“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

― Frank Herbert

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Long Ago and Far Away.

I was a Marine, but I spent a great deal of time aboard Navy ships, and this rings very true to me. Brings backs some memories, as I am sure it will for other old Sailors and Marines out there.  This was sent to me by a friend.


This photo is my father, in the Pacific Theater in 1944.



This is me, Beirut, Lebanon October 1983.

A bit of introspection from an "older" sailor. 
(Author unknown) 

A sailor will walk 10 miles in a freezing rain to get a beer, but complain mightily about standing a 4 hour quarterdeck watch on a beautiful, balmy spring day. 

A sailor will lie and cheat to get off the ship early and then will have no idea where he wants to go. 

Sailors are territorial. They have their assigned spaces to clean and maintain. Woe betide the shipmate who tracks through a freshly swabbed deck. 

Sailors constantly complain about the food on the mess decks, while concurrently going back for second or third helpings. 

Some sailors have taken literally the old t-shirt saying that they should “Join the Navy. Sail to distant ports. Catch embarrassing, exotic diseases.” 

After a sea cruise, I realized how much I missed being at sea. We are now considering a Med cruise visiting some of my past favorite ports. Of course I’ll have to pony up better than $5,000 for the privilege. To think, Uncle Sam actually had to pay me to visit those same ports 50 years ago. 

You can spend two years on a ship and never visit every nook and cranny or even every major space aboard. Yet, you can know all your shipmates. 

Campari (Italian liqueur considered an aperitif) and soda taken in the warm Spanish sun is an excellent hangover remedy.

E5 is the almost perfect military pay grade. Too senior to catch the crap details, too junior to be blamed if things go awry. 

Good advice: Never be first, never be last, and never volunteer for anything.

Almost every port has a “gut.” An area teeming with cheap bars, easy women, and partiers. Kind of like Bourbon St., but with foreign currency. 

If the Guardia Civil tell you to “Alto,” you’d best halt, right now. Same goes for the Carabinieri, gendarmes, and other assorted police forces. If you don’t obey the order you could easily find yourself in that port’s hoosegow. Or shot. 

Contrary to popular belief, Chief Petty Officers do not walk on water. They walk just above it. 

Sad but true, when visiting even the most exotic ports of call, some sailors only see the inside of the nearest pub. 

Also under the category of sad but true, that lithe, sultry Mediterranean beauty you spent those wonderful three days with and have dreamed about ever since, is almost certainly a grandmother now and buying her clothes from Omar the Tent Maker. 

A sailor can, and will, sleep anywhere, anytime. 

Yes, it’s true, --it does flow downhill.

In the traditional “crackerjack” uniform you were recognized as a member of United States Navy, no matter what port you were in. Damn all who want to eliminate or change that uniform. 

Most sailors won’t disrespect a shipmate’s mother. On the other hand, it’s not entirely wise to tell them you have a good looking sister. 

If you can at all help it, never tell anyone that you are seasick. 

Check the rear dungaree pockets of a sailor. Right pocket a wallet. Left pocket a book. 

The guys who seemed to get away with doing the least, always seemed to be first in the pay line and the chow line. 

General Quarters drills and the need to evacuate one’s bowels often seem to coincide.

Speaking of which, when the need arises, the nearest head is always the one which is secured for cleaning.

Three people you never screw with: the doc, the paymaster, and the ship’s barber. 

In the summer, all deck seamen wanted to be signalmen. In the winter they wanted to be radarmen. 

Do snipes ever get the grease and oil off their hands? 

Never play a drinking game which involves the loser paying for all the drinks. 

There are only two good ships: the one you came from, and the one you’re going to. 

Whites, coming from the cleaners -- clean, pressed and starched -- last that way about 30 microseconds after donning them. The Navy dress white uniform is a natural dirt magnet. 

Sweat pumps operate in direct proportion to the seniority of the official visiting. 

Skill, daring, and science will always win out over horseshit, superstition, and luck.

We train in peace so that in time of war the greater damage will be upon our enemies and not upon ourselves. 

"Pride and professionalism" trumps "Fun and zest" any day.

The shrill call of a bosun's pipe still puts a chill down my spine. 

Three biggest lies in the Navy: We're happy to be here; this is not an inspection; we're here to help. 

