The Old Rascals Will Remember

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

This is one from the heart. Not that anyone probably gives a damn or has a reason to, but it is the 'two cents worth' of an old ex-bluejacket who was once afforded membership in what he considers the finest organization ever assembled…The United States Naval Submarine Force.

It gave me love and a respect for heritage and tradition, that allowed me to recognize that I have a place in the continuous chain that is the history of the U.S. Navy. I was a part of that history.

When I joined, every incoming raghat was given a book… This is Your Navy, by Theodore Roscoe. The same gentleman who wrote Submarine Operations of World War II and Destroyer Operations of World War II (Later published in popular paperback form as Pigboats and Tin Cans).

This is Your Navy was published by the U.S. Naval Institute to provide each incoming prospective bluejacket a single volume history of the Navy. It was written in the style of a yarn, a salty language adventure… It was great. Any young man who failed to be ignited by that book would have to be one 'soul dead', sonuvabitch. It is my all-time favorite book.

The first time I read it, I was on a bus going from Great Lakes to a receiving station… Stayed up all night reading it. Any book that keeps an eighteen-year-old idiot up until dawn reading by the overhead light on a Trailways bus is one damn great book.

Over the years the book fell apart and after that I don't have any idea what happened to it. In the years since, I have haunted a lot of used book stores trying to locate a copy. They gave one to every sailor, so what the hell happened to all of them? But that doesn't have a damn thing to do with the intent of this piece.

The history of the Navy is our legacy. It was passed to us and it is up to us to keep it intact and pass it undiminished to future generations. That is our obligation… No, more like a sacred duty.

Take our uniform… The one the uninitiated refer to as the 'Crackerjack suit'. That uniform in an earlier form, but easily recognized by my generation of sailor, was worn by Civil War sailors… And every succeeding generation of seagoing enlisted sailor since.

The U.S. Navy uniform is unique. First, no other service has maintained the continuity of their dress uniform. Your low-neck jumper blues… Those thirteen-button low-neck jumper blues predate anything worn by our sister services. It has within it's seams, a valiant history of sacrifice and devotion… It is a symbol both recognized and respected by every seagoing sailor in the world. For well over a hundred years, it has been the hallmark of the protector of freedom of the seas. Good men have been proud to have been buried in it and gallant souls have died wearing it in service to their country.

It is a uniform that lends itself to individual expression. In a world of regulation and the application of strict standards, the powers that be, turned a blind eye to the eccentric liberties taken with the beloved 'dress canvas' uniform. It has always belonged to the bluejacket and has been accepted as his expression of the pride he has in himself and the fleet he served.

Roy Ator, an officer who was a first rate submariner, once was a bluejacket. He rolled his raghat. Men, who wore a rolled hat, would gently roll the rim and stuff it under the front of their jumper in a chow line. Guys who preferred 'wings' in their white hats, tucked the edges under then folded it in the middle, then took it and stuffed it in the back of their jumper collar. Nobody taught you to do it… You just did it, because sailors had always done it.

Some sailors meticulously took a dime and painstakingly rolled their neckerchiefs until they looked like a yard's worth of garden hose… Other lazy bastards (like myself) would take their neckerchief to some gal at a naval tailors and have her turn out what was known as a 'greasy snake'… You could get two 'snakes' out of a regulation neckerchief. Pressed flat, they looked great and were light enough to blow all over hell and half Georgia in a light breeze.

Some tied their knot at the bottom of the 'V' of their jumper collar… Others liked a high knot a couple of inches above the 'V'. Sure, the old barnacle butt CPOs would rag you...

"Dex you look like a gahdam Pogey Bait Fennolly Hopper."

Never knew what a Fennolly Hopper was… Only know I looked like one so Stuke must have looked like one too. Only old heavy gut-ballasted Chief Petty Officers had actually seen whatever Pogey Bait Fennolly Hoppers were 'cause the last one died before Abe Lincoln was born. SUBRON Six had a couple of old bastards that had dated Abe's mother when she had all her own teeth.

The trou… The old stand-by thirteen-button blue bellbottoms had a pocket for a pocket watch. By 1959, it had become a 'Zippo lighter' pocket. You tucked your pack of whatever you smoked in your sock. Your wallet got folded clam shell style and got folded over the top of the waist of your trou and you pulled your jumper down to cover it… Every barmaid and hooker knew the exact location.

You never put anything in your jumper pocket except your I.D. and liberty card. Anything else looked like hell and if you were wearing whites, reaching in your pocket for stuff would get it dirty. A good set of tailor made, seafarer whites had a patch pocket instead of the weird slit pocket that came on regulation whites. A real set of thirteen-button blues or whites had no belt loops. Instead there were a series of eyelets right above the terminal point of your ass crack called 'gussets' and you had a mate lace them up and square knot them to your size. It was 'Navy'… Old Navy… Back then, being 'Old Navy' was damned important.

So you decked yourself out in dress canvas… Rolled across your quarterdeck… Popped a snappy salute to the colors aft… The Topside Watch hollered,

"Hey Dex, if you get laid twice, bring me back one."

"Sure horsefly, you bet."

And, you were off to terrorize the civilian population… You were in Arliegh Burke's Navy and you looked like an American bluejacket… Because that was exactly what you were.

It is what every saltwater, deep-diving sonuvabitch who came before you was… And in 1959, we all knew deep down in our hearts that would always be the way it was. Nobody would ever be so gahdam stupid as to let go of that uniform. Hell, we all knew that our sons and grandsons would someday wear that wonderful symbol of the finest Navy that God ever assembled.

At the time it was called Indo-China, nobody knew where it was… Or cared. Nobody had ever heard of Elmo Zumwalt, the forward thinker who invented saltwater mediocrity. And somewhere, somebody decided thirteen button blues were outdated and that the history of the United States Navy was not enough to excite young men so they created compensation and education bribes… And quit handing young lads copies of This is Your Navy by Theodore Roscoe.

They trashed the dear and meaningful for a bunch of superficial, meaningless horseshit and called it progress… Shame on the bastards.

 

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