The Pier Dumpsters

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

The area around and adjacent to the dumpsters midway down Pier 22 was the 'Village Green' of Submarine Squadron Six.

There were six 'open top' Dempster Dumpsters, known to the lower elements of the bottom-feeding enlisted community as the 'Dumpsty Derbys', the 'Garbage Boxes' or simply the 'Dumpsters'. As I said, there were six of them with individual stenciling reading, 'EGG SHELLS', 'SCRAP METAL', 'OILY RAGS', 'WOOD', 'PAPER', and 'EDIBLE GARBAGE'.

"'Edible garbage?"

"'Yeah, I wonder who eats the gahdam stuff."

"'Marine Corps… Gotta be the damn Marines. You could shovel up the floor in the monkey cage at the zoo, grind it up and feed it to the jarheads and they wouldn't recognize any difference from what they normally feed the poor bastards."

We later found out that pig farmers bought the stuff to feed their porkers. Pigs won't eat swill with eggshells in it so that's why they had a separate dumpster for eggshells. Isn't it amazing what you learned riding submarines?

In the world of an After Battery Rat, the dumpsters were where we met… Exchanged what served as inter-boat news… Shared off-color jokes and the intelligence exchanged by bottom feeders. We cussed chiefs, junior officers, tender Master-at-Arms, kings, queens, and shoeshine boys. We could get away with it for one simple reason… No one above E-3 ever turned up at the dumpsters to socialize with his fellow submariners.

The pier dumsters were our sanctuary. After evening chow, the mess cooks collected and washed the cups, dishes and eating utensils, scoured the pots and pans and wiped down the tables. If the cook needed peeled spuds, you could usually get some of the qualified guys to peel 'em during the movie, in exchange for an early movie start. Since most mess cooks were unqualified, they were not allowed to watch nightly movies for the same reason Uncle Tom and his mates weren't allowed to attend polo matches and foxhunts.

"Scuse me Chief Boss Man, does you wants me to git wrapped around some trim and drain tonight? Thank you Massa… Don't beat me… Please don't beat me."

So we would haul our garbage out to the dumpsters, the E-3 equivalent of Briar Rabbit's briar patch and commiserate with our fellow indentured servants. In short, it was like the nightly gathering of hyenas at the local watering hole.

The pier dumpsters were not a location frequented by officers, chiefs, senior petty officers or any other dog catcher interested in how a non-rated animal was doing in his quals. It was a safe haven for After Battery Rats.

After the boats in both nests had secured from evening chow, the mess cooks would haul the garbage over to the dumpsters. Within a half hour, the duty mess cooks of every boat in the squadron and any visiting boat or boats, would be assembled for the nightly information swap.

"You"ll never guess what happened over on Redfin tonight."

"What happened?"

"Started to watch the movie and found all the reels were mixed up from other movies. Boy, was there some hell raising going on when I left."

"What in the hell happened on Carp around noon?"

"The Skipper got his third full stripe. We tossed him over the side."

"Hey, what in the hell's goin' on in Cuber?"

"Castro's gone communist."

"I thought he was some kinda Robin Hood…What'n the hell did he wanta go communist for?"

"How'n the hell do I know? This may come as a surprise horsefly, but Castro doesn't check in with me on a regular basis."

"Who cares?"

" You ever been to Cuba? The place is a damn dump… A dump with palm trees."

"Got good beer and cigars."

"Got whores haulin' every kind of bug, itch and VD ever invented."

"There's some places that are really nice."

"I musta missed 'em. I just saw all the places that looked like a pig pen."

"Whatcha think about Y.A. Tittle?"

"He should retire… He was a very great quarterback but he's too damn old now."

"He's my damn hero… Hate to think of him going out like that Bears game."

It was inane conversation but it was the way that those of us who entered SubRon Six at the lowest rung on the hierarchical ladder, solidified our membership credentials. We got to know each other by swapping stories, cigarettes and news… Showing each other snapshots of our girls… Family… Cars we once owned. We traded rather inflated tales of high school sports prowess… Scholastic achievement and sexual exploits (mostly imaginary).