Everything goes in the log. 

Rule 1: The Captain is always right. Rule 2: When in doubt refer to Rule 1. 

A wet napkin under your tray keeps the tray from sliding on the mess deck table in rough seas, keeping at least one hand free to hold on to your beverage. 

Never walk between the projector and the movie screen after the flick has started. 

A guy who doesn't share a care package from home is no shipmate. 

When transiting the ocean, the ship's chronometer is always advanced at 0200 which makes for a short night. When going in the opposite direction, the chronometer is retarded at 1400 which extends the work day. 

If I had to do it all over again, I would. TWICE!  

When I sleep, I often dream I am back at sea. 

Good shipmates are friends forever 

When asked, what I did to make my life worthwhile, I respond with a great deal of pride and satisfaction . . .  

"I served a career in the United States Navy.”

 Between 1971 and 1986 I did floats, exercises, dets, or staff tours aboard these ships. Some for as short as two weeks, some for as long as 6 months.



LST 1180  USS Manitowoc


AD38 USS Puget Sound






USS Barnstable County LST 1197







USS Raleigh  LPD 1


USS Iwo Jima LPH 2


None of these vessels are still in the active fleet.  But there are still a lot of old Sailors and Marines who remember them.  Some years ago, I was scanning through a surplus catalog and saw the seats from the ready room on the Iwo Jima being sold off.  It made me feel really sad.
 Somebody once asked me on the blog how I managed to visit 34 countries in my military career. These ships had a lot to do with it.


29 comments:

  1. I wish someone had pointed me at the military when I was coming out of high-school. At least I would not have had to pay for my flying lessons that way. Alas north eastern prep schools in the early 80s looked down upon that sort of choice. Later I made some friends at Naval Air Station Brunswick (KNHZ) as many of them came over for flight lessons to the private field (08B) I was at. They crewed the P-3 sub chasers. They were always sparring with the Russian bears out over the North-Atlantic and would often bring back photos of their encounters where they were flashing dirty magazines and Marlboro boxes at each other through the windows of the plane. There was one black fellow by the name of David I remember, he'd been a grunt but reenlisted as a P-3 crew chief. He had previously made the cover of Time magazine when they pulled him out of the rubble of the barracks in Beirut on a stretcher in his red skivvies after the bombing.

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    1. I didn't know David but I can sure remember the picture you are talking about. I keep a file on my computer of anything to do with Beirut and I have that magazine cover in it.

      My family had a long military tradition, going back to the Revolutionary War, and I never thought about not going into the service. I was keen on it, my two brothers less so, but it was an accepted thing.

      After my experiences in Lebanon I decided if I ever had a son, he wasn't going to be put at risk by a bunch of ignorant, self centered, politicians sitting in DC. I was really bitter for many years after that experience, not towards the Marine Corps but with the State Department and the Ronald Reagan buffoons like Charles Schultz, Caspar Weinberger, et al. One of the reasons I moved up here was to get away from society in general and try to settle down and relax.

      So G did not go that route. Strangely enough, neither did my two brothers sons.

      As for me, I enjoyed the service and still look back on it fondly. I know all old guys do that, they remember the really good parts and forget the really bad parts. I pulled strings to get assigned down to Beirut. I often wonder how my life would have gone if I hadn't, and had just stayed up in Naples. I'll never know now.

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  2. My grandfather in WWII was to old for the Navy. He joined the Merchant Marines . He said he had seen every island in the south pacific delivering supply's. Fiji was the only place he wished he could see again. He joined because it payed 62$ a month twice what he was making.

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    1. Good thing he was in the Pacific and not the Atlantic, or you might not be here today. Not that the Pacific was any easy ride for the logistics train.

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  3. Thank you for serving. I hope you get to visit those ports again safely.

    Granny used many natural remedies. I wish I had written them down.

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    1. Gail, my wife and I would like to visit Israel someday, but I doubt we will ever go back to Europe, things being as they are. I want to see the Israeli armor museum, and the air force museum. The last time I was down there it was just offshore on a navy vessel. I'd like to see a little bit more of the country.

      There are lots of ladies whose blog I read , who use natural remedies. Kymber has sent me some for different ailments over the years. I should set up a blog for holistic medicine so I can record them all.

