Pride and Tradition

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Pride is a funny thing. It is a concept that can't be packaged and issued… It takes root in a crew that has gained confidence in itself and a deep respect for the leadership of it's senior petty officers and wardroom. Once a crew has it, it germinates in every heart that comes aboard.

Requin had it… It was part of the boat and it manifested itself in a cocky attitude and 'hell for leather' outlook of her crew.

It was most evident in dress canvas formations topside.

You formed up in two lines aft of the conning tower fairwater. Raghats in starched whites; Dolphins… Neckerchiefs and jumper flaps rippling in the breeze… Gentle popping of the ensign, jack and squadron pennant.

Chiefs and leading petty officers decked out in medals and sleeves with hash marks from hell to breakfast… And some wearing old World War II combat patrol pins.

The creak and pop of strained mooring lines… And the rattle of officer swords.

Two lines of bluejackets knowing it was going to be a long time between smokes and hoping a seagull didn't crap on their white hat or a $2.50 laundry and press job. Norfolk had a seagull population whose express purpose in life was to dump aerial calling cards on submarine sailors standing inspection topside in dress whites.

You could see the nuke boats astern in their nest. They had their own nest at the end of Pier 22 because that was where they had all of the pixie dust connections for the moonbeam navy. To us, they were just big ugly bastards that were rapidly putting us out of business and relegating the boats we loved to the scrap yards… And there was not a damn thing we could do about it… Not one thing.

The nuclear navy made us all fleas on a dying dog. Our chiefs were relics of the past… Fossils of a bygone age. The floor of the Pacific was littered with rusting hulks that once had been the Jap Imperial Navy… Now oxidizing junk fathoms deep, entombing decaying Nip bluejackets, put there by the gray-haired, hard nose bastards standing forward of the two lines of bluejackets in dress canvas.

We looked like sailors were supposed to look… Raghats… Low-neck jumpers… Neckerchiefs… And bellbottoms blowing against your ankles in the breeze. It was impractical by any reasonable standard but that uniform gave us our distinct identity. Men wearing that uniform filled wooden boxes in military cemeteries throughout the world. I don't know who thought up that stupid short sleeve white shirt outfit… That uniform that looks like something worn by a nut house orderly. I wish the idiotic sonuvabitch would contact me and explain what our navy gained by adopting that goofy-ass-looking Good Humor truck salesman uniform. Screw progress that trashes tradition.

Sailors deserve continuity… A continuous chain. Without something to connect generation to generation, something to pass on the pride of unique identity, a force loses something.

I can't remember any adverse effects of wearing undress whites. They made me feel like I was a gahdam sailor. When you were wearing one, nobody ever took you for a bedpan collector at the local hospital.

If I was the CNO for a day, I would issue a directive that would require every bluejacket who owned one of those short sleeve white dog catcher shirts to turn the gahdam thing in for engine wipes.

I would say, "Horsefly, better men than you and I can ever hope to be, handed us down that uniform and it represents our bond with them. The idiots that took it away from you, broke faith and robbed you of a symbol that set you apart. It distinguished you and was universally recognized as representing the heritage of the finest navy the world has ever seen."

But I will never be CNO for a day and progress will continue to erode pride and tradition in the name of progress and modernization. Small men who are short sighted, if not totally blind will discard the historically meaningful and opt for the momentary fad…The current style with no tradition woven in the fabrics... No link with the ancestral legacy American sailors should be handed.

The poor shortchanged bastards of today are no longer linked by signal light… Celestial observation and marlinspike seamanship… Multi-frequency communication, global positioning and factory fabricated nylon line have replaced the seaman's arts and skills. We rode'em in the horse and buggy days… When being a sailor required saltwater savvy and technology was not our master. I'm glad it was that way… It made us special. Pride has a way of making a man feel special… Of standing apart from the herd.

So we stood there in the sun, shoulder to shoulder with our shipmates… Below the big white 481 painted on our sail. We stood there knowing we were United States Navy… We were qualified in submarines and we belonged to a naval force that owned the oceans of the world. Those oceans had been purchased for us by the men who wore exactly what we were wearing… Had stood precisely where we were standing and had been crapped on by the great grandfathers of the seagulls, currently shitting on our white hats.