“Lady Visitors Aboard… Say again, Lady Visitors Aboard”

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Anyone out there who doesn’t remember that one over the 1MC?

For those of you who never parked your entire inventory of worldly possessions in a sidelocker of a fuel eating, three hundred-eleven foot submarine, there was no place to hide. There was no place where you could have privacy. Nothing amplified that like the announcement that female visitors would be wandering around below decks.

Don’t get me wrong… Nobody on the planet loved women like boatsailors but not when they are cha-cha’ing around butt naked trying to get ready to go ashore.

Picture this. All day long the ship had gone through an 'open house'. Translated into plain english, that means that from 1000 to 1630 an endless parade of the raw unvarnished population of the world had been streaming through the boat… Fiddling with everything, monkeying with valves, picking up souvenirs (meaning anything not nailed down or welded to the hull), opening head doors and giggling, peeping into the Old Man's stateroom and asking some of the damndest questions ever cooked up in the cranial wilderness of a blithering idiot.

A submarine is essentially a community in a tube… A lot like ant colonies kids have where you can watch the ants do what ever ants do as they go about their daily lives and the little devils can’t do a damn thing about it. The After Battery on a smokeboat was a seagoing petting zoo.

Here’s a typical example of life on board during a 'come one, come all' open house. Once in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, they announced on the radio that a United States submarine would be open to the touring public. By ten A.M. every loose screw jaybird and his or her ten closest relatives were lined up down the pier.

We had spent half the night 'changing the paper in our birdcage'. The Chief of the Boat decided that after a four hour maneuvering watch, we should spend damn near all night Brassoing copper urinal piping, compressing dirty laundry bags into sidelockers and removing any photographic art displaying exposed titties or bare fannies. During this time the cooks were preparing mystery meat and rubberized cheese sandwiches on white 'Kleenex' bread. Two sandwiches and a can of lukewarm soda would have to hold us until 1630 when the topside watch would secure the people pump.

Being innovative, highly adaptable bluejackets, six of us grabbed a box of the wax paper wrapped,'sorry excuse for chow' sandwiches and shoved cans of pop in our foulweather jackets… Zipped them up and jackassed our load up to the Forward Torpedo Room, lifted the deck plates and dropped down for a luau in the lower flats.

While we were doing our damndest to get wrapped around our sandwiches, a little kid looked down through one of the handholes and yelled,

“Hey mommy, there’s a bunch of men down here having a picnic.”

At 1630, they brought the below decks invasion to a screeching halt. Shortly before the Old Man secured visiting hours, the Duty Officer noticed that two nuns had been waiting to tour the boat and were ten or eleven places behind the cut-off point. Not wanting the crew’s collective souls to be condemned to eternal hellfire and damnation that night at the local convent, the Duty Officer sent one of the lads over on the pier to tell the two sisters to stick around until the mob dispersed and that they could have a personalized private walk through.

In the meantime the animals in the After Battery had begun their pre-liberty antics and ritual. The showers were opened… Towels, Ivory Soap, fifty brands of hair tonic, armpit odor masking agent, and cheap after shave emerged from bunk bags and sidelockers.

Nobody heard the word passed that 'lady visitors were aboard'. The first we knew about their stroll through the ship, came when some buck-naked idiot yelled,

“Jeezus H. Christ… Where’n hell did those two nuns come from?”

Adrian Stuke and I had just cleared the After Battery showers when we looked up and saw the two nuns.

“Hey Dex… Look… Two nuns.”

He crawled back in the shower while I did my damndest to create a terry cloth hula skirt out of a rather skimpy towel.

The major attraction on duty night was the 'on board' nightly film. After chow, when the messcooks had washed the dishes and scoured the pots and pans… And the duty cook had tidied up the galley… The duty M.P. O. (Motion Picture Operator) appeared with his ANQB 16mm projector and the movie for the evening.

A diesel boat messdeck wasn’t the best theater you could find. The fore and aft main passageway ran directly in front of the screen. Anyone heading through the messdeck in either direction had to pass between the theatergoers and the screen. The screen pulled down over the bread locker door and was the size of one unfolded page of your hometown newspaper. An individual walking upright in front of the screen could block out damn near the entire screen.

Submarine etiquette required that a member of ship's company duck down and do a kind of duck waddle below the screen. If you failed to do this, your shipmates would yell personalized instructions like,

”Get out of the way, you stupid sonuvabitch!”

“Hey you dumb bastard, you make a better door than a window!”

And they would throw stuff at you like stale rolls, banana peels and sour dish rags.

In an all-male society, the restrictive tenants of gentility and polite civility erode quickly. Language coarsens… If not monitored and corrected by the ship’s leadership, personal hygiene suffers gradual deterioration and the life aft of the wardroom takes on the air of a jungle jamboree.

Nothing can trigger an outburst of sexual frustration like the appearance of a well-constructed female in abbreviated costume cavorting across the movie screen in a bloody smokeboat. The crew erupts like a pack of seven-year olds at a Saturday matinee.

“Hey sweetheart, you wanna have my baby?”

“Get a load of those gazongas!”

“Marry me and take me away from all this.”

Some of my best memories are connected with wisecracking during films… Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass damn near triggered a mutiny. Most of us were laughing so hard we nearly got sick.

The problem with this sort of animalistic clowning around was that it became a thoughtless reaction. This in turn lead to some very funny and embarrassing incidents when visiting 'lady visitors' came aboard and attended the duty movie.

Almost invariably, some idiot would come through the After Battery air lock door, duck down, look up at the screen as he went by and give some pretty young thing on the screen a little titty tickle, pat on the fanny or make some remark that would make a sewer digger blush.

All of us got caught on the 'lady visitor' flypaper at least once during our term of service.

Late in life, I was to learn that a highly respected officer aboard the Requin participated in the conception of his first child with his lovely bride on the sail chart table, thirty minutes after the word 'Lady visitors aboard' was announced by the below decks watch. Her panties later turned up in a coffee cup the skipper found during a harbor entry approach, two weeks later.

Damn, it was great to be a submarine sailor.