He Never Stole Heavies

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Looking back over the ensuing span of forty years and sifting through the memories brings smiles to an old boatsailors face… The smile normally worn by a kid who got away with continually poking frogs down the bloomers of the 'Goddess of Proper Behavior'.

We had great times. I have always been glad that I didn't serve in submarines after they tamed the crews in order to project their idea of what serious professional decorum should look like. It was a time of adventure… The kind of life you dreamed of as a young lad. Riding diesel boats in the late 50s was fun. The fine men who had put our old worn-out, shot-to-hell boats in commission, had won a war and in so doing handed us a swashbuckling legacy… They created and earned a reputation for being 'I don't give a damn' folks. In the late fifties, a lot of them were still around.

In those days, boats came with tubes that had actually fired stuff that had sent men and metal to the ocean floor. Some boats came with one hell of a meat-eater pedigree…. You had a feeling of pride as you popped a snappy salute to their colors as you crossed over them in the nest.

We still had 'walking decks', that allowed boatsailors to come topside and bullshit with lads on other boats. Some of the older boats that hadn't been tapped for conversion still had 'cigarette decks'… Where guys in working gear would come topside after chow and catch a smoke and inventory night stars for no other reason than it was great to be alive.

Some fellow on a computer board recently posted something, signed his name and rate and added, "We didn't steal heavies". Good for you, Horsefly… That tells me that you missed one helluva lot of fun. It also tells me that this fellow finds it very important that the world knows he was on a boat full of good boys… That in and of itself would have been good for a laugh in our day.

'Heavie rustlin' was great sport. It provided laughs… A good gang of heavie thieves were highly respected. Subron Six had some world championship line handler magicians… They could make heavies disappear right before your eyes. For example, nobody ever did it better than the guys off the Redfin or Cubera. Methodology was a tightly held secret… You could get Coca-Cola formula secrets, easier than boat specific heavie-stealing tricks. It was what boatsailors did… And what made it great was that you knew that the devious bastards stealing them would fight to be at the head of the line if you ever needed a whole blood transfusion. In those days it all came with Dolphins.

When I read that "I didn't steal heavies", I felt sad for the poor sonuvabitch… He just didn't get it. The poor bastard was obviously wrapped around the axle of some post smokeboat era concept of 'proper decorum and behavior'.

I'll bet my thirteen-button blues he never stood topside at a sunny morning quarters formation looking at his Chief of the Boat wearing shorts and a black Mexican Sombrero… Or had an Exec who wore sandals at sea… And he probably never crossed his brow in blood spattered whites with a broken nose… Never played 'King of the Dumpster' in Bermuda or took a piss in the outfield in the twenty-third inning of an 'all afternoon' beer ball game.

This lad was a four-oh sailor and I am sure his mommy must have been proud.

If my hunch is right, he never pinned a set of Dolphins on a barmaids panties or call for a 'tit squeeze and a beer' at Bells.

The shore patrol never had to talk him out of a tree.

That is sad in a way because as stupid as all that must sound to someone who never lived the life, it is what made us what we were. But in the 50s, no boat ended up on the front page because it sunk… Ran into something surfacing… Or worked for a Force Commander who had to go make a deep "let me kiss your ass" bow to the prime minister of what was once known as the Jap Empire.

We threw lads over the side because tradition held that no skipper pinned Dolphins on a dry shirt… And those Dolphins meant that the man wearing them, knew his entire boat… Could find and operate all gear blindfolded.

At the time, it was all we knew… It was what we were.

Every night when I go to bed I will drift off to sleep secure in the knowledge that somewhere there is a submariner who never lifted a heaving line… What a wonderful way to characterize your boatservice.

I can't help remembering the phrase…"I am not a crook".

I wore silver Dolphins and I rustled heavies… Bigtime.