The Moonbeam Navy

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

I am, was, and shall ever be a Diesel Boat Sailor. It could properly be said that I am too stupid to be a nuclear powered qualified man... We'll never know, because the only way you would get me on one of those sonuvabitches would take Chloroform and one helluva logging chain.

I went to sub school in '59. By that time, diesel boats had reached a stage where they were the Naval equivalent of a 95 year old call girl. They were failing and falling apart all over the place, and parts were no longer available. By cosmetics we kept the old girls going until the last snap of their garters... And we loved them.

Rickover was an arrogant little sonuvabitch. The little weasel promoted, condoned and perpetuated friction between the conventional boat service and his little 'Merry Moonbeam Navy'. Today, nuke boats have come and gone, just like their diesel counterparts. Only thing is, outside of some long-range cruise missile Valentines, the entire nuke navy hasn't seen the combat service of a single WW II Balao or Tench boat. A cruise missile is the equivalent in manly expression of calling up the middle weight champion of the world on long distance phone service, to tell him you put dog crap in his mailbox. Sorry, but 'Red' Ramage, Slade Cutter and George White would have been lousy cruise missile boat sailors... They punched your lights out without going beyond their own zip code... And came home with a cigar box full of combat medals - Not gedunk, no-risk patrol pins.

It seems to me somehow, a submarine was never meant to rival ships of the Norwegian cruise lines. Hey, I watch the Discovery Channel... For years, I wondered why the milk and eggs never spoiled... In fact, I once set the world record for securing bulkhead flappers when the cook popped a 'blue egg' on the grill! I said to myself, "How are those guys drinking milk on day 32 of one of them two month runs?" Simple. They carry cows... And chickens... In the after farm compartment. They probably trim ship by moving the herd.

We used to watch movies in the crew's mess. We elevated the projector on two Pyrex cereal bowls, and the screen was the size of the cover of Time magazine. On a good night, we could pack twenty guys in there. On a nuke boat, if you don't like the film, you can move to another theater, in another compartment... The only drawback being, if you come in late they make you sit in the balcony.

Nukes have beauty parlors, pool halls and Bingo night. The old oil burners had two or three decks of cards so damn dog-eared that guys in Maneuvering Room could figure out what hands were being delt just by listening to the cards being shuffled over the XJA.

I know that living in close proximity to the reactor on a nuke boat will not shrink one's testicles... The Navy says it... Science says it... And William Jefferson Clinton will give you his word, and we all know how reliable that is. Still, they've never explained the voice change of the 'Buck Rodgers' fleet.

No, I don't want to ride any submarine named for characters appearing on past or present postage stamps, or negotiable currency, or any place found on a AAA TripTik. At New London, we were taught submarines were named for fish and other denizens of the deep, not Al Gore and East Jeezus, Minnesota.

We had one crew - total accountability. When equipment screwed up, the old man knew exactly who to light up. It was not uncommon to see boat sailors with smoking hip pockets. There wasn't any of this 'Blue crew - Gold crew', 'He said - She said', bullshit either.

And another thing... The nuke boats paint big black dots all over their scope fairings... What the hell for? Camoflauge??? Now, who's this gonna fool? A big contraption sticking up in the middle of the gahdam ocean with big black polka dots all over it. Do they actually think that somewhere on the globe there are folks stupid enough to collectively mistake that scope for a speckled trout?

I'm sure glad that I was fortunate enough to ride boats before Dorothy and the Wizard moved in...

Maybe we were the lads from the wrong side of the tracks. Maybe we did hot sack, drink coffee with oil slick rainbows floating in it, smelled like the bottom of an iguana cage, and lived on sea store smokes and dirty books. At least we weren't required to drop our skivvies every night and take caliper readings on our fixtures of manhood.