch, the MM1, becoming concerned, took him to sick bay.
The ”Doc” was an HM1 just beginning his first tour as an Independent Duty Corpsman. Doc listened to MM1 and prescribed Dramamine, ‘seasick pills’.” The problem was the kid couldn’t keep pills ad water down. Doc had been told that there was such a thing as chronic seasickness, but he had also been told that it was rare and sailors would use seasickness as an excuse to get out of duty. He issued a No Duty chit until the next morning and told the FN to hit his rack and see if he felt better the next morning
When FN didn’t show up for Sick Call the next morning, Doc went to MM1 and asked how the kid was doing. The First Class told him the boy was curled up on the deck, still dry heaving into a bucket. Doc became worried that the FN was becoming dehydrated and thought he might have to hydrate him intravenously. He dreaded telling the XO and CO that he thought there may be a chronic sea sick aboard. He was afraid they would think he was inexperienced and overly cautious.
Doc went to the snipes’ compartment to find the F sitting at the table with a bucket between his feet. He checked the Kid’s vital signs and asked if he had tried to eat. The FN shook his head as he was wracked by another bought of dry heaving.
Doc said, “You have to try to eat and drink something, or I will have to put in an IV.”
BT2, passing by, said, “Feed him ice cream Doc.”
Doc, thinking that here was an opportunity to learn from a sailor who had been around long enough to know many ‘Salty” solutions for sailor’s maladies, asked the BT, “Does ice cream help with seasickness?”
BT2 replied, “Hell, I don’t know, but it will taste better when he pukes it up!”
If you’ve served in the Navy or any military branch, you have most likely eaten “Shit on a Shingle,” which is creamed chipped beef on toast, better known as SOS. The nickname SOS was derived from the Navy.
The term derives from any brown or white creamed substance which Sailors call sh*t on top of toasts, known as shingles.
The exact origin of SOS is fuzzy.
According to some historians, there is no specific origin is known.
The dish, which consists of sliced dried beef mixed in a thick creamy gravy, appeared in military cookbooks at the start of the twentieth century.
Some cooking sources claim the dish came from the Army. The Army claimed the “Army favorite” has become “the most popular version of SOS.”
However, some Navy veterans disagree!
One of the original versions of chipped beef 1910 used beef stock, evaporated milk, and parsley added to flour, butter, and dried beef.
A creamier recipe using salty chipped beef was adopted during the Second World War.
This style was clearly evident in Navy cookbooks.
The 1944 Cook Book of the US Navy recipe for “Creamed Sliced Dried Beef” included a hefty amount of dried beef, approximately 7 pounds, added to a paste-like roux and boiled milk.
Variations of the recipe exist.
Navy cookbooks also used a similar recipe for minced beef on toast, which had a tomato-based sauce with ground beef and sautéed onions.
Some recipes for minced beef use a can of tomato juice for the sauce. Most Sailors on Navy ships referred to the dish with the nickname “Red S.O.S.”
The popularity of creamed chipped/sliced beef soon extended beyond the military.
Like the explosion of popularity in pizza after WWII, Sailors and servicemen craved the warm and filling dish when their time in the military ended.
Home recipes of creamed chipped beef published in the later twentieth century included SOS variations using other meats such as tuna and sausage in a white sauce.
Stouffer’s still makes a “classic” creamed chipped beef frozen meal to this day.
So often we hear those famous words, “Thank you for your service.” How often do we say, “Thank you Navy for the memories.”
Aside from being scared sh—less a few times, they took a kid and returned a man. They sent or took me to places I never would have gone in my entire life. We got to see so many wonderful things that we had seen in movies and didn’t really believe were real.
From looking in an aquarium to being able to swim in one is one of my greatest memories. Now retired and landlocked, I remember back to the days of going to sleep in star-studded skies and tropical seas. Awakening to brilliant sunrises on the horizon. From riding terrifying oceans with massive swells to sailing glass-covered tranquilily serene seas.
Visiting ports of call crowded with people of every race, creed, and color speaking languages we didn’t understand. Experiencing cultures and foods and religions unknown to us, and us melding into their society. Learning to see and understand experiences we never knew existed.
Meeting so many friends and shipmates; some names you can’t remember and some you’ll never forget. Hoisting a beer to celebrate anything and wobbling back, remembering nothing. Never forgetting some things we wish we could and trying to remember something we can’t. But most importantly, thank America and the United States Navy for being a very important part of our lives.