What do they mean? What was their value? And what did you get with them? Those sterling twin fish in your cufflink box... Those tarnishing sardines that last saw a set of dress blues forty years ago.
You can become a paratrooper in three weeks... It takes 15 working days for the United States Army to be convinced you are stupid enough to jump out of a plane... Do it five times and they pin a badge on you.
It takes a little longer to become a SEAL. The Navy puts SEALs through incredible lunacy for six or eight weeks and develops a tribe of real meateaters... Guys that on any given day could eat King Kong's lunch... Guys that can rip your heart out right through your rib cage with two fingers. Guys that can live for months on nuts and berries. Folks who can be parachuted into Banglabookistan and shoot their way in and out of the sultan's harem if the CNO's wife needs silk panties for a White House dinner. But they get the badge in two months.
I have no idea what it takes to get Air Force enlisted crew wings. I do know that I never saw any airman crawling out on the wings, whacking them with a chipping hammer. And planes don't stay up long enough for the ice to melt in the beer coolers in trunks of their cars. They have wonderful geedunks and enlisted clubs that should have a cover charge. And none of the sonuvabitches have the slightest idea what its like to pull in from three weeks on the snorkel for a weekend of loading stores, topping off fuel tanks and finding out their girl is being paid a visit by the Goddess of Ovulation.
It was damn tough to get Dolphins. At least, it was for this idiot. I learned more mechanics and physics in less time than anyone could have convinced me I was capable of. I learned stuff a high school teacher couldn't have taught me at gunpoint. If I had had any idea how many alligators there were in the Dolphin pit, I would have probably joined the Texas National Guard like George Bush Jr. and become a PX commando.
But when they pinned those fish on a kid the crew had just tossed over the side... A kid who stood aft of the sail dripping wet with a four-foot smile... They changed my life. I became ship's company. I became family and forever linked with the community of undersea warriors.
Ron Martini and his BBS has conclusively proven that there is no expiration date on Dolphins. I don't think the man fully comprehends the full impact of the magnificant treehouse he has created for guys with Dolphins hiding in their sock drawer... In a year, he has handed me back my youth. Ron Martini and Ray Stone have introduced me to a game that all it takes is a pair of Dolphins to play... A game where you can always count on someone trumping your ace and kicking your butt, all at the same time.
A place where when you are full of crap, a respected friend will tell you in no uncertain terms. It was like that riding the boats and nothing has changed.
When I first met Ray, I never fully appreciated the impact he would have in dredging up long dormant memories. He said,
"Dex, do you get on Ron Martini's BBS?"
I had no idea who Ron Martini was, but I figured he must be the inventor of better bullshit... That's the only 'BBS' I could figure submarine sailors would be involved in.
My wife still has the first personal e-mail I got. It came from Old Gringo... She reads it from time to time. When I read Tom 'Old Gringo' Parks' website and later Pig Boat 39... I felt unworthy of recounting my insignificant years in boat service. I wouldn't have made a good pimple on Tom Parks, Ron Smith or the two Harrison's butt. I know if I ever forget that, I'll be one deluded sonuvabitch. Those gentlemen paid dues when the price of dues paying didn't come cheap. I wore the 'no personal risk' Dolphins whose respect was earned by the all or nothing risk-takers, that too came with Silver Dolphins... The acceptance by men who were drinking mid-watch coffee, breathing lousy air and sending Nips off to Buddah in highstakes package deals when I was wearing three-cornered pants and hammering dents in my high chair. That shipmates, can be very humbling.
When Bob Harrison was gravely ill... I didn't want to go out on the internet and bring up Martini... I didn't want to read that a man from whose pen flows some of the most poetic and meaningful prose I have ever read, had 'rested his oars'... I didn't want God to rest his writing arm. There are so few places where you can go these days and read thoughts formulated in a manly, unabashedly pattriotic heart. Bob Harrison gives you that and your day is a little brighter, a little better knowing he is still out there. The prayers of those who wore Dolphins gave us back this fine gentleman and sure made my bride a happy gal. She is a Tom Parks and Bob Harrison fan... But is in love with Cowboy. I'm holding down fourth place and fading... Billy Bob is pushing me to fifth.
It all came to me because of that sonuvabitch rear admiral Thomas M. Dykers and his Silent Service televised flypaper. That guy has no idea what he gave so many of us. We should dig him up and kiss him.
For $3.50 you could get a cheap pair at Bells Bar & Naval Tailors... Blue box... Cellophane window... Gemsco Dolphins.
If you were an idiot E-3, you knew how to take 'em between your thumbs and forefingers and bend them into the proper curvature to pin on a D-cup bra. But what you didn't know at the time was that that little blue box contained an invisible tradition that made you a part of something so wonderful it would take you a gahdam lifetime to wear it out.