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  4. I was never in the service, but my dad was, and several other relatives. Service men and women, past and present, have my profound respect and my eternal gratitude.

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    1. It's a unique experience. Depending on the time and place, it can be the best part of your life, or the worst. But for me, anyway, 30 years of distance from that part of my life has taken a lot of the rough edges off.

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  5. I wish I could say I had these experiences; I have a best (and I mean best) friend that moved up to Oregon about....
    35+ years ago that worked the cats on the Independence. Me, I served in a guard unit that made the movie stripes look real....(I was tight with the XO)

    Thanks for your service.

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    1. Mike, it's surprising how many old vets there are scattered around. Or, maybe it isn't anymore, considering we have been constantly at war for 15 years now.

      Some people are like my two brothers, they do their tour and leave the service. Some are like me, and stay in longer. But they all have those memories, whatever the memories may be.

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  6. It must be sad to have all your ships no longer active or have them struck. It seems to me that these ships should last forever, but they live such a transient life.

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    1. They all wind up as museums, broken up, or sold off to Third World countries.

      But the guys who sail on them all wind up beached somewhere eventually as well. I guess it's just the way things go.

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  7. Good stuff.
    I had a great time in the Navy and learned 10 times as much there as I did in college.
    There are two kinds of ships:
    Submarines and Targets.
    Pride Runs Deep

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    1. Tom, you having been in submarines, I tip my hat to you! The thought of going down under the ocean, and things like the Scorpion and the Thresher, still give me pause. Takes a person with steel nerves to do that. Even today, when I hear the word submarine , that movie "Das Boot" pops into my mind. ;-)

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  8. And every word is true!

    Thanks for posting that, Harry....

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    1. A friend sent it to me. He sends me a lot of stuff for the blog. I thought it was clearly by someone who had been there and done that, and I know there are a lot of old sea service guys who come by here.

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  9. “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: 'I served in the United States Navy.” ― John F. Kennedy


    Tim McCann
    USN Veteran
    USS America CV 66

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    1. That's true. You know, I was just a kid when Kennedy was President. I know my mother and father didn't vote for him. He was Catholic, which in those days was a big deal. He was a Democrat, and my dad never voted Democrat. But my father always respected him, because he served in the combat zone, and in PT boats at that. My dad said he could have got some cushy job back in the rear with the gear because of who he was, but he didn't.

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  10. Hey Harry,

    (captaincrunch)

    I was in the 3rd Division on the boat deck. A 'Snipe' and I was assigned to the starboard 'Ready Lifeboat Crew' as the engineman. Those old style lifeboats were powered by a four cylinder 'Westerbeke' normally aspirated diesel. I remember quite a bit. I remember the sites, smells sounds. I remember the walking and smelling the chow line on the mess decks. My favorite cure for hangovers was a red soda sold in the Coke machines in the Geedunk called 'Tahitian Treat' I still remember what that stuff tasted like. I remember the Quarterdeck, the upper decks where the 'officers quarters' were. The Command Masterchief had has office on that deck or near it. I also remember the 1st Lieutents office was and we used to slide down all the ladder wells using our hands. I could drop down six decks in no time and fly up the ladder wells like a damn mountain goat (no wonder both my knee's are shot)
    My berthing compartment was all the way forward above the emergency diesel. When the diesel got fired up the compartment got hotter than hell and the deck vibrated. I was fortunate to get a middle rack. I was pretty well set up and adapted to shipboard life well.
    One story I have is some of the 'brothers' had one of those mega boom boxes and where playing the rap band 'NWA' album, 'Fear of a Black Planet' from the start of the cruise on the boat and all I heard on the boat deck, day in and day out was that entire album.
    One night late about 2100. I went out to get my coffee cup that I left in a gear locker near the hatch by the personell offices. It was 'darken ship' and at least with the starlight I could find my coffee cup in the gear locker. I looked down and saw that damn boom box. I thought about float testing it. Instead with all my pent up frustration I started to kick the crap out of the boom box heavily damaging the part where the cassette tapes were inserted. The next morning the idiot that owned the boom box was all upset that the boom box was heavily damaged and the chief told him that's what he gets for leaving the boom box in the gear locker. I never told a soul about what I did.
    Nobody ever found out who destroyed that boom box.

