It Was Home

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

"Hey below!"

"Down ladder!"

"Down ladder!"

"Down ladder!"

Followed by three thumps in the after battery passageway heralding the return of three non-rated fools from a night of post pay day wanton revelry and self-destruction.

"Well ladies, you missed the fun tonight. There was a floor show at Bells… Some guy off the Redfin rearranged some IC Electrician's nose cartilage and we all got a nipple peek off Dixie for a three-buck tip. Great night in the big city gentlemen. Another wonderful day in Arliegh Burke's Seagoing Funhouse."

"Knock it off! Jeezus, you gahdam kids get wrapped around two damn beers and you start auditioning for the Obnoxious Loudmouth of the Month."

"Oh, listen to Mr. Grumpy, the sour-faced sailor. Hello Mr. Grumpy… What did you do tonight? Did you do your homework for your Chief's exam, like a good Mr. Grumpy the Lifer, Den Mother and Keeper of Mature Thoughts and Wisdom?"

"God deliver the US Navy from nineteen year-old two-beer bandit jerks… Little frigging idiots who come smokestackin' down the pier at midnight, waking up working sailors."

"Working sailors? Jack, c'mon you're talking to guys that know you… Guys who know that you had your last productive day line handling for Noah. Hell, you should wear a mask and point a gun at the guy who gives you your navy paycheck, the way you rob the gahdam navy."

"Hey, when you silly children decide to quit waking people up and making asses of yourselves, make sure your gahdam shoes aren't sitting in the passageway."

"Yes, mother."

"Night-night, mother dear."

"Night-night sweetheart."

"Hey, Stuke... Wanna make a break out and have some steak & eggs?"

"Sounds like a helluva good idea."

The boats had 'open galley', which meant any man could fix himself chow at times he would not interfere with a cook preparing a meal. The big catch was, if you didn't leave the galley as clean as you found it, the cook would kill you and drape your guts over an operating vent handle in the crews mess as a warning.

"Evening, Mr. Schilling."

"You have the duty, sir?"

"You guessed it. And let me guess… You gentlemen have been ashore spreading good will to the patrons and fair maidens at Bells, the establishment of refined companionship, like the good naval ambassadors you are… Am I right?"

"Mr. Schilling… Sir, can you still be one of those goodwill navy ambassador whatcha-ma-callits if you peed on Hampton Boulevard and your running mate heaved up three boiled eggs and six Slim-Jims on the Cubera's tanktops?"

"No, I don't think so… I think at some point you go from naval goodwill ambassador to E-3 idiots, with drunk in tow."

"You want steak and eggs, sir?"

"No gentlemen, think I'll pass… Goin' forward and turn in. We're gonna be bustin' out line handlers about 0530… Night lads."

"Night, sir."

"Night, sir."

"Night Mr. Schilling."

"Hey, you know Mr. Schilling's an okay guy."

"That's because he was a raghat. I heard he left neckerchiefs in places the heavyweight champ wouldn't go… And had to carry a gahdam ball bat to beat goodlookin' wimmin off him."

"That's no shit, Hawkeye. Mr. Schilling sure attracts goodlooking ladies. I brought my girl aboard one afternoon and Mr. Schilling was standin' on deck up by the JT soundhead and Trixie said…"Oh who's that?"

"Who's who?"

"That good looking man up there."

"Oh… That's Mr. Schilling, the very happily married OPS Officer and our religious guidance confessor."

"Noel K. Schilling … Great guy, but man he can light your ass up like a Fourth of July picnic if you screw up on his watch… He forgot more stuff about the submarines than most officers will ever know."

"Hey, knock off the bullshit. Who's doing the eggs? I'm doin' the steaks."

"If I do'em you'd better like'em scrambled… Did anybody check with the Below Decks Watch and Topside Watch to see if they want any?"

"Peto has the Topside Watch and somebody gave the sonuvabitch half a stale pizza so he's in heaven and Butter Bean has the Below Decks and that sonuvabitch will eat anything, any time, so toss another steak on for him."

"Hey below."


"Got a walkin' wounded boatsailor up here… Need someone to lend a hand getting him below."

"Who is it?"

"John T… And he's carrying a package… Crocked to the gills."

" Get him to the after battery hatch and we'll take him from there."

"Owe you one…"

"What's this 'owe you one stuff'? Andy, John T. is crew. Someday horsefly, he'll haul you back… That's what boatsailors do for boatsailors. Nobody ever owes anybody anything… Get that through your thick head. Now get his damn feet on the first ladder rung."

"Hey John… John?"

"Yeah son? Whatcha need?"

"Gotta getcha down, babe."

"I'ma li'l under the weather, son… Li'l bent outta shape."

"It's okay, just don't run your leg through the ladder… You're doin' great."

"No… I know… I'm really shot up… Carryin' a cargo."

"John… It's okay. Take it easy. We're gonna pop you in this rack. Can you handle a cup of coffee?"

"Nah… Got a jug hidden out."

"John you don't need a drink… Take my word for it."

"Hey! Your damn steak is getting cold."

"Let's get wrapped around this steak… Clean up and square away the galley. Remember, Mr. Schilling said they would be racking out linehandlers at 0530 and that's us."

And it was all long ago. The faces and names you never forgot, just a Saturday night with the boys.

I have always felt sorry for guys who hated their military service… You know, the guy who served in the Ohio Guard and was a file clerk at Camp Donald Duck next to a town of 150 in Arkansas. Poor bastard… Stupid sonuvabitch could have volunteered for the boats. Stale air… Stench… Hotsacking…. Cockroaches… Acid-eaten dungarees… No sunshine for long periods and crazy bastards taking care of each other.

For a lifetime.