by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
When old boat sailors get together, it doesn't take long for conversation to degenerate into what valve did what… The "Can you name the gin mill?" game… "Whatever happened to old Whatzisname?…" "You remember the barmaid with the big gazongas who ran around with that nutso radioman off the Kittywake?" Pier numbers… Phone numbers… Hull numbers.
At some point, some sonuvabitch tells the first lie… That's it. The starting pistol for major "Can you top this" bullshit. Amateurs and featherweights fall out early.
Like the preliminary fights, it all leads up to the main event when guys like RamJet swim out and eat the little fish (If anyone tops the 'Eat the Flowers', there's gotta be a Pulitzer prize in it). I told my bride of going on 35 years that in the wonderful world of sea stories, RamJet is a major league crown contender. Love his stuff… Brings back really great memories… The priceless stuff that lives in the dark corner of your memory locker (According to my daughter, a helluva lot of it should stay in a dark place and never see the light of day).
Rudyard Kipling in his poem Tommy, says it best… Forgive me if it's not exactly right;
"… And if at times our conduct isn't all your fancy paints, remember single men in barracks don't turn into plaster saints."
That's true. At the pay rate of nonrated men in the late 50s and early 60s, nobody should be too damn surprised that we didn't devote a lot of time to opera, polo, golf, and downhill skiing. We also never developed a proper appreciation of fine French wines, classical art and classical music, unless you consider screw cap Italian Swiss Colony Silver Satin, a Budweiser nekkit lady calendar, and Ernest Tubb and Marty Robbins songs to qualify.
You could get into most places on Hampton Boulevard without white tie and tails. Very few debutante balls were held at Bells… And you didn't have to push your way through paparazzi to get at Thelma.
Having to explain your actions at 19, forty years later to daughters, is the damnedest delayed action fuse on the planet.
"You mean you did this stuff? The man who told our boyfriends they would be boiled and eaten if they so much as hinted at possible monkey business?"
Same guy… Not that he matured a helluva lot. It's just that the research he did while serving with SUBRON SIX brought him face to face with the entire spectrum of monkey business. So young ladies, your dad knows monkey business up close and personal… Engaged in some himself… Dabbled shall we say, in the monkey business trade. Someone once said, "Ain't nothin' any more righteous than a reformed whore…"
How do you tell someone who stayed home, married his high school squeeze, was a vestryman at church, and was the local chairman of the United Givers Fund, that we were really good guys? We didn't sped a lot of time at Martha Stewart's house, but we were double volunteers and served our country… Paid our dues and earned the right to enter a voting booth without dark glasses and a rubber nose.
When the boys and girls of the anti-war hippie days were acting like traitors and idiots, we were out there punching holes in the ocean. I missed whatever it was the Beatles did… I missed John Glen's trip into space… Somewhere Indo-China became Viet-Nam… Y. A. Tittle retired… NFL teams appeared out of nowhere… They quit making Ipana toothpaste and Old Gold cigarettes… Telephone calls went from a dime to fifteen cents… Some genius invented the birth control pill and Jack Parr disappeared. Just part of the price submarine sailors and maximum security convicts pay… Isolation from planetary influence allows you to call yourself an American dues payer. Everyone who wore Dolphins can be damn proud of that.
All this chest pounding over 'Winning the Cold War' is probably more of that hocus-pocus, 'Now you see it, now you don't' foreign policy horse manure. But, one thing we CAN say, "On our watch, no foreign rascals Jap-slapped us with a gahdam sneak attack and we kept the free world safe enough that all our recently graduated high school pals had to worry about were blouse buttons and three-hook bras at the Drive-In.
Being a boat sailor wasn't easy. Just being accepted by the men who made up the force was an honor in itself. To earn Dolphins made a fellow feel he'd accomplished something that set him apart from the main body of the bluejacket herd.
Someone once said, "Dex, you ought to get down on your knees and thank God for putting you in the boat service because horsefly, if the Lord had parked your butt in the surface navy, you'd still be looking out of metal mesh at Portsmouth." Maybe a little overstated, but undoubtedly contains elements of truth.
It is a blessing to once again find men I can talk to, who understands and gives a damn. You spend all that time learning the boat… The lingo… The pride… The comradeship… And then you leave and wander around in that great sea of 'Who gives a damn?' humanity with no one to talk to. Kind of like spending six years learning conversational Eskimo then moving to Mesa, Arizona.
Thanks for allowing me to keep building this treehouse, so we can hold 'NO GIRLS ALLOWED' meetings, tell socially unacceptable recounting of past deeds and chase the fireflies of our better days through diesel exhaust smoke and sea spray.
Trying to write about life in the smoke boat service in Sunday school language makes about as much sense as applying Oil-of-Olay to an iguana's ass.
We're getting fewer and fewer, like Model 'A' Fords… They aren't making the damn things anymore so every time you lose one, the heard gets thinner by one.
A lot of you have asked where to send contributions to the non-profit fund, to buy Ray Stone a one-way ticket to East Jeezus, New Zealand… No need for more contributions, money has been pouring in… Tickets have been purchased and we are presently trying to obtain a Tasmanian Devil-proof, steel cable reinforced canvas bag for Ray.
Who writes this inane garbage?