    The feeling of kicking the crap out of that boom box was so liberating. I cant describe it. The rest of the cruise was somewhat peaceful without that music.

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    1. It's odd the things you remember so clearly, isn't it? I can't remember where I set my keys or the tube of ferret paste down an hour ago, but I can remember things that happened 40 years ago like it was yesterday.

      I wish I had more of my pictures. Back then , of course, there wasn't any digital camera available. You took your pictures on film, and then you got them printed. When I moved from Italy back to Camp Lejeune, the movers lost three of my boxes. Most of my pictures were in those boxes. So I only have bits and pieces. I have an old foot locker out in the barn. It has a big pack of letters I wrote my wife from Lebanon, my old cruise charts ( you know those little folding maps they sold in the ships store, and you got the navigators assistant to fill in the courses), and some awards and medals (just I been there medals), a few other things. When I die I want my wife to send the letters to the Marine Corps Historical Branch. Since I was a staff officer some of the things in there might be useful if anyone is ever researching what happened there, for whatever reason.

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  11. You are right about sailors being able to sleep anywhere anytime. My DH still does that after all these years.

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    1. Some things you pick up in the service stay with you forever. Maybe it's because most service people are very young, and they acquire those habits.

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  12. My dad was a Marine in the south Pacific in WWII. Number 10 on your list reminds me of what his grandfather told him before he left; "Keep your mouth shut, your bowels open and don't volunteer!"
    Well, he did volunteer and ended up riding motorcycle escort for tank convoys.

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    1. It's better not to volunteer, but there are always young fellows who will. I remember when I went down to Beirut, the saying in my mind was "it's not much of a war, but it's the only war we got." I had been in since 71 and had not heard a shot fired in anger.

      Now, in retrospect, I remember Thucydides and what he had to say about the Peloponnesian War.

      "At the beginning of an undertaking the enthusiasm is always greatest. And at that time, both in the Peloponnesus and in Athens there were great numbers of young men who had never been in a war, and were consequently far from unwilling to join in this one."

      My Uncle Tom, my dad's brother, was a Marine infantry sergeant in the Pacific in WW2. He landed on Saipan.

      My father in law was a Marine infantryman and was in the fighting in Okinawa. When I was very young, around twelve, I read "Baa Baa Black Sheep" by "Pappy" Boyington, and after that my course was set. Even before that I wanted to go into the service, and I leaned towards the Navy or Marines because my father and uncle had gone that way. But it was that book that made me want to be a Marine aviator.

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  13. My uncle was in the Navy and once ran into a guy from his home town at a bar in a exotic port. They were both surprised to see each other. Turns out they were both serving on the same ship. Those aircraft carriers are big!

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    1. The first time I saw an aircraft carrier at sea, I was a brand new "boot" and the sailors on my ship pointed out the Enterprise on the horizon. They told me there were two Olympic sized swimming pools on the ship. It was so massive I believed them.

      I was in a hospital awhile back and one of the security guards had been a Marine corporal in Beirut. We hadn't run into each other in Lebanon, but I sure enjoyed talking with someone who had been there and remembered it.

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  14. Your Dad and you look good in uniform.

    My Grandpa fought in the Korean War. He's going to be 90 this year.

    I guess my Dad tried to serve, but his flat big feet got in the way. He wears 15 AAA, so super narrow shoes.

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  15. I can't remember who said it, but I think it was Edwin Blake. "The fair sex was ever to a soldier kind."

    My father got my mother to marry him,and she was one of the most beautiful girls in his hometown.

    My wife married me, and she was absolutely the most beautiful woman I had seen. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but a lot of other single officers in Naples agreed with my assessment.

    Maybe it as the uniforms that helped dad and me both!

    People who don't fit within the limits of the supply system just can't work out in the service, so it's no reflection on your dad. He made the effort, and that's what counts.

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  16. It just struck me after I hit the publish button. My Uncle Tom stayed in the Marines after WW2 and served as a Marine Lieutenant in an Artillery battery in Korea. Uncle Tom passed away a few years ago, there aren't many of that generation left now. Who knows, maybe my Uncle and your Granddad crossed paths in Korea. Stranger things have happened.

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