Where is it all now?

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

The deckforce was made up of a collection of moles and ferrets who spent most of their time wiggling around in the crawl space between the walking deck and the pressure hull… In port.

Like small animals in the wild, invisibility was the key to survival. The world of the E-3… Non-rated bluejacket, in the era of petroleum powered submersibles, you had to remain out of sight or blend in with your surroundings to be okay.

Chief Petty Officers were vested with power on par with God… With the exception of the part about changing water into wine…God kept that one to himself so CPOs didn't destroy their livers and have God's diesel submarines snorkeling around in five-mile deep Gallo screw top Muscatel.

The code of Chief Petty Officers requires only two things… First they must surrender their souls to the Devil and second, they must make life a burning hell for E-3s. It is not their fault - comes with the pay grade.

Chiefs feel some kind of obsessive need to keep every animal on the planet engaged in some kind of time consuming activity… Not necessarily productive activity. In my day, if a Chief found you parked in the mess decks between 8 AM and 4 PM, having a smoke and wrapping yourself around a hot cup of coffee, he felt that the sun would not come up the following day if he didn't put your lazy butt to work.

"Hey Dex."

"Yo, Chief."

"Why don't you grab a can of Brasso and give the urinal piping in number 2 a little buff up?"

In the life of anything above E-6, shiny copper pipe had a highly elevated level of importance. I always had this feeling that while all the animals in the Alley, were dreaming of perky tits and cute little fannies, the old coots in the Goatlocker were fantasizing about bright copper pipe and urinal valves.

The best things to do were:

(a) Remain out of the eyeball range of CPOs or if in range:

(b) Give the appearance of being totally absorbed in productive work.

Lets take (b). (This is giving away trade secrets.) There were several things you could do. For example, the Navy had little green cloth-covered notebooks… They used them for damn near everything. If you had one, it validated the legitimacy of whatever you were doing even if you weren't doing anything but looking very serious and just entering random, totally meaningless 4-digit numbers in columns, that you were making up as you went along.

A nice theatrical touch could be added, if you stopped every now and then and stared aimlessly at the overhead and scratched your head with the eraser end of your pencil. No Chief would think of interrupting a sailor recording figures. This was found to be effective throughout the submarine force.

Another popular flim-flam was the 'sealed envelope' trick. You can go damn near anywhere in the Navy if you walk fast, have a purposeful look and a sealed envelope displayed for all to see. A man with a sealed envelope can go anywhere… But must wear his white hat (shoes, optional).

We had hiding places. You have to have hiding places or some Chief would put you to work. We had three.

(1) The 'Siesta Nest' up forward of the impulse air flasks next to bow buoyancy. Use of this location called for random bursts of pounding on tanks and pressure hull with tools to create the illusion of productive work.

(2) The photo shop on Orion. Photographers had a racket billet. If Arliegh Burke had paid them on a piecework basis, they would have had to figure out how to live on a dollar thirty-five, every two weeks. So you could always get in a card game in the photo shop. If someone showed up unexpectedly and demanded to know,

"What'n the hell is going on here?"

"After chow card game sir. Two more hands and it'll be 'turn-to' time again."

"Very well…"

I've seen those 'two hands' take damn near five hours.

There was an added benefit to playing cards in a photo lab. They had this big table with high intensity carbon arc lights focused on it. These lights were intended to 'burn' images into metal plates so these light-etched metal plates could be used for 'on-board' printing projects. They could also thaw out and cook a special order frozen pizza in about five seconds. One minute it was frozen hard…Then 'whammo', you had perfect bubbling pizza and a wonderful aroma filling the lab. The bad thing for E-3s was… These 'photo whatever they were' mates played for money.

(3) In the days before God and Hyman Rickover invented blue and gold boat crews, scrapped the tender concept and created a clean… No dumpster Pier 22, there was a secret meeting place in Subron Six known only to the Almighty and about 30 E-3s. The Fraternal Order of the Deck Ape Costra Nostra and Subron Six Dope-Offs.

The pier head quonset huts. When the Orion went into the yard for a bottom job, the Squadron built four weird looking corrugated metal elongated igloo-looking contraptions called quonset huts. The Squadron Office moved in. They turned one into a kind of sick bay… No, more like a "I'm busy, what's your damn problem, take an APC and go somewhere and die quietly" sheep dip conveyor belt, make believe medical shack. And they turned one into a paint locker.

The paint locker became the damndest hideout E-3s ever created. All the leading seamen in the Squadron were given keys to this little metal wonderland. It didn't take a handful of 19-year old idiots long to figure out that by restacking about five million 5-gallon cans of Methel-Ethyl-Ketone, zinc chromate and enough Navy number seven gray to paint the entire state of Rhode Island, we could create enough room for a clandestine card parlor. The Navy, in its infinite wisdom installed an air-conditioner to keep the paint from blowing up. The place was the best thing God ever gave to E-3s… It was one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War.

As an interior decoration statement, it left one helluva lot to be desired… At 19, your butt is perfectly comfortable planted on a foulweather jacket folded on top of a five gallon MEK can and a four-foot square, three-quarter inch piece of plywood covered with a ratty blanket, turned the place into a home away from home. Four decks of ships service Bicycles and twenty Playboy centerfolds turned it into the site of the international grand championship of the universe hearts competitions.

We never solved the 'where to take a leak' problem, but after dark we just hosed down the weeds behind the damage control training center. Someone got the idea to use an orange nylon air mail postal bag to haul stomped flat beer cans back to the scrap metal dumpster on the pier.

A week past, Ray Stone showed me a photo he took of Pier 22 not long ago. The gahdam place was as clean as an airport runway. Nothing there… No fuel hoses… No ration boxes… No oil drums… No busted mechanical parts… No dumpsters… No hemp and nylon lines… No ' Show your I.D. and liberty card' signs nailed to falling apart guard shacks… No ASR… No tender and no visible human life… Just a sterile concrete structure.

"Where have all the sailors gone?"

Where have all the laughing bastards in paint spattered dungarees and frayed raghats gone? Who hauled off the evidence of their passing? Pier 22 was once the center of our universe. It was alive… It was our world. What in the hell happened to the neighborhood?

 

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