We became submarine sailors.

"At the dumpsters" you say?

Yes at the dumpsters. Why? Because we became a team. We never knew it was happening but we became, and were accepted as, SubRon Six men.

At the dumpsters we formed the friendships that tied our boats together.

All a chief had to do to locate something, would be to ask one of the animals aft, because we knew guys on all the other boats. We swapped stuff like Bedouins and in doing so, kept our antiquated boats operational. If the modern submersible Navy doesn't reinstitute some institutional water holes for the low end lads… Things like communal refuse dumping… Loading stores in the rain… All hands gear jackassing, things like that, they will lose their small unit cohesion and the strong sense of belonging that smokeboat sailors had. The introduction of the duel crew system on nuke boats solved a command problem but it was a solution arrived at by heavyweight officers. To an old smokeboat sailor, sharing your boat with another crew is a lot like sharing your wife with the New York Yankees.

A ship belongs to her crew. It has been that way since Noah. A ship with multiple crews would seem to me to be like a floating motel. I would not feel like she was 'ours' like I did about my boat. Sailors need to have an exclusive relationship with the boat they ride. I wonder if the clown who came up with the 'Blue' and 'Gold' crew concept was into wife swapping? Requin was mine. Sure, there had been crews before mine and there were crews long after I tossed my gear on the pier. But for the time I rode her, I was personally accountable for my assigned gear… Nobody else monkeyed around with it or maintained it… That gear belonged to Dex and if I had neglected my preventive maintenance responsibilities, there would have been no 'He said', 'She said' cross finger pointing. Dutch Vanderheiden, the Chief of the Boat, would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly what set of hippockets to plant his size fourteen brogan between. In the smokeboat world, boat loyalty was tied directly to the exclusivity of the love between boat and bluejacket.

Also, if I had not interacted with the other lads in my squadron, then my squadron would have meant about as much to me as my present zip code. We became… And have always been… Family.

The problem as I see it with ship loyalty and squadron esprit, is multi-fold. Officers in high-altitude leadership positions have been matured in a system that had no concept of the smokeboat sailor's love of his boat and his squadron. These heavy metal gentlemen would scratch their heads in wonder at the idea that lads once had loyalty to a pier, because they identified with that pier. It was for many of us who actually lived aboard the boat, home… The pier was the only address we had… It was Smokeboat Main Street. If they had any idea how much that pier meant to us, how much it was a part of us, they would have found some way to have retained the '22' designation. They have diminished the history of the force by their indifference to our history. These Techno-Moonbeam Boat Jockeys have systematically destroyed all the things that could have been the links by which we could have been joined… The sinews that should have tied us together.

History is continuity, the continuous chain of events and honored traditions of a force. Failure to honor the traditions of those who have gone before in effect, destroys the links to that history.

Why did they have to change the SubRon Six insignia? We had to recreate our squadron insignia for our SubVets vests. Why? Why did the nukes feel compelled to shitcan the insignia we wore and served? Hey, the new one is a sterile logo and means nothing to the lads who remember what the old one meant when you were visiting other squadrons. That brightly colored rascal was recognized by anything wearing bow and stern planes in the North Atlantic. It said,'SubRon Six has arrived… Run out your good lookin' gals and ice down the beer.'

The same men who scrapped the old 'VOLENS ET POTENS' insignia would go crazy if someone even remotely mentioned changing the insignia of the United States Naval Academy.

Why? I'll tell you why… They never shared the good times we did out there on Pier 22 down by the dumpsters, sitting just forward of the bow of the Kittiwake… Swapping lies, bumming smokes and becoming submarine sailors.

If you were standing topside watch on a boat in the after nest, you could always tell when it had been a good night out by the dumpsters by the number of cigarette butts bobbing in the water below your screwguards.

And you were damn proud to have been a part of it all… And the Squadron put down oak tree size roots in young hearts, from acorns picked up out at the dumpsters.